King's Quest Retrospective part I
A nostalgic look at the birth of the graphical adventure game genre
Mention of the King’s Quest series is bound to stir fond memories for those fortunate enough to have played the games during their heydays – the golden era of PC adventure games. All titles in the franchise were created and designed by Roberta Williams, who co-founded Sierra On-Line with her Husband Ken. The King’s Quest series was one of many staple adventure game properties to emerge from the company during the 1980′s, a period that saw an explosion of titles for the fledgling PC gaming market.
King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown – 1984
The game was commissioned by IBM to use as a demonstration and launch product for their new PCjr (PC junior), which was their first to target the home user market. King’s Quest was a veritable AAA blockbuster title for its time, costing US$700 000 to develop over 18 months by six programmers led by Williams.
The lengthy development cycle was due in part to the need to create a game engine upon which to develop. Birthed from the project was Sierra’s Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI) engine, which would go on to power numerous titles for the next five years. King’s Quest featured eye-popping 16 colour graphics at 160×200 resolution.
The game was also a landmark in game development, being the first to feature animated characters and what were then considered to be spectacular ’3D’ environments. The three dimensional ‘effect’ was created by manipulating depth perception. Basically the player’s character could walk behind or in front of static objects, being obscured by, or obscuring said objects. More like 2.5D, it sounds mundane in the contemporary 3D gaming world, but this kind of ingenuity blew socks off.
Unfortunately the PCjr was poorly received and this impacted the initial commercial success of the game. Later in 1984 Sierra re-released versions for IBM PC, Apple, and Tandy platforms, which ensured that the critically acclaimed title reached a wide audience and was a commercial success. These initial releases operated from self booting disks, but in 1987 a DOS compatible version was released. The game even made its way on to the Sega Master System in 1989.
The story introduces the medieval fantasy world of Daventry and the protagonist, First Knight Sir Graham. The aging and heirless King Edward sends Graham on a quest to retrieve three magical artefacts which have been stolen from the royal palace, and sweetens the deal by offering the crown to Graham should he succeed. The world includes many re-imaginations of classic fairy tale creatures and bad guys.
The interface made use of the arrow keys to guide Graham through the world, and a text commands (such as ‘PUSH ROCK’) were input to give Graham instructions. The game is generally considered to have created the now archetypical graphic adventure game formula of collecting and combining items to solve puzzles and progress the story.
King’s Quest II: Romancing the Stones – 1985
The second instalment sees the triumphant King Graham making use of one of the three recovered treasures – a magic mirror that can show typically magical fairy tale visions. Gazing into the mirror, Graham sees a beautiful woman, Valanice, imprisoned at the top of an ivory tower.
Having hardly had time to warm the seat of his throne, the King is charmed (magically, of course) and teleported through the mirror to a new world, Kolyma. Since he has nothing better do upon arrival and needs a queen anyway, he decides to effect a rescue.
Graham will travel through the realms of sea, air, and death to retrieve the keys required to unlock the ivory tower. Naturally, a witch is behind all of this, whom along with two other powerful enemies, will have to be defeated in order to rescue the distressed damsel.
Still using the AGI engine, not much had changed graphically – just more fantasy adventure gaming goodness.
Quest for the Crown remake – 1990
Sierra released a remake of the first title, using Sierra’s Creative Interpreter (SCI) game engine. SCI brought a point and click interface and support for music cards to the table. The remake sports spiffing 320×200 resolution visuals, although retaining the 16 colour format (presumably for that ‘retro’ feel). The story and gameplay was adjusted and expanded, much to the chagrin of King’s Quest purists. The remake was not well received and this lead to the decision to can a similar remake of King’s Quest II.
After reading about these classic adventure games, you are probably itching to try them out. Before you dust of your DOS emulator and go off scouring the web for roms, consider these fan-made remakes.
ADG Interactive, a non-profit company formed by Sierra adventure game fans, has worked incredibly hard to produce remakes of both King’s Quest I and II (as well as some other Sierra classics). These versions follow the original stories exactly, but feature a point-and-click interface, gorgeous hand drawn scenes, and voice acting for all characters, including the work of actor Josh Mandel who voiced King Graham in King’s Quest V.
These games should appeal to veterans of the series looking for a fix of nostalgia, and those who never had the pleasure of experiencing the originals.
Be sure to keep an eye out for the next part of MyGaming’s King’s Quest retrospective, in which the series departs from the antics of King Graham, and introduces some new protagonists.