Friday, November 2, 2012

Preview: Hero's Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero (1989)


I tend to mentally divide CRPGs into two categories--"new" and "old"--with the dividing line being the six years I took off for college and my first job, and thus didn't play any games. I wish I could say this was because I was focused on my schoolwork, but the truth is that my Commodore 64 died just before I started school, and the Mac that I bought to replace it had limited gaming options. It wasn't until about 1998, when I got my first PC, that I bought my first "new" games, and I remember that they were Might & Magic VI and the Quest for Glory anthology. I was blown away by what had happened with games in the years since I had been playing.

Quest for Glory is the name by which Hero's Quest came to be known after Milton Bradley beat Sierra to the trademark. The original version was released in 1989, but most players (me included) are more familiar with the 1992 re-release, under its new name, updated to VGA graphics. I hear there are a few substantive differences, so I'm going to play them both in their respective years, using the opportunity to try different character classes.

Setting up a mage character.

I remember liking the series a lot, even the fifth, which usually gets a lot of grief for switching to action-based combat. (Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire served up one of the most difficult role-playing choices I've ever seen in a CRPG, and I look forward to covering it when I get there.) Even though it's been 16 years, and I think I only played it once, I still have a vague memory of the spatial landscape, and I remember how to solve a lot of the puzzles.

The quest board in the adventurer's guild.

What I didn't appreciate, playing for the first time, is how groundbreaking the series was for both RPGs and adventure games. We've had some examples of quasi-hybrids on this blog before. Beyond Zork was the first, and I played B.A.T. just a few months ago. But these games were fundamentally adventure games that incorporated "RPG elements." Hero's Quest (which may in fact precede B.A.T.; they were released the same year) is the first hybrid whose RPG credentials are incontestable. Unlike the previous two games, it has a true character creation process, by which you select a class, set attributes, and name the character. (And unlike B.A.T., the statistics matter.) It has a skills system in which the skills develop based on use. There are both adventure-game-style puzzles and random encounters with monsters against whom you can grind. Best of all, the puzzles generally have multiple solutions based on class.

To get the lost ring out of the bird's nest, I can throw a rock at it (fighter), cast a spell at it (mage), or climb the tree and grab it (thief)--and nothing stops one class from using a different class's solutions, if they want to take the time to develop those skills.
 
As such a landmark game, it would be worth playing even if being a "hybrid" was its only innovation. But Hero's Quest doesn't just adeptly blend RPG and adventure game elements; it also excels as an RPG. It has an interesting tactical/action approach to combat and flexible dialogue with a host of memorable NPCs. With the three character classes--fighter, thief, and mage--there are honest-to-god role-playing choices; it's the first game I can think of where the character class really matters for more than combat tactics, and it's one of the few games of the era with side quests. I love that the plot isn't the standard save-the-world fare, but rather involves a series of quests to help out a troubled town; It has the same early-level humility I praised in Pool of Radiance.

I remember that Antewerp gave me trouble.

The game also features a sense of humor and whimsy reminiscent of the Zork series. I won't lie: there are times that it makes me groan. But it's generally done with wit and intelligence.

Before The Elder Scrolls series gave us Khajiit, Hero's Quest had Katta.

I'm not actually going to be playing the game until later this month, and in playing, I'm going to try to coordinate with Trickster over at The Adventure Gamer, after he finishes his porn game. I'll be curious what he thinks of it as an adventure game as I write from an RPG perspective. I'm also hoping we can play different character classes so you can get a sense of how the game varies based on that initial choice.

The reason I'm writing the initial posting now is to tell you that Lori Ann Cole and Corey Cole, the designers of the Quest for Glory series, have an active Kickstarter project for a new game called Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. The game is described as a "turn-based PC RPG with adventure game puzzles and an immersive story," blending the hybrid approach that made Quest for Glory famous with more in-depth NPC relationships. The project closes on November 20, which will probably be after Trickster and I begin Hero's Quest.

It's one of the better designed Kickstarter pages that I've seen, and their ideas for the game sound like a lot of fun. If you're not familiar with Kickstarter, you can pledge any amount you want to support a project, and in this case anything above $20 gets you a copy of the game. You only get charged for your pledge if the project reaches its goal.

I wish Lori and Corey the best of luck, and I look forward to getting into their first game in a few weeks! For me, it's back to The Dark Heart of Uukrul.

48 comments:

  1. Thanks for mentioning this project. I try to stay up to date with what's new on Kickstarter, but for some reason I didn't take notice of Hero-U until now.

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  2. Quest for Glory II remains my absolute favorite game of all time, not only because I feel it's a great game on its own, but because it got a childhood friend of mine banned from computer games for six years after his parents sold the computer in moral outrage. Good times.

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    1. You have to tell us where the "moral outrage" came in. Was it the cleavage in QfG4?

