Hero-U: Project Update #37: April Tidings

Extending the Supporter Page

Our “Kickstarter-like” PayPal support page at http://www.hero-u.net/KS-store added slightly over $2,000 to the project budget during March. Originally we planned to close it at the end of April, but due to the project delay, we’re extending it to June 30. If your friends missed out on the Kickstarter action and would like to join in the Hero-U community, please tell them about the page and the hero-u.net site.

We would also like to remind you of the Hero-U forum at http://www.hero-u.net/forum/. This is a place to discuss the game with other supporters. You may also post questions for the developers that you think will be of interest to other backers. We try to answer as many as possible when we have time, and knowledgeable fans often step in to provide answers.

Our Team Is Growing

Thank you to the dozens of people who wrote in about our programming openings. I’ve chosen a three highly talented programmers for the current phase, and identified six others we might bring in later as needed. You’re a very talented group!

Speaking of talent, we’re now looking for one or two experienced 2D animators. These will be contract positions and unfortunately well below “big game company” pay rates. But it’s more lucrative, and much more fun, than your average fast food or warehouse store job. You will get to work with our outstanding art director, Terry Robinson, and our other talented character artists. Here is Terry’s job description:

  • The main thing we need is a 2D animator who can animate existing concept sketches. 3D experience is good but the look we are going for is traditional 2D similar to Disney’s more realistic style. The ability to draw great monster and human concept sketches is a big plus, although we have most of our concepts done. What we really need is someone who can refine those and animate them in 2D – primarily walking animation in our unique low-camera isometric view and combat animation.
  • We need samples of their work that can be shown through animated gifs or a demo reel.

If you are interested and well-qualified, please send an email with your resume (CV) and a link to your animation samples to “jobs (at) hero-u (dot) net”. Lori and I will scan them and forward the best candidates to Terry for evaluation.

Meet the Hero-U Programming Team

Our new full-time Lead Programmer is Mike Croswell. Here’s Mike in his own words:

  • I’ve been programming video games since the Commodore-64 days. I’ve also created serious programs for the FAA, NASA, the US Navy, the Medical and Aviation industries, and others – often using game technology to improve the quality of these applications. I am visual by nature, but also enjoy the technology that goes into creating games. I’m a wanna-be artist and enjoy creating art that is designed to help guide (and be replaced by) the actually artists in terms of scale, anchoring/position and timing. One day, maybe my art will be good enough to go in a real game!
  • Also, I’ve been teaching Game Design, Animation, Game Programming and general Computer Science for many years at both the undergraduate and graduate college levels. Recently, I finished a book called, “Unity Game Coding Using C#” which is mostly about programming in Unity but also covers the design and creation of 3D and some 2D games. My first book, it will be published by Taylor & Francis in the Fall of this year. Finally, I run the Unity SIG in Fort Collins where we sit around, drink beer, eat tacos and discuss the philosophy of making games.
Next we have Rob Eisenberg, who is specializing in creating development tools in between running his own consulting firm. Rob’s first task is developing the Hero-U Composer, about which you’ll read more below. Here’s Rob’s bio:
  • When I was eight or nine years old my Dad took me to Sears to buy our first computer, a Commodore 64. It didn’t take much for me to want to know how those amazing programs worked. So, around nine years old I bought my first programming book. A couple of years later, I discovered Kings Quest… and so began my love of adventure games. As a kid, I poured all my money into adventure games and programming books. I even tried writing my own adventure game engine, first in C and then in C++.
  • After high school, I went to FSU to study music composition and theory. (Music is my other great love.) Half way through grad school I started a video game music company with a friend. That didn’t go anywhere, but it re-ignited my programming. In 2004 I took my first professional programming job and have been writing C# or JavaScript code almost every day of my life since.
  • Today, I work a lot on open source frameworks for application development, which is what I’m known for most in the community. While I don’t have much “real world” game development experience, I’ve spent a lot of time professionally building developer and designer tools for various industries. I’m really happy to be a part of the Hero-U team and looking forward to building a fantastic set of tools to help enable the Coles to bring their vision to life.

Finally (but certainly not last!), let me introduce Jonathan Cheatham, a triple-threat Unity wizard with experience in programming, art, and game design. In his copious free time between a full-time job and a family, Jonathan has already wowed us with a great prototype of the isometric graphics system we only had on paper before. It isn’t quite ready to share on Kickstarter yet, but it’s a terrific first pass. Jonathan says:

  • Hmm, my fluffy background: I’ve been fascinated with games forever, and two of the largest influences on me were the original Hero’s Quest and Moria (a rogue-like game). So, I started out as a “game designer”, but quickly realized that in order to actually get anything made I needed to program. Some time later I realized that artists don’t really like to work on sweat equity (at least any more than the rest of us), so I guessed I’d better learn me some art… and that’s how I ended up the bizarre programmer/artist/designer I am today. Jack of all trades, master of none… just that I’ve been programming for the better part of 20 years so I guess I’m okay enough at it to make a living 🙂
  • I worked on a few personal projects (some tiny, some grossly overly ambitious), eventually conned my way into the game industry, worked for Namco Bandai, conned my way into game design, learned the horrible truths, and fell back out of the industry into the dot-com I’m currently at (Zendesk… not really a start-up anymore though, they’re pretty friggin huge at this point). I saw Corey’s update to the project a few weeks ago and made myself enough a nuisance to attract his attention and let me help out.

This team has made more programming progress in the last two weeks than we saw in the previous three months, and Lori and I are delighted with the talent, energy, enthusiasm, and professionalism of our three core programmers.

Revolutionizing Adventure Game Design Tools

Grumpy Gamer Ron Gilbert (co-creator of Secret of Monkey Island) recently posted something with which we agree whole-heartedly: “If I made another Monkey Island, I would rebuild SCUMM. Not SCUMM as in the exact same language, but what SCUMM brought to those games… I’d build an engine and a language where funny ideas can be laughed about at lunch and be in the game that afternoon. SCUMM did that. It’s something that is getting lost today.”

At Sierra, we had SCI, our version of SCUMM with many of the same features. At one point, I heard that Sierra had spent over a million dollars (back when that was real money) on SCI development. It gave us a huge head start, and even let me make a non-adventure game, Castle of Dr. Brain.

We knew we will need a new dialogue editing system, so we asked Rob to take that on. He could have just followed my spec and made us a useful tool. But you know these uppity programmers. Rob took the basic ideas, and is building a true Unified Design Editor, the Hero-U Composer. We saw his first prototype today, and it will let use craft the Hero-U design in ways we could only dream of back in the 1990’s.

Meanwhile, Mike and Jonathan are working on a graphics tool that will let us patch together a beautiful-looking level from the background artists’ tiles, and a “tester” that will let them check out their animation in the context of the game. We will also be building a combat simulator to make sure combat is balanced. Tools like these were at the heart of adventure game development in the 1990’s, but the new ones are like supersonic jets compared to the bicycles we rode back then.

Coming Soon to An Update Near You

In the next update, we’ll probably have an animator or two to introduce. I will also share some of the work Lori and I have been doing on the game design and story – The combat system and perhaps a bit about the Noctes de Mortuus. Yes, Hero-U has a few holidays.

Thank you all for your continuing patience and support!

Corey Cole