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RPG Codex Interview: Corey Cole on Quest for Glory and Hero-U (Now on Kickstarter!)

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RPG Codex Interview: Corey Cole on Quest for Glory and Hero-U (Now on Kickstarter!)

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 19 October 2012, 21:44:25

Tags: Corey Cole; Hero-U; Kickstarter; Quest for Glory

Today is a big day for fans of Sierra's classic adventure RPG Quest for Glory - Corey and Lori Cole, the series' creators, are back with a Kickstarter campaign for a new RPG, Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. "In tabletop roleplaying, the best games use all of the elements of both computer RPG’s and adventures," explain Corey and Lori on their blog. "We think a great role-playing adventure should do the same." In keeping with that, Rogue to Redemption is intended to combine the best about Quest for Glory with an all-new interface and turn-based combat.

Rogue to Redemption's story is, unsurprisingly, that of a Rogue. Like the original Hero's Quest, or Quest for Glory 1, Rogue to Redemption is supposed to launch an entire series of games. In contrast to Quest for Glory, however, each game in the Hero-U series is going to bring a specific class in the spotlight: Rogue in the first game, Wizard in the second, etc. In this interview, Corey Cole talks to the RPG Codex about the decision to make Hero-U's combat turn-based and the combat mechanics he has in mind for the game, the class and skill system, budget limitations, puzzle design, crowdfunding as a way of independent video game publishing, and his and Lori's plans for future games.

We thank Corey for his time, and for providing us with some exclusive concept artwork for this interview.

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RPG Codex: To begin this interview, can you tell us a bit about what you have been up to since the Quest for Glory days and why you have decided to turn to crowdfunding for your new game?

Corey Cole: I spent a few years developing online Poker tournaments before starting The School for Heroes with Lori. This was a free web site that helped players to apply the ideas of fantasy heroism to real life.

2012 has been "the perfect storm" in making it possible for us to bring Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption to the fans. Lori and I settled on the game we wanted to make and found the right development partners just as game crowdfunding exploded (in a good way!). We needed the freedom to develop this game as an indie project, but couldn't figure out how we would reach the fans to publicize and sell the game. Using Kickstarter, we are getting a lot of publicity, and players are able to show their support by effectively pre-ordering the game. Game development is expensive, and we couldn't fund enough ourselves to pay the contractors.​

RPG Codex: How did the idea of Hero-U originate, and what were the main points of debate you had when coming up with the game's concept? Why the name, "Hero-U"?

Corey Cole: We wanted to make a game based on www.theschoolforheroes.com. I thought the name was a little long, and a few of the people on the project pointed out that "school" made them think of a game for teenagers. We talked about a few variations, and ended up with "Hero-U" because "U" stands for "University" and also for "You". We want each player to feel that this is a game made just for him/her.

As for the concept, Lori and I have been kicking it around since 2008 in various incarnations. We started out trying to make a straight text adventure, but we weren't satisfied with it. Two years ago we tried again as a mostly-text game with a "click on the keyword" interface and a graphic window, but it still didn't seem to have the right feel. This year we talked about moving to a top-down map interface similar to Epyx Rogue on the Atari ST, and that sounded more promising. When we saw Brawsome's game "MacGuffin's Curse", Lori and I both thought that was exactly the look that would work for our new game. Well, close anyway - We're perfectionists who always tweak things. : )

The version of the game we worked on in 2010 focused on the Wizard character, but we decided to save that for a sequel so people wouldn't think, "Oh, it's a Harry Potter game set in Hogwarts." The team brainstormed some title ideas, Andrew Goulding of Brawsome suggested "Rogue Redemption", and artist Eric Varnes modified it to "Rogue to Redemption". We all liked the combination of word play and good description of the story. Your character starts out as a disgraced Thief and may redeem himself to become a Rogue Hero.​

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Hero University Entrance Concept Art

RPG Codex: Quest for Glory uniquely succeeded in striking the kind of balance between adventure and RPG that no other game has since attained, and that is an important part of why it remains so memorable. Do you aim to reproduce that balance with Hero-U, or do you wish to refine it further in some way?

