First published on CubedGamers: 16 September, 2015
The unanticipated critical success of The Odd Gentlemen’s re-imagined King’s Quest has prompted long-term Sierra On-Line fans to speculate whether Activision will choose to resurrect another of Sierra’s classic game franchises. From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, Sierra developed and published dozens of titles, emulating the success of King’s Quest by coming up with other “Quest” series and stand alone titles. These efforts helped Sierra to become the most prolific developer of point-and-click adventures. Though never the most polished games – they lacked the budgets of Lucasarts’ titles – Sierra made up for this with sheer number and variety.
Any re-imagined effort will face the same challenges as the Odd Gentlemen encountered with King’s Quest– how to reinterpret the 1990s point-and-click sensibilities of the series for a modern audience. If handled correctly however, there is no reason why the following series shouldn’t succeed.
Charting the mis-adventures of Roger Wilco, a spacefaring janitor and sometimes saviour of the universe, the Space Quest series came to life through six instalments and one remake. After rescuing the Star Generator from the evil Sarien space pirates in Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter, Roger embarked on a series of adventures, including saving his home planet Xenon from an invasion of door-to-door insurance salesmen, rescuing the Two Guys from Andromeda – the creators of the Space Quest series – from the evil Scumsoft Corporation, and facing off against the Sequel Police in the hilariously meta Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers, a time travelling romp whose whole premise was predicated on breaking the forth wall.
Like most of Sierra’s “Quest” games, Space Quest improved as it developed. Many believe Space Quest IV to be the strongest title, mostly due to the hilarious narration provided by Laugh-In’s Gary Owens. However, for this writer, the series peaked with Space Quest V: The Next Mutation. Full of Star Trek pastiches, the plotting is exemplary, telling an exciting story of intergalactic space crime and genetic engineering. Credit also goes out to the remake of Space Quest I. Although Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy were said to be dissatisfied with this version, one has to admire its graphics, the whole game done over in a gloriously retro 1950s sci-fi aesthetic, as seen in Forbidden Planet.
Roger Wilco is a great character, and Space Quest is best placed to emulate the success of Kings Quest. However, the development of such a title is complicated by the fact that Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy, the creators of the series, are still active in the industry. They are currently working on a Kickstarter project called SpaceVenture, but only because they weren’t able to get the rights to Space Quest from Activision.
The Police Quest series went through a number of changes over the course of its eight games. The first four instalments were point-and-click adventures, and the second four SWAT simulations. The first three games cast the player as Sonny Bonds, a 15-year veteran police officer in the fictional city of Lytton, California. Designed by former police officer Jim Walls, they mixed real life police situations and procedure with plots that charted the protagonist’s fight against the Bains crime family, led by drug dealer Jessie Bains. Each game had its strengths, often let down by unwinnable situations, and a strict adherence to police procedure, which had to be followed to the letter or else the game would end. However, the weakest point was the driving system, which was revamped for each title, but remained horrendously tedious throughout.
Jim Walls left Sierra just before the completion of Police Quest III: The Kindred, and was replaced by Daryl F Gates, the former chief of Los Angeles City Police. Police Quest IV: Open Season, moved the setting to Los Angeles, and introduced a new protagonist, young LAPD homicide detective John Carey, whose former partner and best friend is murdered whilst on an undercover assignment. Numerous mature themes were depicted in the game, including youth crime, Neo-Nazism, and gang culture, and the game length was increased. It is a reasonable effort, though the game is let down by pixelated graphics (a consequence of Sierra adopting new graphical technology before it was refined) and cheesy voice acting.
Following Police Quest IV, Sierra reworked the series into SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), with some success. There is huge potential for a new Police Quest title that returns to its roots. Police procedurals are big business on American television (CSI, NCIS, Law and Order); however there are few games that have attempted to capture this outside of show tie-in games. A police procedural game which introduces a cast of sympathetic characters and tell a compelling story akin to The Wire, could surely be a hit.
Quest for Glory
The Quest for Glory series was an oddity. A hybrid of point-and-click adventure and role-playing game, the series cast you as a wannabe hero belonging to one of four classes – fighter, magic user, thief, and in later instalments, paladin. Your choice would fundamentally alter how you approached the game, and how you’d solve the puzzles. Each episode of the series followed on from the last, and allowed you to import your characters stats from the previous instalment. The series steadily improved in quality, though Quest for Glory 4: Shadows of Darkness is noted as the best. It not only included a more mature setting, complex narrative and beautiful graphics, but narration from John Rhys-Davis (of Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings fame). The only negative of the game was the persistent bugs in early versions that made the game unwinnable.
The fifth and final title in the series, Quest for Glory 5: Dragon Fire, was only produced due to consistent pleas from fans – such was the quality of earlier instalments. Dragon Fire wrapped up the story of the protagonist – the only Quest series to form a full arc, and offered much greater depth, but was hamstrung by subpar 3D graphics and a greater emphasis on action role-playing rather than adventure. Such was the middling quality of the graphics that many fans consider it to be the weakest in the series.
Like the designers of Space Quest, Lori and Cory Cole, the designers of Quest for Glory, are still active in game design. They have been working on their own Kickstarter project, Hero-U, which promises to recreate the atmosphere of Quest for Glory in an isometric environment. They too, would jump at the chance to create a new Quest for Glory game, and given the original series reach a definitive conclusion; they would have a clean slate to offer long-time fans.
One to Avoid: Leisure Suit Larry
It didn’t have Quest in the title, but Leisure Suit Larry was in some ways the most well-known Sierra franchise after Kings Quest. Leisure Suit Larry followed the adventures of Larry Laffer, a software programmer, who in a mid-life crisis decides to travel to the city of Lost Wages to finally lose his virginity in Leisure Suit Larry: In the Land of the Lounge Lizards. Six adventures followed, each selling more copies than the last, and included such escapades as evading the KGB, defeating mad scientist Dr Nonookee, checking into a health spa, and takes a cruise. The objective in each of the games? To get laid by a number of attractive women!
The Leisure Suit Larry games were designed by Al Lowe, a former music teacher, who had worked for Sierra since the early 1980s, designing three Disney tie-ins – Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood,Donald Duck’s Playground, and The Black Cauldron, before being given the chance to update Sierra’s previous text adventure title Softporn Adventure. Lowe reinterpreted Softporn, which was played fairly straight, by making the lead character a loser whose vein attempt to have sex was treated as desperate. The original Leisure Suit Larry game was a sleeper hit. At first Sierra’s poorest selling title, the company knew that many were copying the game and playing it illegally, as they actually sold more hint books than they did copies of the game. However, it eventually sold nearly a million copies, a huge number in the 1980s.
The problem is with Leisure Suit Larry is that times have changed. What might have been acceptable 20 years ago is now considered sexist, even though Larry Laffer was always supposed to be a figure of fun. The narration text was always amusing, because Al Lowe had a good sense of humour, but the actual games could never be considered classics, a fact that was proven by the poor reception given to the Kickstarter backed remake of the first game in the series. In the opinion of this writer, the Leisure Suit Larry series shouldn’t even be considered Lowe’s greatest achievement – both Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist and the more family orientated Torin’s Passage are superior titles. Commiserations Larry, but your time has passed.