Forum Replies Created
Roberta and I gave up all of our rights to Phantasmagoria (and, all of sierra’s properties) when the company was sold.
I’m not sure who owns the rights these days…
Someday, Roberta and I would LOVE to do another game like Phantasmagoria. It was an awesome project, both for us to build, and for people to play.
Check out http://www.kensgame.com
Roberta and I are busy working on a 3d Adventure game for the Quest 2. I hope you’ll like it!
If there is not a new Laura Bow game coming, has Roberts ever thought about doing crime novels?
We haven’t given up on there being a new Laura Bow game. It is certainly possible.
Both Roberta and I read a lot of true crime novels. Currently, Roberta is focused on our game, and has big plans for the next game after this one. But .. at some point, I could easily seeing her doing a crime book.
I answer this in detail in my book, “Not all fairy tales have happy endings,” which can be found on Amazon in a wide variety of formats.
The quick answer is that I lost control of the company almost immediately after the company was acquired. There were products that were still in development at the time of the sale, but I don’t remember exactly which ones they were. Overall, it was a total mess.
Was there any drawn up plans for a Phantasmagoria 3? Any round table talk about plot that can be shared with us?
Roberta and I have talked many times about “What comes next?”
A lot will depend on if people like the game I am working on now, and if I can convince Activision to let me use some of the old series.
We’ve put no energy into thinking about what a game would actually be, beyond Roberta saying that Laura Bow and Phantasmagoria would be at the top of her list to work on.
-Ken WAugust 31, 2021 at 12:18 pm in reply to: Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line #43606
Would a “Constant Companion” connected device (like a tablet) for seniors be more practical now than it was originally?
I’m not sure. I haven’t looked to see what is out there. If the game I’m working on now does well I might dig into online multiplayer games, and just like with TSN I’d start with card games for seniors. I agree with you that a tablet is the easiest way to go.
My memory is very fuzzy on this one, but I remember signing up for it and I still have the letter from John Williams in 1995 saying it was canceled and money refunded. As I recall, it was supposed to be a quarterly CD-ROM sent along with InterAction. Do you remember this project?
Sorry — I don’t remember it at all…
I’m assuming the labels with the picture were very costly, was that the main reason for the change?
As for the game boxes, did they get thicker to accommodate more disks, or to have more space for screenshots on the spine? (or both?)
Every time marketing management would change, the incoming regime would want to change all the labels, logo and boxes. I always thought it was a waste of money but wanted to support my team. I thought of it like “dogs marking their turf.” Unless it offended me I just considered it part of the cost of hiring new people and went along with it.
What kind of considerations were made on the production and cost of all the physical things that went into a Sierra game? (Manuals, maps, the Space Piston and PlaySpy magazines, etc.) Were the extras considered part of the game design and thus, up to the designer? It seemed to me that Sierra spared no expense in that area. That attention to detail made Sierra the Disney of computer games.
The box cost was low compared to the development cost. In general, we were printing in such high volume that we could do about anything without hurting our bottom line. We always wanted the products to look like they were a class act (that they were Sierra quality).
In 8th grade English class we had to pick a CEO of a company whom we would “like to be” and write a paper about it, and I chose Ken Williams of Sierra On-Line! When I read it in front of the class, most of the kids were confused but the Sierra fans were grinning from ear to ear.
Yay! Thank you.August 30, 2021 at 6:51 am in reply to: Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line #43595
Can you give an example of the lousy product shipped by Sierra, a “dog”, and what was the main criteria, the sales figures, I suppose? It is nice to know two or three real examples!
There are two definitions for “a dog”.
1) A product that loses money. If we spent a million dollars developing a game and only sold $1 million worth of copies, that would be a dog. However, if we spent $100,000 on development and only sold $1 million worth, that would be a winner. Winning or losing really was a factor of development cost. Some of our less-expensive products were big winners, for example Mother Goose, or Jones in The Fast Lane. They probably only sold 100,000 copies but were inexpensive to develop.
2) The bigger issue for me personally, than profitability, was whether or not a product was liked by the players. The worst possible scenario would be to have a hot product that sold like crazy but wasn’t fun to play. Losing money on one or two products wouldn’t really hurt us, but damaging the relationship with our customers could easily put us out of business. So, the worst thing that could possibly happen would be to sell a hot game that customers didn’t like. That would be the worst dog of all!
Also, please give a few examples of the impossible technical task at times requested by designers from engineering?
Obviously, 3D effects, advanced music and extensive graphics (disk space limitation etc.), but what else it could be?
