‘Tis the season to be jolly,
Filled with faith and joy and folly,
As we gather for another happy holly-day
Here at Hero-U.
There is news and cause for cheer
As the new year’s eve draws near
and we begin our final year
Of work on Hero-U:
Unto Jonathan is born a son!
And that is reason number one
Why a programmer’s work is never done
Here at Hero-U.
So we did beg, plead, and implore
And sent out word that we need more
Coders to come join our corps
With us at Hero-U.
And lo! The coders did reply
We now have several folks who vie
To prove their worth or skill to try
To join our Hero-U.
We’ve got so very much to do
Before our game design is through
And art and code and testing too
Of good old Hero-U.
But ere this giving season goes
For you, our fans, a gift we chose
A music video that shows
The Art of Hero-U.
And so for all, we send our plea
for Peace and Hope and Joy to thee
And next year at this time you’ll see –
The Game of Hero-U.
Happy holidays, everyone! There’s a lot of great news for this closing of the year. In the newcomer category, we have babies and new hires. Our lead programmer, Jonathan Cheatham, now has a new son, Cian Muir Cheatham. Our friend, Richard Aronson, is now a grandfather. We’re about to welcome a daughter-in-law, Annette, to our family next month.
We have four very promising applicants for the programming team. We clearly need all the help we can get. It’s going to be a busy year for all of us in 2015. After all, we set the date for an October release for ‘Rogue to Redemption.’
To celebrate the season and to show off just how gorgeous Hero-U will be, I put together a musical slideshow. We’ve always been very proud of the art of Hero-U. This video shows the art process from start to finish. It shows how much work goes into creating the art assets for the game. There are even a few hints of what happens in ‘Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.’
This is our way of thanking you for all your faith you’ve shown for us over the years.
Thanksgiving is that time of year when we stop what we’re normally doing and think about food… er… how grateful we are for all the good things in our life. Okay, so we mostly think about the food part. I’m making pumpkin bread, cornbread stuffing, sweet potato casserole, garlic mashed potatoes, turkey, and gravy for the feast tomorrow. It’s a lot of work, but it has a yummy reward.
Ditto with game design.
There’s a lot of work, passion, and time that goes into creating the Hero-U game. I’d like to thank our great artists – Eric Varnes, Paul Bowers, Terry Robinson, Chris Willis, and John Paul Selwood for the beauty and cleverness they put into their art. You might not associate cleverness with art, but in computer games, an artist has to do a lot of thinking and planning to get things to work. It takes a special breed of artist. We’re very fortunate to have them on our team.
I’d also like to thank our programmers – Jonathan Cheatham, Rob Eisenberg, and Jerry Shaw. Yeah, it takes Smarts to program a game. It also takes creativity. Everything they do for this game is new and innovative. That’s why it takes exceptional talent to program this game. We’re grateful these people are working on the project.
But the people we are most grateful for our you – our fans. We can literally say that this game could not be made without you. You support Hero-U, finance it, and keep the faith that it will be great. You keep us all focused on the goal to make certain this game lives up to your expectations. Your encouragement renews our energy. We’re so thankful to have you as part of this project.
All in all, we have a lot to be thankful for.
If you are looking for something special to give away in time for the holidays, or if you need a new friend to get you through, check out our Get a Meep and a Keychain for only $30 plus shipping and handling. We have a couple of hats left and a few t-shirts. We’d be very thankful if you’d take them off our hands.
The Nights of the Dead
Written and Directed by Lori Cole
Artwork by JP Selwood
Ghoul Design by Eric Varnes
Music by Ryan Grogan
The Nights of the Dead
On the dark of the moon in Sardonian land
When the cold autumn mist shrouds the sand
and the lights in the towns glow a dull, sullen red
Then the people all huddle with worry and dread
For they know that it heralds the time is at hand
The doom of the Nights of the Dead
When the cold iron gates on the catacomb walls
fling open with shrieks that will echo the halls
They crawl from their crypts with their wounds that have clotted
And leave slimy trails of their flesh that has rotted
With their shrouds torn and tattered and hair lank and knotted
The Ghouls of the Nights of the Dead.
So we festoon our hallways with ribbons so bright
And we set out the candles for light
We gather our goodies and foods we love best
And try not to show that we’re fearful and stressed
As we struggle to welcome our unwelcome guests
The Ghosts of the Nights of the Dead
And thus so it goes every month of November
Our dearly departed we all shall remember
We revel their return with good drink and song
And hope we don’t see in the midst of the throng
Those spiteful and bitter with unavenged wrongs
The Wraiths of the Nights of the Dead
So raise up your glass to a spirit or two
And celebrate life with the ones who all knew
No matter whatever you struggle to do
We all join the Nights of the Dead!
Two years ago, Corey and I started a Kickstarter project to raise money to build a puzzle-role-playing game called Hero-U. It was going to be a simple game compared to the projects we have done in the past. It would have a modest budget and be completed in about a year.
We successfully raised our modest budget. We began to build a game. So we got some of our original plan right.
