Thursday, March 7, 2013

Software review - Hero Designer

Hero Designer

Game Type:  Hero System character creation software
Author:  Dan Simon (creator), Steven S. Long and Dan Simon (concept), Rod Currie (documentation), Gary Denney (CW/MC export filter)
Publisher:  DOJ dba Hero Games
Medium:  CD or electronic download
Price:  $39.99 or $34.99 for the electronic download

When people discuss Hero System, the character creation system is often cited as one of the best elements of the game.  However, the ability to create any type of character you want is a double-edged sword; people often complain about the complexity of character creation.  With the coming of Hero Designer, that bulk of that complaint is no longer valid.  Hero Designer allows you to build characters for the Hero System in any genre, with the calculations automated by the program.
Hero Designer is a java-based character creation tool for Hero System.  The program is available for Windows, Linux, and Solaris operating systems.  When installed, the program takes up 70 megabytes of disk space.  The program was tested on a Pentium III 800 MHz with 256 MB RAM running Windows XP Professional.  The documentation indicates the minimum system requirements are:

Pentium II 200 MHz (or equivalent) Processor
Windows 95,98,ME,2000,NT,XP/Linux/Solaris
128 MB RAM
75 MB Hard Drive space available

Given the media, the program does not come with a paper manual.  However, there is an electronic manual in PDF format.  This documentation comprises 19 MB of the required hard drive space.  When printed, the documentation is 40 pages, with very minimal art outside of the cover page.  If you skip printing the cover page, the rest of the file does not become an ink sink.
The manual is well-written and explains the functions of the program clearly.  If you have a question on how to do something with the program, you should be able to find the answer here.  I have not had a question that was not covered by the manual.  The manual also covers how to customize the data files if you want to use the program for your specific campaign, where variables might be different from a standard Hero System campaign.
While the manual is excellent support, it almost isn’t necessary.  The interface for the software is so user-friendly that you can just start creating your character as soon as you install it.  The interface includes 5 drop down menus, including File, Prefabs, Active Characters, Tools, and Help.  File is the standard menu that allows you to load, save, and create new characters, but also allows you to set the general guidelines for the character you are creating (such as incompetent normal, standard, powerful hero, cosmically powerful superhero, and more).  You can also choose templates for vehicles, bases, computers, automatons, and AIs.  I’ll touch on the prefab menu shortly.  The Active Characters menu allows you to move back and forth between multiple characters you have open at the same time.  Tools allows you to check for updates and additional support if you have an internet connection.  Help allows you to view the documentation or go to the Hero Designer support forums.
The prefab menu ties to one of the nicest parts of Hero Designer.  The menu allows you to load or unload prefabs.  But what are prefabs?  If there is a power or skill set you plan to use often, say for a group of agents or mercenaries, you can save those powers or skills to a prefab.  Then, when you want to use them in the future, load the prefab and just select the appropriate power or skill from the prefab window.  This is a great tool, especially if you don’t want to go through creating equipment every time you give it to the character.
Beyond the menus, character creation is handled on different tabs.  The tabs are:  Basic Info, Background, Characteristics, Skills, Perks, Talents, Martial Arts, Powers, Disadvantages, and Equipment.  You click on the tab you want to work on and it opens in the same window.  Depending on the template loaded, some of these may not be available.
Basic Info allows the base points, maximum disadvantage points, and experience earned can be modified.  Hero Designer keeps track of total disadvantage points used, experience spent, unspent experience and total points spent.  Also on this tab are sections where you can fill out character name, alternate IDs, campaign name, genre, player, GM, as well as assign a jpg image for the character.
The Background tab allows you to modify the height, weight, eye color, and hair color of the character.  There are also fields for history, personality/motivation, a quote, powers/tactics, campaign use, and appearance.  If you are creating a base, vehicle, computer, or AI, the background tab is not available as an option.
The Characteristics tab is where you assign the numeric values to the different stats.  The stats change depending on whether you are creating a vehicle, base, character, computer, or AI.  On this page, each characteristic has a field for the current value, with an arrow to either side.  You can either type the value in the field, or use the up and down arrows to change the values to what you want.  As you make the changes, Hero Designer updates the cost, the total (in case some are increased by powers), skill roll values, and any secondary traits or effects.
The remainder of the tabs, Skills, Perks, Talents, Martial Arts, Powers, Disadvantages, and Equipment all function the same.  They open a list of options from which you choose whatever is appropriate to the character you are creating.  The list opens on the right; the selections you choose appear in a frame on the left side of the window.  When you select an option, a new window opens allowing you to configure the option (for example, setting damage levels for powers) as well as apply modifiers to the power.  If you decide to change a power after you select it, you can select it in the left frame and choose edit.  All the while, Hero Designer is keeping track of the point totals being expended for both the item in question, as well as the character as a whole.
But what if I want a skill that doesn’t appear on the list in Hero Designer?  In that case, open a text editor and edit a character template.  Yes, the program allows you to customize lists and items available.  Before getting into this, I would recommend making a backup copy of the template you plan to change.  I also recommend opening the manual and reading up on customizing the program before you start.  Suffice to say, my programming knowledge is limited to some Basic learned over 10 years ago and some standard HTML tagging, and I have not had issues in making changes I wanted.
After your character is complete, you have several options of character sheets.  Unfortunately, Hero Designer does not allow you to print directly from the program.  This was intentional.  The intent is to export the character to an HTML file where it may be printed.  There are several HTML character sheets available, ranging from a very basic character sheet to the standard character sheet in the book to a version for posting the character on the Hero Games message boards.  There is also a plain text version without frills.
The final thing to note is the support that is being given to the software.  The program has received several updates, including some to decrease how much memory the program uses (on my system right now, it is using 90 MBs) as well as bug fixes and such.  Beyond that, however, Hero Games has provided prefabs for equipment, gear, and everyman skills.  Additional free support includes updates on and new export formats.  Hero Games plans to further support the program by selling add-on packs of characters and monsters from Hero System supplements.  The first of these is available, and covers all of the creatures and templates in the Hero System Bestiary.  That is a lot of data entry saved and the cost is minimal, only $6.99.
Overall, this program is a great tool for players and gamemasters of a Hero System game.  Being able to fine-tune characters, the ability to build characters with ease, along with the time savings of using the program all add up to make this an excellent purchase.

Playability: ***** (the software is very user friendly and quite easy to use)
Game Mechanics: ***** (uses Hero System mechanics as they are written)
Character Creation & Advancement: ***** (if you want to build or advance characters for a Hero game, this is the easiest way to do it)

Originally written 01/18/2003

No comments:

Post a Comment