Lets face it. Almost everyone loves RPG's. They immerse you. They take you away from reality. The moment your hands are on the controller, nothing else matters. They are my favorite genre to play. So when I started studying Game Design at the Academy of Art I told myself I would want to work on the best RPG's the industry has seen. Ask any developer and they will tell you that they want to work on a game that they themselves would enjoy. When I started working on Hero. I had no idea where this would end up; how far would it go, and whether or not I would even be able to finish it. My only motivation was to just keep working on it. Hero's development process was very different than any other game I had worked on or played. It all started my first semester February of 2013.
Hero was conceptualized my first semester at the Academy. My first ever class at school was Elements of Game Design. It was an introductory course to introduce students to the world of game design and what it entails. Our first project for our midterm was to create a simple first person environment.A level that had a beginning and an end. The basic requirement was that you had to get from Point A to B. At the time I was playing a lot of Skyrim. So I decided to do the fantasy genre and create a medieval level. My first concept was which was pretty ridiculous was to recreate the city of Rivendell from Lord of the Rings. My teacher immediately turned it down and rightfully so because it was way too ambitious for a first semester student who didn't even know how to use a game engine. Eventually we settled on the idea of a elven village. And thus the first concept for Hero was born.
When I began making the first stages of the game. My ambition began to take hold. By the time I turned in my project, It went from a simple elven village to a full on medieval town which had roaming NPC's and a surprise twist at the end which dazzled the class. I started feeling pretty confident about my skills. Even with the project done I still kept working on it. I just kept adding more and more and more into the demo. Within a year, I switched the game from first person to third person and added a character in there. I also wrote the story myself and began to shape what I wanted the game to be. My early goal was to make it open world and that got squashed real quick when I realized for a one person team it could not be done. Hey you can't blame me, every new game designer wants to make the biggest game. It's a phase every developer goes through while learning their craft. As I kept learning more and more in my classes I would apply that to the game. Anything new I learned would be put into the game from animation to scripting to even design aesthetics. At this time the game was called “War of the Rings” because the early prototype was based on Lord of the Rings, however I changed it to Hero to fit the story. Plus War of the rings sounds cheesy ok?
Naturally with a game like this comes challenges. The first thing was the fact I was working alone. I'm on a one man team. That means I have to deal with everything. From art to programming and design. Since I'm a designer and a programmer I had most of the challenges under control. Except for art. With that I decided to use the Unity asset store to get all my art as well as some programming systems I needed to save time. While many people will say the art is not original, and they have; my reasoning is this. Being a one person team, using art from the store saves me lots of time. Also if I could figure out a way to use the art in a interesting way using design, I can still make the game stand out. Game development has a lot of compromises you have to make. While it would be nice to have my own unique art for the game its simply not doable, especially with the time I set for myself for when I want to finish my game. Another Challenge was the technicality. As of writing this i've been working on this game for 2 ½ + years. I've spent most of that time scripting and designing all the mechanics of the game and testing it out in the demo. Now I'm working on creating the content for the entire game. Very early on I had to figure out what works and what to throw out so I have a game that can get done.
In the end there were many things I had to cut out. The open world, Item system, Equipment system and many other things. A lot of these ideas are common in AAA RPG's. When I cut them from the game I decided to make the game a "Simplified RPG". That means doing the 3 basic things in a RPG and making that an enhanced experience.
1). Explore Environments
2). Fight Enemies with an open combat system
3). Interact with characters in which your choices will affect the end of the game.
4). These are the basic principles of Hero. At this time I also was becoming very proficient in Unity and coding so I began to understand how to solve challenges whether they were design or programming issues on my own. Now that the basic mechanics of the game were created I began to work on content creation. Building my environments, scripting quests and combat encounters. I find myself spending less time in the code editor.
The same photo now after polish
Early Access Release
As the demo of the game began to get more polished I decided to release early access just to see people reactions. I would go to different conferences and game meet ups and show the game. The reaction was surprisingly positive with people loving the dialogue and the overall setting. I was personally shocked. After working on the game for so long I had tunnel vision. I could not even tell if it was fun or not anymore. The reaction the game got validated my opinion that the game was good. It made everything worth it. I eventually released early access on itch.io. The game is still on there and recently I just released an early access expansion to the game. This is an excellent source for QA and getting feedback for smaller teams. And the best part is that its cost effective
Hero is still in development and I hope to finish it by the time I graduate. The project has become my life now as I work on it now all the time. Another reason is to keep working on it until I can get a job at a AAA studio. That has been one of my career goals since day one and this game is here to also help me accomplish that. Even with the odds stacked against me with people saying the game was too ambitious and all the challenges put in front of me, I still was able to move forward and continue to develop the game with eventually the people who doubted me now believing in the game. I've learned a lot from this game and the nuances of game development. Of all the games I work on in the future or have worked on, Hero will always have a special place in my heart. As an artist when you create something from nothing you get very close to your work. For me I was obsessed with my work. I want to show that it is possible to create polished and fun games like AAA's. Hero is the best example of that.