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    2. No, it was Shema shaking dat ass in Quest for Glory II. Not a thing I'd have ripped the computer out from the wall for, but the parent in question was extremely concerned about the influence of ungodly video games on her young, developing son, to put it nicely.

      Looking back, its probably best I stopped being friends with him, his mother was so creepy.

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    3. Damn, wish there was an edit button.

      Anyway, I doubt he ever made it to the Rusalka in Quest for Glory IV, but completing that quest kind of kills it for me. If you've ever completed it then you know what I mean.

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  3. SIX YEARS!!!

    Anyway, I also played Might and Magic 6 when it came out and enjoyed it immensely. Whenever I saw Quest for Glory I always thought it was an adventure game, I dont like adventure games so I avoided it. Looks like I made a mistake as it looks good now Ive read this description.

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  4. I can remember vividly how I initially hated Hero's Quest, after getting it as a Christmas present back when it was released.. how wrong I was (note my alias).

    I am so much looking forward to Hero-U (it's not an alternative that it doesn't get funded..), as well as the reviews from you and Trickster!

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  5. Wow I vaguely recall playing and enjoying this - I think I picked up the Quest for Glory Anthology too one lazy day in the game shop at the mall.

    The coordination project sounds like a fun thing, and thanks for pointing me towards Hero-U, that had previously flown under my radar :)

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  6. I never played this because I'd assumed it was an adventure game, which I don't play. I might have to check it out, though.

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  7. Thanks for the post! Lori and I are really excited about the Hero-U project, and of course stressed about whether we'll make our Kickstarter goal. The new game will have a similar style of writing as in Hero's Quest. We're using a top-down graphics engine so we can provide more area to explore and more tactical game play than in HQ/QfG.

    We hope the new game will have the same appeal to both adventure and role-playing gamers as our previous games. We think of it more as "tabletop roleplaying on a computer" than as any particular computer game genre.

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  8. The QFG games are some of the best games I've ever played.

    Always has to be the EGA version of QFG1 though. I must have completed it a dozen times (including all three classes and various hybrids).

    I'll be playing along for this one (as I've done a couple of times over at the Adventure Gamer blog). It'll be a bit weird having two blogs covering the same game at the same time though!

    What I really need is some way of getting people to vote on my chosen character class (or hybrid).

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    1. Well if our dear addict and the Coyote are playing two out of the three, why not just play the third one and pop into the blogs with how your play has differed?

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    2. I suspect I'll be picking a hybrid class, since Trickster is going for Fighter and The Addict will probably pick a pure class too (not to mention Zenic and anyone else who is playing along!).

      I might have to go for fighter-mage-thief, and try and get 100 for all stats. Difficult (and time consuming), but very possible to accomplish.

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  9. I just had a large spike in traffic to The Adventure Gamer and now I know why! Using the word "porn" in the same sentence as The Adventure Gamer was a stroke of genius Chet. ;)

    I better get a move on with Codename: ICEMAN so I can join you on this quest! It's looking like I may have to shift "the porn game" back until after Hero's Quest.

    I'm considering letting the readers choose what class I play, so depending on the outcome, you may want to choose from the remaining two. I have a feeling they'll make me play whichever is the hardest, since apparently my posts are more interesting when I'm struggling and cranky.

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  10. I played QFG1 with a schoolfriend on our new IBM PC (286?) at home. I remember getting a bit frustrated with mapping the thing but aside from that we had a total blast! Playing the thief and breaking into houses at night was a highlight, the game really reacted to you doing different things while thieving, often very funny too. I also remember a few hard puzzles with the pay-off being satisfaction at our own cleverness when we solved one! I really look forward to your joint efforts guys! Should be a good one,
    Slam23

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  11. Hero's Quest I was my first large game I played at the age of 15 in 1991. It took me two month to finish it with 492 out of 500 points as a mage.

    Great game, great experience.

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    1. Those extra 8 points would annoy the hell out of me.

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    2. Heh, tell me about it. When I worked at Geac, I played a version of Advent (original Colossal Cave Adventure), and came up with 249/250 or 349/350 (I forget whether it was the extended version). I couldn't stand it!

      I contacted the guy who had ported the game from the original FORTRAN to Geac's house language ZOPL. He sent me a 9-track tape with the source code, but all it had were cryptic comments about doing the right thing with the Dwarven magazines. I inserted debugging code that told me when I was in the correct room, then finally figured out what I had to do to get the final point.

      I was also completely addicted to Rogue on the unix system at Olivetti (a later job). I kept staying at the office until midnight or later until I finally managed to return to the surface with the Amulet of Yendor. Then I didn't tell anyone, and waited for the next player to see the High Score list. :-)

      I eventually had to admit to Lori the real reason I had so many late nights at the office.

