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Hero-U is a turn-based PC RPG with adventure game puzzles and immersive story, by the award-winning designers of Quest for Glory. Read more

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Hero-U is a turn-based PC RPG with adventure game puzzles and immersive story, by the award-winning designers of Quest for Glory.

Real Role-Playing - Chatting It Up

TAHR and Lori followed up on the discussion of adventure vs. role-playing games we started in Update #8, and we thought many of you would be interesting in the conversation.

In case you haven't played our Quest for Glory games, and would like to know more about the types of games Lori and I make, PC Gamer posted an article today about Quest for Glory IV that may give you more context: http://www.pcgamer.com/2012/11/04/reinstall-quest-for-glory-iv/

Role-Playing - Adventure, RPG, and Tabletop Style

To me, Role Playing Games are about problems, and Adventure Games are about puzzles (in the very specific way those two terms are defined in the PC Gamer article).

Why? Because in fact, Role Playing Games are NOT about Role Playing, and Adventure Games are ALL about Role Playing.

In a tabletop Dungeons & Dragons game, I am an elf - an elf fancied from my imagination - not a human playing the part of Legolas and trying to guess what Legolas would do in a situation. I’m not, as on a movie set, an actor learning a script and pretending to be an elf while he delivers his pre-written lines.

In Sins of the Fathers, this IS where I actually play a role, the role of Gabriel Knight. The ONLY difference with a movie is that the director doesn’t give me the script, I must guess it (what will you as Gabriel do?), otherwise this would be a fiction, not an Interactive Fiction (and therefore not a game).

So Adventure Games are Interactive Fictions, where you have to guess the script. The more well written the script is, the more entertaining the game is. You’ve said that Day of The Tentacle was one of your favorite adventure games; well, imagine how great it would be as an animated comedy movie, or Grim Fandango as an animated film noir.

Role Playing Games are Simulated Worlds, where you can live a second life. But even the greatest RPG sessions would not necessarily make great movies, mostly because they would not be structured enough or strong enough in terms of storytelling (just like true stories have to be romanticized before making to the big screen).

What makes great movies/Adventure Games are not only the problems the characters have to face, but morevover the great solutions the script writers/game designers have invented : how will Marty McFLy/Bernard Bernoulli go back to their own time ? The question is a good start, but without a great answer, it would be totally uninteresting to watch.

And there is a big issue with the “Simulated World” concept. While a good Pen & Paper RPG Game Master will have no problem to satisfy all your desires and turn them into an adventure with some twists and climaxes without you knowing it, a computer just CAN’T. Elder Scrolls games can be great fun, but only if you accept the fact that almost EVERY problems are solved through combat tactics. The world is simulated through the perspective of a fighter.

This explains why I’m interested in the Hero-U project - because while simulating a world like a Pen & Paper RPG Game Master does is impossible with a computer program (even with the multi-millions dollar budgets Bethesda Softworks grant for their games), mixing mechanics from Adventure Games and Computer RPGs would still be a GREAT experience, especially if you try to do more than “just” including stats and combats to a classic Adventure Game (which is a good start but sill a Adventure Game, not an RPG).

To me, the best Computer RPG someone could possibly program would be one that replaces the problems (really fun to solve in P&P RPGs but impossible to be told properly by an artificial intelligence, other than finding the best solution to slay everything that stands in your way) with the puzzles of an Adventure Game, assuming that those puzzles would have 3 or 4 different solutions, and that ALL those different solutions would reach the quality of a good movie in terms of storytelling.

To paraphrase you, succeeding in this task will be a new definition of “hard”. I’m aware that Hero-U won’t necessarily match with my very specific definition of “the Best Computer RPG”, however, your project have all my support

Lori Responds on the Role-Playing Side

Nice post, TAHR. I’d like to elevate this out of the comments ghetto. I think its well-worth getting others to read and comment upon. We’re going to use this as the starting point for our next Update.

I’ve always been a role-player. As you say when you are playing tabletop games, you are the Elf. Whenever I write a character for a game, I AM that character. Likewise, I tend to project personality into every game I play.

I would argue that some RPGs are all about role-playing. Star Wars: the Old Republic really goes out of its way to give your character depth, motivation, and relationships in the game. There is a storyline that is centered on your character’s life rather than just upon the “Save the Galaxy” or “Conquer the Galaxy” (depending upon which side you are playing).

Actually, I would love to see “Grim Fandango” as an animated movie. I really enjoyed the “Beetlejuice” cartoon of by-gone days. But I didn’t enjoy the “Grim Fandango” game – The puzzles were too convoluted or obscure for me to solve without a hint book.