However, we soon realized even at the start of the Kickstarter that our plan had a few hitches. We were not designing the game you wanted to play.
The phrase ‘The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley’ comes to my mind. So does ‘Leeroy Jenkins.’
The Hero-U RPG Becomes An Adventure Game Too
Before the Kickstarter, we planned out how much game we could make for a limited budget. We decided to go with a limited art style along the lines of “MacGuffin’s Curse.” The art style would be cartoony and the perspective of the game would be top down. The Game Play would involve using props and inventory items to combat monsters. Oh, there was a story mixed into it, but the focus would be on the action and puzzle solving.
MacGuffin’s Curse Screenshot
It was a very practical plan. Sadly, neither of us is practical when it comes to making games. We want every game we make to be the best we can create, and one we would enjoy playing.
As we started attracting backers for our Kickstarter, we could see that most of you really wanted to play an Adventure-Roleplaying game like our Quest for Glory games. Many of you were backing us solely because you enjoyed those games and wanted to see more of them.
I prefer to write games that focus more on the story and character development than on puzzles and combat. I was happy to adapt the design to go along with our fans’ expectations and hopes. It would take a little – or a lot – longer, but the results would justify the time and money spent.
The game was becoming more sophisticated, but we’d keep the art style simple in order to stay in budget. Or so we thought…
State of the Art
There was a problem with using the art style of ‘MacGuffin’s Curse.’ It was funky and cartoony. Our lead Art Designer, Terry Robinson, wanted the game to look more like a traditional Adventure Game. After all, that’s what the fans wanted to see.
We’d stick to 2D art and animation. To keep the costs down, we’d use tile-based backgrounds like MacGuffin’s Curse, but instead of top-down, we’d go with a modified isometric view that put the camera at a closer, more intimate view of the action.
Hero-U Dungeon Tiles
It wouldn’t exactly be up to Sierra On-Line’s heyday of beautiful art, but it didn’t have the budget and resources of a Sierra On-Line game. We’d make do with what we had.
That was the plan, anyway.
Our first task was to create a playable demo that showed off the gameplay and style of the game. We intended to release the demo in June of 2013.
However, there were a few glitches.
For one thing, we didn’t have a good way to animate our characters. We didn’t have an animator. To get around this, we found an animation tool that allowed us to animate the characters like puppets. They looked a little jerky. It was really hard to get them to look right when moving on a diagonal. Plus you have perspective problems with looking down on the character.
On the programming side, it was becoming clear that the tile system for backgrounds just wouldn’t work. We decided to create a simple 3D background with 2D props and characters.
July came and went without a demo. Three more months passed as we continued to solve problems and refine the demo.
Finally, in Fall of 2013, we released our demo.
Hero-U Initial Demo Screenshot
It had great music. It had an interesting opening cinematic. It had humor and puzzle-solving. It clearly demonstrated that we were making a Sierra-style Adventure Game.
Okay, so the main character looked crude. The room looked artificial. The animation was extremely limited. The interface was non-intuitive. But at least we accomplished our goal of getting the demo out.
It was also clear that we had a long way to go.
Messed Laid Plans
The puppet animation wasn’t working out, but that was the best our team could create with their limited resources. Fortunately we found an outside company, CAH, who could model and animate our characters for us. It would more than double our art budget, but it would get us the character animation we needed.
We had committed to making a great game. Even though we said from the beginning of the project that we wanted to stay 2D, it was clear that 3D was the only way to created good looking characters who animated smoothly.
So now, we went from using top-down cartoony characters to 2D puppets and then on to 3D animated characters.
Evolution of Shawn
In terms of design, we went from a Puzzle/Role-Playing Game to a Role-Playing/Adventure Game. It will have more traditional RPG elements than Quest for Glory. You will be able to equip items that affect your combat and skills. You’ll be able to maneuver in combat. You’ll be able to manipulate the environment like moving barrels or putting down traps in combat.
But where the design really changes is that it is now a complex and multi-layered Adventure Game. You can make friends or enemies with other people. You uncover a mystery about the main character’s past. The things you do in the game directly affect the main character’s future. Choices really matter in this game.
Oh, and we tripled the amount of writing needed for the game in the process.
Many Moons ago, we made our first 3D game and the last game of the Quest for Glory series, Dragon Fire, with Sierra On-Line. It took over three years, three different game engines, over 50 people, and almost five million dollars to create. It is not easy to make games.
QfG Dragon Fire Screenshot
The difference between Dragon Fire and Hero-U is that it is Corey and I get to decide what works and what doesn’t. We want Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption to be the best game we’ve ever made.
So here we are, a year behind schedule and no release date in sight. We’re over budget, underpaid, overworked, and understaffed. All we have to show for our efforts is a year-old demo that is not worthy of the game. Hero-U is so much more than that.
And yet, I couldn’t be happier. I know that Hero-U will be the most exciting, beautiful, and creative work we’ve ever done. Every member of the team is working because of a love for what they do. That love will make the game even better.