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    3. Corey, was that Don Woods? I have an interview with him saying that he added an extra point just to annoy the hell out of people. Many people did the same thing as you. They searched through the source code to find an instruction that incremented the score by 1, and worked backwards from there.

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    4. QfG1 was one of my biggest personal triumphs of point completionism. I too completed the game somewhat short of the full score, so I played again, taking careful notes of where all the points were found and looking for patterns that might suggest where the missing ones might be. In the end, the crucial thing was realizing that the number of class-specific points -- ones that you only get as a Fighter, etc. -- was some nice round number, either 25 or 50, I forget which.

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  12. I'm looking forward to playing along with Trickster and Chet. I hope we get a whole group of people together to enjoy the game at the same time.

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    1. I'm going to try to have a Let's Play running at the same time. I'll be playing blind, having never played the game before. I'm looking forward to this.

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    2. Well then, I hope I'm able to add myself to the pile.

      --Eino

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  13. For those interested Matt Barton did an interview recently with the Cole's regarding QFG and new Kickstarter project

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U780GGvEgco

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  14. I'd recommend playing as a hybrid thief/mage.

    What you do is select thief as your class, but put a point into magic. You won't start with the zap spell, but its generally useless. By doing this, however, you'll have access to all the side content, as some of it can only be done as a thief or mage. Too, it makes combat a bit easier, especially later in the game, than being a pure thief or mage. Just make sure you spend time in the forest training up your skills.

    The other benefit of this is that later on, in the other games, you'll be able to "triple class" into a paladin, and essentially have access to all skills/ways of solving puzzles.

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    1. I was thinking of that, but it feels like cheating a bit. I think the game would be more challenging if I picked a class and did my best to role-play that class.

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    2. Some of the puzzle solutions will always be class specific no matter how you build your character. Not to mention that becoming a Paladin rules all the thief sidequests out as you can't do dishonorable deeds.

      Hero Quest/QoC 1 is one of my absolute favorite games of all time, and I'm somewhat fond of the sequels too, even if I think they dropped the ball in places (the alley maze of 2 is horrible B.S., 3 seemed rushed and low in content, and 4 was legendarily buggy). Cannot offer comment on 5: while I do have it, it crashes every time I try to install it.

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    3. The Alley Maze is easy to get around.

      Just go outside of town and fight a Brigand. Loot his body and presto, you just defeated the copy protection. Granted, you don't know where anything is without the manual, but exploring the alleys with the map really isn't too bad.

      I agree with you on QFG3 though. It's an okay game, but too much time was spent wandering around the plain getting attacked by small dinosaurs.

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  15. Good post! I appreciate having something to read here, since I haven't had the time to play Dark Heart of Uukrul since my last comment on it. I like your plan to play both the EGA and VGA versions, and the idea of using different classes. I think I played the VGA version twice through, as a mage and as a thief. And the idea of playing the game simultaneously with The Adventurer sounds absolutely fantastic.

    You're pretty much spot on about side-quests, options and role-playing choices in this game. Although the game is on the short and easy side (judging by me having finished it TWICE) that's more than offset by the relative freedom and multiple paths given to the player.

    I still have the box and floppies, so maybe I will do a replay with a fighter. Well, perhaps I should buy the QFG 1-3 compilation from GOG.com, it'll probably be easier than finding a floppy drive! (Not to mention getting two additional games.)

    --Eino

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    1. Correction: The QFG 1-5 compilation; getting three additional games. And both the EGA and VGA versions of QFG 1.

      --Eino

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    2. Haha, great correction there, me. I don't think I'll correct myself anymore, I would only get it wrong again.

      --Eino

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  16. The more I read your reviews, the more I see how much utterly bad luck we (my brother and I), had when it came to computer games. Either that or we were far too susceptible to large, flashy monsters and robots on the front cover of the game box. Perhaps it was some bad advice as well because just like Nyxalinth and Chunkations say, I would have sworn a few days ago that Hero's Quest and the Quest for Glory games were straight, average (albeit funny and clever), adventure games which were at most 10% true RPG. No stats, No weapons. Something more akin to Space Quest which is the only Adv. series I have enjoyed so far. (Coincidentally it's the only series of which I have completed a few. I think I may have played a couple others over 25 years but never beat or was very interested in beating any of them). I even remember, when I saw pictures of it in a magazine or such, thinking about how awesome it would be if it WAS an RPG. I cannot even recall WHAT made me ever think that it wasn't.

    Anyway, kinda happy to see you play this one. now that I ACTUALLY know what it is, I'm very interested to see what I missed.

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    1. I'm glad to help clear up the record! It makes me sad to think that so many people back in the 1980s and 1990s would have been lifelong CRPG fans but they chose Times of Lore and Questron II, and The Bard's Tale III or something.

