Hero-U Project Update #57: Project Progress and Game Industry News

August was a very exciting month for the Hero-U project. We made significant progress in art, programming, writing, and design. We also made some important decisions that will affect the entire game series.

Foodies and Scientists

Eric and Paul have completed the portraits for the Yearbook, and they look fantastic! Each portrait has been brilliantly painted and dressed up in official Hero-U robes.

Ifeteya Kinah - Our Culinary InstructorIfeteya Kinah – Our Culinary Instructor

I divided the Yearbook-level backers into seven categories – Warrior, Rogue, Wizard, Paladin, Bard, Scientist, and Foodie – according to each backer’s flavor text, name, and comments. We had no idea that Hero-U would include a Science Division and a Culinary Academy when we started this project!

Naturally all of the backers who submitted dog or other animal portraits are listed as Foodies – Dogs love to eat.

The Yearbook is not just a place to showcase our fabulous backers. It also contains information about the University professors and staff.

Evolving Art Style

Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption has gone through many changes in art direction. Originally we envisioned it as a 2D top-down “dungeon crawl” game in the style of MacGuffin’s Curse. We upped the ante on the art by bringing down the camera for an isometric look, but still using tiles to build the images. Then we made it look more like a classic Sierra game, but still isometric.

Since then, the look of the game has continued to improve and evolve. Earlier this year I announced that we have abandoned 2D animated characters in favor of full 3D characters modeled by Concept Art House. We have been using a mixture of 2D and 3D props and furniture, with the code going through contortions to make the 2D props look 3D.

Then along came Chris Willis, former Sierra artist and 3D specialist. Chris has done an amazing job modeling 3D scenes that duplicate the feel of JP’s painted backgrounds. As a result, we are moving farther and farther away from the concept of using tiles to create our scenes. Each scene is now a unique piece of 3D art.

Wine Cellar - 3D Model and In-Game Point of ViewWine Cellar – 3D Model and In-Game Point of View

Evolving Programming

Our last bastion of tiles in the game was the combat movement interface. By building everything on a grid of tiles, we had an easy way to specify positions and places where the player can move. The problem? Sometimes this resulted in stiff-looking animation or jerky movement.

In the meantime, we’ve changed some fundamental systems including the combat interface. By eliminating Action Points, we no longer need movement tiles. So Jonathan changed to a smoother movement system that looks much better. It’s also simpler, works better with Unity’s built-in systems, and has lower overhead.

Result – Goodbye, tiles. The system is now fully 3D and the game looks better than ever.

Further result – For the rest of the series, we plan to use all 3D assets. Everyone who has been struggling with making the 2D art work is much relieved.

More Insider News

If you backed Hero-U at one of the “insider access” levels ($175 or higher), check your Humble Bundle Hero-U page by clicking on the “eBooks” button just to the right of “Choose platform”. We’ve posted a second Insider newsletter covering March to June 2013. Chris has written the third newsletter (July – Sept. 2013) and we will post it this week once we finish adding illustrations and formatting. We will keep posting these insider reports throughout project development.

Love, Hate, and Women in Gaming

We have been very disturbed by the degree of hate towards indie game developers, and women developers and players in particular, on many web sites. Personally I think it comes from jealousy – The commenters want the publicity and success of the game developers without devoting the years of 60 hour weeks that it takes to build a game.

Unfortunately, a lot of this has come across in the form of hate towards women. This isn’t new – Roberta Williams got hate mail for featuring Rosella as the main character in King’s Quest IV – but it is just plain wrong. Games can be fun with either a male or a female protagonist as long as the story reflects that choice. Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a male Slayer? Boring!

Shawn Could Have Been ShawnaShawn Could Have Been Shawna

Lori wrote about why we decided on a male character for the first Hero-U game at http://www.hero-u.net/leaders/why-shawn-isnt-shawna/. I assure you that we will have female protagonists in future games and that we will ignore any resulting hate mail. 🙂 We are proud of the strong female characters we created in previous games, and even more of the ones in Hero-U.

We have also proudly added our names to an anti-hate open letter on diversity in gaming and the game industry at https://medium.com/@andreaszecher/open-letter-to-the-gaming-community-df4511032e8a. We hope many of our backers will continue to speak out against hate and harassment in any form. This week I learned a new term – SJW or Social Justice Warrior – used negatively about people who harp about social justice in gaming and media. You know what? We’ll wear that badge proudly. Our games have always been about heroism, and yes, that includes social justice.