Corey Cole: We definitely want to have that kind of balance. We think this game will feel more like a classic CRPG than an adventure game because of the top-down interface. However, we will also have a strong emphasis on character dialogue and puzzles. Think of the Persona games as an example of the character interaction... or think of Quest for Glory. : )

Are we refining the mix? Combat will be a little more important in this game, and we want to have more options for tactical movement, improving your gear, and so on. But we will still have a hybrid game.​

RPG Codex: As an aside, there never were any "Quest for Glory clones" despite the very interesting gameplay opportunities, on the intersection of the two genres, opened up by the series. Why do you think this particular kind of game did not pick up?

Corey Cole: Our games were typecast as "adventure games" back in the 90's despite the RPG side. The big publishers all decided that adventure games were unprofitable, so they stopped making them. There have been a few exceptions such as Broken Sword, but there have been very few recent graphic adventures, so it isn't surprising that there have been no recent RPG/adventure hybrids.​

RPG Codex: Hero-U will have two gameplay parts, the "school part," or adventure game part where you interact with characters and solve puzzles, and the "catacombs part," or roguelike/RPG/exploration part. In Quest for Glory, however, these two aspects were in an important way merged into one, and exploration used the same adventure game interface. Why did you decide to move away from Quest for Glory in this regard? How clearly do you intend to separate the two parts in Hero-U, and how do you ensure the game does not end up feeling disjointed?

Corey Cole: Our main interface will be the tiled top-down map for the entire game, so we don't think the school and catacombs will feel like two different games. The main difference will be that there is less combat in school and less dialogue in the catacombs. Both parts are critical to the story and we certainly want them to feel like different phases of a single game.​

RPG Codex: From what I have gathered, you are also going with a top-down look for Hero-U. Why have you decided not to stick to the traditional point-and-click adventure look that Quest for Glory or other classic Sierra games had?

Corey Cole: In a word – budget. Adventure games died because they didn't sell enough copies to justify their continually growing budgets. If we raise our minimum of $400,0000 on Kickstarter, that will leave about $300,000 for the project budget after Kickstarter fees and reward tier premiums. That's about what the first 16-color EGA Hero's Quest cost to develop. Quest for Glory 4 cost about $750,000, not including about $2 million spent on developing Sierra's SCI engine. QG5 cost about $4 million to develop. We don't think we can raise that kind of budget for an indie game.

We also don't think the Sierra graphical interface is necessary to make a great RPG. In fact, it often got in the way. We had to make major compromises on combat and inventory variety to work with Sierra's tools. We are distilling Hero-U into what we consider its essential elements – tactical combat, character progression, story, and dialogue – and keeping the budget reasonable by minimizing flashy graphics.​

RPG Codex: One significant departure of Hero-U from Quest for Glory is the turn-based combat. What motivated your decision to make combat turn-based this time and apparently give it a more prominent place?

Corey Cole: Two of our inspirations for the game were Rogue and Wizardry; both used turn-based combat. We want to focus on tactical options and not make this a "mash the button fast" game. There are plenty of that type out there! By keeping combat turn-based, we will have more of a thinking person's game.

As for the prominence of combat, we think it's fun, and it makes sense in this game. We watched some play-throughs of Quest for Glory and felt people were avoiding monsters all too easily. You'll be able to avoid some fights in this game – especially since you're a Rogue – but might not want to do that too often because it will be both fun and useful.​

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Hero-U Beholder Concept Art

RPG Codex: Can you talk about the combat system you have in mind for the game and the combat mechanics involved? Just how tactical do you want the combat to be? Are there any games, computer or pen-and-paper, that you take inspiration for Hero-U's combat from?

Corey Cole: We're looking at in-place combat on the dungeon map rather than the special screens we used in Quest for Glory. We used those because we didn't want the player or enemies to get stuck on room terrain. For Hero-U, we'll set up some of the combat settings to make combat more tactical. You will be able to move around, shift things in the room to channel your enemies, and so on.

