Hero-U: Corey and Lori’s Quest
Kickstart projects seem to be happening every other hour these days. Since the lightning bolt moment where Tim Schafer proved that gamers would be willing to vote with their wallets, a treasure trove of beloved franchises are coming back from the dead, relying on their nostalgic fans to back them with cash to see just one more adventure arrive from their favourite games.
Corey and Lori Cole don’t have that luxury. Their famous Quest For Glory series is still at the mercy of the Activision, who acquired the original publisher Sierra in 2008. How does it feel for the dynamic duo knowing that they can’t continue the franchise they created from scratch?
Lori: It was really frustrating knowing that they weren’t doing anything with it, they’ve been sitting on that license for all this time. They didn’t want to get rid of it, but they didn’t want to do anything with it either.
Corey: But the work was done as a work for hire basis, we were contractors for Sierra directly, so it’s reasonable that they own it, it is just such a waste.
For those unfamiliar with the golden age of adventure games, there was apparently a rivalry, at least amongst fans, between Sierra and LucasArts. Both studios were creating adventure games adored by fans across the globe, so I asked Corey if the developers themselves actually felt any kind of rivalry while they were working on Quest for Glory.
Corey: I wouldn’t say that we actually felt a rivalry. In particular with Ron Gilbert of the Monkey Island series, we would see each other once in a while like at the game developers conference. We’d talk about some of the things he did with puzzles, and he would suggest ideas and we’d suggest ideas back to him. We kinda borrowed from each other, learned from each other.
Those days are long behind us now; Sierra was dismantled after the acquisition by Activision and LucasArts has just been sold to Disney and is no longer making adventure games. Corey and Lori are heading to Kickstarter with a brand new game. Hero-U: Rogue To Redemption is a turn-based RPG with adventure game puzzles, set inside the same world as Quest for Glory. There will be plenty for new and old fans alike, but what were the motivations for coming back into the developer seat after so many years out of the spotlight?
Lori: Part of the reason we are doing it is because we can. It’s because of this whole Kickstarter phenomenon where we actually have a chance to do it, which we didn’t have all this time because we had to find a publisher. No publisher was interested in doing this kind of game.
Corey: It was also kind of a perfect storm this year with Tim Schafer staring the adventure game spring on Kickstarter. Then we got in touch with Brawsome and we were very impressed with Andrew Goulding’s games, then he got us in touch with Eriq Chang, so all of a sudden we had a team and we were ready to go.
For six or seven years we’ve been doing School for Heroes and prior to that, the How to be a Hero website. We had said we want to turn this into a game, we just didn’t see how to do it because publishers are not interested in something where you’re only attracting ten or twenty thousand people.
It’s a story we’ve heard so many times before, but it never seems to get old. Publishers aren’t willing to take risks and developers can’t afford to make the games on their own. I asked the pair whether Hero-U would be possible without a crowd-funding service such as Kickstarter.
Lori: No. In fact that’s probably true with all of those adventure games that got funded by Kickstarter. There is no alternative. Outside of mortgaging your house and everyone you know, it just doesn’t happen.
Corey: There are other ways. We were approached by an investor who wanted to do a new Quest for Glory but he also wanted us to get a hold of the rights from Activision. We’ve never really had any luck talking to them prior to that. They’re a very slow bureaucracy.
While Corey and Lori Cole may be spearheading the creation of this new tale set inside their famous world, award-winning Melbourne indies Brawsome are joining them as the developer of the project. How did two Sierra veterans end up working with what is essentially a one man team on the other side of the world?
Lori:It’s because Brawsome was a fan of ours. He sent us emails saying ‘I’ve got this great game, would you like to take a look at it?’ It had been sitting in my email pile for a while, and I finally got to it, I actually took a look at MacGuffin’s Curse. We had seen Jolly Rover when he put that out, but when I saw MacGuffin’s Curse I said ‘look at this, this is exactly the sort of thing that would be easy to produce, and we could make the game with this style of game.’ We knew that we couldn’t do an adventure game, it’s just so expensive to do an adventure game, we didn’t think we could raise enough money for that. Yet a nice little simple game, along the lines of MacGuffin’s Curse, we could pull that off no problem, and I was really, really thrilled.
