Seattle and my Quest for Sierra History

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      Ken, Roberta, Al and Margaret are all warm, friendly people and it was a pleasure to meet them all. Unfortunately I caught Ken and Roberta during a bad week, as Ken was sick when I arrived and then Roberta was sick later during the week. The weather was also pretty crazy when I arrived, quite windy so that waves were crashing spectacularily against the shore and Ken’s West Seattle home. And I guess I should mention that Ken and Roberta have an adorable dog named Shelby!

      Roberta isn’t really as short as rumour would make you think – short, but not too short. Retirement is treating Ken and Roberta very well, and Ken mentioned that Roberta still thinks about doing something again – a book or a game. Roberta commented that she’s been thinking about MAYBE doing a game in the next year – not that she has any sort of plans though. The only thing she does know is that if she did do something new, it wouldn’t be King’s Quest. It also wouldn’t be for the mass market. That doesn’t mean that consumers wouldn’t go for it – it means that if Roberta wanted to do something, she’d do it for herself, without thinking of consumer expectations, without having to think about Sierra’s interests or the need to sell a certain number of copies. I hope I’ve paraphrased her comments correctly.

      Ken wasn’t exaggerating when he said that Roberta’s design documents were huge. His 500-page estimate was a good one – it’s not possible to know for certain though because the documents are often broken up into sections, and each section numbered separately.

      For the most part, Roberta’s design documents are photocopies (and occasionally faxes) of original documents that may no longer exist. In each design document binder there are also general notes such as character notes, interface notes, etc. Then there’ll be pictures, such as background or character sketches or maps of different game areas. Then there’s the design for the game itself, which is broken down into areas and then into rooms. Every event, inventory item, character dialogue, etc, is described as related to the room it occurs in. For these pages, some had Roberta’s written comments on them.

      Next we looked around Ken’s place and found a cupboard of envelopes in his garage with photos in them, so we’ve got some cool photos. There was also old game folders in there. Ken also pulled up a few business documents which did contain a few interesting things. Lastly, there was Ken’s complete collection of InterAction magazines. I scanned some stuff from those for Brad. There were some amazing things that one cannot fit on a scanner – maybe they’ll have to be professionally photographed one day. For example, Ken has the original King’s Quest IV box art painting, and the original King’s Quest VI Lord of the Dead closeup painting, both framed.

      The next stop was Ken’s storage locker. We did not find a lot here. A neat thing again – a huge box frame, with Phantasmagoria box art inside and also that orange shirt Adrianne wears through the whole game. We found a few more photos here, but really that was about it. If there’s more interesting stuff to be found, Ken will no doubt run across it eventually – there was Sierra stuff all over the house!

      Al lives on a mountain! I didn’t know that, since street maps don’t show topography. The weather was bad the morning I headed out to Al’s, and when I got there it was some difficulty getting up his steep driveway. Al has fascinating stories about everything – if only I had had the time to hear more of them. Al had file folders in a file cabinet in his garage with design documents in them – the same design documents he has already posted on his website allowe.com (visit there to check those out if you didn’t already). Then there was additional material in a couple of these (most notably Torin’s Passage) such as character sketches. Then he had 6 overflowing folders marked “Publicity,” which contained a whole assortment of goodies. Next from his attic, he pulled out a box of binders with older material – tons of printouts for the early Larry, King’s Quest, Black Cauldron, and Disney games, including some design documents and some actual Sierra code. Also, a binder with confidential SCI printouts including source code and documentation. I can only hope one day Al will find the computer files for the first 3 Larry design documents – because then, his website collection will be complete! As it was, I didn’t have time to scan much from the design documents proper, but rather the secondary material such as sketches, notes, etc.

      Overall, Al’s collection was quite extraordinary, since it also covered a lot of Sierra history too. I was at his place for about 8 – 9 hours, so I had to be really selective about what to scan. I scanned in full everything that was 10/10 level of interest (except the design documents for his early games)… but I missed a lot of things that would be 7/10 level of interest. Al took the chance to look through his folders himself which he hasn’t touched for years – the file folders in the filing cabinet for example, are straight out of his Sierra office from when he left Sierra! There’s a chance as he sorts them out that he may find some material no longer useful for him to keep and send it my way… anything he deems 5/10 interest for himself, but he imagines that I might find them 7/10 level of interest.

      I was going to go into a bit further specifics about just what stuff was available and what stuff I actually scanned… but that would take too long right now as it’s getting to be the end of my day now. I think it’s safe to say that you get the idea what was available to me and… to let you know that I was diligent to capture as much of it as possible – I scanned in total over 1,000 files.

      While there may be some crossover, mostly Al’s stuff will appear on his website and Ken’s stuff will appear here. We’ll be sure to keep you well-informed though when new stuff goes up on either site.

      And my “Quest for Sierra History” goes on!

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