By Marty Mulrooney
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is an adventure role-playing game created by legendary husband and wife game designers Corey and Lori Cole of Quest for Glory fame. Following a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in 2012, the game has finally been released six years later in 2018. It is therefore with great pleasure that AMO welcomes back Corey and Lori Cole for a brand new exclusive online interview where we discuss all thing Hero-U!
Hello Corey and Lori, thank you for your time and welcome back to Alternative Magazine Online!
It’s a pleasure to talk with you again!
How have you both been since our last interview in 2012?
“Busy,” says Lori. “Alternately stressed and exhilarated, sometimes at the same moment,” says Corey, who always uses more words than Lori.
Congratulations on the release of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption! How do you feel now that the game has finally been released?
Corey: Relieved and worried about whether enough people will buy it to cover our development costs.
Lori: I’m so glad to finally see that players are really enjoying the game. All the decisions and work we put into the game is finally worth it.
What has the feedback been like so far from critics and players?
Corey: It’s been great! 8.6/10 on Metacritic, 4.5/5 on GOG, and Positive on Steam. We have surprisingly few negative reviews, most of them from players who abandoned the game in less than an hour.
When we last spoke you were running a Kickstarter for Hero-U. The game ended up taking slightly longer than anticipated to create – what were the main hurdles that you had to overcome?
Corey: I could write a whole article just about that. I originally estimated one year because Kickstarter requires an estimate, and that’s as much development as we could afford on our original $400K ask. I managed to stretch the funds to two years, but the game still had a long way to go at that point. We essentially started over in 2015, raised another $100K from a supplementary Kickstarter, then used loans and personal resources to finish the game.
The hurdles included forgetting about inflation when I estimated the development cost by looking at our 1990s budgets. The difficulty of full-colour 3D artwork compared to low-resolution 16-colour pixel art. Needing to adapt Unity to make our kind of 2D game, then starting over in 3D when the 2D version didn’t work well. Finding the right talent. Working with a part-time team spread all around the world.
How did the game evolve since that original Kickstarter campaign?
Corey: The story, and most of the characters, stayed the same, but the look and feel of the game changed completely. Unity is much better suited for making 3D games than the top-down 2D style we originally proposed. But mainly we expanded the scope of the game. To tell the story the way Lori wanted to do it required a much larger game and a lot more time spent on writing and scripting than we anticipated.
Lori: What was supposed to be a simple, small game became a huge game that rivals Quest for Glory with its rich plot and characterizations. It’s what comes when a designer has a chance to do exactly what she wants – make the game the best she can!
For those of AMO’s readers unfamiliar with the premise of Hero-U, what’s the game all about?
Corey: You play Shawn O’Conner, a poor street kid who hopes that becoming a thief will help him and his mother make ends meet. Instead he is given the chance to become a rogue and a hero… if he can make it through a semester at Hero-U.
There are a lot of mysteries to solve, along with exploration, developing skills, fighting monsters, studying, and making friends. Hero-U has a tough curriculum! On top of that serious layer, there’s another layer of pure whimsy – puns and other light-hearted humour. It’s an approach we took with Quest for Glory that seemed to work well, so we’re still doing it this way.
Who is Shawn O’Conner and what is his goal in the game?
Corey: Shawn O’Conner is the character you control. His goals depend heavily on the player – he can try to be Rogue of the Year, or use what he learns at Hero-U to be a more successful Thief. He can be smart, charming, or snarky. But mainly he is a curious person who wants to learn more about the world and his own family. And he might even find true love.
Can Hero-U be played as a pure adventure game?
Corey: To a large degree, yes. To be a successful adventurer, you will at least need to build up some of your skills – stealth, perception, and tool use at least. Once you’ve done that, you can avoid most or all monster fights.
I have a little mantra about that. What do you need to fight well? Elite skills and equipment. How do you get them? By fighting well. Why do you fight monsters? So you can improve your skills and find better equipment. What do you need those for? To fight well.
So if you don’t care about fighting, and just want to be an adventurer, that’s fine. You don’t need the rewards from fighting monsters. But it’s really hard. The “Perfect Prowler” achievement, in which you win the game without ever killing an enemy, is probably the most difficult one you can get. It’s the ultimate challenge. Most adventurers will find themselves fighting at least occasionally, but it won’t dominate the game.
Lori: When it does come to combat, this isn’t a stabby-stabby twitch style combat. It’s really about using all the traps and tricks you have at your command to defeat the monsters. It’s about playing smart and outwitting the foes. It’s turn-based so that the game gives you the luxury to plan what you do when you do want to fight.
What similarities does Hero-U share with your previous Quest for Glory series?
Corey: The obvious similarity is that Hero-U and Quest for Glory are both “hybrid fantasy role-playing adventure games.” That just means they share common traits with both traditional graphic adventures and with CRPGs (Computer Role-Playing Games). In most adventure games, your character is static, and only the environment changes. In Hero-U, your character grows and develops during the 50 days of the game. That’s “growth” both in a story sense of becoming more confident and learning, and in an RPG sense of getting better equipment and improved skills.
