King's Quest: Your Thoughts on Roberta Williams' Masterpiece

Matt Barton's picture

King's Quest: Your thoughts on the world's most influential GAG.King's Quest: Your thoughts on the world's most influential GAG.Well, the time has come for me to turn my attention to King's Quest, having recently finished the drafts of Pac-Man and Myst. I played through the original King's Quest and a few of the later games, though again they're blurring together somewhat in my mind (will have to go back in to refresh my memory). Naturally, a discussion of KQ will let me talk about the PcJr as well as EGA and the early PC game industry. It'll be fun to talk about the many spin-offs, though I don't want to get too far away from the original game.

You'd have to be blind not to see that KQ was hugely influential. Even today, I can really only think of three real types of adventure game--text, Myst style (first person), and KQ style (third person). Still, it's interesting that the KQ games let you control the avatar with the joystick or arrow keys; later games seem to favor the point-and-click style instead. I suppose the earlier format made sense for the pre-mouse era, though it seems quaint today.

I've also played all the way through Mystery House, the first graphical adventure, and played part of The Wizard and the Princess, the first color graphical adventure. To be honest, both of these were pretty horrible, even laughably bad. KQ was a huge leap forward, though it's not without its flaws as well. To be honest, I had a hard time playing these games, mostly because it's so punishing to die or get far into the game, then discover that you must restore a much older game to solve a puzzle. I'm really thankful to LucasArts for finally getting rid of this convention.

What are your thoughts on KQ? Anything in particular that you'd like to see covered? Ideas welcome, and I know some of you guys are really passionate about this series. Memories, nostalgia, anything is appreciated.

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Bill Loguidice
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KQ - Some random thoughts

I also think it's interesting how the first KQ had text input.

I remember very distinctly Electronic Games magazine having a super feature on the development of King's Quest for the then new PCjr platform. I'll definitely be sure to contribute plenty of good material from that when you're done working your magic.

I have the original IBM branded release of King's Quest for the PCjr (fairly valuable these days) and it's pretty amazing how the packaging is more reflective of stuffy old IBM than it is the "fun" of Sierra and the game itself.

I also agree about the Sierra adventure games - I was never able to complete one due to the brutal "wrong move, you die". Lucasfilm (later, LucasArt) definitely got it right with the "have fun trying everything" approach.



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yakumo9275
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the first kings quest was

the first kings quest was phenomenal, but... not many people had EGA grade monitors, it was still mostly all CGA. They still had issues to work out with the interface, messages would scroll on the bottom lines, text input was on the bottom most row. There were no "message" boxes from what I remember.

I never heard it on the tandy or pcjr so dont remember being blown away by the sound.

I'm not sure many people really saw it with its full potential on the pcjr, they were not all that common.

-- Stu --

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Rowdy Rob
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The First "Approachable" Adventure?

King's Quest was the first adventure game that really made me go "Wow, I want to play that!" The graphics and semi-arcadish movement was what leaped out at me. There was a whimsical "toy" quality about it that changed the dynamics of adventure games, which up to that point were, at their pinnacle, illustrated "books." It actually made the adventure format "approachable" to otherwise non-text-adventure players like me.

If I recall correctly, KQ didn't just load in pictures as you moved from location to location, it actually DREW the pictures on the screen in a vector-like fashion, which might sound irritating, but I found it kind of charming. It gave the graphics a kind of "live art" quality which I found fascinating.

Unfortunately, I never did actually play the game much (I didn't actually own a PC at the time, and merely fiddled with the in-store demos), and when I finally played KQ, the graphics had been updated to even more beautiful backdrops, but the "screen drawing" was gone.

Still, KQ was undeniably a ground-breaking game, and probably brought more people into adventure-style gaming than any other game I can think of. Where would the adventure format be without this game?

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Matt Barton
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I found two reviews of the

I found two reviews of the game by me and Mat T. Geez, I keep forgetting I wrote all these!

King's Quest I by Matt B.
King's Quest II by Mat T.

If you want to see the big list of both our reviews of GAGs, scroll down to the bottom of this page.

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Chris Kennedy
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Kings Quest

Hey Matt.

The original King's Quest is one of the earliest memories I have of playing through an adventure game. It was the first graphical adventure game I saw and the second one I sat down and played (Space Quest II was the first). I entered the scene a bit later than KQ1's original release.

I really appreciated the adventure game genre when I discovered it. Just as a joystick seemed natural for the Atari 2600 and its games, so also did the computer keyboard seem natural for adventure games. King's Quest paired this idea of kings, dragons, and medieval times with a gaming via puzzle solving rather than a platform game with its arcade approach or a dungeon crawler with its RPG approach. The graphics were still primitive, but they gave you just enough to get your imagination running at full steam. It all might seem dated now, but it was magical back then. The gamer wasn't reading the story, he/she was experiencing it.

