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Interv-U: Lori and Corey Cole On Going Rogue

So You Want To Be An Antihero

Rhyming Quest For Glory designers Lori and Corey Cole are back, bringing one of the Kickstarters that have been demanded ever since the world remembered that adventure gamers have a wonderful mix of nostalgia and money. Their new project is Hero-U: Rogue To Redemption, and while it's definitely not QFG6, it does share the same family tree. We sent Richard on a quest to interview them, and slay a dragon. He managed half.

Eh, that village was probably full of losers anyway.

RPS: So, you're the creators of Quest for Glory, one of my favourite adventure series of all time, and you're doing a Kickstarter? I refer you to Fry for my feelings on this news, but since that would be a pretty crappy interview... what's the game?

COREY: Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is a role-playing game with a lot of adventure elements in it - a lot of story and puzzle solving and so on. You're a thief, Shawn O'Conner, who gets caught... that's a spoiler for the first five minutes... and is given a choice of going to jail, or reform school at Hero-U. After giving it some careful thought, you end up going to school.

RPS: He can't just bide his time and escape? He can't be much of a thief!

LORI: No, no, he's a beginning thief - he hasn't even got a thief kit or anything like that. He really needs to go to school!

COREY: You've kinda got a history of being bailed out, and now you're in a situation where you're learning thief type skills. At the same time though, they're trying to teach you that there's a difference between a thief and a rogue - that you can be a Hero as a rogue.

The Thief always did seem a little weird in the Quest For Glory series. I'm not saying those stealth skills and such can't be used for good. It's just odd to earn the startup cash you need to save the world by knocking over an old lady's house and cleaning out the Sheriff's place.

RPS: And how will this education will play out?

COREY: A lot like a traditional Dungeons and Dragons type game, where you'll be learning your skills, fighting monsters and so on. But not a random dungeon crawl.

RPS: So, it's a rogue game, but not a Rogue game? Not confusing at all! Why focus on a rogue though, when mages exist and are clearly best?

LORI: We were going to start out with the mage story, only... a young wizard, in school? We really didn't want to make people think this was Hogwarts. It's not Harry Potter! We do plan to tell a Wizard story, and a Fighter story and eventually even a Paladin story, but those are distinct characters, and we thought for the first we should do something more original.

COREY: ...and then I started looking at all the other games out there with thief characters and assassins and so on and said "Okay, maybe we should start with the fighter!" The idea in the long run though is that we have all these overlapping storylines, and you'll see events with each character that relate to what happened in the previous games.

RPS: Would those be expansions, or full on sequels?

LORI: Full on sequels.

COREY: They're all set in the school, but every game is going to have a very different feel. We may expand out a bit too, with some action in the nearby town, in the forest and so on... we're basically on the island of Crete, which we call Marete.

So, the rogue's basic plan is con-Crete. Good to know!

RPS: Marete is part of Gloriana, the setting of the Quest for Glory games, right? But this isn't actually going to be a Quest for Glory game or direct spin-off...

LORI: Right.

COREY: Gloriana's actually our own roleplaying world, that we've used for decades in our D&D games. Hmm. Not sure if we're supposed to use the word 'decades' and say we've been around for that long...

RPS: Eh, it's Kickstarter. I think it's expected at this point.

LORI: Right! It's old-school!

COREY: Old school RPG! A lot of the characters you've seen in QFG are from our role-playing games and things - the wizard Erasmus and his partner Fenrus came from a comic strip we did from a friend, back when we did our own fantasy gaming mag.

I'm hoping for an Easter Egg of sorts where we find out that the villain's first act was to nuke the town of Willowsby. Only a young man called Devon Aidendale dared face him, which is why he's now buried in six small graves, consecutively labelled 'He' 'Thought' 'He' 'Was' 'A' and 'Hero'. And while he's at it, I want Abdul Adrian shot in the face too.

RPS: And this isn't going to be a problem, reusing that world?

COREY: We're being very careful not to infringe on any Activision (current owners of the Sierra IP, including Quest For Glory - Interruptions Ed) copyrights or trademarks.

RPS: One of my favourite things about the Gloriana of the QFG games was the way each part borrowed real world mythology players were unlikely to know that much about and mixed them together - the Slavic/Lovecraft themed QFG4 being my favourite. Is this going to follow the same approach or be a different kind of fantasy?

LORI: This is going to be more like... I keep thinking of something like Downton Abbey, that's one setting for a whole series of mysteries and adventures.

RPS: Now I'm thinking of a Downton Abbey RPG, complete with Level 60 Butler.

COREY: I bet he'd be pretty good. "Kick-Ass", I believe is the expression.

RPS: "Kick-Arse", please! A Level 60 Butler would have standards!

Carson? Your replacement's not working out. Get the bloody hell back here at once.

