Will we ever get enough of Persona? The concept might sound bizarre — hardcore RPG meets lighthearted school simulator? — but the results are spectacular.
It's a winning formula, which might be why Corey and Lori Cole, the husband-and-wife team that created the classic Quest for Glory series, are using it for their brand new video game. A video game that sounds bloody fantastic.
The Coles are Kickstartering Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, an RPG-adventure hybrid that they hope to release for PC and Mac next spring. They hope to raise at least $US400,000 for the project, which they're staffing with a team of eight designers from across the world. [The Kickstarter is not yet live, but we'll link when it's up.]
Earlier this week I spoke to Corey and Lori about their plans. These are experienced designers who know how to make good video games — their five-game Quest for Glory series was a charming (albeit buggy) blend of point-n-click adventuring and hardcore role-playing action, one of the highlights of Sierra's early-90s adventure-game Golden Age. So the Coles have some idea of what makes a game fun to play.
By the end of our conference call, I was just about ready to play Hero-U. All they needed was 30 minutes.
"It's a story about a wannabe thief who winds up getting caught and pushed into becoming part of Hero U, the hero university," Lori told me. "That's where he gets to learn all the skills and things he needs either to become a thief or a good rogue."
While the Quest for Glory series was about 70 per cent point-and-click adventure and 30 per cent role-playing game, Corey added, Hero-U will be more like 60 per cent RPG and 40 per cent adventure. Or something like that.
"Our son compares it to the Persona series because we do have some similarities," Corey said. "You're going to a new school; you get to interact with your classmates through dialogue that advances the story and so on."
So at night, you can go to the catacombs below school to try to make money, go on quests, and fight monsters. And during the day, you can select from dialogue trees, explore the school, meet new people, compete with those people ("It's like an Ivy League college: everybody's trying to get ahead," says Corey), learn how to become a better rogue, and piece through the many strange events surrounding Hero University and its neighbouring areas.
"There are a lot of mysteries going on in the school," Lori said. "Part of it is mysteries in your own past: You're going to get hints and things of something you didn't know, and your character doesn't even know about. He's trying to figure out who it is that's doing this and what happened. And then there's the mysteries of your classmates — cause everybody is a very complex character."
Corey jumped in. "Everybody has their own story, everybody has their own agenda. They all have their reasons for being at the school, and you need to deal with them."
A lot of these people are going to be competitive, he said. And nasty. "You have to kind of work around that and find ways to build up relationships with all the students, when some of them just want to crush you."
As you progress, you'll be able to choose whether to play your hero — Shawn O'Connor, a dirt-poor burglar — as a noble rogue or a nasty thief. You can learn how to become a hero, or you can go totally evil and try to take over the thieves guild, Corey said.
"It's kinda up to the player," he said. "We're going to have dialogue and story that support either way of playing the game."
To fight monsters and people both in the catacombs and elsewhere, you'll use a turn-based, "action point"-driven combat system. You can use points to move around, activate special abilities like World of Warcraft-ish poisons, or find ways to trap, split, and disable enemies using what Lori calls "a thinking person's way of dealing with combat."
"Unlike a fighter or a wizard, you're not gonna be as tough as the monsters," she said. "So therefore you've gotta figure out how to do it without getting yourself killed."
The cool thing about being a rogue is that you're clever. You get to use your wits. You can use strange gadgets to solve problems. You can talk your way out of combat. Talk your way into combat. And you can say snarky, obnoxious things to everyone you meet — something that the Coles promise will be supported quite a bit within the branching dialogue trees of Hero-U. One of Quest for Glory's biggest strengths was its sense of humour, and Lori and Corey don't want to lose that.
They say Hero-U will feel a lot like the spiritual successor to Quest for Glory in a number of ways.
"On the broader level, you are going to a school, you're uncovering mysteries," Corey said. "It's gonna play a lot like Quest for Glory. You're going to solve puzzles through dialogue, through discovering things in the school. And you're going to have things where you need to deal with problems from the school and find the solution to them."
So if this Kickstarter is successful, Corey and Lori say they have four more games in the cards, all based on Quest for Glory classes: the second will star a wizard; the third will star a fighter; the fourth will star a paladin; and the fifth will star a mystery character — "We know what we're gonna do with it, but we're not revealing it yet," Corey said. The first game will play much differently than the second which will play much differently than the third and so forth and so forth.
And if the Kickstarter fails?
"We're probably back at square one trying to figure out how we're going to survive for the next few months," Lori said.
"For one thing, we'll be massively in debt because we've already poured about $US20,000 into the pre-Kickstarter drive," Corey said. "We've been working on this for about three months... Yeah, I expect I'll go out and find myself a job in the industry again... [but] we definitely will not be making a new game for people."
"Have you considered taking the idea to publishers?" I asked.
"Actually we've been trying to get games going for years," Lori said. "The game companies are not interested in the types of games we create."
"They say OK, so you've got this role-playing game or you've got this adventure game," Corey said. "We've got this first-person shooter."