Corey: We went through quite a few evolutions of the game. We talked about making a Quest for Glory style game, then we kind of had to abandon that because we said we don’t have the million dollars or more it would take to make it. Then we talked about making a Rogue-like dungeon game. We said that would be kind of fun, but we’re not sure it is really a commercial product, maybe we could do that just for fun.
Somewhere the ideas kind of combined and we said, ‘what if we could do the Rogue-like dungeon look, with the monsters on the squares, but instead of having a random dungeon crawl thing, instead put a real adventure game in that setting?’ Then we saw MacGuffin’s Curse and we said ‘hey, this thing uses tiles and squares and stuff and it is exactly the look that we had talked about’. We knew that Andrew of Brawsome really wanted to work with us, he actually contacted me back in 2010 and sent me Jolly Rover. I said ‘it was a pretty fun adventure game, but we’re not really doing adventure games right now, we don’t have the funding for it’. Then he sent us MacGuffin’s Curse and as Lori said, she got hold of it and started looking at it and she said ‘hey, this is what we’ve been talking about for the last two months’.
Lori: We were just so excited because for one thing, Andrew is a very, very good game designer. I mean that takes real talent, you don’t think of game design being that hard, but it really is. A good game designer is a rare thing, and Andrew has that talent.
Corey: He’s also a very hard worker. He programmed all those games himself, and Jolly Rover he actually did while he was working full-time. He would get up at four or five in the morning to work a few hours on it before he went into work. That combination of good work attitude and real creative talent is pretty hard to find. He also has management and production experience, he marketed his own games very well. Basically he’s got all the pieces that we need for him to be a partner, not just a programmer on the project. That’s just a huge load off of our back.
I asked Lori to think back to 1989 when they were creating the first Quest for Glory title. If someone told her that in thirteen years she would be creating a brand new game, entirely funded by gamers, with a development team situated on the other side of the world, would she believe them?
Lori: No, this is just absolutely unbelievable. It’s awesome to say that yes, the people who want the game are funding the game. There is no outside influence or trying to make it marketable for an audience that doesn’t really want it. It’s just amazing.
Michael Cole, the son of the famous team is also working on the project. How does it feel having Hero-U as a family affair?
Lori: It’s actually very, very funny because he’s been a major push right now. He said ‘you guys have got to do this, you don’t have any choice, just do it’. Therefore, that was one of the reasons why we were actually looking at the whole idea of going into games again. Frankly, making games is one of the more difficult things you can do with your life.
Corey: I think he doesn’t wants to support his parents in our old age. I think he needs us, before we get that old, to do a few more projects and build up the estate a little so he will have something to inherit.
It’s been quite a few years since the last Quest For Glory game. Since then we’ve seen the invention of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. How do the Coles feel about social integration in gaming?
Lori: Actually we started out saying what if we integrate a social aspect, have bulletin boards and things where people could actually have offline conversations. Then we made the mistake of using the word social. Oh my gosh, we didn’t know it was a curse word.
Corey: Our fans exploded in anger and said ‘don’t make another terrible social game, these games all suck, and if you do that then your games will suck too’. We had to come out say that’s not really what we meant, what we really wanted to do was make a game that was a fun adventure, mixed with role-playing type games. Then we wanted to have the social connection between players, but it wouldn’t be a massively multiplayer game or anything like that. It would just be people sharing their stories, talking about their characters and stuff like that. But we backed away from that entirely.
Finally I wanted to know what the Coles wanted players to take away after finishing Hero-U for the very first time.
Lori: I want you to take away the feeling that once again you are part of the world, that you really were that character in that world, and you really felt like this was really a world. That’s the thing people got out of the Quest for Glory games is this involvement, this personal emotional involvement with the game.
Corey: We also want you to feel as if you had had important things to do, and you did them. We want you to feel that feeling of accomplishment, that feeling that you have solved a mystery and you’ve helped people. You made the world a better place, in that imaginary world, and maybe a little bit of that will rub off into your life afterwards.
If you want to help the Coles make this world a better place, head on over to the Kickstarter page and pledge your support.