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    2. Trust me, we're *still* having trouble convincing CRPG players that Quest for Glory was anything other than a pure Adventure Game. And many of the Adventure gamers complain because they had to fight things. *sigh*

      Meanwhile, with our Kickstarter campaign for Hero-U, I'm not even sure if our backers have figured it out yet. :-) Everybody seems to want us to make a $5M budget game and can't seem to get that we have to do things a little differently on a $260K budget.

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    3. I originally hated the fighting. When I first received the game, we had a Leading Edge Model D with a CGA monitor, 20MB of HDD space, and a 4.77MHz processor. I managed to convince my father to spare me the gigantic ~3MB needed to install the game. Combat was S-L-O-W on that machine. I had to plan moves several seconds in advance. Not only did I have to learn the monsters' patterns, I had to anticipate them. I'm talking at least 5 seconds.

      To make matters worse, one of the first things I tried to kill was the barbarian and he's tough no matter what.

      Anyway, we eventually got a 286. It had a 3.5" drive and I played the game from the disks. One of the disks would complain about a CRC error about 19/20 times, so switching screens could be a long affair.

      Ultimately we got a 386 where I was allowed to install the game and all was well. The good news is that I continued to enjoy playing over all those years!

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    4. >It makes me sad to think that so many people back in the 1980s and 1990s would have been lifelong CRPG fans but they chose Times of Lore and Questron II, and The Bard's Tale III or something.

      Ouch, that hurt. At least I didn't play Questron II. Well, again I will defend the game last mentioned. BT is considered a series of golden classics, maybe the first one more than the last of this series. Keep in mind the game is bugged on all systems except the C64, there was even a fan patch for the pc version recently, without it this version is considered near unplayable by fans. Also there are long time rpg players out there who think linearity in a dungeon crawler is not a bad thing, to each his own I'd say. For this specific genre, BTIII had enough different challenges (dungeons, monsters, riddles) to have to change tactics, maybe not that much but from what I remember it was what kept me playing. It's just made for fans of linear gameplay, maybe that's the reason why I like jrpg's, too.

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    5. That said, being an adventure AND rpg player both I really liked QfG. I only got to play it recently when my interest focused on playing all the good old Sierra series. The gameplay really is unique, this series like the others from Sierra definitely has its own charm that makes these games so special. I'm also looking forward to Hero-U.

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  17. AHA! That is how you missed out on Darklands...college hit! Makes more sense now! :) Only a couple more years (in game release time, not in real time hopefully) and you'll be there. It really challenges the traditional RPG mold in a good way IMHO. The setting is medieval Germany, 1400s, and all their major superstitions are assumed to be true. Alchemy allows for mixing your own potions (of various qualities and effects), as your magic system. Prayers to saints can grant certain benefits, as your protection system. Many elements are randomized from one game to another. Character creation is DEEP...perhaps even daunting to the average person, but I think you will love it.

    I want to play through all the Quest for Glory series; I've played it a little but never much...and I am a fan of Space Quest and King's Quest (although I find the Tex Murphy series superior). I'm getting a bit OT, but I'm looking forward to playing through the QfG series at about the same time you do; maybe I'll pick a different class than you do and see how that changes things up. You've got me pretty excited for this one that's on the horizon! :)

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  18. Don't forget the other worthy hybrids (probably the best is bloodnet)

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    1. I won't. I'm sure they're all on my list. This is just the first.

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  19. BTW, QFG games until 5 can now be played in scummvm (5 is another engine than SCI)

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    1. And they fix script bugs too.

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  20. The QFG games are my very, very favorites in the whole computer gaming universe. However I, unlike you, rather hate the fifth game, mostly for the combat... but "horses for courses" as they say. At least, as they say around betting windows at horse racing tracks.

    I am looking forward to your playthrough with real excitement. Perhaps even... gusto. Gusto!

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  21. Might & Magic VI was published in 1998, I think, not '96...

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    1. You are absolutely right. Funny how memory can screw with you that way. I could swear I have a firm memory of playing MM6 during a brief unemployment period between college and my first full-time job in 1996, but now I realize that there's no way I was playing games in 1996 and 1997, since I published a book in 1998 that consumed almost all my free time leading up to it.

      My hiatus must have lasted six years. Wow.

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  22. I've been seeing a lot of these Kickstarter projects lately that have the original developers revisiting old games. Can anyone recommend a Kickstarter RPG that was successful / completed development and available for purchase? I'm curious about the track record thus far and would like to play one. :-)

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  23. I went ahead and fired up QfG1 to see what I missed. I've almost got it beaten, but I'm stuck on the brigands. Combat seems tertiary at best to everything else.. It's a simple smash the mouse button affair with either magic or blade. My game bugged less than half way through and I have not been able to see any of my stats since then.. They are misaligned on the screen so much I can't see more than 2.

    Overall, though, I am enjoying it. I'm glad it was short, else I may have tired of the bugged char. screen and quit.

    It is definitely a game I wish we had when we were kids :)

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