Leveling Up the Hero-U Skill System
When was the last time you gained an experience level? Did you get a promotion at work and suddenly find that three or four of your skills had instantly improved?
That’s exactly how level-based role-playing games work. Each time your character gains an experience level, their skills improve.
A D&D-style leveling system makes a lot of sense for a paper game - less bookkeeping - but that isn’t an issue on the computer. We think character skills should improve by using them or by getting specific training, not because of killing 35 Dire Rats.
Real life doesn’t work that way, so we developed our own game system in which players had a chance to improve the skills they used the most. It took some time at the table, but it made the game seem more realistic.
Setting Some Skills on the Sierra Skillet
When Sierra called on us to develop a role-playing game, we adapted our in-house rule system to the computer. When you climbed a tree, your Climbing skill sometimes improved. That gradually caused your Strength and Agility to improve as well. There was no direct way to improve Strength by itself until we later added a gym to Quest for Glory V.
We have a similar system in Hero-U, but we’ve simplified it a little so that the effects of players’ actions are more intuitive. Shawn can use most stats directly, such as trying to be Charming in conversation.
Over the course of the game, these help define Shawn’s character. If he relies on Moxie, he becomes good at that and will be more successful with Moxie attempts later in the game. Use more Charm or Smarts, and that stat improves instead. Shawn can improve all of his skills and stats through practice, but the ones he uses frequently will improve faster.
Attributes and Skills in an Adventure Game?
Yes we have numbers! They are a staple of role-playing games because they give players a feeling of progress and allow tougher challenges as the game progresses. One difference between our games and most adventure games is that our characters learn, grow, and change over the course of each game.
A Skill System lets us “soft-gate” the story - you can discover a problem early in the game, but might need to improve some of your skills before you can overcome it. One way to think about the difference between role-playing and adventure games is that adventures have puzzles, each with a specific solution.
RPGs have problems, and there are many different ways to overcome them. We think the latter approach makes more realistic and fair gaming - players don’t have to guess our way of solving a problem; they need to find a way that works within the game rules.
Old School Thieves Needed Agility...
Back in the day (D&D and Quest for Glory) the character class was Thief, not Rogue, and most people didn’t consider thieves to be very heroic. In fact, the first project leader assigned to Hero’s Quest (Quest for Glory 1) refused to have anything to do with a game that allowed you to play as a thief.
That gave me the opportunity to take over as project leader, which turned out to be really important to making Quest for Glory what it became. There are some aspects of game design which you really have to program yourself, and the Quest for Glory skill system was one of those. So I have a special place in my heart for the Thief class.
The key stat for a Thief was Agility, because they used it to be a swashbuckler, to sneak around quietly without bumping into things, to open locks, and to disarm traps.
… But a Dumb Rogue is a Fail Rogue
In Hero-U, we’ve redefined the Rogue character. It’s no longer just about being more Agile than the next Rogue, it’s also about being smarter, or at least more charming. In fact, we leave that up to the player - either approach can be successful.
Besides being a Rogue, Shawn is also a University student. That makes intelligence (and perseverance) important. Then again, Shawn thinks the word “intelligence” is much too hoity-toity for him. He has “Smarts” and he likes to show them off.
Being smart helps Shawn learn faster, affects his Tool Use skill (lockpicking and trap disarming), and is an important factor in his Gaming skill. Robert Heinlein once said he worked his way through College teaching probability to his fellow students... for instance, the probability of successfully drawing to an inside straight. Smart players have an edge.
So Let’s Play It Smart
Say Shawn has been cornered by a hungry Dire Rat at the end of a corridor. There’s a door at the end of the hallway, and a balcony up above. First Shawn tries to open the door and escape…
But the door is locked, and the Drat is closing in. Maybe, thinks Shawn, Drats like apples. I’ll just toss it one and get away…
But those teeth look really sharp, and the Drat is salivating. Shawn strongly suspects it prefers a redheaded rogue to a half-eaten apple. Maybe a bit of flash powder would work - throw some at the Drat, then enter Stealth and sneak past while it’s blinded…
Or at least that would work for a rich rogue who could afford blinding powder. Shawn realizes he isn’t carrying any. But he does have a trap. Maybe he can trap the Drat long enough to pick the lock on the door and escape…
That is, he can do that if he’s practiced his Tool Use enough. And if he doesn’t mind losing the trap, which did after all cost money. Shawn is not exactly made of Lyra. There’s still at least one other choice...
If Shawn is conveniently carrying a rope and grapnel (made by attaching a hook to a rope), and has practiced both throwing and climbing, he can easily catch the hook on the balcony railing and adroitly climb out of danger.
Of course, after he tried two or three of those things unsuccessfully, the Drat has reached him, and now it’s time for combat. Alas for the Dire Rat, it didn’t know that Shawn has been working out with the target dummies every day, and he knows someone who just loves Dire Rat filet.
So Little Time, So Much to Do
Time is one of the most important resources in Hero-U, and that means that players will need to choose which skills are most important to them. There are no absolutely right or wrong approaches. You can solve the game’s problems with a wide variety of skills, but which you choose affect the story and Shawn’s relationships with other characters.
Spending most of his time in the Practice Room will let Shawn improve his Tool Use and other physical abilities, but he might learn more about some subjects in the Library. Adventuring in the dungeons can be profitable and a good way of improving combat skills, but it’s also dangerous. Socializing with other students improves Shawn’s social standing, and may lead to a special relationship, but it takes time away from studying, practicing, and adventuring.
As a result, each Hero-U game you play is likely to be subtly different from any other play-through. Skills open some doors and leave other secrets hidden for later games.
And maybe you’ll level up from playing Hero-U and get some new life skills!
Skills Pay the Bills
We’re at $93,400 and 1550 backers going into our final weekend. The campaign closes at the end of the day (in California) on Monday, June 15. The key now is to raise enough to meet a few of the stretch goals and improve the game as much as we can. Keep sharing, and visit www.hero-u.com/leaders for more updates and a different free desktop image every day until the campaign closes.
Thank you so much for your continuing support of Hero-U!