The Return of Sierra

Activision announced last month that they are reviving the Sierra label for a new indie game division. They are starting out with Geometry Wars 3 and a new King’s Quest game. There are some interesting quotes in http://www.polygon.com/2014/8/13/5998789/sierras-rebirth-was-made-possible-by-the-success-of-digital-platforms.

Lori and I are not currently involved with the new Sierra, but we won’t rule out the possibility of doing a project with them in the future. Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption remains a fully independent game funded by Kickstarter backers and our personal resources.

Crowd-Funding Projects You Might Like

Rose: Time Apart (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/905533486/rose-time-apart) ends on Sept. 9 (tomorrow!). It’s an adventure game mystery game that promises an immersive puzzle-solving experience. They promise Oculus Rift and Ouya support as well as the usual PC/Mac/Linux platforms.

Stash: No Loot Left Behind (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/frogdice/stash-no-loot-left-behind-pc-mac-linux-consoles) is an “online multiplayer RPG with turn based combat and epic amounts of loot.” It is ambitious and looks good. The campaign ends on Sept. 12.

The Fine Young Capitalists (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-fine-young-capitalists–2) ends on Sept. 26. Games created by women who would not otherwise have had the chance to make a game. Proceeds will go to charity. My personal favorites are Afterlife Empire and My Eyes. Check out the projects and vote for your favorite at http://www.thefineyoungcapitalists.com/Voting.

Duke Grabowski, Mighty Swashbuckler (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/venture-moon/duke-grabowski-mighty-swashbuckler-point-and-click) ends on Oct. 6. It’s a humorous point-and-click adventure in the vein of Monkey Island, and could be a lot of fun.

Do you love animated films? Would you like to see an epic Steampunk adventure starring two young female protagonists? Check out the beautiful Indiegogo campaign – https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/hullabaloo-steampunk-animated-film. This very successful campaign has already tripled its goal. It closes on Oct. 1.

Hullabaloo Episode 2 - Curse of the Cheshire Cat Hullabaloo Episode 2 – Curse of the Cheshire Cat

Hero-U Project Update #56: Truth and Consequences

Truth and Consequences in Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption

In the long-running game show “Truth or Consequences”, Bob Barker and the other moderators asked guests to answer difficult questions in two seconds. When they almost inevitably failed, they had to do something embarrassing (and funny to the audience) as a consequence.

There is no time pressure in Hero-U, but the consequences are still there. We like to give choices that matter to our players. This is especially important in Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption because Shawn does not start out as a paragon of virtue. He is a rogue and is trying to survive through stealth, guile, and subtlety. How he does that is up to you, the player.

There are no absolutely right or wrong choices in Hero-U, but there are always consequences. Tell a little white lie to a friend, and you can make them happy… unless they later find out you told a lie. The game doesn’t end, but relationships change. Those relationships influence later story elements and sometimes open up new possibilities.

The most serious consequence in life or a game is death. Originally we did not plan to allow Shawn to die in Hero-U, but backer feedback has reminded us that the possibility of death can have a positive effect on game play. Lori recently wrote about our new way of handling the chance of death in http://www.hero-u.net/leaders/a-matter-of-life-and-death/.

Truth has its place, but a Rogue sometimes chooses a flexible approach to what is true. Just be ready to face the consequences of your decisions. Death is always waiting, but Shawn is pretty good at cheating it… as long as you make good choices.

Choose Wisely Choose Wisely

 Insider Reports

I emailed our “Insider Access” backers a few weeks ago to tell them about the new “inside Hero-U” reports we’re posting to their Humble Bundle pages. A few of you wrote back to say you had trouble finding the first report. It isn’t obvious!

On your Humble page, look for the line (just under the preview video currently) that says “Choose platform”. If you have insider access ($175 tier and up), you will see “eBooks” as the last entry on that line. Click on eBooks to see the PDF file with our first insider access report covering January through March 2013.

Chris Fong has written the second report, covering April to June 2013. I plan to post that article to all of the insider access pages this week. We will add two more quarterly reports covering 2013. After that, we will probably go to monthly reports for 2014 and onward. Even after we release Hero-U, we will continue to document the marketing, game enhancements, and development of future games in the series.

We will also continue to keep everyone up to date here on Kickstarter, but the insider reports will have more details from our regular weekly development meetings.

The Kind of Games We Make

Lori and I are best known for our Quest for Glory games (originally called Hero’s Quest) at Sierra On-Line in 1989 through 1998. Two entertaining bloggers who specialize in replaying and rating “early” computer adventure and role-playing games are currently covering Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire.

