Wishing you all, a very Happy New Year!
Wishing you all, a very Happy New Year!
First, and most importantly, we wish all our backers and fans a wonderful holiday season. Have a great Christmas and a safe and happy New Year. Lori and I are doing something special this year – our first real vacation in 30 years or so. We’ll be spending Christmas in Barcelona, Spain, recharging our energy before the final push on Hero-U.
Testing and Project Progress
After some initial challenges, we opened Alpha testing to a few backers in August. Since then we’ve invited 100 top backers and have 30 testers exercising the game.
And boy have they been exercising! The testers have reported over 1000 bugs and suggestions for design improvements, most of which we’ve been able to address. We’ve also addressed several hundred automatically reported issues with the game.
This has, as expected, been quite a challenge for our small team. Every day we face the question, “Do we keep polishing the parts of the game we’ve been testing, or spend the time getting the next section ready for testing?” For the most part, we’re making sure there are no story-wrecking problems anywhere in the game.
What we didn’t expect was the passion this small group of playtesters has applied to playing Hero-U. Many of the suggestions have been incredibly insightful, causing Lori to rewrite and add entire sections of dialogue to improve the game flow and responsiveness to player actions.
Our next steps will be to open the testing process to all 340 backers who supported us at an alpha test level. Once all of the game content is ready to test, we’ll open the floodgates to over 4000 Beta testers. At each stage, we raise the stakes for the team as we continue to develop the final sections of the game while fixing and improving the parts that we thought were “done”.
We’ve made a great amount of progress thanks to the team and our testers, but there is still quite a bit to be done before release.
Remaining to be done:
We’ve just released a “sneak preview” of the Catacombs to testers. All of the scenes are navigable, but occasionally a bit crazy – Shawn steps through a doorway and ends up on his back in the next scene. We plan to have full Catacombs functionality in place for the next test build in mid-January.
The adjusted schedule:
I would love to say a flat “March 15 is the release date”, but as we’ve seen, many things can happen during testing that can cause us to step back and spend extra time reworking an area of the game. Still, March 15 is our target release date.
Walking through the Uncanny Valley
We first heard the term “Uncanny Valley” while working at Sierra. As long as games were obviously low-resolution and cartoony, players had no problem ignoring glaring flaws in graphics quality, sound, and storytelling. Games were obviously not films, and that was fine.
At the same time, we knew we could do a lot better, and we did. Through the 1990s, Sierra games went from 4 colors to 16 to 256, doubled their resolution, and started to experiment with 3D graphics. Audio went from PC speaker single-voice “beeps and boops” to 3- and 4-voice sound and MIDI to fully-orchestrated tracks and synthesizer-quality sound cards. The user interface went from typing to point-and-click – I still think there is much more to be done in that area. Storytelling went from simplistic “game logic” to something approaching Hollywood and even art films.
But there’s a danger to coming too close to the domain of the gods. The ancient Greeks called it “hubris”. In modern terms, there is an invisible line between acceptance of game flaws as “fantasy”, vs. getting close enough to real life that players start expecting the game to *be* real. Based on tester feedback, we’re coming perilously close to that line with Hero-U.
We’ve been getting “uncanny valley” feedback on Hero-U much more than with any previous game. Players get so involved in the conversations and action, they feel as though they are really at Hero-U. This means we can’t just take the easy way out that Sierra used so often – “Oh, they’re doing that? We can’t handle that. Kill the character if they try it.” Instead, we add additional dialogue chains, obstacles, and puzzles.
This feedback is one of the reasons we are taking a lot of extra time making sure we get every sequence in the game “right”. We don’t want Hero-U to feel like “just another adventure game” or RPG. If players notice that a character’s dialogue in one scene or event doesn’t seem to match up with what they’ve said or done earlier, we change it to improve continuity. In many cases, the correct dialogue already exists, but there is an error in the scripting code that causes lines to come up out of order. As we walk through the Uncanny Valley, it’s no longer good enough to have some characters that talk – they have to feel real.
Game Play Video
Al Eufrasio put together this game play video to highlight how Hero-U plays.
https://youtu.be/fter0C1tuesIncidentally, there is a graphical glitch in one scene of the video due to processing, but don’t worry – that doesn’t happen in the game.
Please keep your email and address current at https://hero-u-adventure-role-
Participate in the Hero-U forum at http://www.hero-u.net/forum/
Our FaceBook page is https://www.facebook.com/
And of course our project updates are on Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/
QUICK RUN DOWN OF THINGS STILL IN PROGRESS:
In the above image, you are seeing that Ace has been strapped to a chair and based on what’s happening, you can guess that this is not a good thing. In part of the ending sequence, Rooter is the hero. You’ll have to control Rooter(not for the first time) to help Ace out of the sticky situation he has found himself in.
Keep in mind, we are purposely not giving you any back story here as to not spoil anything, but clearly Rooter needs to stop the “MEMORY WIPE” that is occurring before it is too late. There is a very unique set of puzzles that have to be solve to take care of saving Ace. Below is a video that will give you guys an idea of a little of what is involved in this scene. This is still a work in progress, so music and SFX have not been added yet.
https://youtu.be/mYTF_DLZOPQThroughout the design/building of SpaceVenture, we have been recording footage of it’s creation. To compliment the previous video, we thought you guys might want to see a little bit of the behind the scenes footage of how this scene came about. This sequence and puzzle design was the brain child of Mark Crowe. Here is a little footage of Mark talking about his vision for it.
https://youtu.be/e0d3zKdSejQSVREWARDS DIARY ENTRY
For $30 backers and up, log on to the SVRewards website to view a diary entry behind the scenes video of myself(Chris Pope) discussing some of what it took to make the puzzle mechanics work. There is a “forgot password” option on the website but if you have problems logging in, please feel free to email contact @ guysfromandromeda.com. Remember, currently this is only for $30 an up backers. All behind the scenes materials will be released to everyone once the game ships.
Below is another glimpse at one of the final sequences in SpaceVenture. We aren’t gonna give any hint of what is going on here as again not to spoil anything. Definitely some fun to be had here at the end of the game for you though!
$150 AND UP BACKERS, THIS IS FOR YOU
This Thursday November 16th, we are gonna have a vote for three items in SpaceVenture. This will involve your 3 favorite villains seen in this image:
And it will also involve the hair style and outfit of one of the other characters in the game. Be on the look out via email so you can vote!
How to vote?
Keep an eye out for a Kickstarter message to come through email. That email will contain a link so that you can vote!
Chris Pope a.k.a your local intergalactic SpacePope
So far we’ve proceeded very cautiously with pre-Alpha testing of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. Sierra never sent unfinished games out “into the wild” until they had gone through weeks of in-house testing. There was no Beta testing for any Quest for Glory or our other games.
Looking back, I shudder at that process! It “broke” a couple of times, notably with Quest for Glory IV. Players started out in a cave, made it out… and frequently crashed the game in the next scene. Very few people had online access then, so there was no easy way to patch the game and fix the hundreds of problems with the shipping version.
With Hero-U, we are making sure we don’t repeat those mistakes. We started out by letting a few backers test part of the game. Sure enough, something broke. Oddly, it wasn’t Hero-U! Instead, we found ourselves debugging the bug-finding process. Our ISP wouldn’t let us send out registration confirmation emails. Then the bug reporting tool itself broke.
We are also balancing putting the final touches into the game while resolving hundreds of reports. Most of these are things such as corrections to spelling and grammar (in several languages due to the game setting). Some are more serious – players found they could get rich by finding the same leather jacket over and over, and selling the extras. (That also happened in Quest for Glory II, where players could get rich harvesting the Dervish’s beard.) A few have been actual game stoppers.
This is normal and good. The small QA staff at Sierra often filed thousands of bug reports for a single game before they deemed it ready to ship. My personal best was about 100 reports on Castle of Dr. Brain, a relatively small and simple game that we all thought was rock-solid before we handed it off to QA. According to the QA lead, yes, 100 bugs *is* rock-solid. 🙂
Over the next month, we will gradually open more areas of the game to testers, and we will also invite more testers with each “build”. If you backed Hero-U at a level that included Alpha and/or Beta test privileges, keep an eye on your email for an invitation from the support account at hero-u.net.
I will offer test builds to the rest of our Alpha testers over the next few weeks, and we hope to move into the Beta phase in mid-November. Entering Beta testing will mean that we believe the game is completely playable, although it may still have some rough edges. Beta will continue until we are satisfied that the game is complete, crash-free, and fun to play. Being a playtester is both exciting – you get to be one of the first to see a new game – and at times frustrating. You will report a problem – possibly a showstopper – and it may take us two weeks or more to fix it. Playtesting is not for the faint of heart.
What does it mean to be a tester? You will get to experience the often chaotic process of bringing the game from “almost done” to “truly ready for release”. Lori describes it as attending a series of dress rehearsals for a theatrical play. At dress rehearsal, everything can and will go wrong – costumes don’t fit, actors forget lines, the door of the set falls open, and people keep missing their cues. It looks like “insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.” (Shakespeare in Love)
Yet, somehow, when the curtain opens the next day, everything comes together and magic happens. How? “It’s a mystery.” (same film). In reality, of course, it’s a combination of hard work and getting the feedback we need to solve most of the problems with the game.