I do not believe I solved all the puzzles for KQ1 without either having to look a few of them up or simply know them in advance having watched a friend solve them (with or without help) once before. I did solve many puzzles on my own, but some of them required a bit of assistance. At the time, I figured I just wasn't quite good enough to figure it all out. It was probably because of this that I adopted somewhat of an "adventure game masochism" approach to the genre as I continued to play through newer games in the KQ and other series - If I couldn't figure out a puzzle, then I was basically stuck. There were hint books available left and right, but I was determined to figure out the puzzles by myself. It was only after extreme boredom and frustration would set in that I would finally look up the answer. While this would occasionally present an answer that I should have figured out on my own, it many times would cause me to laugh and think that there was no way anyone could have figured out the puzzle. This happened several times throughout the KQ series, and they were unfortunately nearly absent by the end of the series. I say unfortunately because I hoped that as the games matured, so did the interface and puzzle "creation" by the developers. The rack your brain, puzzle solving nature of the adventure game was practically abolished by the final entry in the King's Quest series - Mask of Eternity. The very series that introduced me to adventure gaming ironically managed to put the nails in its own coffin.

The King's Quest series (as well as other Sierra adventure games) mirrored the evolution of computer hardware as time moved forward. Sound cards, 256 color VGA, and the now common "mouse" were fully utilized and integrated into the software and its interface. That perfect input device - the keyboard - was written out of the script, and something was wrong. Rather than let their puzzle creation skills and parsing engines (AGI, SCI) evolve the way the graphics and sound did, Sierra elected to just make things easier with the point and click interface and KQ5. Years later, KQ7 dropped the new point and click interface options and reduced the interface to a single mouse cursor that "sparked" when the user hovered over something that provided some form of interaction. The entire game was a tutorial. Mask of Eternity took the "aww screw it" approach and eliminated tradition completely by adding a hack and slash element to the series. I'd say the immersion - the magic - was completely gone by that point as the 3D graphics actually showed you what was around every corner rather than let your imagination create it on its own. The puzzles would pop up every so often, but the game as a whole just didn't hold my interest. I never completed it.

Finally - despite what would seem to be my soap box-like criticism of straying from the typing text interface, I would have to say the point and click, VGA release of King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow is my favorite entry in the series and arguably the best adventure game of all time. While it does have a few flaws, KQ6 managed to evolve the puzzle solving (with a sometimes frustrating dependence on item delivery) along with the graphics, story, and "imagination contribution" from the creators. The art was beautiful, the music was great, the narration was fun - It was "Alexander in Wonderland"...and it was where I hope the genre was headed circa 1992. Alas, this was not the case.

Whew! Okay. I am done.

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Rowdy Rob
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Adventure games are too tough!
CkRtech wrote:

I do not believe I solved all the puzzles for KQ1 without either having to look a few of them up or simply know them in advance having watched a friend solve them (with or without help) once before. I did solve many puzzles on my own, but some of them required a bit of assistance. At the time, I figured I just wasn't quite good enough to figure it all out. It was probably because of this that I adopted somewhat of an "adventure game masochism" approach to the genre as I continued to play through newer games in the KQ and other series - If I couldn't figure out a puzzle, then I was basically stuck.

That has been pretty much my problems with the adventure game genre since I first started playing them, which is why I never really delved into them heavily. I would get to a certain point where I hit a logical "brick wall," get stuck, and then give up, shelving the game permanently. Even the supposedly "simple" adventure games kicked my butt, leaving the impression that the entire genre is one for cryptological geniuses.

Back in the day when there was no Internet, there really was no way to get hints for a game without ponying up some cash for the hint book (and often times, there was no hint book available!). I remember purchasing Infocom's "Cutthroats," a pirate-themed adventure, and I had the official hint book for it too (I think the game came with it, although I'm not sure). I finally broke down and "cheated" with some of the hints, but it made me feel "dirty." Even with some hints, I never solved the game. Infocom's "Deadline" really soured me on the genre; I didn't even solve ONE puzzle, and just wandered aimlessly through the mansion until I gave up. "Deadline" was the last adventure I ever purchased.

Still, I have fond memories of the "Adventure International" games. My high school computer club would play these games as a team. Playing the game by yourself is humiliating, but having a group of like minds attacking the puzzles together was a fun experience! "Use the sock on the camera!" or "get the key from the gnome!" they would chime in, allowing for a communal puzzle-solving experience!

Great post, by the way, CkRtech!

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Bill Loguidice
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Adventure Gaming

I too had the same issues with all types of adventure games, be they Infocom-style, King's Quest-style or Myst-style. It's the rare game of any of those types that I've been able to solve with minimal or no hints, and, even if those might be deemed too easy by the hardcore, I still derived great pleasure from defeating them. I'd say my best experiences come from games where I have to look up or get no more than two or three hints. Otherwise, it's probably a bad design or just not the game for me (or my thought processes).



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Matt Barton
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Hi there, CKRTech. Those are

Hi there, CKRTech. Those are pretty much my experiences, word for word, except that I started off on Police Quest and only came to KQ much later. There is something more imaginative about these games than the typical platform or shoot'em up game; you get to explore and be part of a story.