For the adventure gamer perspective, The Adventure Gamer’s take on Trial by Fire began at http://advgamer.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/game-45-quest-for-glory-ii-introduction.html. He also wrote about Hero’s Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero (later renamed to Quest for Glory 1) starting with this article: http://advgamer.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/game-26-heros-quest-introduction.html. I occasionally comment on his blog, and highly recommend it.

The CRPG Addict, as you would expect, looks at games from a role-playing viewpoint, so his rating criteria are different from those of the Adventure Gamer. Still, I am proud to say that both chose Hero’s Quest as their favorite game of 1989. The Addict’s articles on Trial by Fire begin at http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2014/07/game-154-quest-for-glory-ii-trial-by.html.

His entries on Hero’s Quest began with this preview –  http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2012/11/game-77-heros-quest-so-you-want-to-be.html. After rating the game in late 2012 playing as the Thief character, CRPG Addict returned to the game as a Magic User in this article – http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2014/06/revisiting-quest-for-glory-so-you-want.html.

On both sites, use the sidebar “Blog Archive” feature to find the rest of the articles in each series. While we’re back in Hero’s Quest, here’s a picture a fan sent us recently – the infamous Antwerp in action on her arm:

Beware the Bouncing Bicep Antwerp! Beware the Bouncing Bicep Antwerp!

Kickstarter Adventures Need Your Support

Oded Sharon has posted a one week Kickstarter project for Bolt Riley – A Reggae Adventure Game. The reason for the short campaign is so that the project can slip in under the final days of the OUYA #Freethegames fund matching program. The new goal is very reachable with a bit more support from adventure game fans. Please spread the word.

Lori and I consulted on this game in late 2011 to early 2012. Our work was mostly on part 2, so will not appear in this first game chapter, but a successful campaign could lead to later production of the 2nd and 3rd chapters.

Bolt Riley Chapter 1 Bolt Riley Chapter 1

The game is the story of a poor young man in Kingston, Jamaica who wants to become a musician. You help him achieve his goals by solving adventure game puzzles. The soundtrack is reggae music.

In Inherit the Earth: Sand and Shadows (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1867564967/inherit-the-earth-sand-and-shadows), intelligent foxes and other furry creatures try to prosper in a hostile world. The game is characterized by a lush art style, strong story, and challenging puzzles. I enjoyed the first Inherit the Earth:Quest for the Orb game.
Inherit the Earth: Sand and Shadows Inherit the Earth: Sand and Shadows

I’ve gotten a little tired of games, films, and TV shows that keep getting darker, grimmer, and more horrific. Inherit the Earth has drama, but is more upbeat in graphics and story. I’d like to see more games like this. The developers will need a strong push to reach their Kickstarter goal.

Jenny LeClue (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mografi/jenny-leclue-a-handmade-adventure-game) is a beautiful choose-your-path adventure game looks like a big budget animated film. Thanks to some very dedicated volunteer developers, the campaign has a modest goal and a realistic ship date. I could learn from their project scheduling.

The art is terrific, the developers have a sense of whimsy, and Lori and I think this will be a fun game. I’m sure they could use some extra support to help them improve Jenny LeClue and build up their team.

Jenny LeClue Jenny LeClue


SpaceVenture Project Update #98: An update about BUGS! Oh and our new debug console, new inventory UI, Milo, new scene, and more!

Hey everyone! I’m excited to bring you some updated news on how things are going with SpaceVentrure! We have definitely not been idle. The team has been very focused on moving forward and getting things done.


One of our biggest pushes as of late is to stabilize our most current build. We made a big three week push to knock out some issues we’ve had with certain scenes of the game. As we are moving into the 2nd and 3rd portion of the game, this is very important so that the same bugs don’t keep cropping up in the later scenes. Not that dealing with bugs is the most exciting thing to do in the game development process, but I did want you all to know that we are pushing that hard.


Some of you keep asking for some under the hood stuff, so here you go. Recently, we had one of our programmers(Patrick Johnston) create us a debugging console that would help in turning needed things on and turning unneeded things off while we play tested the game. One good example of this is when we are play testing a scene in the game and in order to solve it, we need a specific piece of inventory or another situation is where we might need to jump scenes quickly or flag a function on or off. We had ways of doing this in the past, but with this console, life is much nicer 🙂


We’re also very excited about how our inventory UI is coming together. One thing we are really trying to push is intuitiveness on SpaceVenture. The old inventory UI was located at the bottom of the screen and all you had to do is move your mouse cursor down to the bottom and it would appear. The problem with the old inventory UI is that it took up a lot of space that could be put to better use in game play.

