November 23, 2004 at 9:59 pm #23065Unknown,UnknownParticipant
My experience with the King’s Quest series is an interesting one. Next to a game called “Jumpman”, King’s Quest II was the first video game I ever played. I was about six years old and my dad had gotten the family a PC Jr. for Christmas ’85. I can remember so vividly walking throughout the open lands of Kolyma and experiencing pieces of fairytales I already knew so well. Familiarity in new media is a pretty rare thing for a six year old to experience. In the same vein as those surprizing fairy tales I knew so well, actions in the game were met with severe consequences. I can remember with great clarity being eaten by the big bad wolf and being so scared that I ran away from the computer screen to hide. Death was around every corner, which was shocking at first, but in the end was very fitting because of the dark tone of the lessons learned in blood of most of these fairy tales.
In recent years my friends and I sometimes play through some of the earlier Sierra adventures to reminisce and dig up nostalgia. I’ve found that my love of the King’s Quest series has definitely waned much more so than the other Sierra adventures and I’ve recently asked myself why. Why does this one series, that I used to think of as the flagship Sierra franchise, now leaving a slightly bitter aftertaste in my mouth?
One of the reasons I’ll admit, is that despite the extremely violent deaths experienced in these games, these games are for children. The games do not have complicated plots or complex character arcs that may interest older audiences. The lack of any character growth throughout the series (except maybe the third one) really makes the experience less memerable and in the end a bit hollow. Games like Gold Rush! or the first two Police Quests, or Gabriel Knight really have a pretty fantastic character arcs which make replaying them great fun.
I think what made King’s Quest special is that Roberta somehow knew exactly what young gamers would relate to. At the time, KQ2 struck such a chord with me that from that point forward I knew I wanted to be making video games. Why did this game so capture my imagination? I think the best comparison here is contrasting Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” with “Huckleberry Finn”. Tom Sawyer was a much less complicated book and yet to almost every 10 year old kid that reads it, it is a completely engrossing experience. Ask almost any kid which is the better work and they will answer “Tom Sawyer”. Ask almost any adult and they will answer “Huckleberry Finn”. Are the kids wrong because they have less experience on this Earth and don’t have a refined enough taste to understand the deeper issues of human nature being discussed in the later piece? The answer of course is no, Tom Sawyer is a better book in some ways, whereas Huck Finn is better in other ways. Somehow in a feat that no other author has ever as accomplished quite as well, Twain was able to recall his childhood and write about it with perfect clarity in Tom Sawyer. Most kids don’t have to deal with the enormous and serious issues facing Huck Finn, whereas almost every kid is or knows someone like Tom Sawyer who creates his own issues to solve. This realism to a child reader resonates in a magical way that cannot be denied. The same was true for the Kings Quests. As a child these games were abstract, yet familiar, much like the childrens books our parents would read us, which made for a very exciting adventure. Could we remember these stories well enough to navigate through these games all on our own?
The dark edge is what made King’s Quest what it was. To me it is obvious that KQ5 and KQ7 are where the series made its main departures. KQ5 because the series lost the parser interface and KQ7 because the series lost its dark tone. It is still surprizing to this day that Sierra would give up its signature parser interface. I can still remember writing angry letters as a 12 year old to Roberta asking why in the world they had made such a giant change. The interface taught me how to type and allowed me a creative outlet when I got stuck. I believe that the series dying so slowly and painfully really hurt its legacy as well. KQ7 and 8 definitely damaged the series in my mind. Perhaps irreperably.
I’ll always remember the series, hopefully fondly as I do Tom Sawyer, and will definitely be curious to see if my own children find it as engrossing as I did.
November 29, 2004 at 10:03 pm #23066Unknown,UnknownParticipant
Hey Jim I believe you are right and that was a very good comparison.
P.S. Mark Twain use to work for us which is another reason I liked the comparison.
For those of you that haven’t got to read the book Tom Sawyer you can read the entire book on my website. http://www.hannibal.net/twain/works/tom_sawyer_1876/