I agree totally with you about your comments about Games and Movies. Great Games do not necessarily make Great Movies. Monkey Island would be a fun movie. Wizardry would not. It makes about as much sense to make a movie from an RPG as it does from a boardgame like Battleship. Oh wait, they're doing that. :-)

I did not begin the design for Hero-U by asking what interesting monsters are hidden under the castle or what nifty magic item can we give Shawn. I wanted to know who Shawn was, why did he come to the school, and what was going to happen to him. Every person he meets in this game will be part of the story in some way. They all have their own back-stories and goals. Shawn can aid them or ignore them. It won’t ruin the game if Shawn is an absolute rotter who selfishly pursues his own agenda. It will just be a richer game if Shawn interacts with everyone and tries to make good grades, friends, and find a lover.

It’s not my job to tell the player how he should play Shawn. This is a Role-playing game in the true sense.

Corey Weighs In On Conversation

Believable conversation is one of the hardest things to put in a game. One measure of successful artificial intelligence is the "Turing Test" – If the player talks to two individuals remotely, and one is a real person and the other an AI program, can the player reliably tell them apart? This is a hard problem, and not one we're going to suddenly solve in Hero-U.

Film conversations work because they are entirely scripted. The writer knows exactly what she wants to accomplish in each exchange, and carefully crafts what each person says. We've all seen computer games that use this approach – Sometimes they have good stories, but they aren't good games. Players crave choice.

Classic Sierra and LucasArts adventures mostly used dialogue menus. The game presented you with a choice of dialogue options, then gave you the other characters' responses. Sometimes there were puzzles or important clues hidden within the dialogue tree. In order to be less frustrating, most games allowed you to try every possible line of dialogue until you got the important one.

That was better than previous games, in which your only option was to "talk to" a character, and they always gave the same response. But it's nothing like a real conversation. Real people don't patiently play along while you ask them, "What is your name? What is your quest? What is your favorite color?" Unless maybe you're on a first date and you're buying.

In Quest for Glory, we multiplied our work (and hopefully added to the players' fun) by adding "cases" to dialogue based on the game state. If you met a person for the first time, they had one set of responses. If you came back later, they would have another. If you rescued them from a burning house, later conversations would focus on that connection between the two of you.

We are using an even more subtle conversation system in Hero-U. You will have several choices of things to say, each of which leads to a conversation. The difference is that it doesn't go back to the starting point. Your choice determines where the conversation leads, and you can't act as though the words were never said.

In addition, the state of your relationship with the other character will sometimes affect the choices you have available. It will definitely affect the other character's reaction.

We are, of course, insane – This approach will multiply the already-huge amount of dialogue Lori wrote for the last few Quest for Glory games. But she's willing to try, and I expect I'll help out between my other design tasks. Our goal is to create believable conversations, while still keeping the player in control. Your dialogue choices will matter much more than in a classic adventure game, because everything you say can and will be used against you.

Conversation and character relationships matter very much to Lori and me. You could say that, for her, they are the most important part of any of our games. We promise that you will have some fun and meaningful discussions when you play the game.

And puns. Good conversations are their own reward, but there's always room for some punishment.

Comments

    1. Creator Kara Loo and Jennifer Young on November 6, 2012

      @Lori - I like what you were saying about realistic dialogue. I played Quest of Glory, and one of the things I loved was the interactivity and the sense that characters in the game 'knew' me. I definitely have an idea of how much work goes into it; I've worked on narrative video games in the past, including Electronic Arts' Surviving High School, so I know how much can go into developing narrative through dialogue in a game and how much work goes into branching choices. So I'm definitely impressed by what you guys did for Sierra as well as what you will do for Hero U. Very very exciting!

    2. Creator Jesse Dylan Watson on November 6, 2012

      That Reinstall article reminded me of what a freaking awesome game Quest for Glory IV is and was. Man oh man, the memories. Imagine if the industry had started making games like those in 3D (not that I mind 2D and gorgeous hand-painted backgrounds) rather than shooters.

      I've noticed elements of Quest for Glory in games like, say, Oblivion and Skyrim and others, but I don't know if there's anything that captures that kind of depth of character interaction with the player.

      I'm nostalgic, sleepy, and a little worried Hero-U might not make its goal (when originally I thought it would probably shatter the goal). My faith in humanity is waning.

      Maybe I'll stop sleeping for a week and play through my Quest for Glory Collection four times (although I guess I only have to play the first one three times, and the second one like three and a half times... :)

      Sigh. Plea to the universe: Please fund this game.