Creating Hero-U has been an Adventure. It’s been scary and frustrating at times. It’s been beautiful and magical at times. I’m very proud of what we have accomplished along the way. We’ve adapted and evolved the game play and art style to create the game that you will love.
That’s the bottom line. We’re making Hero-U the game that you deserve for all the faith and trust you placed on us by supporting this project. Thank you for your support. We won’t let you down.
Although almost half as many women play games as men, there are still very few games that have an exclusively female protagonist. When King’s Quest 4 came out twenty-six years ago, there were protest letters sent to Sierra about the fact that the game centered around Rosella, but the game was still a bestseller for the company.
So after all this time – why aren’t there more games starring a woman?
There is not just one reason. It comes down to many factors depending upon the type of game and the vision of the designer and the marketing department of the publisher and who makes the final decision of what goes into a game.
However, in an Indie game, the choice of the protagonist’s gender is ultimately the designer’s decision.
So why is Shawn our main character rather than Shawna?
I have been a feminist all of my life. That does not mean I’m a man-hating, bra-burning, ball-busting bitch, all evidence to the contrary. All that means is that I want women to have the same chances in life as men. If I do the same job as a guy, then I should be paid the same amount as a guy. If a woman is really good at being a manager, then that woman should be a boss. I just want things to be fair.
So given my feminist proclivities, it seems reasonable that I would design a game around a female protagonist. After all, I’m creating role-playing games. That means that the player takes on the role of the main character. Women play as men all the time in games. Why shouldn’t men play as women? If they can be Rosella, then they can be anyone.
In fact, when we first started designing an interactive storytelling game based around the ‘School for Heroes’ eight years ago, we had a female protagonist. She was a young women newly enrolled in the Wizard class. So in 2012, when we first decided to do a Kickstarter for Hero-U, we were going to turn her story into an Adventure/Role-playing game.
However, as Indie Developers, we had limitations on what we could do. The game was going to be much simpler than a Quest for Glory. It was probably more of a puzzle-role-playing game like McGuffin’s Curse than an adventure game. We had a limited budget and limited art resources. We certainly didn’t have any money for a marketing budget.
So did we really want to try to sell a game about a Wizard at a boarding school as an original idea? Didn’t someone else tell that story before us?
We wanted Hero-U to feel fresh and unique. Yes, we want to tell the story about the Wizard, but we decided to hold that one off for a later game in the series (after all, game design is like eating potato chips, nobody designs just one).
So we decided to tell the story of the Rogue instead of the Wizard. Rogues are much more puzzle-oriented than Wizards. We already had the setting for the game and many of the school staff characters developed for the School for Heroes. It couldn’t be too hard to come up with a puzzle game designed around a Rogue, could it?
Pity we didn’t actually get to design that game. It would have been a lot simpler to design and cheaper to create than the one we are working on now.
When we did our Kickstarter, though, we listened to our supporters. They were willing to support Hero-U as a Puzzle Role-Playing game because they enjoyed playing our games in the past, but they really wanted to see another Quest for Glory-style game. Almost all of our Kickstarter backers were fans of our older games.
We didn’t want to disappoint our fans. That’s a little like playing basketball with a Kwirk – with the Kwirk as the basketball.
Now we were back to making an adventure/role-playing game with too little money for too short a time.
So there is a practical reason why we didn’t allow players the choice of what gender they wanted Shawn to be – we didn’t have the art resources to make two main characters. Particularly not when the characters were 2D and had to be custom animated.
However, since we were definitely going over budget by over designing the game, why would we let little things like money, time, resources, and nervous breakdowns stop us from making Shawna? After all, we could always just have a female rogue for a protagonist.
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is all about how the choices the player makes for Shawn affects his life and the lives of those around him. It’s an intense role-playing experience. Every choice the player makes has to have consequences.
This is why we couldn’t let the player choose to play either Shawn or Shawna. The interactions and dynamics of the game would be different for a male protagonist than for a female protagonist. Otherwise, the choice of gender was a meaningless decision.
Even in a world where women can become Kings or Wizards, they aren’t treated the same as men. There are more lands than just Raseir where women are seen as possessions rather than individuals. There are men who think that men are superior by nature. There are men who think that women need protecting. Yes, even the world of Gloriana needs feminists.
This game revolves around interacting with other characters throughout the course of the game. Shawna’s interactions with boyfriends and girlfriends would be very different than Shawn’s. There are a minimum of fifty interactions between Shawn and his roommate, Aeolus.
There’s a reason why this game is taking so long to develop. We have to come up with dialogue to match every situation. We have to think of the ramifications of every decision the player makes for Shawn.
Then we have to pull all the different plot threads and character interactions and events and tie them up with a nice little bow on top to make a game.
So why is Shawn not Shawna? Ultimately, it’s because Shawn fits better with the plotline of the game. The story called for a smart-alecky, streetwise kid who wanted to make a better life for himself by becoming a Thief.
If it had been Shawna as that kid on the street, she wouldn’t settle for being a Thief. She would want to become the queen of Sardonia.