COREY: So, we're not going to be travelling around the world in this series, but each game is going to have a very distinct feel. The experience of a rogue going through Hero-U is nothing like the experience of a young wizard. Backstory also comes into it a great deal, which will gradually come to light as you play.

RPS: And just to check, "Hero-U" actually is a school environment, not just some euphemistic 'school of hard knocks' type trial dungeon for troublemakers?

LORI: It's very much a school environment! You have classes, you have instructors, you have classmates and maybe even a love interest. At the same time though, you need to go down into the dungeons because you have no money, you're competing against kids who are pretty rich, and there are mysteries you'll find you need to solve.

COREY: One of the things we did in QFG2, and not so much in the others, was to have a real sense of passage of time. This game isn't going to be on so tight a time schedule, but you are attending university, there are classes going on, and time is going to pass. When you go into the dungeon, you're basically saying that right now, it's more important to do that than attend classes. Or maybe you short yourself on sleep because you're in class all day and in the dungeon half the night, and these will all have effects.

RPS: It must be odd, going from effectively owning the adventure/RPG hybrid genre to competing with games that were inspired to various degrees by your own work - Quest for Infamy, Mage's Initiation, Magical Diary, at least one more I'm blanking on...

COREY: We haven't actually played those. We're familiar with Quest for Infamy, and talked quite a bit with the people who did the QFG2 remake. Really good group of people. We have our own style of stories though, and old-school dungeon master chops that we can draw on.

I always thought MacGuffin's Curse should have been an FPS, just so you could be armed with Chekhov's Gun.

RPS: And this one's going to be more of an RPG, of course.

COREY: I guess you could say that Quest for Glory was about 70% adventure and 30% roleplaying. This one is going to be more 60% roleplaying and 40% adventuring. Part of that is just down to the look. It's a 2D, top-down world, so it is going to feel more like a graphical version of a grid based game like Rogue than a Quest for Glory adventure.

LORI: Well, not like Rogue. We're using much of the engine from Brawsome's MacGuffin's Curse, so it's more tile based.

COREY: Yeah, and the tiles are large, so we're able to have better animation, larger characters... you'll feel like you're in the environments. We're also going to have some screens that are more like adventure game backgrounds. We've got some very beautiful images that the artists are putting together. How many will depend on how the budget turns out.

Pretty. To imagine what it'll look like top-down, try putting your monitor on the floor.

RPS: Interesting. Hero-U obviously has a lot of QFG's DNA, but this is probably the first Kickstarter I've seen where name designers are pushing to make a game that's not exactly like the ones their fans know them for.

COREY: We think that people deserve new games, and we've actually done quite a variety of them besides Quest For Glory, like the Dr. Brain series. The Holy Grail we've been looking for throughout our careers though is to get the D&D experience on the computer.

RPS: The tabletop version, presumably.

COREY: Yes, and we don't think anyone's quite pulled that off yet. We went in the right direction with Quest for Glory, but a great D&D game really is a mixture of adventure, roleplaying, puzzling, story, environment... getting all those elements working together is hard. Well, we're ambitious. We know what we can do, and by slanting this a little more towards the roleplaying side, we can get a better balance of experience.

You can also choose to be a Bard by quitting the game and repeatedly punching yourself in the closest available genitals.

RPS: Thematically, the Quest for Glory games always struck me as being very different in terms of attitude to most RPGs - very 'hero positive', with a focus on doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing, rather than to save the world because it's where he keeps his stuff. Was that a deliberate design choice?

COREY: The short answer is absolutely yes. We have a hero, and we put our own ethics in there, because we think that's a good thing for the world. We also have this thing called The School For Heroes, and that's our real-world version of Quest For Glory.

LORI: We've been encouraging people to be heroes in real life, and we really believe that games are not just some amusement like the television set that you just sit and watch. Games really do affect your life - the decision making, the behaviours that you practice... we're putting more and more time into games, and everything is a learning experience. They should be positive.

RPS: It's not as if most game heroes are exactly role-models.

COREY: Frankly, most of the games out there right now are shooters, and we find them deadly dull. There's the adrenaline excitement of shooting, but no real meaning, and shooting at everything you see is probably not a good way of encouraging people to be heroic.

RPS: Unless they're surrounded by bad people!

COREY: Unless they're... well, I don't know. There's other ways of dealing with bad people.

RPS: Melee?

COREY: One of our tenets of roleplaying is that very few villains actually think they're villains. Everyone has their own motivations, they think they're doing the right thing. We think it should be the same in game worlds, that our villains should have depth and not be "I want to be bad!" types. We do have one or two of those, but most are just a little morally twisted. We're teaching the player to take a heroic attitude, and sometimes just convince villains they should stop.

Vampire girl. She's been living in a cold, dark world. Bet she never had a good mage guy. I bet her Master was quite shocked to die.

