Lori and I frequently get accolades about the amazing things we did with Quest for Glory and our other games. We smile and graciously accept the compliments. After all, our games were pretty special, and we had a lot to do with them.
But that’s far from the whole story. The last time I “made a game” completely by myself was probably the tic-tac-toe game I designed and programmed in 1976. (I almost typed 1776, and it feels about that far back.)
Every commercial game that Lori or I designed was created by a talented team of developers – programmers, artists, musicians, writers (for some of the games), and testers – along with a management team that assigned those developers and made sure everyone got paid no matter how long the game took to make.
Developers come in all shapes and sizes – concept artists, painters, illustrators 2D and 3D, animators, tool programmers, composers, audio technicians, content programmers, and a couple of dozen other categories. Of course, on a small team such as ours, everyone wears multiple hats – I pay the bills, write most of these posts, craft some game text, a bit of scripting, and so on. Our lead 2D background artist taught himself to use 3D tools so he could work on more of the game. He also created our box cover art, has done a bit of animation, and so on.
The general rule is that, no matter how much work has been done on a game, there’s always that much or more to still get done.
Why So Serious?
Look at the original Hero’s Quest (before it became Quest for Glory) team, for example. You would never know it now, but Hero’s Quest started out as a serious high fantasy game. There was no mention of humor or comedy in the original description. What changed? The team.
First came the art. Lori envisioned a beautiful medieval town in a pastoral forest setting. We got the forest, but the artist assigned to the town took Lori’s crayon and pastel sketches too literally, so Spielburg had a much more “cartoon” look than we intended. The characters also had simplistic, cartoon-like designs. Admittedly, it was hard to make them more realistic in 16 colors and relatively low resolution – 320 x 200 pixels on many displays.
While Lori and I debated how to handle this, programmer Bob Fischbach scripted the first prototype of a forest scene. Since our documentation didn’t say anything about how to handle incidental objects such as trees, Bob came up with several amusing messages including a few puns.
Yes, Bob wrote the first puns in Hero’s Quest; I just took the punishment and ran with it. After all, I went to school in Punsylvania, so it was a natural fit.
That solved our dilemma with the cartoony art style. Instead of trying to write a very serious game that would have been spoiled by the unrealistic backgrounds and characters, we redefined the game concept to be a tongue-in-cheek, humorous take on role-playing, but with a serious underlying story.
Not Just a Text Adventure
Other standouts on the Quest for Glory teams were our art directors – the late Kenn Nishiuye on Quest for Glory I and II, Andy Hoyos on game 3, Marc Hudgins on QG IV, and Terry Robinson on QG V. Each one directed the artists to create a different style, which in turn helped set the mood for each game.
Similarly, our composers created the vital soundscape for each game – Mark Seibert on QG1 and 2, Chris Braymen also on QG2, Rudy Helm on 3, Aubrey Hodges on 4, and of course Chance Thomas on QG 5.
Every game would have felt very different with a change in either the art style or music. We know this because we don’t really like our own games in development until the music comes in; they gain 2 or 3 levels of fun factor with the music.
Continuing the Legacy
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption takes up where Quest for Glory left off, and that’s asking a lot. Our backers and the team expects beautiful background art and characters, smooth animation, text and dialogue responses for everything the player tries, and a delicate balance between silly and serious. We also knew from the beginning that Lori and I couldn’t do all that ourselves. We also know that good game design requires adaptation to the talents of the team working on the game.
As a result of team changes, as well as the development tools we are using, Hero-U has steadily evolved over the past five years. Our original concept was to make it a top-down Rogue-lite game with added story using Unity. Why that concept, and why Unity? The team, which started out with a lead programmer who had recently created a game in that style in Unity.
Why did we change? The team, particularly our first art director, who wanted more of a Sierra look with an isometric (theater stage) viewpoint. Then, as we added more experienced Unity programmers to the team, we learned that Unity works best with full 3D backgrounds, objects, and animation. We recreated most of the game scenes in full 3D.
That change also allowed more sophisticated animation, and required 3D characters, so we brought on more artists experienced with 3D tools, and programmers confident with using Unity. Pretty soon they started showing us how much better the game could look and feel with more “choreography” and active response to player actions.
Another programmer (Rob) created the Composer script editing tool for us. Originally, it was just a structured message editor, but that wasn’t enough for the new approaches our scripters were taking. Over time, other team programmers (especially Judy and Joshua) have added dozens of new features to Composer, to the point where it is starting to approach the sophistication of SCI at Sierra.
At each stage, the game grew, and the story grew along with it. Instead of the static “click on something, and one thing happens” approach used by other games, Lori, Josh, and I started adding variations and conditions everywhere.
For example, if you talk to the storekeeper during the day, you can get into a conversation about store goods, and not much more. Come back at night, or when one of your classmates is in the store, the conversation changes completely. Visit the library after studying lockpicking, and you’re likely to come across a book on the subject.
This has taken a lot more writing and careful planning and scripting, but we think the result is worthwhile. Hero-U is much closer to a “living, breathing” game than any game we’ve written previously.