Thursday, 31 October 2019

Kickstarter Special - Summer Daze At Hero-U & Interview with Corey Cole

By the TAG Team


It’s no secret that here at “The Adventure Gamer”, we have a soft spot for the Quest for Glory series and the works of Corey and Lori Cole. Three of their games are on our Top Ten! Although we are a retro gaming establishment, we reviewed Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption last year and have received a ton of positive feedback about the decision. That review (and the accompanying interview) are among the most popular posts on the site. We can only assume that you, like us, are fans!

We have been exceptionally selective in terms of what recent projects we feature, but we’d like to direct you to a kickstarter by Corey and Lori Cole’s Transolar Games: Summer Daze at Hero-U. This game is a prequel to the previous Hero-U title and explores a shift towards more narrative storytelling by integrating visual novel elements. It looks like it’s off to a good start. Summer Daze lets you play as either the mischievous female rogue or a studious and introspective male wizard with his meerbat familiar.

The campaign's funding goal is $99,999 because as Corey points out, “we'd hate to come up $1 short.” At the moment, they are just over 70% of the way to their goal with less than a week to go. We’re really love to see this game get funded and hope you will check it out if you are a fan of the series.

As an added bonus, Corey Cole has agreed to speak with us and answer some lingering questions that your humble admins had about the development of his games. Even if you aren’t into his kickstarter, I encourage you to scroll down!
Tilly Appleberry, Disbarred Bard

What we know so far is that Summer Daze will be a less complicated game than the Coles' others, with much of the gameplay consisting of choosing dialogue options.
"Summer Daze at Hero-U is a new direction for us. We’ve crystallized the story and characters into a fast-paced illustrated adventure that can be played anywhere.” – Corey Cole
The game is described as part adventure game, part visual novel, with a dash of light RPG. Of course, the demo contains the Coles' strength of punny humor.

Ripping through the English language like a bull in a china shop.

If you feel you might be interested, you can check out some details and download the demo of Tilly's first day at the Summer Daze website here.

Or you can follow the half-elf’s advice and check out the kickstarter over here!

You can also visit Transolar Games on Twitch. You can check out their previous broadcasts, and this Halloween they will be playing through Quest for Glory IV!

That’s enough with the marketing, let’s get on with the interview!


Interview with Corey Cole

You mentioned Summer Daze in our interview back in July last year. Is the game in its current state much as you envisioned it back then, or has it evolved into something different?
Summer Daze at Hero-U is fundamentally the same game as we talked about it last year. Lori has been writing dialogue and working with the team for the last year to get art assets and a prototype for the game. Anyone may download the prototype for free from https://transolar-games.itch.io/summer-daze or by clicking the “Download Demo” button on Steam - https://store.steampowered.com/app/1139490/Summer_Daze_at_HeroU/. The prototype covers day one (of twelve) for one of the two playable characters. 
Of course, games never stay static. As she works on the game, sees the art, and so on, Lori constantly comes up with new ideas, puzzles, and other ideas. The Kickstarter will also have some influence. If we reach stretch goals, we’ll be able to add more mini-games, animation, and so on. And if we somehow fail to reach the base goal, we’ll zero in on half of the game – Tilly’s story – and make that available on early access to fund Ifeyo’s half.
There is quite a contrast between them. Tilly is a mischievous, (and let’s face it, cute) rogue who never takes life too seriously. Ifeyo is the opposite, a dedicated student who is trying to prove to his family that he can be successful as a Wizard. Some of the events in Ifeyo’s story are also darker and more serious. If we’re able to fund adding some combat to the game, it will mostly be in Ifeyo’s game.

