Three years and three months ago, Lori and I set out to make a modest computer role-playing game with some adventure-game-like story. I thought we could get it done in a year with one or two programmers and a few artists.
Thanks to changes in circumstances and team members, plus strong encouragement from our backers and maybe some masochism on our part, Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption has grown into a full-blown adventure role-playing game in the Quest for Glory vein. If you check out the game credits (http://www.mobygames.com/
Actually, the main challenge has been working with mainly part-time developers. Lori and I are full-time, but split between design, writing, and administration. Our mainstay artist, John Paul Selwood, has also worked close to full-time. Everyone else is putting in a few hours a week working around their day jobs.
I spend a lot of my time working with numbers. I actually like them and thought I’d share a few of my favorites. First, the project financials:
- Pledged income: $555,000
- Actual receipts after fees and loan payments: $460,000
- Payments to art, music, and programming contractors: $380,000
- Pledge reward and shipping costs: $80,000
- Project burn rate: $10,000/month
So we’re at break-even from the funding campaigns so far, and are now working on personal loans. The above does not include any income for Lori and me, as we won’t pay ourselves until Hero-U becomes profitable. We also owe about $50,000 to developers who have chosen to defer their contract payments until after we release the game. (Thank you!)
This is all pretty normal for game development. Developers normally have a publisher contract that doles out funds as the developer reaches milestones. The publisher in effect “goes into debt” to make the game, then hopes to make a profit after they launch the game. They lose money on many games, and make it up on a few profitable ones… or the studio goes out of business. That happens a lot to both big publishers and small indie developers.
We’ve had a total of 28 developers work on Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption so far. 12 are still actively contributing to the project. That’s smaller than the teams on our last few Sierra games, but about as many as we had on Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire. Then again, all of those worked full-time for a year. In man- (and woman-) years, we’re still well under the development time of any of our Sierra games.
Hero-U By the Numbers
I love statistics, so let me share a few with you. Rogue to Redemption is huge, and more complex than any of our previous games.
- Art assets and test builds in Dropbox: 5,344 files in 617 folders for 17.7 GB
- Unity and Composer game files: 33,275 files in 1,957 folders for 4.8 GB
- Backer Paintings, Statues, Ghosts, and Wanted Posters: 40+10+20+20 = 90
- Number of game scenes: 68
- Game days with unique events: 50
- Number of characters and monster types: 74
- Number of interactable objects (“props”): 1,200
- Number of scripts written so far: 815, with about that many still to come
Why so many props and scripts? 68 scenes was about the number in a Sierra game, say Quest for Glory II or IV. But each scene in those games was 320×200 pixels covering one screen. Step out into the courtyard of Hero-U and you will get to get to explore the equivalent of 10 or 20 such screens. There might have been five such objects in a typical Quest for Glory scene vs. 20 or more in each Hero-U scene.
Then there are the character interactions. These typically change on most game days and in each location – Aeolus has different things to say at night in the dorm than in the evening in the recreation room. It is impossible to see all of the dialogue in one play-through; you’ll probably get to half of it after four or five games if you take care to say something different every time. Lori is writing a monster here with a little scripting advice from me.
Naming the New Team Members
I spend most of my time wrangling team members and funds, but I’ve also been helping Lori with the game design, writing updates, and crafting game text. That took more hours than I have each week, so we reached out to Sierra veteran Josh Mandel to write many of the text interaction messages.
Josh got his start playtesting Infocom and Sierra adventure games, then got a job as a tech writer for Sierra. Ken Williams “discovered” Josh and gave him the chance of doing game writing and design. Josh wrote for Jones in the Fast Lane, The Dagger of Amon Ra, Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist, Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in the Spinal Frontier, and lots of other games. Most recently he worked with Al Lowe on the recent Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded game.
Josh also contributed game text to one of our non-Sierra projects, Shannara. We’re very excited to have him back on our team, this time writing many of the “incidental” messages for Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. The game will be much richer and funnier with his additions.
We’ve had a number of challenges on the programming side of this project. Some programmers needed higher pay than we could fit into our budget. Others left for full-time development opportunities.
We stabilized on our current all-star team of Joshua Smyth, Cidney Hamilton, and Robert Kety early last year, but they are only able to work part-time due to other jobs and health issues. We really needed to add a full-time developer to the team.
We’re now delighted to introduce Carolyn VanEseltine as our new programmer and design contributor. Carolyn plans to apply her strong design sense, interactive fiction background, and Unity 3D experience to helping make Hero-U great. Here’s a little about her background in Carolyn’s words:
I started my game development career in 2002 on the Simutronics flagship game GemStone IV. Since then, I’ve held a wide variety of industry roles – programming, design, writing, production, and more – and I’ve worked on everything from Harmonix’s Rock Band and Dance Central franchises to the indie game Revolution 60, as described in my resume. I’m also well-known in modern interactive fiction, both for writing award-winning IF games and for my craft and technique blog, Sibyl Moon.
We still can’t promise a specific release date, but Lori and I have committed to shipping Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption this year. Our best guess – and it is just a guess – is late October or early November. We’ve made enormous progress in the last few months, especially in the areas of art and animation. Lori continues to work hard on scripting the game dialogue and character interactions.
With the additions of Josh and Carolyn, we have all the resources we need to reach the finish line with a game that will make us proud and our backers very happy. We hope the Hero-U series will be a worthy successor to our Quest for Glory games.
Thank you, everyone, for your awesome patience and support as we fight against the mighty challenges of indie game development. This project has turned into far more than we originally hoped, and we look forward to sharing it will all of you and many other gamers.
Worthy Kickstarter Adventure Projects in Progress
A Place for the Unwilling (https://www.kickstarter.com/
Lancelot’s Hangover (https://www.kickstarter.com/
Don’t forget to visit www.hero-u.com for more information, forums, and other Hero-U goodies.
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