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Q&A with Hero-U's Corey & Lori Cole

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Todays question time is with Corey from the Hero-U Kickstarter a sort of Adventure/RPG 2D hybrid! They are looking to get to $400,000.

First can you introduce yourself and how you got into developing games?

When I was a kid, my family always played board games together. I took up Chess in Junior High School, and abandoned it for Bridge in College. I still play bridge (now a Silver Life Master). I got interested in computers in High School, and continued studying them at University.

Our school, UCSB, had an experimental PLATO terminal for a project that connected it to the ARPANET. PLATO had some great games including SPASIM, Empire, and the dungeon crawl that later became Wizardry. I created a couple of small games, then got kicked off the system because they weren't "lessons" (despite that one was an educational simulation game).

After graduation, I became a professional programmer and traveled a lot. While doing a project in Chicago, I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons, and got seriously hooked. I wrote – and later published – a D&D module, "Tower of Indomitable Circumstance." That helped me meet Lori and later got me a foot in the door at Sierra when they were looking for a D&D expert to create an RPG for them.

Life is full of decision points, just as in an adventure game. We let most of them fly past us, but if you see an interesting opportunity and "grab for the brass ring", exciting things can happen. I had to give up a successful career as a programmer to make games for a lot less money, but that led to opportunities I might never have had another way.

What where the best and worst software development environments you used during your porting and programming career especially during the early days writing games for Sierra On-Line.

Well, the worst was undoubtedly when I programmed micro-chips for smart terminals at my first job after College. I wrote out my code on yellow legal pads, made corrections by literally cutting the pages with a paper cutter and taping them back together, because the paper-tape-based assembler was so painful to use. You really wanted to get your program right on the first try in that environment!

That turned out to be good training though. My first job at Sierra was converting the SCI engine from 8086 assembler to 68000 assembler. I actually don't remember what was so horrible about the development environment, but I went back to writing all the code on yellow legal pads and typing it in later. Probably I just didn't have multiple windows (let alone monitors) so that I could look at the old code and edit my new code at the same time.

Later I got better tools to work with at Sierra, including an editor that let me split the screen into four windows. You couldn't see much in any of the windows, but it was good for jumping around between different parts of the game and engine code. The biggest strength of Sierra? No Internet. We could actually focus on what we were working on. I don't recall if we even had an email system.

Oh, Sierra also had good tools in that SCI used incremental p-machine compilation, so that the "Edit / Compile / Test" cycle was very fast. In contrast, at a later job, I had to endure a 40-minute build every time I wanted to test a change. And if there was one typo in that new code, it was painful. That company had built layer upon layer of preprocessing onto their C compiler.

Probably my favorite work environment (don't shoot me!) was what I used for the Passport2 Bridge online game site. That was Microsoft Developer Studio with some custom build tools that made it easy to put stuff online for testing. Second best, Sierra once I got tools, then Olivetti, where I developed part of the file system for their operating system. I got a crash course in vi, then used it extensively. I also loved the unix command-line utilities which simplified a lot of things I needed to do.

What was the most difficult/annoying/challenging/diabolical bug you remembers ever having to fix or work around.

Well, we never actually found the memory leak in Quest for Glory 2 combat with the Jackalmen. That slowly ate up memory so the game would crash in an entirely different place, often near the end when it was most frustrating. Memory issues are frequently the hardest to find and debug, partially because debugging them can affect the behavior.

I had a challenging time debugging real-time graphics on one-monitor systems, because I couldn't use my usual tools of breakpoints or print statements. On one project, I solved that by creating an interrupt routine that played a sound based on the contents of a memory location. Then I could replace my print statements by setting, incrementing, or decrementing that location. If I heard a rising scale, the program was doing one thing; if a constant note, something else. I was able to narrow down problems by hearing which parts of the code were visited.

Any interesting stories from when you worked for Sierra?

By my definition of interesting? I expect all the readers fell asleep during my last answer.

One of the most exciting moments was seeing my first intentionally-drawn rectangle appear on the Atari ST screen, but anyone but a programmer would say, "Yeah, so what?".

Having Hero's Quest (our original name for Quest for Glory 1) become an immediate success and win Adventure Game of the Year in Computer Gaming World was amazing.

The best parts of game development are when someone on the team comes up with a crazy idea, someone else picks up on it, and pretty soon it just has to go into the game. Silly Clowns mode in QfG2: Trial By Fire was one of those. A programmer commented that the early productivity software always had greyed-out menu items that did nothing, because they intended to support the feature in a later patch. So we added a meaningless menu item, but it eventually morphed into only "mostly meaningless," since we had it affect Harpo Marx and some death messages.

What's your favorite game or series of games by your co-workers at Sierra (other than the ones that you and Lori built).

Wait! Sierra made other games? We rarely had time to play them. I playtested King's Quest IV, Leisure Suit Larry 2, Police Quest 2, and Space Quest 3 as part of my work on the Atari ST SCI interpreter. They were all pretty fun, but I was mostly looking for bugs while I played. I didn't see much of the later games.

Lori and I liked some LucasArts games, particularly Monkey Island 1 and 2, LOOM, and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Ron Gilbert said he picked up some ideas from Hero's Quest for Monkey Island, and we took a few from him for Quest for Glory 2. (I've forgotten the details.)

So onto Hero-U!

Can you give us a really simple run down of what Hero U is all about?

It's an adventure game story with role-playing features such as character development and combat. Your character is a Rogue, Shawn O'Conner, who is forced to attend the University for Heroes. While there, he discovers a number of mysteries, not least of which is the question of why he is there, and why is he important. Combat is tactical and turn-based, designed for thinking rather than reaction time. Your relationships with other characters matter.

What makes it different from other adventure/rpg style games? Why should people be interested in it?
Lori: In the first place, Adventure/RPGs are a very rare breed indeed. We were the first to design them with our QfG series. Japanese RPGs could be called Adventure/RPGs because they have strong stories and characters. But I don’t know of anyone actually using the classification of Adventure/RPG other than us right now.

But story-telling is ingrained in human nature. We love stories. That’s why movies and books continue to entertain people all over the world. RPGs are direct descendents of tabletop D&D games that combined story-telling with character progression and action. We want to create games that are fun experiences with meaningful stories, characters you care about, and excitement.

There isn’t a lot of excitement in an Adventure Game. There aren’t too many quirky characters in RPG games – they tend to take themselves very seriously.

Quest for Glory was an Adventure Game with Role-playing elements. It took advantage of the strengths of Sierra On-Line’s talents and resources. Hero-U will have more Role-playing elements – more exploration of caverns, dungeons, and catacombs. The player will have the ability to shape Shawn’s character and his destiny by making critical choices and improving Shawn’s skills by practice and study. Unlike the real-time combat of Quest for Glory, Hero-U will have tactical combat where you can treat each combat like a chess match where you plot your moves carefully, a fast-action skill vs. skill, or find ways to never come in direct combat with your opponent. We want the player to feel completely in charge of Shawn’s fate.

Hero-U will be a unique game with humor, story, adventure, action, and perhaps even romance. It will touch the heart and it will make you smile. What’s not to like?

What will happen if the Kickstarter fails?

That will probably be the end of it as far as Lori and me in the game business. I'll try to get a job programming, and Lori will probably find work in a photography studio or doing Photoshop work.

If our Kickstarter project fails, that will say there aren't enough people out there interested in our style of games to make it worth the incredible time and commitment to develop them. We aren't just looking for funding; we're seeking affirmation of our ideals of heroism and the importance of story and character development in games.

Why did you choose Unity3D as the game engine?

Mostly we chose our developer, Andrew Goulding and Brawsome, and they have been using Unity3D for their recent projects. I like that it is designed to allow games to be easily ported to multiple platforms, and it's feature-rich enough for our game.

Sierra spent over a million dollars developing SCI before the first game was built on it. Once upon a time, that was real money. (Our total development budget for Hero's Quest was about $250K.) The thought of making an adventure game or RPG from scratch was daunting. Unity3D appears to supply most of the functionality we got from SCI, and with the same platform-agnostic approach.

What for you is the hardest part about supporting Linux?

The logistics of making Linux builds, distributing them to testers, and testing them on many different Linux distros. Andrew was worried about the hidden costs associated with that, so I decided that I will personally port the game to Linux after we ship the Windows and Mac versions. This way I can promise to non-Linux backers that project funds will be devoted to the base game development, but I can still make sure we ship a solid Linux version after we've satisfied that.

Other random questions.

What is your desktop OS of choice?

Wait, there's a choice? I've been on Windows for years because all the companies I've worked with have used it. I also have a fair amount of software for it, although admittedly much less than I used to have. I probably could switch to Mac or Linux now without much noticing that anything changed.

Have you previously used Linux?

I used Linux once or twice, briefly. When I developed Passport2 Bridge with Bob Heitman, originally we were just working on the client-side code, and an outside company was building the server code under Linux. That company flaked out, so we took over their code. Since we did not have Linux expertise, and since our client was a certain extremely large software company that had a vested interest in Windows, we converted the Linux-based code to Windows Server, and went on from there. Not my decision, but realistically I would probably have done the same.

I spent several years developing an operating system and a desktop publishing system in two BSD unix shops, so I was unix-literate once upon a time. I've never worked on the kernel though. We made our own OS at Olivetti, and I was focused on application-level software at ViewTech.

I'm looking forward to getting into the Linux world and diving back into programming for the Hero-U Linux version. Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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About the author -
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I am the owner of GamingOnLinux. After discovering Linux back in the days of Mandrake in 2003, I constantly came back to check on the progress of Linux until Ubuntu appeared on the scene and it helped me to really love it. You can reach me easily by emailing GamingOnLinux directly.
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6 comments

Bumadar Nov 12, 2012
I almost forgot about this, there been so much linux gaming news since then. Sadly it seems they won't reach it if you believe [URL='http://www.kicktraq.com/projects/1878147873/hero-u-rogue-to-redemption/']kicktraq[/URL], but it has been wrong before so fingers crossed :)
Speedster Nov 12, 2012
Quoting: "Bumadar, post: 6314, member: 93"I almost forgot about this, there been so much linux gaming news since then. Sadly it seems they won't reach it if you believe [URL='http://www.kicktraq.com/projects/1878147873/hero-u-rogue-to-redemption/']kicktraq[/URL], but it has been wrong before so fingers crossed :)


You're never supposed to actually believe kicktraq (and I especially don't know why they still show the 'trend' when the so-called experimental projection cones are a much better wag at how things are going), but it is interesting to compare results against other finished projects. This is the point where every new backer counts, especially if they tell a few friends... could actually make the difference between success and failure

http://www.kicktraq.com/projects/10x10room/conclave/
HTML5 game I pledged for that barely made it on the last day at 101% of minimum! I could totally see Hero U going down to the wire like this, once the end-of-project burst starts kicking in.
Liam Dawe Nov 12, 2012
Updated with a new question answered by Lori.
nadeem Nov 15, 2012
for me i like the idea of this game but i cant pledge since its not guaranteed that we will see a Linux version. so for me its not to go. wish you luck guys funding.
sVnsilver Nov 15, 2012
But, the thing is, Linux is guaranteed to be covered. Or as much as anything else on Kickstarter is guaranteed, most projects are successful mainly based on a person's reputation and integrity. And those are exactly the priceless things that are at stake for any company or persons heading up a Kickstarter campaign.

So yes Linux is promised, on Corey's own dime and volition, along with the help from some Linux faithfuls. Maybe you'd like to have some input and or trouble-shooting when the Linux version is being ironed out :).

Personally, I'm wanting to start a dual boot setup for Linux to at least learn the ins and outs of their OS's. I have back in the day to a small degree and the transparency of the OS and being open-source. Until now I didn't even realize that popular OS's like Android, WebOS are customized Linux OS's, as well as some other well known services.
Cheeseness Nov 17, 2012
Fantastic interview. Great choice to not fixate on the game itself - reiterating the Kickstarter pitch would have been far less interesting than this retrospective look at Corey and Lori's history and discussion of the campaign itself.
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