There are some other similarities. They’re both set on a fantasy version of Earth. This time we’re near Cagliari on Sardinia, except we call them Caligari and Sardonia. There is a blend of a serious storyline with world-changing consequences, a quieter “young man attending University” storyline, and lots of humorous – even silly – interactions to give some relief from the drama.
Shawn’s roommate is a Bard who writes song parodies – or, more likely, they’re original songs to him but just happen to work very nicely with tunes players will know. While exploring, looking at and interacting with “props” often results in a pun or pop culture reference. These are similar to the over-the-top humour we used in Quest for Glory to keep the games from getting too serious.
There are also nods to our previous games, and to other adventure games, here and there in the text. Most of those show up when players investigate some of the many backer-financed paintings and sculptures.
What makes Hero-U different from anything you’ve worked on before?
Corey: Hero-U has a different style from our previous games. For one thing, it’s HUGE. Using 3D environments allowed us to make large scenes with many interactions, while at Sierra every scene took exactly one screen. The writing is huge too, with more text and branches than any of our previous games.
We’ve beefed up the CRPG side with many more pieces of equipment and other items to help exploration and combat. Actual combat is “in place” – no artificial “combat room” as in Quest for Glory. You can fight multiple enemies at once, and have many tactical techniques for handling them. That said, all or almost all combat is optional – Shawn can sneak through some pretty crowded areas once he gets good at Stealth.
Possibly the biggest difference is that Quest for Glory featured an unnamed generic hero who could be a fighter, wizard, or thief. Each Hero-U game features a specific character of one class. In Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, that’s Shawn O’Conner, and he’s a rogue. This approach let us do much more detailed and personal storytelling.
Is there a particular part of the project that you’re most proud of?
Corey: The obvious one is that – despite plenty of challenges during development – we managed to finish and release the game. We didn’t rush it out the door or take shortcuts to get something on the market. We took our time, did extensive testing for almost a year, and then released a great game with very few bugs.
We also think we’ve managed to push the envelope of storytelling. The script for Rogue to Redemption is equivalent to a large novel. The game is very reactive to player actions, with many messages and dialogue changing throughout the game. We did some of this in Quest for Glory, but Hero-U has it on steroids.
If you could do it all again, is there anything you’d do differently?
Corey: Heh, I’d probably remember how hard it was to make games at Sierra and say, “Forget it! Let’s write a book instead!” But we really did (and do) want to tell these stories, and games are our preferred medium.
Starting over, I’d have made sure we had firm agreements with our developers before doing the Kickstarter, and I’d have planned in advance for the necessity of getting additional funding besides what Kickstarter brought us. More recent projects have been explicit that the Kickstarter funding is only a portion of the total funding needed to make the game happen.
Lori: I’m happy the way Hero-U turned out. Game design and development is all about compromise and using the talents of the entire team to shape the game. Hero-U is a labor of love and pride by everyone on the team, and thus, the game really shines.
Do you plan to make more games set at the Hero University?
Corey: Yes, if the first game at least breaks even. We need to know that there is an audience for this type of intense, detailed, and challenging story game. If that audience arrives, the second game will be about a young female Wizard; the title is Hero-U: Wizard’s Way.
Each subsequent game will feature a different main character and class, and the stakes in terms of danger inside and outside of the University will keep increasing. Eventually we plan to bring all of the characters back in a grand finale.
We are also looking at making some smaller, casual games that will not take years each to write and develop. Lori is writing a novel each time, then scripting it so that players pick up each piece of the story a little at a time. Meanwhile, we also need art, music, and programming. That’s a gigantic effort!
What’s next for you both?
Corey: We’re going to Disneyland! Well, sort of. We’ll be driving past it on a visit to my Mom. But we won’t have much time off. I’m working harder at customer support than I did while we developed the game. We’re considering one or more localized versions, ports to the Nintendo Switch and other consoles, and improvements we can make to the game.
We released the first big patch on July 31 in response to feedback from players on Steam and GOG, and plan to release more patches as needed. There weren’t many big game bugs, but there are one or two critical ones and lots of small tweaks and improvements to make. We’ve also started planning and creating character designs for the next two Hero-U games.
Lori: I’m already designing Hero-U: Wizard’s Way and have the artists working on character design. I’m also designing the smaller Adventure Tale, “Summer Daze at Hero-U.” In addition, I’m working on the artwork and writing for the various manuals, hint book, box covers, and Kickstarter rewards. There’s plenty of work for me to do.
Thank you for your time, it has been a pleasure speaking with you – and congratulations once again on the successful launch of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption!
Corey: Thank you! For this series to continue, we need to at least recoup the development costs of the first game. I hope all of your readers will check out Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption on GOG.com or Steam. If you like what you see, pick up the game and talk about it on social media. We’ve done something unique and challenging, and it doesn’t fit into a nice pigeonhole as either a pure adventure game, role-playing game, or visual novel. If that sounds exciting to you, please help us make more games in the series.