See below:

We’ve created a small icon that (at the moment) appears in the upper left hand corner of the screen. You can move your cursor over it and the inventory springs to life. Don’t worry, there will be more than one way to get into the inventory. But with this method, we’ve freed of major real estate at the bottom of the screen.

Check out this small video I made demonstrating it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IpMAIc_CO0&list=UUS-eEjsG3ZgQYghoaGuVNFgPlease ignore the fact that the icons are so big when you click on them, that will eventually be modified.


One of my favorite characters in SpaceVenture is little guy named Milo. He’s a tricky little sucker and he plays a major role in the goings on within the game. Is he a good guy? Is he a bad guy? Is he a baby? Or is he a man? Or is he a baby man? Time will tell.

Mark was working on lighting effects for Milo. He put together a fun little video show casing what he was working on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6SWeEEtlos&feature=youtu.beA NEW SCENE TO SHARE

You guys already know that the scenes for the 2nd and 3rd portion of the game are in the works, but I wanted to share with you a scene that will show up in both portions of the game. Keep in mind, it’s still a work in progress and is without polish.

This is Scrap’s garage, where Ace will often need to visit for different reasons. You might notice a couple of things are blurred out, but there is a really cool reason for that 😉


That’s right folks, the SpaceQuest Historian has returned and has put out the first episode for your listening pleasure. See below.


“Fandom Through The Ages”


It’s time for more podcast mayhem from the Space Quest Historian. Join him on a trip down memory lane as he recounts the genesis of on-line Space Quest fandom, ably aided by someone who was actually there from the beginning: Prof. Jess Morrissette, owner of the first-ever Space Quest fan site, The Virtual Broomcloset.

You’ll hear from Chris Pope (the SpacePope) on what’s going down with team SpaceVenture. Also, get the scoop on the Space Quest III soundtrack with input from composer Bob Siebenberg, music editor and sound effects maker Mark Seibert, and fan musician James Mulvale.

Listen to all of James’ SQ3 cover tunes here: https://soundcloud.com/spacequest/space-quest-3-intro Listen to the original SQ3 soundtrack as composed and performed by Bob Siebenberg and Mark Seibert: http://www.spacequest.net/archives/sq3/soundtrack/ Oh, and Pete Toleman’s in there, too.

How to listen?


You can also check out the SQ Historian website here: http://spacequesthistorian.com/


Hey everyone, I’ll be going to SDCC again this year and have always enjoyed meeting you all. Unfortunately Mark and Scott will not be making it out this year, but hopefully next year.

If you’re coming out to Comicon, be sure to come by and say hi! I’ll be announcing my location at different times. The best way to find me is by following me on twitter: http://twitter.com/thechrispope or shoot me a friend request on facebook: http://facebook.com/thechrispope

I’ll also be carrying around the SpaceVenture collectible keycards. We give those out to the different Space Quest/SpaceVenture fans we meet in person.


Our buddies at Infamous Quests released their new game “Quest for Infamy” a few days ago and all you Sierra fans out there will most likely love it! So please go check it out here: http://www.infamous-quests.com/

Thanks for all of your support everyone!

Chris Pope a.k.a your humble local intergalactic SpacePope

Hero-U Project Update #55: Inside Hero-U

We continue to make good progress on Hero-U, particularly on the art front. I talked a few months ago about the issues we were having getting 2D character animation to look good in our “fantasy realistic” environment.

I am happy to report that Concept Art House has now completed all of the 3D character modeling and animation for the game, and it looks very good! Please visit Lori’s article about the “Anatomy of a Drat” on her Hero-U Leaders Blog.

Dire Rats Transformed Dire Rats Transformed


The art team has completed sketches of every scene in the game. They are about 70% complete on final painting and rendering. We should reach “art complete” in about 3 months. There is much more to this project than the actual game. The in-game and physical Yearbooks are also coming along very well. Almost 100 backers submitted photos, and Paul and Eric have turned all of them into works of art. Chris Fong is working on summarizing the last 18 months worth of meetings into a series of Insider Access articles. I will release these over time to the Humble Store pages of our “Insider Access” backers.

Disbarred Bards Disbarred Bards

On the programming side, the Composer tool is essentially complete, although Rob will add new features to it throughout Hero-U game development. Composer provides a structured way for us to create game content and put it directly into the game. It also has features that will allow us to localize Hero-U into multiple other languages.