If you look at D&D 3+ vs. AD&D, they went with more options such as flanking opponents. In CRPG's, I liked the Betrayal at Krondor tactical combat interface. I'm undoubtedly being influenced by World of Warcraft boss battles after spending several years raiding. : ) But we're trying to come up with a unique system that has intuitive UI, but also gives the player real choices.

We will have an Action Point system so that you can choose between doing a single, powerful action during your "turn" or a couple of smaller actions (such as stab and dodge) or move to improve your tactical position. I won't allow combats to turn into 10-minute marathons, but there will be more choices than in Quest for Glory.

The main feature of the Rogue character will be item use – Your Rogue will supplement his basic skills with a variety of items that let him do some unusual actions. We plan to keep the same basic interface for each game in the Hero-U series, but each character type will have a different flavor in combat.​

RPG Codex: Corey, in a comment on your blog you recently said, "we also want to make sure our new games are very distinct from the work we did at Sierra. We’ve moved on, and learned more about game design." What are some of the things about game design, and adventure game design in particular, that you have learned since Quest for Glory?

Corey Cole: We were really pretty naïve when we made at least the first two Quest for Glory games. We based them on our paper RPG experience (including our custom skill-based RPG system), the few CRPG's we had played (Rogue, Wizardry, Dungeon Master, Ultima IV, and Bard's Tale), and a few days spent playing through older Sierra games.

Specifically, we'll be going back to our paper RPG roots to simulate and balance combats so that they will be challenging, but in the player's favor. Also, we will add some puzzle elements to combat – Using items or abilities to negate your enemy's strongest attacks and get through their defenses, and using the terrain to survive combat against multiple opponents.

In addition, Lori and I have to be particularly sensitive that we are *not* making a new Quest for Glory because Activision owns the series license. We may be able to work with them in the future on new QfG games, and we don't want Hero-U to feel like a clone of anyone else's game, including our own.​

RPG Codex: To build on the previous question, how do you feel about puzzles today? Many classic games had some pretty devious puzzles, which now seem to have almost disappeared from video games. How would you approach puzzle design today, and how will Hero-U's puzzles compare to classic Sierra adventure puzzles?

Corey Cole: Many of those "devious" adventure game puzzles sucked. : ) They really didn't make sense to anyone other than the designer. We don't like to create busywork or puzzles that suck. We were appalled when a certain Sierra game incorporated a puzzle that could only be solved by dying and restoring the game; you won't find anything like that in our games if we can help it.

Today player’s frustration quotients are much lower. If they get stuck on a puzzle, most people will run to the web and find a solution and/or walkthrough. And it's like eating salted peanuts – Once you've gotten a hint, it's really hard to stop getting more even if you don't really need them.

To be a challenge today, puzzles need to be much more subtle. We will have stuff going on with character relationships where it will be very hard to follow a walkthrough. It isn't a single thing you do that makes another character like or trust you – It's the accumulated effect of multiple interactions. We will also have significant choices in the story that let you act more like a Thief or more like a Hero.

One of the things that set Quest for Glory apart from other adventure games is that we tried not to tack on puzzles just to add challenge. Almost all of our puzzles were part of the story and tied in to the needs of other characters in the game. That's a basic part of our game design philosophy, so of course we'll be doing similar things in Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.

Easier or harder? That's difficult to say. We actually tried to make Quest for Glory relatively easy in that every puzzle made sense and should have been solvable strictly with things you learned in the game. But we've been told that some of our games were really hard. So it's hard to say where Hero-U will end up on the difficulty scale. If people want to cheat by going to the web, we won't stop them... and we'll wonder why there weren't enough clues in-game.​

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Each game in the Hero-U series is going to put one of the classes in the spotlight.

RPG Codex: Hero-U will be broken down into five episodes, one for every character class, of which "Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption" will be the first. In terms of play time, how long do you want each episode to be - is it one-fifth of a Quest for Glory game? Do you plan on doing a Kickstarter for every episode? When all episodes are released, do you intend to "merge" them into a single game with different routes where you choose your character class in the beginning, RPG style?