There were good things and bad things about using our internal language (AGI/SCI). It made things easy for the game developers but also came with problems. There was a constant battle to improve performance and to add features. As you said, supporting 3d was a huge task, as was adding multiplayer support.
And one more: An AGI/SCI, whose idea it was and how it worked technically: every game developer has the AGI/SCI compiler installed at his machine, or it was some centralized system with restricted access for some particular people?
Every developer used AGI/SCI. We were split (our software engineers) internally to a tools group, a compiler group, and the game development group. The game development engineers were assigned to the game teams whereas the tools and compiler groups just worked on the technology that the other groups used.
By the way: Hi from Azerbaijan, I spent many of my young days (and nights) playing great Sierra games in my colledge computer lab (please do not ask where from a poor post-Soviet student was getting them)!
Grin – Greetings!!!! And, thank you.
Roberta and I don’t have any of the rights to King’s Quest. Activision holds them and I don’t know what their thinking on re-releasing the old titles is.
I hope they will update it someday!
PS Check out http://www.kensgame.com — there’s a new game coming from Roberta and I early next year.
I don’t know if Timezone was ever released for the PC. I think so, but maybe not. It was one of the first games we ever did and was released prior to the IBM PC introduction.
Many of our old games can be found on websites around the web. There are emulators that will play them. That said, I’m not sure where to look. So — good luck!
PS Check out http://www.kensgame.com — I’m working on a game now with Roberta. It’s a long way from release but .. register on that site and I’ll keep you up to date as we make progress.August 4, 2021 at 7:44 am in reply to: Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line #43425
Greetings Bobby! I think often about what Sierra would be today if we hadn’t sold. Would we be a huge company? Would we have changed the industry? Or, would we have gone down in flames? I really have no idea, although I’d like to think we’d have continued to lead the industry and would have pioneered some very cool new technologies. There’s no way we’ll ever know.
-Ken WAugust 1, 2021 at 6:45 am in reply to: Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line #43401
I haven’t kept track of the game, so I’m not sure the current status. It doesn’t surprise me that it hasn’t shipped. Delivering a game is not easy, and delivering one on a schedule is impossible. My guess is that the money from the KickStarter campaign ran out a very long time ago and they are working day jobs while trying to finish the game. I doubt they’ve given up, although it is certainly possible.
I’m going through a version of that same nightmare now on a game I’m working on (www.kensgame.com). I was absolutely convinced the game would be done by November of this year, and now I’m thinking it will be early next year. It’s one reason I didn’t want to do a KickStarter campaign for my game. I didn’t like the idea of having people put money into the game and all the associated pressure to deliver something on a schedule.
Anyway, I haven’t spoken to the team on SpaceVenture in several years and don’t know their status. I really hope that they do ultimately deliver a game and I wish them all the success in the world.
-Ken WJuly 6, 2021 at 7:13 am in reply to: Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line #43123
My favorites were always Leisure-Suit Larry, Space Quest – and, especially Phantasmagoria. Roberta’s would of course be King’s Quest!
Thank you! I am working on a new game now. Visit http://www.kensgame.com for more informationJune 19, 2021 at 6:20 am in reply to: Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line #42963
I don’t know the answer myself, about why Al is the only person from Sierra I still hang out with. Roberta and I travel nonstop so we are rarely in the same city as the various Sierra people. Even as much as we enjoy hanging out with Al and his better half (Margaret) we only see them a few times a year.
As to AGI (the language we used for our games… I was heavily involved, but don’t remember writing much of the code, if any. I don’t remember who wrote it. I think it may have been an engineer named Bob Heitman? I don’t think Jeff Stephenson, who was the father of SCI, was working at Sierra yet. There was another engineer named Chris Iden. Maybe him? Or, maybe it was me? It’s strange I don’t remember, but .. it was 40 years ago.
I can confirm there is a new game happening! Our goal is to be ready to give it to a few beta testers by August, but .. that could be wishful thinking.
I have a new site which will just be focused on the game that should go live sometime in the next week — http://www.kensgame.com. Watch there for info about the game.
We already have over a hundred beta testers who have signed up, and will probably only use 10-20 .. so .. I’m not sure what we’ll do to decide who to use. My guess we’ll screen based on hardware configurations we are seeking, and available time to do testing.
Meanwhile .. I’m heads down doing LOTS of work to get the game going.
I will mention to Al to read your posting. He’ll be delighted!
Roberta and I spend summers on our boat cruising. We would love to attend, but the timing doesn’t work for us. We have a new boat that we just took delivery of (after waiting for it for over two years!) and for the next four or five months we’re not going to do anything except hang out on the boat.