Playtesting is also a “matter of balance”. As with most role-playing games, Shawn will face increasingly difficult challenges as the game progresses. To handle them, he will have to become smarter, more fit, more charming, and more agile.
How much money does Shawn need? How much time does he have to complete a challenge? Is he strong enough to endure the hardships he faces? We want to make sure that he has the skills he needs at each stage of the game without making the challenges too easy.
Hero-U is designed so that most, possibly all, combat is avoidable. Shawn can sneak around enemies, steal from them, and use diplomacy to avoid fights. Some of our playtesters may choose the “peaceful path” and make sure that the game is completable – though more difficult – without combat.
Others will specialize on checking combat and skill improvement balance. We want to make sure players can realistically improve Shawn’s skills enough to tackle challenging puzzles late in the game. Of course, it’s also fun to watch Shawn improve through his actions.
Then there are the relationships. Shawn should be able to make friends with most of his classmates, maybe even reaching True Love status with one (or two or three, if he plays the game that way). How many “One and Only” rings can one Rogue find and give away? Is Shawn a genuinely nice guy or a devious trickster? It all depends upon the choices that the player makes. All actions have consequences. That’s why we need a huge cadre of testers – there’s so much variation to the game.
If you move or change your email address, please make sure you let us know on BackerKit. This page should work for all backers: https://hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game.backerkit.com/backer/review.
Let your friends know that Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is at last nearing completion. They may preorder the game at a discount, or order a Meep (yes, we still have some left) at http://www.hero-u.com.
We had hoped to reach Beta testing around this time, with a possible game release by mid-November. Realistically, there is still too much to do. We’re now looking to reach Beta in mid-to-late November, with a game release in December or January. Once you get your copy of the game, please check back regularly to see if we need to patch it post-launch.
We will likely ship the physical goods – mostly posters, yearbooks, and boxed copies of the game – about three months after the digital game release. That reflects a combination of lead time, leeway to make game patches before pressing physical disks, and time Lori and I expect to be devoting to publicity, preparing the physical add-ons, and the myriad administrative tasks that suddenly appear every time a game is released.
Lori and I had a chat with two of the leaders of the DOS Games Club (https://www.dosgameclub.com/interview-with-the-coles/). This is a group that picks an old MS-DOS game each month. Everybody plays that game, then meets to discuss it, similar to a book club. Back in August, they all played either Hero’s Quest or the remake, Quest for Glory 1. Martijn reached out to us to learn more about how we made those games, and we were happy to share our experiences. You can visit the above link for more information, or download the podcast directly at:
We’ve done some more updates and added a few more pages! The Laffer Utilities Page now includes the Windows version of the program! I added the Take A Break – Larry’s Big Score Pinball game! And on the Larry’s Casino Page I added Crazy Nick’s Software Picks: Leisure Suit Larry’s Casino to that page as well!
So a few new pages have been added! The Laffer Utilities page is now live. I’ve also added the 1998 version of Larry Casino. The Leisure Suit Larry 1 VGA Remake and the Leisure Suit Larry 1 Reloaded both got their own pages now as well. Both already had pages for the VGA and Reloaded ladies – but now there’s a game page for each of them!
Se sure to share!
There are mysterious forces behind Hero-U. It is not obvious who is actually financing the school, or why. As for the greater society of Sardonia, we don’t spell it out in the game, but obviously Thief and Rogue are not the only professions. However…
Even though Shawn is a poor young man with an overworked single mother and apparently no connections, someone is looking out for him. Maybe more than one “someone”. That results in an invitation to audition for the Thieves’ Guild, and then a mandatory “invitation” to Hero-U.
Nothing happens by coincidence. The existence of the school, and the fact that it’s built on a “haunted” old castle, is also not a coincidence.
Players will learn something about these mysteries in Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. Other stories will be developed in future games of the series, and some of it will stay locked in our “Game Bible” as background for all of the games and game events.
It would be wonderful if making a game was like turning on a light switch, or even like taking a collection of Legos and turning them into a stunning model.
Actually, it *is* a lot like that, only there are about 600 models to put together… or maybe 6000. The mystery is that we can even put so many distinct pieces together to create one coherent game.
Every week, Hero-U creeps a little closer to being a complete, fun game. Along the way, JP and Al continue to draw, paint, model, and animate the game. Joshua, Cidney, and our secret programmers move between bringing the game to life and squashing bugs.
