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  • How Player Feedback Completely Changed Hero Syndrome

    - Jacob Jameson

  • Hero Syndrome has changed a lot over the course of development. At first, a building trainer for building mechanics. After receiving initial feedback on the idea then pivoting to a puzzle-driven, narrative-heavy combat simulator. It made sense as a solo developer. Puzzles are modular mechanics that can reuse a lot of the same assets and designs, limiting expenses for a self-funded game.

    At the time all of the assets were contracted out to a small studio called Zug Zug Studios. They did hand-drawn 3d models and textures and had a unique style that I really liked. It definitely is an investment and assets can get expensive. Zug Zug is a small passion-driven studio, but it still takes a lot of time to model and texture custom items.

    For instance, this sniper rifle took them roughly 10 hours between modeling, texturing, converting to low poly, baking, and editing. At $40 an hour that's $400 total for one weapon.

    I also wanted the story to be AAA quality. I never really tried writing stories so I knew this would be best done by finding someone in the industry with a proven track record. I found a game writer that worked on a bunch of successful titles and reached out to him over email. His name was Evan Skolnick and he agreed to write the story for Hero Syndrome.

    The first draft of what he wrote was different than the idea I provided but matched my taste in fiction perfectly. I was excited every time I received an update from him because I felt the story was so strong, and he seemed to understand what I was looking for while at the same time choosing story events that would cater to solo development.

    Evan Skolnick's work. more at

    In the era of COVID and all things turning to digital formats, the Steam Games Festival seemed like a good opportunity to get Hero Syndrome out there. I previously had reserved a booth at GDC 2020, but that fell through as it was canceled. For that I developed a demo that took about 15-60 minutes to complete, depending on who was playing.

    The game was a part of the Steam Festival, and I got a lot of valuable feedback from players and critics. There seemed to be a big divide between the players. For some, it was extremely easy and some had trouble getting past the first combat sequence. This should have been the first indicator that adjustments would be needed to even out the difficulty between players with different experiences.

    I was targeting two major target audiences: Puzzle/Story and Combat/Action. I felt the combat was decent at the time of the demo, but knew a lot of work still had to be done with the enemies and how they interact with the player. I knew the story was solid, but the demo only had a glimpse of what it actually would include the intro itself didn't contain a lot of emotionally charged gameplay or plot points.

    The type of content that should have been in the Hero Syndrome Steam Festival demo.

    I knew the story in its entirety so it was always exciting to me because I knew how great it became and how it evolved over the length of the game. This wasn't seen in the demo though and it was mostly just a character and theme introduction.

    I began seeing trends in playthroughs and feedback. The players that enjoyed titles like Portal or ones that were interested in the story did not do well with the combat sequences and especially the building. It was foreign to them and a brand new mechanic.

    It would take them around an hour to complete the short demo, most didn't make it that far and gave up after the first couple of action sequences. It wasn't enjoyable for them, and why would it be? They don't typically play action games. I wouldn't expect them to adapt and change tastes based on my demo. Most were playing because it was in the puzzle genre or in response to a feedback request.


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