Thank you for the feedback on the books. Much appreciated!
-Ken WApril 15, 2021 at 6:54 am in reply to: Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: Chapter 2 questions #42497
– I read your childhood life was about a bad relation with your mom and dad, as I understand it correctly. You wanted to stay as much out of the house as possible. You also had to move to another place. Is it correct you were in a poor family because this is not written literally in the text (but I thought I could understand it this way?).
You are correct that I had a challenging relationship with my parents. As I look back on that time, my parents were probably right and I was wrong. I wanted more freedom than was appropriate for a young teenager. It’s what they refer to as Catch 22. Was I never home because I couldn’t get along with my parents, or was I in trouble because I was never home? I have no idea. I just know that I wanted away from home, and preferred hanging out at the library. I was counting the days until I’d turn eighteen and be able to move away from home.
As to being poor… We were what I’d call “lower middle class”. We were not in extreme poverty but we did live in a fairly rough neighborhood and I had a miserable high school experience.
– How many brothers and sisters did you have?
Three brothers, no sisters. One of my brothers, John, worked for Sierra and was a huge part of our success.April 15, 2021 at 6:48 am in reply to: Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line #42495
Your posting went into the “spam” folder for some reason. I’ve approved it, and it should appear now.
I don’t know if I’ll write another book about Cygnus. I think I’d only write a book if we did something truly unusual, and so far our plans for Cygnus are fairly mundane. I think our cruising will be interesting enough that readers of my blog will not be bored, and that they will find things to learn from our (mis)adventures. But .. book-worthy, probably not.April 12, 2021 at 6:40 am in reply to: Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line #42468
My book sales were huge. I’m still selling copies every day, long after I thought the book would be dead, and every few weeks it seems to pop back to #1 status on some categories on Amazon’s bestseller charts. There are a LOT of Sierra fans out there.April 12, 2021 at 6:38 am in reply to: Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line #42467
Answers, preceded by ***
– how many months were needed to complete it?
*** My book was written quickly. I spent about 2 months on the writing, and then 4 months on editing and rewriting. I sent out a lot of copies prior to the release and wound up rewriting major portions of the book. The last third of the book was rewritten more than once.
– as I understand correctly: it’s only your personal memories of Sierra?
*** Mostly. There were things I didn’t remember, or never knew, like what happened to Sierra after the sale. Other people filled in the details.
– are there employees or other people presented in the book you still meet or are friends with?
*** I’d like to think I am friends with most Sierra employees, but I never see them. The only person I regularly see is Al Lowe, and even with him I don’t see him nearly as often as I’d like to. Roberta and I travel most of the time and are never in one place long enough to see people.
– on the first page is written version ‘v1’ in my book. Does this mean a new version will be released too?
*** I might do a second version of the book someday and add more content. That said, there really isn’t much more to say, and I don’t have any free time right now. So .. it’s unlikely I’ll do a revision anytime soon.
– can I post all questions here as a reply or does each question (about a new topic/chapter) better needs a new thread in this forum?
*** I don’t really know this software (WordPress) very well. I’m still trying to figure out how to get the most recent messages to appear at the top (and, haven’t figured it out). So .. do what you like and hopefully it will be ok. I’m not sure what is best.
Greetings! I’d love to see you do it, but Roberta and I gave up all of our rights to the games when we sold the company. We can’t authorize anyone to do anything.
My suspicion is that you could do it and no one would care .. but, that’s just an opinion.
Thank you!April 1, 2021 at 9:14 am in reply to: The Sierra Adventure: The Story of Sierra On-Line by Shawn Mills #42251
We were not interviewed. My guess is that Shawn contacted us and begged, and we said no. After his book was released I realized that we should have responded and taken it more seriously.
We get LOTS of requests for interviews, and have had many people over the years say they were doing books or documentaries, 99% of which never happen. Even the Netflix documentary almost never happened because we refused several times before we finally agreed.
Sierra was a long time ago. It was an amazing time and I very much wish I could relive it. But that said, it was then and this is now. Reliving it over and over again for the rest of our lives accomplishes less than creating something new to talk about. We like to face forward, not backwards.
My guess is that until I have a new game to promote (if ever) .. I won’t be writing any more Sierra books, and am unlikely to do more Sierra interviews. We do love the fans, and are blown away that people still remember us 20 years after Sierra’s demise, but also don’t want Sierra to be the period on the sentence of our lives. We’re not THAT old, and there are still a lot of great things we can do. That’s our focus.