For a little more about the importance of each team member to every game we’ve made, and to Hero-U in particular, I posted an article to the Hero-U blog, http://hero-u.com/it-takes-a-
Ryan Grogan has recently returned to the team to help us finish the music and soundscape to make Rogue to Redemption sound as amazing as it looks.
Josh Mandel and Lori alternate between tickling your funny bones and writing moments of suspense, drama, and tenderness. Yes, they’re both still writing game content as we get feedback on parts of the game that need more direction or energy.
The story of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is a difficult balancing act as we strive to make Shawn O’Conner a hero even though he’ll always be a rogue. Developing the game is like juggling hundreds of spinning plates at a time. Only when every one of them is in balance will the game be complete. After almost five years of development, it’s all coming together.
Now it’s time to begin outside testing and find out how much more still needs to be done.
There are a lot of steps involved in getting a game to outside testers. We’ve developed our own built-in bug reporter that catches both software errors and player reports. Once they appear in our testing database, we do “triage” on them and assign them to specific team members to fix.
Another step is contacting and working with backers. I’m starting out with a small subset of our Alpha Test level backers to be our first guinea pigs, er, brave testers. Once we have the reporting tool adequately tested, I’ll expand that by stages to all 350 Alpha Test backers. We are asking each tester to sign a Beta Test agreement similar to the ones used by Electronic Arts and other major game developers. We don’t want anyone revealing the mysteries too soon!
Once our first testers have looked at the game in sections, we’ll put everything together for a full Beta test accessible to all 2000 backers who chose a Beta Test level. This will be a full, feature-complete game, but it will probably still have some rough edges. Waves of Beta tests will continue until we are satisfied that Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is ready for release.
The initial test build includes the first few weeks at Hero-U. We’ve disabled the second half of the game and all combat areas. Over the next couple of months, we’ll gradually open up additional areas of the game for testing. We’ll move from Alpha to Beta testing once we’ve revealed the entire game.
As always, keep your information current at https://hero-u-adventure-
This has been an epic game development process, and even when the game is tested and released, there will be much more to come. We will keep posting updates and stay in touch with the Hero-U community. Then it will be time to begin work on Hero-U: Wizard’s Way and the rest of the series.
Like the Starship Enterprise, once we complete our five year mission, there will be new ports, new destinations, and new crew to take us all where no one has gone before.
QUICK RUN DOWN OF THINGS STILL IN PROGRESS:
AN UPDATE ON SPACEVENTURE’S NAVIGATION SYSTEM
As mentioned in a previous update, we’ve worked really hard to make the SpaceVenture universe have that ‘BIG’ exploratory feeling that you probably got in some of the Space Quest games. In fact, we have a game developer that is dedicated just to our navigation system, that’s how important we feel it is. You as the player should be able to revisit favorite areas of the game just like in the later Space Quest games.
In the video below, one thing you’re gonna notice here is some different ships. In fact, when playing SpaceVenture, you’ll be seeing different combinations of ships every time you return to Hyperspace. Another thing that has changed recently is the ships have much better AI. When we originally showed you all the navigation system, the ships were all just canned animations with no scripting. Now the ships actually have some AI and can respond and interact with Ace’s ship as he cruises along the Hyperspace beltway.
A couple of things to note in the video. The frame rate is a bit low in the recording, sorry about that. The music you’ll hear is placeholder but represents something similar that is planned for those areas of the game.
https://youtu.be/Y_YSIlQ5jnQACE GETS PULLED OVER BY OFFICER QUICKSILVER
One of the remaining cutscenes that is currently under way features Ace getting pulled over by officer Quicksilver. As you can see, the cutscene still needs a lot of work, but we thought it would be fun to show you guys one of the few remaining cutscenes that is currently being worked on right now.
https://youtu.be/GaZaghUauPE MEET CENTARI CORPORATION’S EXECUTIVE STAFF
In one of the game’s key cutscenes, Milo Forbin, the CEO of Centari Corp is having a executive staff meeting with his top lackeys; who appear before him as projected holograms. They are a “rogues gallery” of bad eggs from across the universe whos resemblance to any popular Sci-Fi villains from films, TV or comics is purely coincidental.
WE’VE GOT BOX CONCEPT ART
For quite awhile now when needing a break from some of his other art related tasks, Mark has been working on what the SpaceVenture box is gonna look like. It’s my pleasure to show you the concept art for the game box right now. A couple of things you should know about the box.. The name, SpaceVenture: Ace Quest is just a name we’ve been chewing on for quite a while. We have not officially decided on it yet. We would love your feedback on that. Secondly, the text on the back of the box is not meant to be readable. It’s just placeholder to get a feel for the looks of the box.
