The Day Sierra Killed Apple IIGS Development

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      Back in the day, I grew up addicted to Sierra adventure games. I was probably nine when I started playing, and I was pretty good at keeping up with all the company’s releases. I had an Apple IIGS, and I’ll never forget the day you announced in a company newsletter that the company was killing development for the platform.

      You can imagine as a 12-year-old, I took that news pretty hard. It was also awful in the sense that my friends with IBM computers got to enjoy titles such as Police Quest 2, Space Quest III and Leisure Suit Larry 2 when I could not. My parents were teachers and upgrading a personal computer just to play Sierra games in those days was out of the question.

      I was wondering if you could shed some light on what took place with Apple back in those days, as over the years I’ve come across the opinions of others online stating that Sierra programmers were quick to dismiss SCI on the IIGS due to an inability (or lack of interest) to code more effectively to make SCI run on the platform. See below:

      In the Autumn 1989 issue of Sierra News Magazine, they stated that a serious study of the stock IIGS was undertaken to evaluate whether or not their new SCI (script interpreter from which they created newer adventure games) could be converted to the IIGS. Sierra President Ken Williams stated “The SCI development language, Sierra’s new development platform, is just too big and too complex for the relatively slow CPU of the Apple IIGS machine. We don’t see a major upgrade coming along soon to solve the problem.” He later stated “When Apple upgrades the machine, or when there are enough owners of the Applied Engineering Transwarp (GS) board to count on it in most machines, Sierra will resume development.” So basically, the 2.8Mhz running speed of a stock IIGS was deemed to be too slow. Slow, because SCI was a high level language similar to LISP (The Official Book of King’s Quest details how the scripting language was utilised). That was fine for the other platforms running at 7Mhz and up, the speeds of which took all the work out of any low level programming.

      Instead of programming smarter at a low level, Sierra abandoned the IIGS, and never looked back. Hell, all the money was made in the IBM compatible market anyway. The IIGS was more than capable of handling Sierra’s newer adventure games, even with their 320×200 resolution graphics (Especially when every other IIGS game provides this resolution. Enhanced music and sound playback (which the IIGS ALREADY had with earlier Sierra games) shouldn’t have proven to be a problem either. Ken Williams also stated “The intent in closing down the IIGS SCI development project is not to discontinue support of the Apple II. I’ve been an Apple owner myself for the past decade…” To argue against that, we were never delivered Manhunter: San Francisco, the last AGI developed game (anybody know what happened to it?) In addition, Macintosh versions of Sierra games up until Ken Williams was still with the company were sporadic in release and low in quality. Low quality can be accounted for by a report given by a Mac programmer hired at Sierra to convert one of their new games. He had been able to increase the speed of ALL Sierra’s recent release games for the Mac by 50% by changing some simple core code. I felt Sierra didn’t care much for optimum code for anything other than the PC versions of their games.

      I was wondering if you have a counter argument to this statement, or if, in hindsight you agree with what this person is claiming. I am apt to believe him only because I remember IIGS “upgrade” editions had plenty of bugs which would crash the system. The leprechaun’s cave in King’s Quest I comes to mind…if you didn’t solve the puzzle correctly and they caught you, the game would promptly trigger a crash and reboot.

      In the 80’s, the IIGS had some of the best representations of Sierra titles to ever grace the screen – certainly the audio was fantastic compared to the IBM’s awful internal speaker. It would have been great to see SCI teamed up with such incredible sound. 

      Anyhow, thanks for the great memories, and would love to hear your take on the episode!!!


      Gary K.

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