Composer Script from the Demo Composer Script from the Demo

Inside the game, Jonathan and Jerry have created a system that handles displaying rooms, props, and animated characters; letting the player interact with any object on the screen; and much more. Jonathan is currently back to working on the combat system now that we have finished animation approval. We are fine-tuning the turn-based combat interface to make it intuitive and exciting.

How You Can Still Help

Let your friends know about the Hero-U project and the www.hero-u.net web site. In addition to the Leaders blog and forums, we have two store pages. On the preorder page (http://www.hero-u.net/hero_u_preorder.html), fans can get a discounted price on the Hero-U game, digital sound track, art book, digital yearbook, and even access to beta tests.

The Collectibles page (http://www.hero-u.net/hero_u_collect.html) is the place to support Hero-U while getting cool limited-edition collectibles – toy meeps, t-shirts, caps, and keychains. Every purchase and preorder helps us pay team members and contractors so that we can make Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption a great game. Thank you very much to everyone who has backed Hero-U so far, whether by Kickstarter, PayPal, or Humble Store pre-order.

SpaceVenture Project Update #97: Release & Project Status as of June 6th

We are aware that there are a lot of questions from you, our backers, regarding when SpaceVenture is going to be released as well as made available for sale. There are many opinions and feelings, varying from the extremely harsh to the quite patient, though ultimately all wanting the same thing; the highest quality SpaceVenture possible. Some want it yesterday, and some have advised us to “take the time you need to make the best game you can.” We have worked hard to not abuse this encouragement.

We are very sensitive to the entire range of feelings. We ultimately intend to deliver to you the best game possible. We can hurry and release a gaming experience we aren’t as happy with, something we would be afraid and certain would be a let-down to you, or take the extra time to give you something we will feel good about in both our hearts and guts, a game worthy of your backing and patience.

We have avoided giving an official release date due to many major unexpected challenges we have encountered as we’ve progressed through the development process of the first new game by our new company. Everyone who has ever worked on a first project of any kind, and especially a game in a new environment, knows there are ‘growing pains’, especially with that very first one. We don’t want to delve into a laundry list of details. If you would like a taste of the issues mentioned in the past please feel free to read our October 16th update.

Having said all that, we have decided to give a soft estimated release time period of 9 months to a year from now without going into detail on why things have moved slower than each and everyone of us has wanted. That means if everything goes more smoothly than the first third, and we see absolutely no way it won’t, we expect to be done by March of next year. We will not let the game suffer due to being pushed by a hard deadline. Know that first and foremost, we are shooting for an adventure game the type of which we offered and for which our fans asked, an ‘old-school adventure with new tech and design lessons learned’ game you backed through Kickstarter and PayPal.

We know without any doubt this release estimate will frustrate most of you and infuriate others, but because of our passion for this game and adventures in general, we stand fully behind this decision. As we have said in the past, we have one shot at making the game great. That one shot will determine the future of the company.

Here is a breakdown of where things stand currently:


  • The story is complete.
  • Most storyboards and a good deal of concept artwork done for the full game are on Mark’s wall.
  • 1/3 of the game is mostly complete with polish. That includes artwork, game play mechanics, music/sfx, and narrative/dialog. (Please note that this has been a our major learning curve, and the achievement of this will definitely speed progress on the rest of the game. SO many lessons learned here!)


  • We have very polished artwork for 1/3 of the game and some scene artwork completed for the rest of the game. Although Mark is mostly involved in polishing artwork, he is also overseeing a couple of our artists working on scenes for the rest of the game along with animations and cutscenes.
  • Most of the animations needed in the game for Ace and Rooter are completed, something that’s a larger feat than most would think.
  • All non-Ace and Rooter animations are added and working in 1/3 of the game.


  • Almost all sound effects and music have been completed for 1/3 of the game.
  • The music is as complete as it can be at this point.


  • At this time no voice-over has been recorded for the game. Dialogue is fluid and we intentionally wait until as late as we can to book our talent and studio time. We are planning to go to the studio in three different recording sessions. The first recording session is coming up. We’ll post more details on that hopefully soon, As with the art, for each part of the game we will schedule our talent and studio time as late as is possible because, as we learned years ago, the dialogue also evolves for the better.


  • Of all the items listed in this update, programming is the one that has contributed the most in causing the project to move as slowly as it has. As mentioned in the October update, we had to design almost all the tools needed to make SpaceVenture ourselves since Unity has been in the past especially a ‘one size fits all games’ game engine. The good news there though is that we have been able to make very good progress now that the tools we needed are nearly complete.
  • We have a code base foundation that will be used for the entire game and as well as whatever we do in the future. We’ve essentially built our wheel.