How do you block out your story beats and how has that changed from the early games to Hero-U and beyond?
Our stories start from the characters – not just the hero, but everyone he or she meets in the games. We think about each character’s needs and desires, and where they might be getting blocked from them. Then we go back to the player character and ask, “Why might players want to help this character? What can they do to help?” Those become many of the “puzzles” – or “problems” as I like to think of them – and also the main story beats. “My husband is missing. I haven’t seen him since he left to visit the store last night. Please see if you can find him.” – That could lead to any number of story situations, depending on what happened to the husband and who (or what) else is involved.
Players have their own problems as well – “I need to get out of my room at night without being spotted, because that’s the only time I have to get into the dungeons.” But we think that solving problems for others often gives players more motivation.
The major difference in how we plot our stories now vs. thirty years ago is that we have much more memory, and better ways to illustrate events in art and animation. We’ve also developed techniques over the years to make our games more responsive. For example, when Shawn talks to Ifetaya in Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, the game has information about whether Shawn has previously had a run-in with a ghost. If so, we add lines about talking to ghosts to Ifetaya’s script. If Shawn has no reason to ask about something, that choice does not appear.
We may have taken this to an extreme level. Hero’s Quest had a 50,000 word script. Quest for Glory IV ballooned to 180,000 words, mostly because of dialogue changing due to previous events. The game might take the same amount of time to play, or at most double, but there is much more replayability and variation between plays. With Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, we really went crazy with a 450,000 word script – 2-1/2 times the size of Quest for Glory IV – full of branches that you could only see in some playthroughs, invisible in the rest.
In general, the concept of a “story beat” is very different in a game from a film. Screenwriters have full control over what viewers see at each point in time. Their responsibility is to make each scene compelling, and to maintain the flow of the story. In games, it’s much more complicated. The software development cliché is that managing programmers is like herding kittens. That’s even more true in a game – Imaginative players will go anywhere at any time. They might not intend to break anything, but they’ll contort and twist the story by missing an important clue or dialogue setup, or by stumbling on a scene they weren’t supposed to reach until later.
Adventure game writing consists of creating thousands of “snippets” of text and dialogue, then trying to nudge players in the direction of encountering those tidbits in a reasonable order. One of the ways we do that now is by making much of the dialogue conditional – When the Warrior Drats invade Hero-U, that’s what most of the characters talk about. When a student is missing, that’s the main topic. This even applies to minor story events – If a character likes the hero, they’ll have different dialogue than if they don’t like him. If you’ve been studying Mozart in music class, your fellow students might talk about that. The idea is to try to make the game dialogue feel natural.

Hero U: Rogue to Redemption has had a positive reaction both in the press and among players. Was this surprising or were you reasonably confident that your style of adventure game would still resonate with people?
We never actually know how people will react to our games. We just make them as good as we can, and try to make games we would like to play, then we release them and see how people react. That’s an exaggeration, of course. We did ten months of outside Alpha and Beta testing on Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, so we had a great deal of player feedback before the live release. And, of course, many complaints and suggestions that we handled as best we could.
We expected a positive reaction to the game because we knew we had been true to the spirit of our previous games. Plus the art and music were beautiful. So in that sense, we were pleased, but not surprised.
We did get some criticism as well. One common complaint was that it took too long to get places. What happened there? As we did at Sierra, we locked the player animation speed to make the walking animation look good. But it had some problems in this game. Part of that is expectations after playing modern games. Nobody ever walks in World of Warcraft except for role-playing. You run everywhere and fly where you can. Players are more impatient than in the early 90’s. Also, the sheer size of Hero-U is an issue. We’re proud that we were able to use 3D scenes effectively to make the castle feel huge. But the side effect of that is that it takes a long time to get places.
We added a “fix” for Shawn’s movement in a later game patch. That’s a nice thing about releasing our games online – We can go back and fix issues that players find. The less-nice thing is that we feel obligated to do that, which can get in the way of making the next game. Anyway, we now have a slider that lets players speed Shawn up – or slow him down. The animation doesn’t look as good at hyper-speed, but it’s a more comfortable play experience for many players, and that matters more. (As with story beats, player experience and interactivity are king in computer games.)
The other common criticism was that some players didn’t like the pressure of our “time as a currency” mechanic. That “feature” was a central element of our design throughout the project, and not something we could change without breaking many other game features. The idea is that Shawn is a student and has a schedule – breakfast, class in the morning, a little time to practice skills or visit the library, elective class in the afternoon, supper, free time in the evening, then bedtime. With that somewhat-enforced schedule, it can be a challenge to find time for exploration, monster slaying, relationships, and earning pocket money.
In addition, dialogue changes constantly throughout the fifty days of a Rogue to Redemption game. That was a huge challenge for Lori as a writer, and it means that players can’t just skip days or complete the story in 5 or 10 days. To make this work, we chose to gate Shawn’s time with all those mandatory activities. Otherwise players might exhaust most of the exploration and practice content in a few days, and be stuck waiting for story events the rest of the game. That can actually happen in the last ten game days. We scheduled fewer story events there, and some players have told us they didn’t have enough to do in the late game. That could be because most of our players are elite, experienced adventure gamers who burn through the secondary content quickly. Or it might just mean we should have tightened the script to 40 days.

