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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.