    3. Creator TAHR on November 5, 2012

      @alcaray: My mistake, it is "spreaded a piece of butter under the door with the knife" - not "slided a piece of bread under the door". Sorry.

    4. Creator TAHR on November 5, 2012

      @alcaray: I understand your point of view. As I said, both Myst-like puzzles and inventory/dialogue based puzzles are fun. I'll try to explain better why I make such a big difference between them.

      Here is the solution of an Inventory based puzzle :

      Bernard disassembled the sandwich into pieces, slided a piece of bread under the door, poked the key out with the cocktail stick and retrieve it the old-school way with the slice of ham.

      That sounds like it could be a scene from a cartoon TV show, right ?

      Now, try to do the same thing with the solution of the Rubik's Cube...

    5. Creator alcaray on November 5, 2012

      @TAHR

      I guess it just bothers me to hear you guys give such strict definitions to what you can find in the different categories of game. Especially when I have so much direct experience with counterexamples that disprove your statements. And, yeah, I have loved all types of these games for 30-40 years now. So there's an emotional connection.

      Anywhere you have dialog, you can have "dialog puzzles". Now which category were we discussing that does not have dialog?

      Anywhere you have (or can show or can verbally describe) levers, buttons, tiles to stand on... or generally mechanisms of some logical appearance or device, then you can do these physical puzzles. And which category can't accomplish this?

      Many years ago I DM'ed an impromptu D&D session with my wife, my daughter, and a friend. First time for all of them to play D&D. I had a puzzle that in real life would be solved instantly, if you had your hands on the thing. It is the way all sliding doors and horizontally sliding windows work: it was a door that to open it you needed to lift it up and then pull the bottom towards you. They were stuck on it for a long time, and I was despairing that I hadn't hit on the right way to describe it, or that maybe there was another sort of feedback I could give them that might guide them to the solution. But then my beautiful 7 year old daughter solved it. Wife and friend were just dummys.

    6. Creator TAHR on November 5, 2012

      Arf... I forgot to insert a "Spoiler Alert" :( sorry
      But, honnestly, who hasn't seen ROTJ yet ? :P

    7. Creator TAHR on November 5, 2012

      @Pablo Romero: Interesting ! I didn't know Emily Short, nor Chris Crawford. I've skimed their wiki bios. If I understand well, they create interactive textual adventures, right ?
      Apparently Emily Short's "Galatea" is centered around a profound discussion between you and a single
      NPC in a single room. Still right ? I should try that.
      On the other hand, I want to add that Adventure Games, as movies, are visual media. One of the most important rules when you write for visual media is to convey the maximum of informations through actions. Sure, dialogues are very important in games/movies, but they're not as powerfull as pictures.
      Even a single blink, can tell much more than 10 lines of dialogues.
      Lori was talking about Star Wars, well... Making Darth Vader saying "No... NOooOOOooOOO !!!" while he kills Palpatine, in the remastered version of the Return of the Jedi, was one of biggest mistake Lucas could possibly do. That totaly ruins the effect.

    8. Creator Corey Cole on November 5, 2012

      The "to do list" concept is a combination quest log and recording of past events. It won't contain anything you haven't already experienced as Shawn.

      SW; tOR has an interesting system in that you can hit *Escape* in the middle of a conversation. That resets the whole conversation so you can try again. We might see if we can do something similar. But if you use it constantly to try every option in every dialogue, you'll be playing a different sort of game than we intend. :-)

      That's ok, of course. Players approach the same game differently, and are looking for a variety of experiences from the same game. They are all valid, even if some are "less successful" than others; many players are out for other things than getting through a game as efficiently as possible.

    9. Creator Lori Cole on November 5, 2012

      Don't worry, Juanita - the Journal/Diary/list will be entirely from Shawn's Point of View, as is most of the game. He can't comment upon something that he doesn't know.

    10. Creator JuanitaD-ArmikrogArmyGoat @ AGL589+$4.96 on November 5, 2012

      I like the "Say again?" idea, Jason. My way of handling missed conversation has always been to play with subtitles, like Ratatoskr, and save just before every conversation. Then I can go back and ask all the questions I want, see all the responses and decide what my *final* response will be based on all the outcomes. Too bad we can't do that in real life. It would solve a lot of problems and foot in mouth scenarios.

      The To Do List idea is good, too, Lori. Just please don't put anything in there that I can't get anywhere else in the game. I hate hints and never use them unless I've been stuck for days and sometimes those journals end up giving me way more information than I wanted and ruin the puzzle for me. If it's just summaries of conversations Shawn has already had, no problem. But if it tells me where to go and what to do next, then please make it's use optional, so I don't have to use it at all.