  • In the past, Chris has tried his best to provide unique updates on the 1st and the 16th of each month. This was a decision made with the best of intentions but in reality is sometimes difficult to execute without becoming annoying to some because, even though there is always some progress, there’s not always something with a high-enough drool-inducement factor worth sharing, and we don’t want to give away too much in the updates. Chris will post updates as achievements warrant, to let you know we have something new and exciting or relatively interesting, or when something’s just too cool to not share. We will do our best to give you a clear view of the status of the project.

In Summary: 

There have been many challenges and setbacks that have slowed progress. Yes, there are things we should have anticipated, but also many we couldn’t. No matter how many games with which one is involved there will always be hard lessons along the way. These can be humbling. There have been many moments of frustration, even more for us than most of you. We’ve encountered and surmounted many hurdles, but such is the way of game development, as well as life in general. We are (almost all) merely human. With the exception of one team member, we’ve each had family health care issues that have impacted our performance and progress. Nonetheless, we will continue to push forward fueled by your enthusiasm, from those who’ve backed us from day one to those who’ve just recently become aware of what we are doing, and by our team’s passion for the game and our excitement over what is ahead. Through all of that we absolutely believe we’ll be proud of SpaceVenture, and you will enjoy the end result.

Thank you all for your support.

Guys From Andromeda LLC

Scott Murphy, Mark Crowe, and Chris Pope

Hero-U Project Update #54: Hero-U Art Process and Progress

Several backers commented on my previous update that they would have liked to read more about our progress with Hero-U. That reminded me that many of you might not know about Lori’s blog on our www.hero-u.net site.

Lori’s latest post is about the process we go through to create the art for each room or section of Hero University and environs, using the Wine Cellar as an example. This is the first “dungeon” area players will encounter in Hero-U.

Wine Cellar Color 3D DetailWine Cellar Color 3D Detail

The update is at http://www.hero-u.net/leaders/whats-happening/. While you’re there, look through some of Lori’s previous blog posts, visit our discussion forums, or browse the rest of the site. We still have some collectibles for sale, and your friends can preorder Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption if they missed out on the Kickstarter.

We will still be getting new art for several months, and we have a lot of programming and writing work to do after we have the art, so we still have a long way to go on the project. At this point, Lori and I are self-funding and not taking any salary or other payment. For now at least, we prefer that approach to the alternatives. We get to keep control of the project and the company this way.

Hero-U Project Update #53: Many Kinds of Heroes

Hero U
Light the World - Be a HeroLight the World – Be a Hero

Today was “Memorial Day” in the United States, a holiday devoted to remembering Americans who have died in war. We often extend this to remembering all armed forces veterans. My mother and father both served in the Navy during World War II – In fact, they met at a Navy event. Both thankfully survived their military service, although my father passed away five years ago.

A sad memorial is also in order for the University of California, Santa Barbara students who were recently murdered. My son and I both attended UCSB, and Michael lived in Isla Vista where the murders took place. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of these victims.

Many Kinds of Heroes

There are many kinds of heroes. One of the themes of all our games is being a hero by doing what is right. Every one of us gets many chances to decide whether we will be heroes, villains, or merely ordinary people.

If you see someone getting hurt, do you run to help them, call the police, or simply look on? Phil Ochs wrote the song “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends” after an incident in New York City in which a woman was beaten and killed while many people looked on and did nothing. I have since read that some of them did call the police, but that they responded too late to help the victim. Could someone have helped that woman without becoming another victim? That’s hard to say. The real question is, what choice will each of us make in a similar situation.

I include among the heroes everyone who takes a stand to make their communities better places. Heroism can be as simple as contributing to charity, donating blood, or donating your time to teach or to help with a community project. Being a hero can be immensely rewarding in personal joy and in friendships with other heroes.

Heroes Harnessing the Sun

We are rapidly approaching the crisis point in depletion of fossil fuel resources, in the shortage of fresh water, and in the loss of our polar ice caps to depleted ozone and global warming. These are not issues which we can simply ignore – We are running out of time.

That is one reason why I was very excited to learn about the Solar Roadways project over on IndieGoGo. Our governments have been too tied up in political infighting to make serious progress on alternatives to oil. Instead, two individuals took a personal stand on this project and have already made great progress on it. This is absolutely amazing to me, and I count Scott and Julie in the rolls of true heroes.

