We’re lucky. Lucky lucky lucky to live in a place where vaccination rates are good and Covid rates are declining and people are cautiously talking about returning to something like normal life after a year+ of wrenching crisis. Through this time a lot of us put our heads down and plowed through the work we were lucky (lucky, lucky) to have and tried not to think too much about how much had changed, how many people were suffering, and how things might look when this is finally over. But we knew that at some point we’d all have to come to terms with how the pandemic had changed us.
I had my toughest bout of new-reality-facing to-date when I sat down to edit some of the conversations in HRO’s Episode 03, “Fruit of the Bitter Tree.” A draft of this episode had been written in late 2019. I hadn’t touched it since. One of the storylines involves that classic trope of the sci-fi genre — an alien plague threatens the crew of the Endeavor. But after this year I found it almost impossible to read — mostly because of my blithe pre-pandemic treatment of the material. I hadn’t imagined that talk of quarantines, and sealing off parts of the ship to prevent the spread of disease, and vaccine-hesitancy, and charlatanesque folk-remedies would provoke dread, fear and even anger in me. Presumably there are at least some players who would feel similar things playing this episode.
And now I don’t know what to do with that material — or those feelings. Maybe this will fade as we get (hopefully) further into a recovery. Or maybe I should go back and rewrite that storyline the way I would write it today and to hell with the easy conventions of the genre. HRO has a lot of comedy in it, so maybe this topic no longer has a place in a cheeky game. Maybe history has overtaken this story idea entirely and we should replace it wholesale. I’ve seen the old "tragedy + time = comedy" equation work miracles, but I may have lost my faith in that idea in this particular instance. So what do we do with these suddenly unexpectedly painful ideas? Maybe we can’t know yet.
We’re definitely going to finish HRO. It’s a matter of figuring out what to do with this surprisingly problematic content. And that’s not a tragedy of any real scale. Many people lost a lot more (see “lucky, lucky” above). I still can’t help feeling profoundly sad about it. And clearly my sadness is about more than just this storyline because maybe after a year of anxiety and hardship we’re not going to be picking anything up exactly “where we left off.” Not even our retro-futuristic sci-fi parodies.
Almost two years ago Eric and I started working on the project which would eventually become known as “HRO: Adventures of a Humanoid Resources Officer.” The fit was perfect. It combined so many of our favorite things — adventure games and 1960’s sci-fi, puzzles, snarky dialogue and making fun of office politics. In many ways it’s been a dream assignment. Since then, we’ve (knock on wood) weathered the bulk of a pandemic, designed, rolled-out, and retired an audio-only game (OverHerd), and worked like dogs to get the first “season” of HRO on its feet. 6 full-length episodes, 20 recurring and guest characters. 118 unique branching conversations, 180 different ways the HRO of the Coalition Space Ship Endeavor might save the day. We’ve been very busy boys.
And now — as the resumption of this blog is meant to signal — it’s time to bring our players, colleagues and friends back into the process as we work to shape the experience and improve the storytelling. As part of that effort, we’ve been setting up the game’s store page on Steam — which has proven to be a surprisingly inspiring set of tasks. In the process of clearly laying out the game’s theme and its mechanics — so long after the initial concept work on the game was originally done — we found a golden chance to evaluate how far we may have hewed or strayed — for good or ill — from the original vision.
The new marketing language for the game now describes it as: "HRO: Adventures of a Humanoid Resources Officer is a puzzle-driven visual novel set in a retro-futuristic sci-fi universe. You play the underappreciated Humanoid Resources Officer aboard the Endeavor — a military spaceship with more than its fair share of crew rivalries, office politics, and erratic decision-makers. When the Endeavor stumbles into universe-shaking trouble, can you harness the power of the bureaucracy to rein in your crew’s worst impulses and survive to the next episode?”
We’re also really jazzed to announce that HRO will be included in the upcoming Steam NextFest, June 16-22. There will be some live-streaming of gameplay, and you’ll be able to playtest and give feedback on the first episode in the season, “Saints and Sinners.” It’s the one where the iron-willed Captain Spangler appears to have gone rogue — but there’s more to it than that, of course.
This is all part of the larger drive toward release of HRO — which has been officially scheduled for December 02, 2021. We admit, the date was chosen at least partially because it is a palindrome — that’s how we roll here at Worthing & Moncrieff. Thanks for sharing the ride with us. And if you’re wondering about the use of the plural of “pancreas” in the title you’ll have to play Episode 03 “Their Pound of Flesh” to find out why it’s here…
Worthing and Moncrieff, LLC is an independent developer of video game stories founded in 2015.