    11. Creator Lori Cole on November 5, 2012

      Great idea, Jason. I even watch movies with subtitles at times just to catch the nuances. We can certainly add a "What was that again?" line... to be used particularly when Shawn (and the player) can't believe what he just heard.

      We've talked about having Shawn keep a running diary in the game so that the player can keep track of things. Sort of a "Things to Do" list, since I don't see Shawn pouring his heart out in poetic prose. It would make sense to have Shawn write something like "Talked to Cairo. He suspects that the librarian is the missing heir and wants me to help him prove it."

      That way, you can have a synopsis of what was said and a call to action of what to do about it.

    12. Creator Ratatoskr- Battle Squirrel of the AGL589 on November 5, 2012

      @Jason, I agree that would be awesome. That's the reason I always play with subtitles on when games let me, particularly when it's the kind of thing where if you miss the sentence you're doomed.

    13. Creator Jason Sprick on November 5, 2012

      Re: Corey's notes on Conversation: Might I recommend a "say again?" option for those of us who are half-deaf or just plain clumsy? It would make conversations such as what you are talking about less frustrating. One of the things I loved about Quest for Glory was most dialogue could be heard again if I didn't catch it all the first time, either because of an errant keystroke or because the character's dialogue was garbled when someone outside the game is trying to talk to you.

    14. Creator TAHR on November 5, 2012

      Indeed, it's important to say that I'm just a backer - I'm not involved in the developpement of Hero-U. Lori and Corey are very attentive to our comments, and I thank them for having read, answered and published my post.

      @Michael Black: The Elder Scrolls and the Fallout series are my favorite Computer RPGs, nevertheless, that doesn't mean those games can't be improved. I was also, a few years ago, a big Pen & Paper RPG player (Call of Cthulhu in particular), so I know both worlds. This experience has allowed me, over the years, to notice what was some of the qualities and some of the flaws of these games. There's no intention to denigrate anything.

    15. Creator Maus Merryjest AGL589 on November 5, 2012

      As a fan of interactive fiction, one of my gripes has always been the handling of dialogue-- a lot of authors then and now forget to account for changing relationships and allegiances. Emily Short is one of the best at handling dialogue within interactive fiction, and I always wondered "Why can't other genres take a cue from this?"

      Of course, there's a balance between implementing good conversation and spending your entire budget in creating a fully interactive world the way Chris Crawford proposes- we don't have the tech or AI for that yet. Though I wonder if we could have had it by now, if we hadn't spent so much time sugar-crazed about getting the best and most realistic graphics and instead had delved exclusively into AI development.

      Still, skilled writers and thoughtful programmers can do a lot with limited resources. I think this is the right approach to design- creating a world, making you care about the characters, and then have the puzzles and the challenges emerge naturally from that world. It's the sort of thing that made Shapeir, Tarna, Spielburg, Silmaria and Mordavia such believable places.

    16. Creator Corey Cole on November 5, 2012

      @Michael: Sorry? I don't think we disrespected any of those games. We're just pointing out the inherent limitations of game AI, and that it is hard to make them feel real. We loved playing all those games, but we also recognize that the characterization in them is weak compared to a good book or film. And there's nothing wrong with that! Books and films don't let you interact as the character. So no disrespect intended; we're just discussing a way to do things differently that it's been done in the past.

      Incidentally, I should have mentioned in the post that TAHR is not part of the team - This post is Lori's and my responses to TAHR's comments. Obviously we think TAHR made some interesting and relevant points or we wouldn't have postem them, of course.

    17. Creator Ratatoskr- Battle Squirrel of the AGL589 on November 5, 2012

      They said they'll start having daily or near daily updates. And I don't think they necessarily meant it as a dis- you can play and even enjoy those style of games but still be excited about seeing something new and more complicated.

    18. Creator Michael Black on November 5, 2012

      Wow your're dissing pretty hard on some of the best games ever made. What are you doing to get your funds past 50% in the next 15 days?

    19. Creator Corran on November 5, 2012

      There's one thing I would like to comment on when it comes to conversations and choices that have actual consequences:

      Mass Effect (and other games) made the fatal mistake of not being clear of what the choice would lead to. Of course this was for a great deal because it did not show you the actual line you would utter but just a description of a few words.

      But even when you show the entire line that your character will say it can sometimes still be hard to get the actual meaning behind them. You might for instance take a line that was written to be sarcastic as serious, etc.