I get into some pretty vicious arguments about puzzles in KQ, because the fanboys love to say that they got through all the games with no help, and if you get stuck it's because you're stupid. I don't know how many times I've had that argument, and it infuriates me to no end. For one, I think they're lying most of the time, or at least remembering incorrectly. For two, it's not fun to wander aimlessly about a game for hours or even days on end, with absolutely no idea how to move on--then to finally give up, look it up, and realize that you or no normal person would ever, ever have thought of trying something so illogical and counter-intuitive. We're not talking about a difficult puzzle; we're talking about a badly designed puzzle. My general rule is that if I'm stuck for more than a few hours, I consult the hints. What I've found is that a good 60% of the time it's an interface issue (i.e., didn't see the hotspot, didn't realize I was supposed to talk to somebody, etc.) rather than a failure in my reasoning. The other 30% are the "crack pipe" puzzles that, I'm sorry, nobody could solve unless they got very lucky, literally tried EVERYTHING, or just got damn lucky. The last 10% are the rare moments when I actually feel bad about cheating, since I know I could have thought of the answer if I'd only been more patient. But those are definitely in the minority, and the huge number of times when it's something else has conditioned me to expect the worst--and that's bad.

Geez, enough ranting though. KQ is definitely the trailblazer, and even if a few puzzles are less-than-wonderful, that doesn't take away from the accomplishment. I'm just glad that later developers such as LucasArts were able to improve on the formula, encouraging players by not punishing them so badly for experimenting. I pretty much think everything Ron Gilbert says here ought to be the bible for every aspiring adventure game developer.

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Matt Barton
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I think that's the crux of

I think that's the crux of it. You want the game to be challenging, but not frustrating. The problem with most adventure games is that they quickly get more frustrating than fun. Once people get stumped and frustrated enough, they just decide that genre isn't for them and move on to something else. Sadly, even the best games of the genre tend to have a few of these spots. In my opinion, they're still outstanding games even if you have to peek at hints a time or two, but if you're constantly having to consult them it's a bad design.

That's why I think the "younger" adventure games are some of the best, such as the Nancy Drew series. There the developers have ensured that there are enough clues to get you through. When you get bogged down, you simply have to dig deeper into your clues; you'll almost always stumbled upon the right solution. The games are comfortable to play because you know you're unlikely to get so stuck you have to consult websites. The puzzles are also fun, so it's not like it's so easy you won't be challenged.

I think the ideal developer would follow Ron's advice (see below), but in particular I'd try to anticipate problem areas and make sure there's enough in-game hints to get you through. If a gamer is just too lazy to explore thoroughly, fine, screw him. However, if players are performing due diligence, throw them a bone, geez. I think the CSI game I'm playing now is pretty smart; you can get hints in-game, but it "shows up in your evaluation," whatever that means. That encourages you to get through without hints, but they're there if you get too stuck. Lovely idea.

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Chris Kennedy
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Balance

Even though we acknowledge that borderline impossible puzzles can ruin an adventure game, puzzles that are too easy can also take away from the fun as it is the puzzles paired with the player's cognitive abilities that actually make the game.

The scenario writers of an adventure game have to put together a story that is interesting and pair it with puzzles that will hopefully sit at a fair location on the adventure game difficulty curve. It is inevitable that some people are going to immediately see a solution while others have to scratch their head. If the majority of your audience is scratching their head - and for long periods of time at that - then you have failed. Likewise, if the player breezes through the entire game like a locomotive, it's going to feel like playing an FPS in "God Mode" or having unlimited lives in SMB. The sense of accomplishment is only going to last for a little while before the game feels so easy that the gamer thinks he is cheating.

I remember the release of Quest for Glory III: Wages of War. A friend of mine picked it up when it was released. I borrowed it from him not too long after that, and I beat the entire game in two days. I was shocked. I returned it to him and said that I found the game enjoyable but was glad that he was the one that spent the $50 instead of me. I think Space Quest V: The Next Mutation took me three days. This was also a borrowed game, thankfully. Both of these games are of the point-and-click type. Combine an easy adventure game with the fact the genre does not really have that much replay value, and you have a legitimate reason to question spending your well-earned dollar.

The last thing one has to watch out for is truly getting stuck - that point in the game where you find yourself at a dead end and upon finally cheating discover that you forgot to do something early in the game. Perhaps you forgot to pick up an item when you had the chance or talk to someone. I recall having to start over on Police Quest 3 because I reached the 3/4 mark but had not gone on patrol and pulled people over at about the 1/4 mark. This TRULY ruins the game when a simple hint book doesn't push you past your single obstacle. You have to either restore an earlier save game or start over in order to continue. No replay value? Try going through all the puzzles you *just* solved all over again and expect a different result - Yes. The very definition of insanity.

I realize I am straying from King's Quest in my examples, but all of these games are part of the Sierra formula. Despite all of this, I still love adventure games.

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