BEHIND THE SCENES WITH KEN ALLEN
As all of you know by now, Ken Allen worked at Sierra On-Line along with Mark and Scott. He also created music for multiple Sierra games, Space Quest 4 being among one of the most notable. Ken has put together a little behind the scenes footage for all of you regarding how he does sound design for certain pieces of the game. This footage demonstrates Ken doing sound for part of the Taco Nova sequence of the game.
https://youtu.be/ySNuKPvmOMkMEET MARK CROWE AND CHRIS POPE AT SOME UPCOMING CONVENTIONS
JULY 21ST – 23rd
Chris Pope the Space Pope will be a guest at this years AVCon in Adelaide AU July 21st – 23. Come by and meet him in person. Be sure to haggle him about why the game is not done yet! Chris will be armed with some collectible keycards.
AUGUST 11TH – 13TH
Mark Crowe and Chris Pope will both be guests at Game On Expo in Phoenix Arizona. Come by and meet them both and join them for some fun discussions/panels. NOTE: these convention appearances are paid for by the conventions. No money from the project is being used for these appearances.
Please note that these appearances are paid for by the conventions. No project funds are used for convention appearance. We do these to promote the project and give people a chance to meet us.
We’re going through the “final” push towards outside alpha testing of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. I put “final” in quotes because this will be the first of several sprints towards releasing the game we’ve been working on for almost five years.
It’s hard to convey the thousands of things that go into a game. Small details make the game feel alive. Here are some of the non-game things we need to get in before we can start outside testing:
Once we have all of those elements in place (soon!), I will send a survey to backers who chose a reward that includes Alpha Testing. We will accept a small number to do the first outside tests and help us shake down the reporting system. The second alpha will go out to a larger number, and the full alpha version will be made available to everyone at that level. (Don’t worry – if you want to wait for the complete, polished game, just don’t download any Alpha or Beta version.)
The first tests will be solely in the Hero-U castle. Once we have some feedback and improvements to the castle, we will expand the test to include combat areas – the wine cellar, sea caves, catacombs, and finally the dungeon. These areas combine elements of adventure and role-playing gaming as in our Quest for Glory games.
With Hero-U coming down to the wire. Here’s what we’ve all been working on:
Recently heard in a Hero-U team meeting, “I’m currently working in the torture chamber and having fun with it.” And Josh wasn’t even joshing. Yes, there is a “dungeon”, complete with torture chamber, left over from some former residents of the castle. This plays an important part in the “meta story”, the background behind game events, that makes it possible for us to plan a multi-game Hero-U series.
I’ve been in touch with Geekify about creating physical goods for backers. These will ship after the downloadable game release so that boxes can include a solid version of the game that incorporates early player feedback.
There is good news for “Game in a DVD case” backers. Once upon a time, we had three levels of physical boxed game packaging – DVD case, small retail box, large “big box” for collectors. Because of the way quantity discounts work, and to simplify fulfillment, I’ve decided to upgrade everyone to the “big box”. It’s going to be really nice and unique to our patient backers – no torture involved.
Look for another update by the end of June with detailed Alpha Test news and instructions. Thank you so much for being patient as we continue to solve the thousands of issues that come up in the development of every significant game. I remember one supposedly-finished game at Sierra that had a 4-foot tall stack of bug reports waiting to be addressed, many trivial, but some real show-stoppers. That’s why we have to take the time to get this game right before sending it out to you. We think you’ll find the result an experience worth the wait.
Please keep your information (particularly email and physical address) up to date on BackerKit: https://hero-u-adventure-role-
He’s back – again! Some of you may have known and remembered the struggles of the beloved Johnny Castaway – a beloved screen saver by the folks of Sierra – in which, our stranded hero – Johnny Castaway is marooned on an island – and has an assortment of adventures, trying to get off them – and encounters a wild assortment of wild life and people while stranded… The screen saver was even “time sensitive” that it recognized (based on your computer’s date/time) what holidays might be approaching, and made use of it! Well, a 32bit version for Windows XP was eventually made by fans (remember Windows XP?) – well, someone, through DosBox has figured out how to make it work on Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10 – whether it’s 32 or 64bit! As a matter of fact, because it uses DOSBOX, it should ideally work on any Windows operating system going forward! I want to thank the folks at Screen Saver Planet for sharing this! I have included all the steps (and files) on the site here as well – so go check out the Johnny Castaway page!