Is there anything else you think our readers would like to know about Summer Daze or Transolar in general?
We have been trying to manage expectations on Summer Daze at Hero-U, at times emphasizing that it’s less ambitious than Rogue to Redemption, or that it was inspired by visual novels and dating sims. But adventure game fans should know that Summer Daze is actually a full adventure game. The script might weigh in at a “tiny” 200,000 words… but that’s still longer than the script of Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness. If you think that game is quite large enough, you’ll find just as much in Summer Daze.
At the same time, we’re trying to keep a laser focus on what we think makes our games great – the story, characters, and player choices. We’ve solved the problem of taking too long to walk through endless hallways by taking out the hallways. Instead, we’ve gone to still background screens and menu interactions. That’s what I did with Castle of Dr. Brain, and is similar to how Shannara played, as well as to the vignette scenes in Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. (That’s so cumbersome – In the future we’ll just call it Hero-U 1 or maybe Hero-U: Rogue.) You move around by “fast travel” clicking on the interior and exterior maps, not by walking through hallways for five minutes.
One of Summer Daze's Travel screens - I think it was Professor Plum with the Rope in the Library
There is also no “hunt the pixel” – Interactions are by menu, and designed to work as well on a tablet or phone as on a PC. The puzzles and problems are Quest for Glory style – helping other characters and yourself – rather than by figuring out arbitrary combinations of things to make a fishing pole or a disguise.
Coincidentally, taking out those dubious features is also making Summer Daze a more affordable game development project. We lost a lot of money making Rogue to Redemption. But we don’t think we’ve taken anything out that hurts the game. Instead, we have a tighter, more focused game that concentrates on the story and characters. If you like our other games, *or* visual novels, *or* games like Dream Daddy and Magical Diary, we think you’ll love Summer Daze at Hero-U.
And as someone who loves adventure games and wants to keep them alive, please pledge to our Kickstarter campaign so we can finish this game without going farther into debt. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/transolargames/summer-daze-at-hero-u is the place!
Also check out our content on https://www.twitch.tv/transolargames and our personal Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/coreyloricole. The adventure game community is small, and that means each of you is important to keeping adventure games alive, and not just an artifact of the 1990’s.

9 comments:

  1. Exciting! It's just too bad that dedicated game development is so expensive, and the game market more saturated than ever. Under the prevailing economic conditions, finding funding is increasingly difficult. This kind of mid-budget games are only going to have a harder and harder time going ahead, despite heroic marketing efforts...

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  2. I'm sorry, but I think the artstyle + Visual Novel genre are possibly one of the worst first impressions you could make right now. Generic anime visual novels that aren't really visual novels are an oversaturated market from what I've seen. And comparing your game to Dream Daddy of all things is just...wrong. Very wrong.
    I don't get the feeling of anything good from this. This feels like someone kicking dirt over their old past. Like a pair of marketing executives trying to be hip to the kids, except this is legitimate.

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    1. I understand where you are coming from, but I feel quite positive about this particular sequel and am interested in seeing where the Coles take it. By focusing on the story in particular, I think they stand a very good chance of making a very unique entry into their series, one that satisfies an itch, and also buys them some time before Hero-U: Mage or whatever comes next.

      As for Dream Daddy, I only know that game by reputation. I am nearly completely unaware of the visual novel genre other than playing a few minutes of Katawa Shoujo and finding it not to my taste. (I vaguely wonder if Ren'Py isn't the AGT of modern visual novels, but I haven't dug into it enough to find out.)