RPS: Right. With Quest for Glory IV especially, I loved the fact that with the exceptions of Ad Avis and Tatiana, there's a running theme that even villains can be best dealt with by taking a step back and figuring out a better way to defuse them. I wrote an article ages ago about that and the game's main antagonist-but-not-baddie Katrina, pondering how interesting it was to have an enemy who's not so much bothered about someone attempting to kill them as that it's you doing it.

COREY: And she has very good reason for that. Lori is writing a series of stories about the women of Quest for Glory, with... one more to come?

LORI: Yeah, there's one more to go on Katrina. She's not out to destroy the world, or hurt anybody. Her motivations are selfish, but they're also very personal.

RPS: Definitely. You can empathise with her, even if she does have to be stopped. Back to Hero-U though. It seems a little more... not cynical, but certainly having a rogue as the main character suggests a darker, less boy-scout type heroism than QFG.

LORI: In some ways, the tone will be similar to Shadows of Darkness, which was our darkest game, but that had a huge amount of humour and so will this one.

My favourite was the drowning rhyme. 'Remember the lesson you've been taught. Guybrush Threepwood you are not. When by water you're surrounded. Get to shore before you're drown-ed.

RPS: It's definitely going to feel very different though...

LORI: We want players to have a new experience. Quest for Glory was so last century!

COREY: QFG was the best game we could write with Sierra tools, and we actually made intentional compromises. We were originally brought in to write a new Ultima game, but we looked at the tools and said "We can't do it with this. But we can get a roleplaying experience in an adventure game, because that's what your tools are tuned and customised for." So I added an RPG layer, and that's what we used. But this is now. We've got better tools to work with, and we think we can make the roleplaying a lot of fun.

LORI: I'm very much a roleplayer, and we're going to have some very interesting characters. My idea of an RPG... a good RPG... is that it makes sense. The monster in the dungeon has his own life, his own ecosystem. You don't find a dragon unless there's a reason. In this game, if a monster is there, it has a way of living in it, and you have to figure out how to avoid it. Or, if you're going to fight it, at least not fight it straight on and get killed.

COREY: Later we'll do the warrior game, and it might be a lot more head-on there.

RPS: That almost sounds like a bit of light relief - with the Rogue, you spend ages sneaking in, stealing oil, oiling hinges, carefully avoiding a fight... then much later get the satisfaction of going back as the Warrior and just smacking it in the face.

LORI: Yeah! It's a whole different philosophy of how to go about the same kind of thing, and to me, that's part of the fun. You may be in the same place, but it's all about attitude. The rogue will be doing a lot of avoiding fights and manipulating the environment.

COREY: We wanted to differentiate between what each of the characters did. Obviously, the Wizard will have spells. For the Rogue, we decided it's going to be an item-heavy experience. You'll be working with poisons, traps, learning how to set traps in classes, and running around to get monsters and so on. That's the point we're making with the Rogue - he's a trickster. He's got to be able to survive even though he's not the best fighter, and he does it by being smart.

...so then I said 'That's not a short sword'. Get it? Because it was my penis. So anyway, want to go get a drink instead of fighting? Bet you a kopek you can't finish a whole mug of Dragon's Breath.

RPS: Brass tacks time. You're looking to get $400,000 in the Kickstarter, right?

COREY: That's our goal, and that's very minimal. The original Hero's Quest (QFG's original name -Legal Nostalgia Ed) cost a quarter of a million dollars, twenty years ago, at a time when Sierra was notoriously underpaying everyone who worked there.

RPS: I wouldn't know anything about institutional underpayment. It's tricky though. $400,000... that's standard for an adventure revival, but just to play devil's advocate, what would you say to people who point at the Quest for Infamy guys claiming to be able to put together a game in the classic QFG style for just $25,000?

COREY: Well, it's pretty simple. We're dealing with a team of professionals, who aren't working for free. We have a mortgage, we have bills. We could do the game over the course of about five years on no budget, but who would that benefit? By getting a reasonable budget up front - just so we're all able to survive, nobody's being paid super-super-well - you get professional writing and professional programming and professional artwork.

RPS: And presumably some nice rewards, if you pay more...

COREY: We're going to have two versions of a "Hero-U Yearbook" at different pledge levels. Everyone who pledges $100 or more will get their name and a brief line about their "Hero Cred" in the Virtual Yearbook that will be accessible in the game. At higher tiers, we'll add your picture or other image you want representing you... subject to approval, of course! At $250+, there will be an actual physical yearbook, and Lori and I will sign all of those.

RPS: With a flourish, I hope! Thank you for your time.

The Hero-U Kickstarter is on now. Assuming it reaches its goal, the finished game is expected next October. The complete Quest For Glory anthology is available from Good Old Games, and is superb. You may want to play the fan-made QFG2 remake instead of the original if you're not used to parsers or EGA. You should definitely skip QFG 4.5 though. Shudder.

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Richard Cobbett