Kickstarter of the week: Hero-U

Lori and Corey Cole, the Sierra veterans responsible for some of our favourite adventure games of old, have embarked on a new project. We talk to Lori about Kickstarter and their plans for Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.

(Credit: Sierra)

Lori and Corey Cole, the Sierra veterans who are responsible for some of our favourite adventure games of old, have embarked on a new project. We talk to Lori about Kickstarter and their plans for Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.

Lori and Corey Cole are some big names in gaming. Between them, they worked on some of the best-loved titles of the late 1980s and '90s, including Hero's Quest, King's Quest and the Quest for Glory games. Given the collective oeuvre the couple have under their belt, we're delighted to see them finally return to making fantastic RPGs.

We got a chance to talk to Lori about the new title, Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, Kickstarter and how the gaming industry has changed.

You guys have a lot of experience and clout up your sleeves. Why did you decide to go the Kickstarter route?

While we have made some very popular games in the past, the genre of adventure game has gone out of vogue, with the major development companies. Adventure games have always been expensive to make, with their beautiful artwork and custom programming for every room in the game. Right now, game companies are risk-averse, and would rather put their money on remakes than take a chance on something new.

Kickstarter gives us the chance to connect directly to our fans. We are using Kickstarter as much for publicity as to raise money.

(Credit: Corey Cole)

We also want to create a very new style of game. Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption combines the beauty and powerful story-telling qualities of an adventure game, the excitement and re-playability of a role-playing game and the satisfaction of puzzle-solving. Kickstarter will allow us to do a game like no other game before — one that game companies would be afraid to back. We believe that players would love to play something new. Kickstarter will give players the chance to help create the games that they enjoy playing.

It's been a pretty long hiatus for you — what have you been doing since the late '90s/early 2000s?

Corey has worked on online poker games and Lori has been mastering the arts of Photoshop and photography. We have been running a web-based "Famous Adventurer's School for Heroes", which allowed people to determine what type of heroic fantasy character class they were personally suited for. The School for Heroes had virtual classes that encouraged creativity, self-expression and promoted heroism in real life.

However, we wanted the School for Heroes to be more like a game than a classroom. We wanted the player to have fun while they learned things. Games are a great way to learn critical thinking, problem-solving and other real-world skills.

Kickstarter has some obvious benefits — for example, the direct community connection and the freedom to make choices more independently. However, it's still pretty new; are there any ways in which you're apprehensive about the funding model, compared to the way you used to do things at Sierra? Does that community connection make you feel more pressured to produce an excellent game?

The greatest pressure to make an excellent game is ourselves. We don't want to make a game — we want to make a great game. Kickstarter will give us the chance to not only afford to make the game; we'll have many of our backers to play-test and help polish the game to perfection. No game company ever allots enough time to properly polish a game before releasing it to the public.

At the moment, we're holding our breaths to see if we will make our Kickstarter goal. That's the only thing we need to be apprehensive about with this method of funding. When we worked with Sierra, we never knew if the "Powers-that-Be" would pull the plug on the project before it was finished or, possibly worse, ship the game before it was finished. That won't happen with Hero-U.

Kickstarter has been demonstrating, pretty solidly, that there's a market segment that is keen for old-school games. Why do you think gamers are so keen for these titles? What are AAA games lacking that these new old-school games are providing?

Most of the AAA games appeal to a broad spectrum of gamers. They generally involve real-time action and a visceral, emotional response. They require a fast reaction-time, and many require a fast internet connection to play them.

But not all gamers enjoy that sort of game. People who loved playing adventure games have had nothing to play from major game companies for years. People who don't have lightning-fast reflexes can't stand the twitch games. And some players are just tired of the "same old, same old" stuff that keeps getting pushed at them.

Besides, one of the rarest of qualities in great games is great story-telling and characterisation. None of the recent games puts an emphasis upon story, and yet, that is the essential heart of all entertainment.

Gaming development has changed a lot over the years. What is worth keeping from the older way of doing things and what new technologies, methods and mechanics do you consider worth adopting?

Production costs on games are huge. Companies want to ship games quickly, so they hire a bunch of people and assume that will make the game ship sooner. Unfortunately, in reality, adding more people to a project often makes the project take longer. It adds over-complexity, miscommunication and coordination problems.