      We'll see. I hope the kickstarter succeeds, although they are cutting it a bit close...

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  3. Since this post has been out for two days, I want to delve into a different question without distracting too much from the important topic of the Summer Daze kickstarter. Maybe some of you are watching the comments and maybe not.

    The TAG admins get more than occasional solicitations for reviewing or mentioning modern games and kickstarters. It's flattering actually that what we have built here together attracts that kind of attention. And, for the most part, we pass. We're a retro gaming site and don't want to be anything else.

    But how often should we say "yes"? Summer Daze is a great example and we're happy to support the Coles in their next venture. Corey has been a commenter here since the Trickster era, as well as being generous enough to supply interviews and other research material as we have needed it on Sierra games.

    My take is that I'd consider supporting classic designers in their new ventures, but that we're mostly interested in continuations of their old series (because we are "retro"!) I felt conflicted recently because we had the opportunity to do a pre-release review of Argonus, the new game by David Marsh of MacVentures/ICOM/Activision fame and a supporter of some of our research posts. We ultimately didn't do it because a) none of the admins had time b) I don't have a PC to play the beta on. and c) it wasn't a sequel to a classic series. Do you think that was the right choice? How would you, as a reader of this blog, like to see us approach these sorts of questions?

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    1. Don't take my cynicism on this game the wrong way, I'm glad you showed this even if its not something I'm interested in. I'm generally in favor of these ad-like posts. As long as you guys don't end up putting them out one after another, and keep up a good supply of the content I'm primarily here to see. As long as it isn't something like Kenn Nishiuye doing Gears of Halo 4 or something either. Something where they're applying their adventure game talents to.

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  4. Thanks for posting this! Lori and I are excited about Summer Daze (as we are about all of our games in progress), but communicating what makes it special is challenging. It's especially hard for me, as Lori has done all of the writing on it so far, and I've only played through day one.

    The idea is that this will be a full-fledged adventure game, but with a different interface. The major difference between Summer Daze and a Quest for Glory is that most player decisions take place in conversation, or by a menu the game brings up in context, rather than by the player walking around and initiating an action. You make choices, but you don't have to look around to find what your choices are.

    Ok, it's still hard to describe. :-) In the prototype, there really aren't many meaningful choices. It's mostly introductory dialogue where you learn about other characters and your own situation. Later dialogues will have much more effect on gameplay - adding or subtracting reputation, improving skills, etc.

    Why not make it "just like a Sierra game"? First, we've never done that! Even Hero's Quest was a very different game than King's Quest thanks to role-playing skills, combat, and emphasis on dialogue rather than object interaction.

    In Mixed-Up Fairy Tales and Castle of Dr. Brain, we mixed up the formula some more. Dr. Brain does not show your character - It's all first-person. And the game play is primarily through the puzzle interface rather than interacting with scenes. Also much less dialogue than in Quest for Glory. But people loved both series.

    The other reason is that it's very expensive to animate characters walking around and full 3D environments. We're focusing on what we think is the core gameplay rather than on aspects that would add hundreds of thousands to the budget without necessarily improving the feel of the game.

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  5. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm Games20 November 2019 at 06:21

    Corey, did you ever see the Doctor Who episode with Omega? I watched it recently and noticed that Sludge Vohaul from Space Quest was pretty much Omega from Doctor Who. I do not blame you for that since he was created in Space Quest 2 before you worked on Space Quest 4, but it is suspicious.

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    1. I figured Sludge Vohaul was supposed to be (at least partly) a parody of Darth Vader.

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  6. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm Games20 November 2019 at 06:30

    Corey, have you played Mage's Initiation: Reign of the Elements? It was another recent tribute to Quest for Glory and it was excellent. I also recommend Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine from the same group, which does the same for Leisure Suit Larry and Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist.

    I am glad this will have real puzzles. There were no puzzles in Hero U: The only one that comes to mind is the plaque, and the solution is written right next to it. Hero U was funny, but really easy as the combat was a breeze after building up skills a little and the relationships were so easy to develop that I maxed almost all of them on the first playthrough of the game.

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