Finding the Balance in Hero-U
Balancing the Testing Process
So far we’ve proceeded very cautiously with pre-Alpha testing of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. Sierra never sent unfinished games out “into the wild” until they had gone through weeks of in-house testing. There was no Beta testing for any Quest for Glory or our other games.
Looking back, I shudder at that process! It “broke” a couple of times, notably with Quest for Glory IV. Players started out in a cave, made it out… and frequently crashed the game in the next scene. Very few people had online access then, so there was no easy way to patch the game and fix the hundreds of problems with the shipping version.
With Hero-U, we are making sure we don’t repeat those mistakes. We started out by letting a few backers test part of the game. Sure enough, something broke. Oddly, it wasn’t Hero-U! Instead, we found ourselves debugging the bug-finding process. Our ISP wouldn’t let us send out registration confirmation emails. Then the bug reporting tool itself broke.
We are also balancing putting the final touches into the game while resolving hundreds of reports. Most of these are things such as corrections to spelling and grammar (in several languages due to the game setting). Some are more serious - players found they could get rich by finding the same leather jacket over and over, and selling the extras. (That also happened in Quest for Glory II, where players could get rich harvesting the Dervish’s beard.) A few have been actual game stoppers.
This is normal and good. The small QA staff at Sierra often filed thousands of bug reports for a single game before they deemed it ready to ship. My personal best was about 100 reports on Castle of Dr. Brain, a relatively small and simple game that we all thought was rock-solid before we handed it off to QA. According to the QA lead, yes, 100 bugs *is* rock-solid. :-)
So You Want to Be a Tester
Over the next month, we will gradually open more areas of the game to testers, and we will also invite more testers with each “build”. If you backed Hero-U at a level that included Alpha and/or Beta test privileges, keep an eye on your email for an invitation from the support account at hero-u.net.
I will offer test builds to the rest of our Alpha testers over the next few weeks, and we hope to move into the Beta phase in mid-November. Entering Beta testing will mean that we believe the game is completely playable, although it may still have some rough edges. Beta will continue until we are satisfied that the game is complete, crash-free, and fun to play. Being a playtester is both exciting - you get to be one of the first to see a new game - and at times frustrating. You will report a problem - possibly a showstopper - and it may take us two weeks or more to fix it. Playtesting is not for the faint of heart.
What does it mean to be a tester? You will get to experience the often chaotic process of bringing the game from “almost done” to “truly ready for release”. Lori describes it as attending a series of dress rehearsals for a theatrical play. At dress rehearsal, everything can and will go wrong – costumes don’t fit, actors forget lines, the door of the set falls open, and people keep missing their cues. It looks like “insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.” (Shakespeare in Love)
Yet, somehow, when the curtain opens the next day, everything comes together and magic happens. How? “It’s a mystery.” (same film). In reality, of course, it’s a combination of hard work and getting the feedback we need to solve most of the problems with the game.
Getting the RPG Balance Right
Playtesting is also a “matter of balance”. As with most role-playing games, Shawn will face increasingly difficult challenges as the game progresses. To handle them, he will have to become smarter, more fit, more charming, and more agile.
How much money does Shawn need? How much time does he have to complete a challenge? Is he strong enough to endure the hardships he faces? We want to make sure that he has the skills he needs at each stage of the game without making the challenges too easy.
Hero-U is designed so that most, possibly all, combat is avoidable. Shawn can sneak around enemies, steal from them, and use diplomacy to avoid fights. Some of our playtesters may choose the “peaceful path” and make sure that the game is completable - though more difficult - without combat.
Others will specialize on checking combat and skill improvement balance. We want to make sure players can realistically improve Shawn’s skills enough to tackle challenging puzzles late in the game. Of course, it’s also fun to watch Shawn improve through his actions.
Then there are the relationships. Shawn should be able to make friends with most of his classmates, maybe even reaching True Love status with one (or two or three, if he plays the game that way). How many “One and Only” rings can one Rogue find and give away? Is Shawn a genuinely nice guy or a devious trickster? It all depends upon the choices that the player makes. All actions have consequences. That’s why we need a huge cadre of testers - there’s so much variation to the game.
Keeping in Touch
If you move or change your email address, please make sure you let us know on BackerKit. This page should work for all backers: https://hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game.backerkit.com/backer/review.
Let your friends know that Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is at last nearing completion. They may preorder the game at a discount, or order a Meep (yes, we still have some left) at http://www.hero-u.com.
What’s the Schedule?
We had hoped to reach Beta testing around this time, with a possible game release by mid-November. Realistically, there is still too much to do. We’re now looking to reach Beta in mid-to-late November, with a game release in December or January. Once you get your copy of the game, please check back regularly to see if we need to patch it post-launch.
We will likely ship the physical goods - mostly posters, yearbooks, and boxed copies of the game - about three months after the digital game release. That reflects a combination of lead time, leeway to make game patches before pressing physical disks, and time Lori and I expect to be devoting to publicity, preparing the physical add-ons, and the myriad administrative tasks that suddenly appear every time a game is released.
An Interview with the DOS Games Club
Lori and I had a chat with two of the leaders of the DOS Games Club (https://www.dosgameclub.com/interview-with-the-coles/). This is a group that picks an old MS-DOS game each month. Everybody plays that game, then meets to discuss it, similar to a book club. Back in August, they all played either Hero’s Quest or the remake, Quest for Glory 1. Martijn reached out to us to learn more about how we made those games, and we were happy to share our experiences. You can visit the above link for more information, or download the podcast directly at: