In 1989, husband and wife game designers Corey and Lori Cole set out to shake up a genre. Mixing the best of tabletop role-playing with the era’s influential narrative-driven adventures, the duo created Quest for Glory, a decade-spanning PC game franchise released by Sierra On-Line that endeared a legion of loyal fans.
The games were notable for their rich mythology and humorous story lines. Three character classes allowed players to approach puzzles and plot points from different angles — the kind of replayability we take for granted in today’s RPGs.
But by the release of Quest for Glory V in 1998, Sierra was plagued by corporate troubles, and the sun was setting on the point-and-click adventure genre it had created. The franchise concluded, and the Coles, for all intents and purposes, fell off the radar of mainstream gaming.
But Corey and Lori never stopped thinking about the world of aspiring heroes.
“We’ve had this online site called School for Heroes that we’ve been doing for six or seven years,” Corey tells Mashable. “It’s literally a school designed to take the tropes of role-playing heroes and put them [in the real world]. What would a wizard do if he was in Los Angeles or New York today?”
“It really was more about encouraging people to think about what they could do in real life,” says Lori. “It only used the tropes of being a wizard as a metaphor, because it was really about self-actualization.”
“We had been getting letters from fans saying, ‘If you want to do a new game, say the word and I’ll open up my checkbook and write you a $1,000 check right now.'”
Participants were assigned a class based on a Meyers-Briggs type personality test and given challenges that would develop real-life skills. The site boasted around 3,000 users at its peak — half of them active, according to Corey.
“We originally designed the site as both a school and a game, but ended up turning it into a pure school,” says Corey. And of course, it didn’t pay the bills. Corey worked with publishers on other franchises and online bridge and poker products. Lori works as a freelance photographer. But all the while, they were getting emails.
“We had been getting letters from fans saying, ‘If you want to do a new game, say the word and I’ll open up my checkbook and write you a $1,000 check right now,'” says Corey. “And what’s happened is a lot of the people who were kids and teenagers when the Quest for Glory series came out are now in their 30s and making a good living, and they’re saying, ‘You know, we love your games, and it’s a shame that you’re not fitting into the industry in a way that allows you to make them. We’d like to support it.'”
In July, the Coles started thinking seriously about these offers. “We kind of said, ‘OK, it sounds nice, but can we really get enough people to support it?'” Enter Kickstarter — the engine driving today’s indie gaming Renaissance. The Coles embarked on some homework.
“The thing that fascinated me is, after all these years, there are still several sites for Quest for Glory that are still running with active communities,” says Lori. “We wanted to really tap into those people to become evangelists — like, you know, Apple evangelists — and help us reach other people who enjoy the game. Basically, let them know that, yeah, this is not quite Quest of Glory, but it’s going to be just as much fun.”
“Kickstarter is a way of bringing people together in one place,” Corey explains. “It’s a way of publicizing it: Yes we’re doing an indie project and you can be a part of it.”
“From the minute we let out the news that we were interested in doing it, we started to hear from all these fans who wanted to help,” Lori says. “And so we got in contact with several companies and they said, we’re really ready to help you.”
Jumping off from the School for Heroes concept, the new project — tentatively titled Hero U — will be a fully realized, five-part game with a fresh outlook on narrative adventure.
“It has threads from the Quest for Glory universe, but it’s a very different game,” says Lori. “It won’t look anything like it.”
A notable difference will be named protagonists, each with plenty of exposition — a departure from the malleable “generic hero” of Quest. “In each game, you’ll take on the role of a particular wannabe hero who’s attending the university and is in there for different reasons. You have a real story line, and we can do a lot more detailed writing because we know who you are,” Corey explains. “Our first game is about a rogue, Shawn O’Conner — a character who has a backstory that we know a lot about, but the player will gradually discover during the course of the game. He’s kind of an unwilling first-year student at Hero U.”
“It has threads from the Quest for Glory universe, but it’s a very different game. It won’t look anything like it.”
“As a player, your character doesn’t know everything that’s going on, either,” Lori adds. “It’s solving a mystery that involves your own personal path and things that are going on in the school. It’s like a miniseries on television. You start out with the rogue character, but the next game will be the wizard character, and the life of the wizard character will interact with what happened in the events of the rogue story, too. I call it the Downton Abbey of gaming.”
“Graphically, it’s going to be quite different from Quest for Glory,” says Corey. “The role-playing type adventure will actually be on a 2-D tiled map, [where players can] explore the catacombs and the school itself. It’s a top-down look. You will be doing all of the crucial role-playing type things, like fighting monsters, but our [game] is very tightly scripted, so there’s a purpose any time you go down to those catacombs. Things you’re looking for, things you want to discover, sometimes specific monsters you want to defeat — all these things advance the story line.”
The Coles plan to launch the Hero U Kickstarter on Oct. 19, but fans can contribute more than just money. Like many recent indie projects we’ve seen, development will be social.
“We’re going to have a website devoted to all the people contributing to it — they’ll be our beta testers,” says Lori. “We’ll bounce ideas off of them and really use fans as part of the thing, because really, this game was not one we intended to make two months ago.”
While the game itself will not be multiplayer or social, the Coles hope to engender a vibrant forum during development and after release. “One of our plans is to really build the website into a community. I can’t talk too much about what we’re doing with it, but it will basically track what you’re doing in the game — if you choose to sign up for that feature — and it will allow people to talk about their experiences. It will be the players interacting, as opposed to their characters.”
With the plan in place, the Coles have teamed up with Australian indie developer Brawsome. Andrew Goulding will take the lead on programming. The Kickstarter goal is lofty, but achievable.
“It’s like a miniseries on television. I call it the Downton Abbey of gaming.”
“At this point, we’re going to try and go for $400,000,” says Corey. “I’m doing some budget exercises right now. We know we can make the game at $450,000, but we’re trying to see if we can do it for $400,000.”
The amount of funding will have a substantial impact on the breadth of the game and its social community, Corey explains. “If we barely make [the original] goal, then we’ll be struggling to even get a game out, but we’ll do it.”
Crowdfunding a game is a project in itself. “We’re working really hard on the Kickstarter,” says Lori. “It’s a really delicate balance.” They’re still sorting out the perks contributors will receive for their investments.
“We want to make sure by the time we go into it, we have all the pieces in place and everything is ready,” says Corey. Still, despite their measured planning, it’s clear the Coles are excited. “We’re really looking forward to building this thing.”
Images courtesy of GameFAQs.com and Hero U.
Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/17/hero-u/