Monday, May 5, 2008

An Interview with Lori Ann and Corey Cole, the Creators of Hero's Quest / Quest for Glory

An interview with Lori Ann and Corey Cole, designers of Quest for Glory.

This interview was conducted via email in April 2008 and originally appeared in the Quest for Glory Epic Let's Play thread on Something Awful.

Q = the questions, LC = Lori Cole, CC = Corey Cole. Enjoy!

Q: Quest for Glory I (or Hero's Quest as it was called when I bought my copy long, long ago) was an 'open-world' 'sandbox' game before there was such a thing – or as close to a sandbox games as games could get at that time. The other games in the series switched to a sandbox feel with a linear timeline – what was the reasoning behind the switch?

CC: I never really thought of the Quest for Glory games as "sandbox" games. Yes, you can enjoy the games without furthering the story, such as by fighting monsters or practicing your skills. However, Quest for Glory has also been a story-oriented game. You are thrust into the midst of dire situations that require a Hero to solve. Some of the games - notably Trial By Fire - are on a timeline, so if you do nothing, events still transpire around you.

LC: With the Quest for Glory games, the first rule of design was to create a game I would enjoy playing. The games that I played most were D&D and computer role-playing games. Adventure games frustrated me - if I couldn't solve a particular puzzle, there was nothing else to do in the game. I'm not the sort who enjoys hitting my head repeatedly against a brick wall. I wanted a game that was open - filled with things to do and people to talk to. And yet, I wanted the game to tell a story. I wanted the game to feel real to the player - the player could forget that he was sitting at his computer typing on his keyboard. You are the character in this magical world. You are the hero.

LC: We had planned to do a series right from the initial proposal. The first game was intended to introduce Sierra On-line's strong adventure game fandom into the role-playing genre. "So You Want to be a Hero" was set in a fairly generic fairytale setting of a Germanic valley. You enter this game walking on a road with only a vague goal that you wanted to be a hero. No backstory or history for the main character - we let the player fill in who the hero was in his own mind. The whole goal was for the player to define who he wanted to be in the game.

LC: This meant giving the player the freedom to explore and do things. That's why the first game was designed with the 'sandbox' style.

LC: However, the Quest for Glory series was conceived as a grand adventure with an over-arching story. To get the sort of deep emotional experience in a game, we had to be able to control certain events. In addition, we wanted to have a game where what the player did was really meaningful to the game. Actions have consequences for good or ill. So the player's actions triggered events which set him along the path of the story behind the game.

LC: Thus, the games became more linear as they went on in the series.

Q: How much control over the art direction did you have in the games? Are there any artists in particular you enjoyed working with, or any bits that still make you say 'wow?' (My personal favourite is the sunrise over the caravan in Quest for Glory 2.)

LC: We had a lot of control initially over the art that went into the series. As the teams grew larger, our influence diminished. We had many fine artists working on the games. My personal favorite was Jerry Moore, who really helped to shape the series. I had envisioned the games as serious fantasy with only a touch of humor and a few quirky characters. However, the limitations of graphics at the time gave the game a very cartoony feel. Jerry was a master of this style of cartooning and he understood the fantasy genre. He loved to put in 'easter eggs' and in jokes. I think he managed to put the starship Enterprise into most games he worked on. It was his idea to make the three guards in our endgame sequence look like the 'Three Stooges.' This set the trend for cameo characters borrowed from movies and TV shows that were a tribute to memorable icons. In the brigand's lair, he put a image of the Maltese Falcon as part of the treasure. I incorporated that into the quest line for the rogue player character. From then on, the "Black Bird" was a maguffin for the rogue to chase.

LC: So Jerry Moore gave the game series some of its humor and style. Kenn Nishiuye, who worked on games one and two, did the sunrise image and some of the more beautiful scenes. He was the best artist Sierra had at the time.

LC: There wouldn't have been a QG5 if it wasn't for artist Terry Robinson. He was my co-director on Dragonfire and had to wrestle with the complexities and limitations of the 3D art. Every piece of art in that game was redone at least three times because of technology changes. It was amazing that the game actually shipped.

Q: Human-animal hybrid creatures play a large role in the series, from straight mythological (centaurs) to more fantastical (cheetaurs, liontaurs) to humanoid animals (Katta). Was there any particular reason for including so many of these kinds of creatures? Is there an in-game reason why so many of them 'evolved' in Glorianna? (Note: I read the Wikipedia entry, but couldn't find a good source online for it so I figured I'd ask the experts!)

LC: I wanted Glorianna to be a unique fantasy world, not a Tolkien wannabe. While the world is very much a mirror of Earth in the geography, magic altered the history. At one point in time, there was a huge explosion of magic which created the anthropomorphic creatures that inhabit the lands.

LC: Mostly though, it was because I enjoyed playing those kind of idiosyncratic non-human characters. I'm a role-player at my heart, and the best part of writing and game design is that I get to think like the people with which I populate my worlds.

CC: Originally we wanted the player to have the option of playing as a Centaur. Bob Heitman convinced us that we would have major headaches trying to pull that off using Sierra's tools. For example, a Centaur climbing a set of stairs would require custom animation. The size of the character would also affect animation speed and might get stuck in narrow areas of the game.

CC: We also wanted to allow a choice of a male or female Hero. We had to eliminate that one just because of the animation budget - We already had extra animation sequences for the fighter, magic user, and thief, and would have had to double all of them to have male and female characters. So a lot of the game decisions were dictated by limitations of the budget or the medium.

Q: For Lori – did you write the games yourself, or was there more of a writer's pool where you tossed ideas around similar to writing for a TV show?

LC: I wrote the game storylines with help from Corey. I wrote all the dialogue in the game and the scripts for what happened in a given location. The only things I didn't write for the game were the item by item descriptions of what was in a given room. Corey and I both did some of the humorous descriptions, but the programmer who worked on a room got stuck with most of the job. In QG5, we actually had a writing team put in some of the room descriptions.

LC: Corey and I did work start out all the projects with "Idea Tossing." We do that for everything we do. :-) We really are a team.

CC: Well, I wrote a *little* of the dialogue, but Lori did 95% of it. I did my share of the writing (mostly descriptions) on Shadows of Darkness, but on most of the other games I was too busy programming to spend much time on writing.

Q: Djinn sling (the drink): any particular reference or in-joke there?

LC: It was a pun on Gin Sling - a traditional drink.

Q: Does Zeppo make an appearance in Quest for Glory 2?

LC: Nope. As it was, Harpo was just a cameo walkthrough. :-)

CC: We wanted to make the QG2 alleyways a little richer in terms of events and game mechanics, but just displaying them took up so much of the virtual machine's resources, we couldn't fit anything else in there.

Q:: Which title do you prefer – Hero's Quest, or Quest for Glory?

LC: Hero's Quest, by far. The game was never about a quest for Glory, it was about doing what was right. It's the true Hero's Journey, starting from ignorant wannabe hero to the hero of the world, not about fame and fortune.

CC: No question - Hero's Quest was better. We lost a lot of sales momentum, which in turn affected the budgets of the later games, because of the forced name change. The name "Quest for Glory" was chosen from a contest among Sierra employees, but we influenced it a bit by suggesting the name to a couple of people at Sierra so that it got more submissions. :-) I think it's a little cumbersome and doesn't describe the theme of the series as well as Hero's Quest. Later, the movie "Glory" came out and some people assumed Quest for Glory must be a Civil War game.

Q: I'd love to know how much of the overall 'story' you mapped out before beginning the first game – did you have a vague idea of what would happen in parts 2, 3 and 4 (2 will take place in a large city in the desert), or was it more specific (2 will feature an evil Wizard villain who has a Dark Master who will be a primary character later in the series)?

LC: From the start, we knew the locations of the four games of the series - Spielburg Valley, Shapier, Mordavia, and Silmaria. I knew that the villain from game two was taught by the Dark Master of Mordavia. That was about it as I proposed the series. We later inserted Game three "Wages of War" with Fricana (Africa) because the characters of Rakeesh and Uhura cried out to have their story and lands told.

CC: We also knew that Baba Yaga would return in the Mordavia game. We also went out of our way to foreshadow Trial By Fire in the first game through the characters of Shameen, Shema, and Abdulla Doo and with the magic carpet in the brigands' treasure room.

CC: We were concerned that Shadows of Darkness would be too much of a jump in difficulty from Trial By Fire. Ellen Guon, a Producer and friend at Sierra, said "I know what Quest for Glory 3 is going to be about. You're going to Rakeesh's homeland to find out more about the Demon that injured him." We thought about it and decided that she had a great idea, so we interpolated Wages of War (aka Seekers of the Lost City) between the planned stories of Trial By Fire and Shadows of Darkness.

Q: What do you feel is the 'ideal' play-through or the strongest narrative thread? Which class? Choosing any non-class skills (a fighter with Magic, for example, who becomes a paladin?) Which marriage option in Quest for Glory 5?

LC: I'm not sure if there is an ideal play through. When I played them, I usually picked a fighter/mage combination. However, the Thief had the most variations in the story and the most unique things to do (the break-ins to different locations, getting to hide in the harem, finding the True "Black Bird" and becoming the Chief Thief). And the Paladin had the most emotional stories - saving the Rusalka, saving Erana...

LC: However, I think that the redemption of Katrina was probably my favorite storyline to follow. She was always my favorite character.

CC: I tend to play games as a Magic User, but that's just a personal preference. The Thief definitely gets some interesting things to do, and a Thief who wants to become a Paladin is the most challenging path in the game. We originally thought of the Paladin as a Hero Class for Fighters, but decided to open it up to all character types. This caused some bugs in the initial version of Quest for Glory 3, as the Paladin had to use some skills that she might not have if she started out as a Magic User. We quickly fixed that in a patch by making sure all Paladins got the necessary skills.

Q: One of the major strengths of the series is that female characters are very strong and have a lot of depth – even mythological archetypes like Baba Yaga are more three-dimensional than other female characters. How do you feel this aspect of the series has held up against modern games? And, do you feel the marriage options in Quest for Glory 5 compromised this aspect at all? Were they there to give the male character some closure, or was there a deeper narrative

LC: Truth is, I'm a romantic. I wanted the main character to find his one true love. And it wasn't just a canned script sort of thing - it was up to the player to actively court and marry someone. It was always just an optional thing for the player.

LC: However, it was about closure. This was conceived as a series from start to finish. Game five ended the Hero's story. This was not a comic book world where no matter how many times the hero saved the world, it was always messed up for the next comic. What the hero did in the games had long term consequences, and the world was a better place because of those actions. And now, it was a chance for the hero to be rewarded for all the things he had done by being rewarded with wealth and happiness.

CC: Having a woman as the main author probably helped us to get richer female characters. I also like having a balance of strong male and female character and love breaking stereotypes. Many of our game situations are built around the idea of doing what's right rather than accepting what's "normal". For example, the Eternal Order of Fighters in QG2 follows many of the stereotypes of "all brawn, no brains" fighters; to become a Paladin, you have to rise above their small-mindedness.

Q: Is there any chance we'll see any more of the 'Quest for Glory' world appear in other games – Quest for Glory games or otherwise? Maybe more action-oriented games, or even puzzle games? And a corollary question – do you own the IP for that world, or does Sierra/Vivendi?

LC: Right now, Corey and I are creating a very retro "School for Heroes" text adventure/interactive fiction game set in Glorianna. I've had an online "How to Be a Hero" school that combined role-playing and real life heroism for several years. So now we're bringing back the world and the game.

Vivendi owns the rights to the games. We do our best not to infringe upon their copyright. If they were still releasing the games, we'd try to do a deal for co-marketing, but they've just buried the games for now.

Q: As far as the novelizations go – when should we start pre-ordering them from our local bookstores?

LC: My co-author, Mishell Baker, is currently working on another novel. When she finishes with that, we plan on completing the series. So we'll let you know when the books are being published.

Q: Quest for Glory 5 has a different feel than the rest of the games – an emphasis on more RPG-like (or Diablo-like) elements like equipment swapping and so forth. Any particular reason why that is?

LC: I prefer role-playing games over adventure games. They are more about decision-making than puzzle-solving. My puzzles were more about "problem-solving" than "scratch your head and figure out the right answer". Most of the problems in the game had multiple solutions so that you could find a way to solve them. Frustration does not equal fun, to me.

Q: How much of the making of Quest for Glory 5 do you attribute to fan intervention or fan demand for the game? I know there's probably a lot that can't be said about what happened 'behind the scenes,' but I'm curious if fan response/requests played as large a role as I'd like to think it did.

LC: When Sierra decided to make QfG again about three years after breaking our contact and waving good-bye to us, it was because they had a problem. They had an aged on-line role-playing system, The Realm, which was starting to lose subscribership and definitely was dying out. They wanted to bring it back to life and so the "Powers That Be" decided that they should mix the Realm with QfG. Since the PTB were different PTB when we left Sierra, I really believe they were influenced by all the fan letters and the "Quest for MORE Glory" website.

LC: They brought me back into Sierra because no one else knew how to do a Quest for Glory game. Since I really wanted to finish off the series, I was happy to forget the past and step once more into the breach.

Q: As far as current games go – do you feel advances in technology (improved graphics, big budgets for professional voice actors, etc.) have made storytelling in games better, or has the technology started to overshadow the storytelling? (I tried to ask that as neutrally as possible, so please ignore any 'interviewer bias!')

LC: QG5: Dragonfire, was certainly made at a bad time in technology. It was as the world of computer games were transitioning from 2D to 3D. Our 3D engine was being developed in-house at the same time I was creating the game. It definitely did not help the game to have it have to be programmed and reprogrammed repeatedly as the system changed out from under it.

LC: On the other hand, the improvements in art and music over the course of the series was tremendous. I've always been a fan of cartoons and voice acting, and we had some very quality voices on our games. Having John Rhys-Davies be the narrator for QfG: Shadows of Darkness was definitely a crowning moment for the game.

CC: Incidentally, working with John was incredible. We handed him about three times as many lines as he thought he was going to perform, and he stepped right up to the task. I would love to work with him again. All of the voice actors I worked with on Quest for Glory 4 were fantastic actors and people.

LC: My goal was always to have the player immersed into the world. The beauty of the art, the quality of the voice acting, and the magic of the music all combine to bring the world to life.

LC: The high point in my career at Sierra was when the DragonFire team was all called in for a meeting. Chance Thomas played the orchestrated CD of the soundtrack for DragonFire. The music was beautiful. When the strains of the original theme for Quest for Glory came up, I was moved to tears. Five games, years of pain, overwork, and suffering, yet all the trials were worth it. We have fans of the games around the world who felt the call to be a hero. This was why we made the games - so that everyone could be a hero.

Q: What are some recent games you think 'got it right' in terms of
telling a good story?

LC: At the moment, I play World of Warcraft. It doesn't tell a good story, but it is a fine sandbox.

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