      I'm sure Lori, et al, are aware of this but I thought it worthwile to point out. Also, I personally wouldn't mind if the dialog options were either colour coded to convey meaning or started with a descriptor like [Sarcastic], [Empathic].

    20. Creator TAHR on November 5, 2012

      Hi everyone :)

      @alcaray: Well, I make a BIG difference between Myst-like puzzles and inventory/dialogue based puzzles. Both are fun but they are totaly different concepts. I have written another post on the Hero-U website about this important subject.

      @William C Crawford: It all depends on the concepts you associate to words. Why Emmett Brown and Bernard Bernoulli deliver so many great lines and have so many entertaining and orginal ideas ? Because they are fiction characters who haved been conscientiously written. So when you play Day of The Tentacle, you take a role, just like Christopher Loyd do with the character of Doc. It's absolutely impossible to improvise such characters (even though great actors manage to add some details directly during the shooting).
      Now, RPGs (both Computer ones and Pen & Paper ones) are ALL about improvisation. To improvise you have to BE the character 100%. This is really a great exeprience to live but that explains why RPGs cannot be turned easily into Fictions (movies, novels, etc.). They are not romanticized like Adventure Games are.

    21. Creator Marcio Araujo on November 5, 2012

      I never liked the idea that when you are in a conversation nothing happens in the world. Is as if the world had stopped expecting the conversation ends. Adventure games need to find a way to integrate other important things that make an real conversation like: AI realtime Location, AI realtime mood, The exactly time of the conversation and what is happening right now in the moment of the conversation. For me the AI could change his mood depending of what you asked, or if you asked the same question many times. Maybe the mood could go back to normal if you wait like 15 minutes. This will change adventure dialogs forever. We need something like that!!! Sorry for my poor english. I hope you understand what i´m saying.

    22. Creator Marcio Araujo on November 5, 2012

      That way, maybe will be better if you wait to ask something to the AI, when he is in a better mood on the game (or the opposite).

    23. Creator Marcio Araujo on November 5, 2012

      This updates are awesome!!! I never liked any of the adventures dialogues gameplay. For me, one of the most important aspect of a conversation is timing. You need to know exactly the time to talk or ask for something. Maybe the dialog option could change in realtime, depending of what is happening in the scene. And the same thing happens with the AI. The answers could change in realtime, and if you wait to much to ask something, maybe you dont receive the same answer if you had asked earlier. Timing is everything in a conversation.

    24. Creator William C Crawford on November 5, 2012

      In tabletop RPGs, you play a role. The thing is, that role can be anything you want. There are no restrictions on character history or character development.

      In adventure games, you are assigned a character and aren't allowed to break out of it. This isn't so much "playing a role" as it is following along as the character does what it does. You get to point it in the right direction, but your only other choice is to not play.

      Hero U falls into the middle ground that so many computer RPGs do. It assigns a lot of information about your role, but then allows you to take the role in 1 of multiple different directions, as you please. Not infinite, like tabletop... But not 1 direction, like point-n-click adventures.

    25. Creator Dirk Schlobinski on November 5, 2012

      Hmm, concerning classic point and click adventures like DOTT, I think there is one point you are missing:
      Since dialogues will reset every time, personally, I will try out all the options. Especially if I've got an idea which one will advance the game.
      You can not fail and it is a lot of fun exploring all the funny responses you get from the incorrect answers.

    26. Creator alcaray on November 5, 2012

      The RPGs I've played have been chock full of puzzles. I know that one of the KOTRs had tower of Hanoi (which I mentioned in the prior update). Dragon Age was full of puzzles.

      I recall a D&D playing aid from the 70s (either TSR or Judges Guild - cant remember. I've got it packed away but way too much trouble to dig it out and find the reference), where there was a panel filled with colored buttons. You had to push Ochre, Puce, Ecru, and ...uh... can't remember: a color that started with 'N'. And if you didn't, you were guillotined when you tried to pass through the door. (That's how my Olin the Grey became Olin the One-armed).

      I think you've been playing bad RPGs. Or PnP RPGs run by bad DMs.

    27. Creator JuanitaD-ArmikrogArmyGoat @ AGL589+$4.96 on November 5, 2012

      Another update! I agree with Ratatoskr about the replay vale of this game. There was a lot of replayability in QFG, especially with the ability to import your character to the next game. Hero-U sounds like it takes that even farther.

    28. Creator Ratatoskr- Battle Squirrel of the AGL589 on November 5, 2012

      This sounds awesome. I could see this game having almost endless replayabliity in the different choices you can make, which makes me really happy.