Corey Cole: Each Hero-U game is a complete game in its own right, probably about the size of the original Hero's Quest. In fact, whether we even do more than one game will depend on the response we get to our Kickstarter and our sales of the first game. I can't put a number of hours on that play time.

We don't intend to merge the games, but they will all tie together in thematic ways and in terms of events going on in the world around you. If we are able to pull it off, your actions as a Rogue in the first game will affect some things that happen in the Wizard game, and so on. In the fifth game, we want to make it so that you play all of the characters, switching between them as needed to solve certain puzzles or win some of the battles. It's an ambitious plan, and we will have a lot more discussions about the interface and design for that game when we get closer to it.

We might or might not do a Kickstarter for the future games. The major advantage would be as a presale and publicity vehicle – Kickstarter gives us a way to reach more fans. But if we have adequate funding at the end of the first project, and sales of the first game go well, we might fund future games from the proceeds of the earlier ones. A Kickstarter drive is time-consuming and potentially expensive, so might not be an appropriate way to fund a sequel. But it will depend on our bank balance after the first game.​

RPG Codex: I would also like to ask about Hero-U's character development and class system compared to Quest for Glory. In particular, are there still going to be attributes and class-specific abilities? Is Hero-U going to be skill-based rather than level-based, and will it have career paths?

Corey Cole: There will be attributes, but different ones from D&D and Quest for Glory. There are definitely class-specific skills, and we are trying to make them somewhat humorous. Skill development (lock-picking, sneaking, and such) will be mostly skill-based, with some improvements coming from things you do in class (think Persona) and in the library, and some from combat and dungeon activity. We are trying to avoid the grind of "practice makes perfect" that some skills (such as throwing) became in later Quest for Glory games.

We are extending the University metaphor to have a "major" ("Rogue") and "electives". The latter will be available only when you have sufficiently impressed your instructor, so they will have a bit of a leveling ("ding!") feel. They act like Talent points in World of Warcraft or Proficiencies in AD&D. When you get a new elective, you might choose to increase your Botany 1 skill to Botany 2 or pick up a new level 1 elective.​

RPG Codex: What was the budget of the Quest for Glory games (if you are free to talk about that), and how does the budget you have in mind for Hero-U compare?

Corey Cole: The first game had a relatively tiny budget, because everyone on the team made about 40% less than at their previous jobs. : ) I once calculated it at $150K, but it was probably closer to $250K. The budget almost doubled to $450K for game 2, and again to $750K for games 3 and 4. Quest for Glory 5 was budgeted at $1.5M, but had massive overruns, and I think ended up costing around $4 million. We developed an entire new game engine for QfG5, and completely revised the artwork mid-project from voxels to polygon-based 3D due to performance issues.​

RPG Codex: To ask a purely retrospective question, what was it like working for Sierra and what was the company culture like? In hindsight, what do you think were the main strengths and weaknesses of Sierra as a publisher and developer?

Corey Cole: From our viewpoint, the major strength – especially on the first few games – was that Sierra management took a laissez faire attitude. We were free to experiment and make games the way we thought they should be made. Another big strength of Sierra was the emphasis on using the SCI engine for all games. That meant that we had relatively stable technology and could focus on game design details instead of worrying how we could implement the basics.

The art process became regimented starting with Quest for Glory 2, which made development more difficult and stressful. However, artists were treated better during that period, and art quality improved dramatically moving into the 256-color VGA era. That was partially technology, but also process and a better working environment for the artists.​

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Hero-U Griffon Concept Art (Originally posted in the Hero-U forum)

RPG Codex: What are your thoughts on the current state of the RPG and the adventure game genres? Are there any adventures and CRPGs that you have particularly enjoyed lately?

Corey Cole: I spent seven years playing World of Warcraft, so obviously I loved it. Lori has been enjoying Star Wars: the Old Republic, particularly in the class quests and voice acting. It's a failure as an MMO, but successful as a single-player RPG.