Lori and I have few financial resources while we work to finish Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. Still, we chose to support the Solar Roadways project because it has a chance of really making a difference in the world. Please check out their campaign at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/solar-roadways. There are just five days left as I write this. They have already surpassed their $1 million goal, but it will take much more than that for such an ambitious project to achieve the leverage it needs to put solar roads, sidewalks, and parking lots all over the world. If this gets big enough, larger companies and governments will take notice and the great ideas will spread.

Hero-U Project Update #52: Teaming With Talent

Tobiah Marks recently asked me to do a podcast for his “Be Indie Now” web series. For some insight into the indie development side of the Hero-U project, check out the result at http://www.tobiahmarks.com/2014/04/be-indie-now-24-hero-u-rogue-redemption/ or visit Tobiah’s site at www.BeIndieNow.com to learn about other indie game projects.

In case you missed it, Lori and I were also on Up at Noon with Greg Miller in February. You can view the show at http://www.ign.com/videos/2014/02/17/persona-4-meets-dungeons-dragons-hero-u-on-up-at-noon.

Chaos Can Be Cool

When Lori and I started working with Sierra in the late 1980’s, the company was very informal. We didn’t sit down in a conference room for meetings – There were no conference rooms. Instead, two or three of us would stroll on the roof of the building or around the parking lot until we knew how to solve the issue of the day.

A few years later, Sierra set up a one-day training session to help the middle managers to work better with our teams. I had been promoted to Programming Manager for the educational game group, so was invited to the workshop. For one of the exercises, the trainer took each of the team leaders aside and instructed us in the management style we should use. I was the Authoritarian manager – My assignment was to dictate every detail of the project and brush off any suggestions. The second team leader was Democratic – She was told to listen to the team and then direct the project. The final team was Laissez Faire – The team leader was to dither and not make any suggestions, nor do anything to promote the team members working together. It was pure anarchy.

The expected winner was of course the Democratic team, one in which there was solid leadership, but everyone had some agency. The *actual* winner on both technical and artistic criteria was the Anarchist team. The trainer was astonished. He said he had been running these workshops for over 20 years, and the Laissez Faire teams never won; they fell into chaos and got nothing accomplished. Why was our workshop different?

I looked at the trainer and said, “Anarchy? That’s pretty much the way we make all our games here. We thrive on chaos!”

Anarchy might not be ideal for getting a game out the door, but it does promote agency and creativity by every team member.

All Around the World

Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption development is far more challenging than developing our games at Sierra. We didn’t start with a multi-million-dollar development environment hand-tuned for making adventure games. We don’t have any full-time team members because the budget doesn’t allow for them. Communication is sometimes difficult because our team members are located all around the world – Australia, Virginia, Florida, Connecticut, Washington, and several locations in California. How could we all work together effectively?

Sometimes the answer is unfortunately, “We can’t.” In those cases, we’ve dropped team members or they’ve left on their own. And sometimes we have temporary issues because long-distance communication is hard. We decided to use a multi-tiered approach to keeping everyone on the team “on the same page”.

The Sierra workshop provided part of the answer – If each team member is highly talented and motivated, we can trust them to do their parts of the job well and to infuse them with their own creativity and talent.

We are also taking advantage of several network technologies that didn’t exist in the 1990’s. We have two weekly team meetings via Google+ Video Chat. One is mostly for the artists, and one for programmers, but everyone is invited to both meetings. We use Google Drive and Dropbox to share documents, and Trello to track project tasks. Occasionally team members phone us with specific questions. For anything less urgent, we send email either to specific team members or to the entire team.

Down in the DungeonDown in the Dungeon

Agents for Good

Our approach is inefficient – I would never recommend it for a manufacturing operation. But it is workable for creating an original computer game. One of our artists remarked recently that he is really enjoying the sense of “agency” and creative freedom he has on Hero-U, as well as the lack of deadline pressure.

Yes, we could ship the game sooner if we insisted on tight deadlines, but we do not think that approach leads to great games or good team morale. Lori and I gave talks on “The Fun Factor” at early game developer conferences. One of our points was that the team must have fun – The attitude of the team comes through in the final game.

As it is, our team members frequently surprise and delight us with the little unscripted touches they have added to their work. John Paul Selwood painted an unexpected magical plant that we did not specify in one of the school offices. It is a perfect Easter Egg in the game, and I will have a great time writing descriptive text and player actions for it. Our latest art team member, Chris Willis, is doing a fabulous job imparting the right mood and detail into the Catacombs and other underground areas of the school. Paul Bowers and Eric Varnes have done a fantastic job creating backer portraits that will add to the game instead of being obtrusive.