For Hero-U, we're using a very small team of dedicated individuals who all love games. We are using old-fashioned 2D artwork that looks great. It won't look like it cost a million dollars to produce, but it will be more entertaining than games that cost more than a million.

On the other hand, we are taking advantage of the connectivity of the modern world with the internet. Our programming team, Andrew Goulding of Brawsome and our musician, Ryan Grogan, are in Australia. Our artists live in Seattle and we live in California. We've never met each other in person. We've had team meetings on Skype, we will use Unity as our operating system, we use Dropbox for art and we'll be using Google Drive for design. Hero-U will be made, thanks to the miracles of modern communication, modern technology and the old-fashioned core values of great storytelling and gameplay.

Can you tell us a bit about Hero-U — how it works, what it's about, and where did the idea come from?

Hero-U is the direct descendent of the School for Heroes, the website we ran for years. We wanted to make a story-based game around the premise of a student at the school, but we didn't have the resources or team to do it until now.

How does Hero-U relate to your other titles? Is there anything you've kept from titles, such as Quest for Glory and Hero's Quest?

(Credit: Corey Cole)

Hero-U is set in the same sort of world as Quest for Glory. There will be many familiar qualities to fans of the series. Like Quest for Glory, it will be a combination adventure role-playing game. There will be heroic deeds to do and monsters to slay.

The Quest for Glory series centred around a nameless character who wanted to be a hero. We let the player decide what sort of person the hero was — a fighter, magic-user or a thief. The game had multiple solutions to each puzzle, depending upon what sort of character you played.

For Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, we're going to concentrate the game upon one major character, Shawn O'Connor, would-be thief. He gets caught in his attempt to pass the Thieves' Guild Initiation and gets sent to Hero-U. Shawn is bright and a bit of a smart-aleck. It's up to the player to determine whether Shawn will learn to be a hero or instead become a master thief.

So, like Quest for Glory, the choices that the player makes has real impact upon the gameplay. But while both games have monsters to slay, Quest for Glory had real-time combat and Hero-U will have turn-based combat. Hero-U will let the player out-wit the monsters, rather than just beat them over the heads until they fall down.

Every time we make a game, we try different approaches. We take the best ideas from the previous games and then polish them in the next games. Even in the Quest for Glory series, each game was uniquely its own; look, location and combat system. For Hero-U, we want to take the best of what we've learned from Quest for Glory and make it even better.

You've traditionally been seen as something of a pioneer in writing women characters for games. What kind of women can we expect to see in Hero-U? And following on from that, why did you decide on a male protagonist, rather than making a choice of gender available to the player?

Right from the start, we knew we wanted to make the main character of Hero-U be a unique individual with a distinctive personality, a meaningful back-story and personal goals. When we first started talking about this Kickstarter project, we planned the game to be the wizard's story. The game would have a female protagonist. However, we didn't want players to think that we were doing a rip-off game about Harriet Potter goes to the magical university. So, instead, we decided to tell the rogue's story first.

When you love a book, it's usually because you care about the main character. You want to know what will happen to him or her. It's easier to create that kind of emotional relationship with a character who is well-defined and unique. Thus, Hero-U will concentrate upon one distinct character at a time.

But the game is planned as a series. Our rogue and our paladin games have male protagonists and the wizard and warrior protagonists are female. There will be strong female characters throughout the series. The society of the game world may frown upon powerful women, but that won't stop the women of Hero-U from being heroes.

What are some of your favourite works of fantasy that our readers can get into while they wait for Hero-U?

At the moment, I am currently re-reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods, a fascinating and brilliant novel about gods and magic in the modern world. I'd recommend anything from Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, particularly the book Good Omens that they wrote together. It's wickedly funny.

I also recommend the very funny Parasol Protectorate novels by Gail Carriger. In a world of vampires, werewolves, steampunk and Victorian society, the plucky heroine finds mystery, danger and romance.

For games, I'd recommend McGuffin's Curse by Andrew Goulding. It's a puzzle game about a werewolf thief. It is humorous and delightfully tricky.

To find out more about Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption and to fund the project, head over to the Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption Kickstarter page.