It was quite a while ago, but we really enjoyed Ultima Underworld. UU2 was fun, but not quite as immersive. Also back then, we liked Wizardry 6: Bane of the Cosmic Forge. Wizardry 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant seemed too big and less approachable. We played it for a while, but never finished it.

We think that most RPG's these days have focused too much on polish, and it gets in the way of the story and player interaction. Most new games we play for an hour, then move on to something else – They don't draw us in and give us a reason to play more. I had that experience with Ultima Online and Everquest – The early-game experience failed to hook me. I also tend to get seasick playing many first-person-perspective 3D games.​

RPG Codex: Do you believe crowdfunding will prove to be a viable and long-lasting alternative to publisher-driven video game development? Do you see any limitations or downsides to the Kickstarter format?

Corey Cole: At the moment, Kickstarter is absolutely perfect for a game like ours. I'm not sure how well it will work for a new designer or development team trying to "break in", but then that's always hard. How can you tell someone will make a good game? Mostly by seeing if you liked their previous games. That's why we're working with Brawsome – Jolly Rover was cute and a fun game, then MacGuffin's Curse clinched it for us. Not only is it very fun, but it has the look we wanted to use for Hero-U. So Brawsome will use the system they developed for MacGuffin as a base for Hero-U development.

But back to Kickstarter. I think it's "power to the people" (as I wrote in my blog http://www.theschoolforheroes.com/questlog/1322/power-to-the-people-changing-the-game/). It gives the fans a chance to support the kind of games they want to see made. Just as Wikipedia hasn't gone away, I don't see Kickstarter going away as long as it remains a neutral forum for players to decide what games they want to fund. It could just be a fad, but my instinct is that it's here to stay, and may replace a lot of publisher-funded game development.

Let's face it – Publishers only want "home run hitters". They don't have the right economics to support smaller, niche or experimental games. That's why we've seen very little but variations on first-person shooters in the 2000's. Now in the 2010's we're seeing more variety, particularly from indie developers. Games like Braid, Portal, etc. show that smaller developers can have an impact. I can't promise a publisher that my games will sell 10 million copies – realistically, nobody can! That means they aren't likely to be interested in giving Lori and me a chance even though every game we've made has been successful. They just aren't successful enough in big enough mega-numbers.​

RPG Codex: If Hero-U is funded and turns out to be a success, what are your plans for the future? What other kinds of games would you love to work on?

Corey Cole: Well, first we need to finish this game – and the four planned "sequels". Then we have a file full of game ideas we wanted to make in the past, but that we didn't manage to sell to publishers – three different science fiction RPG's (one might remind you of the X-Files), an Old West RPG (quite unlike Freddy Pharkas), a comedy spy game, a space conquest MMO, a Machiavellian strategy game, and others. Some of them have aged better than others, and most are still unique.

Looking back at those archives, we were really excited about several of those games, and became seriously depressed when we couldn't communicate their awesomeness to game publishers. (One of those publishers, who shall remain unnamed, decided to design a game themselves and it failed *miserably*, selling about 1,000 copies. Most publishers have no clue about what games to make or who to get to design them.)

We can do much better by appealing directly to fans through a medium such as Kickstarter. So I think that's where I'd like to go with the next project after the Hero-U series. Or maybe we could alternate Hero-U games with some completely different concepts. Or integrate one of them... Hmm. : )

If we are able to make a deal with Activision, it would be fun to return to the world of Quest for Glory – possibly in an Oriental setting. I'm still an active bridge player – I recently reached Silver Life Master status – and would like to make some bridge-related games, probably for mobile devices. I'd like to work on AI for bridge or poker opponents at some point, if only to find out whether I'm up to the challenge. : )

The key is getting back into the business with Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. If we can raise enough on Kickstarter to make an excellent next game, then the sky is the limit for what we can do after that.​

RPG Codex: Thank you for your time and good luck with the Kickstarter campaign.

Don't forget to check out Hero-U's Kickstarter page to study the rewards and pledge if you'd like to support the game.

Thanks to JarlFrank, Zed and Jaesun for their feedback on the first version of the questions.

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