We are basing an entire dungeon area on work from one of our high-tier backers. If we implemented his entire scenario, it would be a game by itself, so we adapted selected portions of his design to fit into Hero-U. This collaborative approach adds more richness to the game than we could invent by ourselves, and is stronger because we can adapt everyone’s work to fit our overall design framework.

Does the development approach affect the experience of playing the game? Yes, it does, absolutely! Read “How Music Works” by David Byrne (of the “Talking Heads” musical band) for some insight on how the environments of the performers and listeners/players change the music/game experience.

Agency, creativity, collaboration – A game is stronger when many creative minds are free to do their best work… as long as someone is there to make sure all of those great assets work together consistently.

Portrait of a Hero-U BackerPortrait of a Hero-U Backer

Some Other Great Projects

Two of our favorite artist/writers – Phil and Kaja Foglio – are in the final days of a Kickstarter project to print the latest volume of their wonderful Girl Genius graphic novels. Consider supporting their creative efforts at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/girlgenius/girl-genius-volume-13-agatha-heterodyne-and-the-sl. Girl Genius 13 has met its funding goal, but has some nice stretch goals.

Mark of the Old Ones (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1168767162/mark-of-the-old-ones-a-metroidvanian-adventure) is more of an action game than a graphic adventure, but we think it is worth supporting. The art is luscious, intriguing, and beautiful; and the concept and story line are original and intriguing. The tentacle-based game play should make an interesting variation on traditional run/jump/shoot platformers. Mark of the Old Ones has received a little over half its goal with one week to go, so it will need some extra support.

Jane Jensen, the creator and lead designer of Gabriel Knight, has completed Moebius, her first Kickstarter-backed adventure game. Read more about the project at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1005365109/jane-jensens-pinkerton-road-2012-2013-csg/posts/811469. This update tells you where you can buy the game and get a nice discount.

Incidentally, Gabriel Knight 3 contained one of the most infamous puzzles in adventure game history (unfortunately overshadowing the wonderful writing and better puzzles in the rest of the game and series). I’m spoofing it in one of the Hero-U puzzles just because I can.

Quest for Infamy, a project inspired by our own Quest for Glory series, announced a release date in its latest update (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1992695780/quest-for-infamy-an-adventure-game-by-infamous-que/posts/827735). The game sounds fun. Creator Steven Alexander is an active and influential voice in support of adventure gaming. He deserves our support.

More Hero-U Resources

In case you missed it, here are some other places you can read about and continue to support Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.

Thank you so much for your continuing belief and support of our efforts to make the world a little more Heroic, one game at a time.

Space Venture Project Update #95: May 1st Update: Sound design for the Nostrodomus explosion

Hey everyone! We are super excited about all the positive feedback involving the last update, which featured Nurb’s Landing. I’m really hoping to show you some more epic scenes like that in the near future.

Before I get into the goings on I wanted to say this. Just so everyone knows, we are working on a delivery date. We are not ready to give one yet. Please continue to be patient. Many people have made it VERY clear in our comments that they want to know when the game will be released. Don’t think for a second we aren’t aware of that.

Please just stay tuned. We know some of you are frustrated. We are working as hard and fast as we can, but are also pushing for a very high quality product that we know you’re gonna love. On the flip side, we are very focused and will NOT let anyone or anything cause us to put out a half baked product. The dates we are considering for release may not be as far out as some of you think. As you can imagine, we have one shot to make an amazing game. SpaceVenture will set the bar on quality for future games we try to release, and we aim to make it great and to leave you all wanting more!

The last couple of weeks we have made progress on some pretty cool things. A major push on Ace animations have been made as of late and we can now animate Ace doing everything from climbing walls and tip toeing around corners to dancing gangnam style if we want! We’ve also made major progress on some tricky puzzle work in the game. The Saving/Loading system for SpaceVenture has also gotten some love and it’s coming together nicely.

Ken Allen, composer from Space Quest 4 along with many other Sierra titles, not to mention our sound engineer and music composer for SpaceVenture has put together some really cool stuff for me to share with you on this update!

Remember this explosion scene we showed you awhile back?

http://youtu.be/5uBeGuvV07cKen spent some of his own personal time putting together a video of himself walking everyone through how he went about doing the sound design for that scene. This video is very informative and gives you a look into how he goes about picking the right sounds for the different scenes in the game.

We hope you enjoy his little tutorial! 🙂

http://youtu.be/GVyn79ThdtgThanks for all of your support everyone!

Chris Pope a.k.a your humble local intergalactic SpacePope