The latest former Sierra design legends to make a welcome and long-overdue return to the genre are Lori and Corey Cole, the masterminds behind the unique adventure/RPG hybrid Quest for Glory series. The husband and wife team have recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, which they refer to as the "spiritual successor" to their beloved franchise. Naturally, we were eager to learn all about the new game in our interview with Corey, but of course we couldn't resist taking an in-depth look back at his time at Sierra while we were at it.
Ingmar Böke: Hi Corey, it’s my pleasure to welcome you here at Adventure Gamers. Since Hero-U is the burning topic of the moment, let's begin there. Tell us everything there is to know about the story and concept of the game.
Corey Cole: That's a tall order! Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is the first in a planned series of adventure games with role-playing features. They will have the same type of story, characters, and humor of our Quest for Glory series. Combat in Hero-U is turn-based, and much more puzzle-oriented than Quest for Glory combat. We have slightly more role-playing features in that the player will explore underground caverns and be able to upgrade the main character's equipment. Players will also get to choose from several "elective skills" as the game progresses.
Between the electives, different ways to fight or avoid combat, and the relationships Shawn develops with other characters – students, teachers, and administrators – there is a lot of variability to the game. Each player is likely to have a very different experience, but all of them follow and develop the main story and Shawn's character.
Ingmar: You've stated that the art we've seen of the game so far is not going to be the final look. What can we expect of the finished result in terms of the visuals?
Corey: We are using a mixture of top-down map-style graphics for movement with beautiful and detailed backgrounds to illustrate key scenes and as backdrops for conversations. The player will move around on the map grid, exploring, picking up objects, fighting enemies, and meeting schoolmates. In special locations, we switch to the background graphics. In combat and conversation, we overlay large animated images of Shawn and the other character on top of the map or background.
You can get a rough idea of the map-style graphics by looking at the free demo of MacGuffin's Curse. Brawsome, the developer of that game, is leading our programming effort, and we chose to work with them partially because the look of MacGuffin's Curse was close to our vision for Hero-U.
Hero-U Kickstarter video
Ingmar: Many people seem to be skeptical about how much "adventure" there will be in this game compared to the RPG elements. Can you give an idea of some of the classic adventure game puzzles you'll offer?
Corey: That might be telling. *smile* We have a strong mystery subplot in Rogue to Redemption. The player will find some hidden clues in the school and catacombs, and will learn more by talking to characters in the game. The player may discover secret messages written in code, and will have the option to decipher the codes himself, or to find additional clues that will help him solve them. There are locked doors to be opened with keys and/or lockpicking skill. Some of the characters will assign tasks to the player – quests, if you will. Some of them contradict each other, and the player will have to choose which to fulfil, perhaps angering some characters and pleasing others.
There is an entirely different category of puzzles relating to Shawn's skills. The player can pick up certain elective skills, and can improve any of them with study and practice. Many of the game's puzzles – particularly in combat, but also the adventure-style puzzles – have multiple solutions depending on clever use of those skills.
Ingmar: The game allows you to level up the skills of your character. Does that work just like in other RPGs or is there something different about this system in Hero-U?
Corey: Ah, but we've never been like other RPGs! *smile* There is no character level system in Hero-U, although the player will get rewarded on reaching new skill plateaus. Shawn's skills are learned and improved through study, taking "elective" classes, visiting the library, talking with other characters, and by using them to solve puzzles, fight, or avoid combat.
In Quest for Glory, the player improved the hero's skills strictly through practice. Hero-U is more varied, and we plan to cap skill improvement through practice to encourage the player to study as well as explore... Well, get Shawn to study; the player doesn't need to get bored by the details!
Ingmar: What’s the motivation behind the switch to turn-based combat?
Corey: We want every combat to feel like a puzzle. Quest for Glory combat made the game more immediate and exciting, but it could be frustrating to players with poor twitch skills. (Although actually, we used some tricks, such as making attacks more effective if you attacked less often. This was supposed to encourage use of defensive tactics.)
In Rogue to Redemption, the player will make frequent use of inventory items as well as direct combat abilities. Hero-U combats are designed to take advantage of the terrain and surroundings. The player gets Action Points which can be used to make a single powerful attack, to move around, or to mix defense and attacks. Too many enemies nearby? Duck into a corridor, or lay a trap to slow them down. Or blind them with flash powder while Shawn goes into stealth mode to escape or avoid the monsters.
Ingmar: Will those who don’t like combat have the chance to avoid fighting and just focus on other aspects, or is combat crucial in this game?
Corey: Combat will definitely be avoidable. We originally planned to make some combats avoidable, and some mandatory. Based on adventure game player feedback, we've decided to make it possible to avoid all combat. The game will be longer, and there will be some very intricate puzzles tied to combat, so we expect most of our players will enjoy it. But trying to stay out of combat will involve puzzles almost as intricate.
Note that the combination of turn-based, tactical combat with the abstract top-down viewpoint of the game will make fighting in Hero-U feel totally different than in a shooter or 3D dungeon game. It really is a type of puzzle, and won't feel like Shawn is "killing" enemies, so we think even pacifists will find fighting fun.
Ingmar: Since Hero-U is meant to just be the start of a new franchise, what’s the overall plan for this series?
Corey: Step 1 is to get the first game – Rogue to Redemption – funded on Kickstarter. We can't emphasize enough how important it is for players to support the game early. If you decide to "wait and see", we might not be able to make the game at all. If we succeed in raising the minimum goal, we will have to keep the game features and extra background scenes to a minimum to complete it within the budget. So by supporting our Kickstarter campaign, you are both "voting for Hero-U" and allowing us to make the best possible game.
Buying a game is always a risk. If you wait until it ships and buy it, you won't be able to return it if you don't like the game. You will also send a message: You want your games to be spoon-fed to you, and you don't want to participate in their creation. By backing quality, story-driven adventure games early in the process, you allow the creators to make games that big publishers won't touch. It's an incredible time for gamers, but only if we use our power.
If the fund drive and release of the first game are successful, we will continue the series. The additional games will have the same setting and a few of the same characters, but each has its own unique feel. In game 2, you will play a female Wizard. All of the story and dialogue will change from the first game, but all of the plot threads tie together into a much bigger overall story. Combat will also be completely different, as the Wizard relies on spells rather than items and stealth. We'll have some traditional "fire dart" type spells as well as much more subtle ones. Some combat will be avoidable; we'll have to see whether we can make it entirely skippable for the Wizard.
Game 3 will feature a Warrior student, again a woman. She will be more direct in her approach, and will also be able to use her leadership abilities to work with others in combat.
Game 4 centers around a Paladin. The Paladin is similar to a D&D Cleric in having abilities that heal and protect. He will be able to avoid most, and possibly all, combat. The Paladin also has a difficult struggle to remain honourable at all times, often when circumstances might make it easier to do something less honourable.
We have an idea for a Game 5 that is somewhat different from the others. We aren't talking about it at this point, as we need to work through more of the design and decide on the best way to handle it.Continued on the next page...