I had the opportunity yesterday to speak with Corey and Lori Cole of Transolar Games on their current project Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, currently on Kickstarter, with just under half of its requested $100 000 reached. Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, like the old Quest for Glory games they made at Sierra, is an adventure-rpg hybrid taking the tools of each and combining them to create a unique experience.
After talking with them, I’d say if I had to choose 3 words to represent Hero-U they would be: choice, consequences and fun. Those are at the heart of most of the design decisions for Hero-U I believe and are what makes this game stand out so much from other projects.
Choice is represented in almost everything in Rogue to Redemption. Hero-U often presents problems in various forms for the player to choose if and how they interact with them. Given their background with Sierra, Corey and Lori have spent a lot of time explaining the differences in that approach compared to the traditional adventure puzzle game approach with Corey saying:
"To us the difference between an adventure game and roleplaying game is that an adventure game has puzzles, which means the designer has come up with something tricky and tries to trick the player into solving something tricky. Roleplaying games have problems, so you have something like there's a monster between you and the treasure, and we don't tell you how to solve it. In fact, we don't come up with a solution. We give you tools, there are things like traps, and weapons and potions and so on, and how you use the tools is up to the player. So you might decide you want to conserve your flaming Molotov cocktail for the really tough monsters, so you'll have a tougher time fighting the easier ones."
By focusing on creating potential systematic solutions to problems rather than scripted ones, they are able to give a lot of freedom to people to choose how they want to play. It’s not just about creating branching paths and dialogues in Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, though there is plenty of that, it is also about creating the type of experience one is interested in. If that is sneaking about and avoiding combat using wits and tricks, you can do that; if you want to fight with dastardly deeds you can; or if you want to focus on having friends and some more scholastic pursuits you can. As Lori explains, it’s about finding your own path in the game:
"It isn't really this 'oh will you do me a favor' type of game. It's a 'these are my problems, are you going to help me solve it or are you just going to do something else in the game.' It's all a matter of choices and nothing in this game is really mandatory. For the most part you go through and choose what you want to do... and that's what creates the game."
To make choices matter, one has to also include consequences. In many games, this is the ignored or lesser part of it, and that tends to create a narrative dissonance. When quests sit around forever undone, or the world fails to react to what is going on around them, it creates a feel of a lifeless world - no matter how much wonderful artwork there might be. It’s why time is one of the key game variables tracked throughout Hero-U, as people around you are doing things as well, and there is an opportunity cost for each action. If you decide to go explore the dungeon, you aren’t helping a friend, or listening in class, or making new friends, which can all help out in different ways from favors, to skills, to new questlines and stories. Time and the fact that the world is alive around you constantly moving is something Corey brought up during our discussion:
"Also we mentioned the time thing that we're used to in the typical roleplaying game that for some reason you've got the king with all the resources of the kingdom at his command has chosen one peasant off the street and said 'okay you're my hero now, you get to do everything in this kingdom, and nothing anyone else does matters.' Well that doesn't happen in Hero-U. In Hero-U, all of your other classmates are striving against you; they're all working to become Rogue of the year among other things, and they are all independent entities. If you sit around and you're not going to solve the problems right away, the problems don't sit there and wait for you. Somebody else is going to go out there and be the hero and that means you get to go to class and listen while everyone applauds the other student who did the work you could have done. You don't have to be a hero, but you have to decide what your priorities are."
Fun comes in not just the style or inspiration for the game, but often in the writing dialogue. While there are serious mysteries and interpersonal dramas going around, the game tries to maintain a lighter tone at appropriate moments. As veterans of their games might expect, there are all sorts of puns scattered throughout, but they are doing their best to be sure it doesn’t disrupt the mood.
While dialogue isn't present much in the gameplay demos available now, it will be a big part of the whole game with everything you’ve said being remembered by people who can hear it. Taking the best of the dialogue wheel set up and some of the traditional full line reading, Hero-U's dialogue puts a quick note on tone (such as snarky, and charming among others) as well as a snippet of the line. As part of choice and consequences, you can’t just click all the dialogue until it’s exhausted; people will remember what you’ve asked about and it will set the path for that and future conversations.
Hero-U was originally Kickstarted back in 2012 for over $400 000, and is now asking for $100 000 more to help finish the project. They have kept backers updated on the situation throughout with over 60 updates before the launch of the second Kickstarter - as well as blog posts, forums, and progress reports. While there’s been setbacks, they've come a long way with most of the technology and art done, with writing and programming left mostly to do. Corey talks a lot about the budget in the interview, comparing it to the Quest for Glory ones (and how much more those were than you may have thought!) that I think you should listen into, but they also recently posted for backers a detailed breakdown of the money they raised and spent.
Pledged on Kickstarter (Gross): $409,000 (but some did not pay) PayPal and Humble Bundle (Gross): $26,000 Total Crowd-Funding to Date (Gross): $435,000 Deductions and Funding Costs: $60,000 Total Crowd-Funding to Date (Net): $375,000
Here’s where we spent the original Kickstarter funding:
Art and Animation $205,000 (includes work on virtual rewards) Programming $85,000 Music $25,000 Taxes/Fees/Overhead $75,000 (includes cost of funding) Software/Supplies $10,000 (Unity and other licenses) Rewards and Shipping $35,000 TOTAL: $435,000
Of that money spent, $45 000 of the programming money was lost when various members of the programming team left the project for other opportunities, and several of the programmers have deferred payment until after the launch of it in exchange for a royalty. Additionally, about $10-20k was lost in 2d animation when they transitioned to 3d. The art was all able to transition and works with the rest to form a very nice aesthetic for the game in general (though the programming on the running animation could use some work!).
The same backer post (which we were given permission to take the information from) also explained how they plan on using the funds raised from this Kickstarter to finish the game by March 2016.
If this campaign is successful, here is how we will spend the funds (based on exactly meeting the $100,000 goal):
$10,000 Kickstarter and bank fees $20,000 Cost of project rewards $40,000 Programming $20,000 Art and Animation $10,000 All other expenses If the project reaches $200,000:
$20,000 Kickstarter and bank fees $40,000 Cost of project rewards $70,000 Programming $40,000 Art and Animation $20,000 Game testing, production, and shipping $10,000 All other expenses Any additional funding will be used for:
Improved game play, art, and sound effects Debt reduction to lower interest expense Additional section of the Sea Caves (Temple of Gog-sosloth) Localization and Voice Acting Android and iOS Tablet versions of the game
Check out the video below for the whole interview!
Disclosure: The writer/interviewer backed Hero-U on Kickstarter back in 2012.