We can’t make a Sierra games retrospective without beginning with one of the first graphic adventures ever made for the IBM PC and Sierra’s first big hit: King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown.
As I mentioned in my Sierra historical retrospective, IBM needed a game to promote their new computer, the PCjr and approached Sierra to finance it. Sierra took full advantage of the proposal to develop a game engine called Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI) and with it, Roberta Williams developed a game based on a previous On-line Systems’ (Sierra’s former name) title: Wizard and the Princess (AKA Adventure in Serenia). Like that one, she wanted to make a game based on fairy tales and fantasy: of a gallant knight in a quest to save a kingdom.
King’s Quest was originally released in 1984 for the IBM PCjr, Apple II and PC-compatible computers. It was then re-released in 1986 for the Atari ST, in 1987 for MS-DOS, Amiga, Macintosh and Apple IIgs; and in 1989 it was ported to the Sega Master System by Parker Brothers.
For every release there seems to be a different cover, so let’s start with the PCjr’s cover:
The artist here didn’t have much information about the game apart from that it was a fantasy game with a knight as the main character. One might have the idea that this is an RPG or something similar based only on this cover.
This is the cover for the PC/Tandy, Atari ST (US release) and Apple II versions:
This one I like more! It shows all the three treasures of Daventry plus a sword (although you never actually use a sword in the game) and a crown. Not bad!
This is the cover for the MS-DOS, Amiga and Atari ST (UK release) versions:
This is my favourite cover. This is where the game received its sub-title Quest for the Crown. The cover shows Sir Graham presenting the treasures to King Edward. Kind of a spoiler because that’s what happens at the end of the game! Also, check out the mirror in the background. Foreshadowing, anyone?
And just for fun’s sake, let’s also look at the Master System cover, shall we?
Oh boy! Where to begin? 1st, the guy in the centre doesn’t look a lot like Graham. 2nd, THERE AREN’T ANY SWORDS IN THE GAME! 3rd, yes; those are the people that stole the treasures, but I don’t think you’ll encounter them in the game (although you can find a dwarf, a witch and a wizard in the game, it’s never confirmed they’re the same people and you don’t find them anywhere near the treasures). And 4th, “a text adventure-action game”. REALLY?!
But enough talk and let’s boot the DOS version and review this sucker, shall we?
The story couldn’t be simpler: you play as Sir Graham, the best knight in all of Daventry and you’re tasked by the aging King Edward to find the lost 3 treasures of the kingdom. If Graham succeeds, then he’ll inherit the crown and become king.
The manual gives more background on how the 3 treasures were stolen in the 1st place and how the kingdom fell into disarray but it reveals nothing about Graham himself.
You’ll notice that Graham isn’t your traditional knight in shining armour. In fact, he looks more like a bard. This is the first clue that Graham isn’t your typical fantasy hero.
After you exit the castle, you’re free to roam throughout the entire kingdom. That’s one of the things that I love about this game: it’s more or less non-linear. You can go in every direction and search for any of the treasures in any order you want. It’s probably the beginning of the open-world mechanic we know nowadays.
Also King’s Quest introduces something that most graphic adventures lack: different solutions to some of the puzzles. Although there’s an optimal solution that gives more points, the fact of having different solutions to one specific puzzle increases the replay value and it’s more fun to explore alternative ways in how to do it.
Daventry isn’t too big but it isn’t all that small either. It’s about 48 screens long, without counting interior locations. It’s quite large for an earlier computer game and you can go infinitely in every direction (the map simply revolves around itself). Don’t ask me how that works in-game. Magic, I suppose.
It also has good animation and it’s quite colourful on EGA screens.
But because it was one of the earliest graphic adventure games and although it helped popularise the genre, it also presented a lot of issues that would plague the genre early on. In fact, I think the original release has aged quite poorly.
WAIT, WAIT! Put down the torches and the pitchforks and let me explain: although the DOS version has some improvements compared with the original PCjr release, the game in general still presents a lot of flaws:
1st, there are very few sound effects and music. In fact, most of the game is silent except for specific moments (like when you play a fiddle or encounter a monster). The former releases (PCjr and Tandy) had ambient sounds, but they were cut from the DOS version due to memory restrictions. The Apple IIgs version, however, not only restores the ambient sounds but also has music made by Al Lowe.
2nd, since all of the game is based on fairy tales, if you’re not at least familiarised with fairy tales in general, it’s going to be hard to solve the puzzles, because there’s a distinctive lack of hints. This increases the difficulty greatly.
3rd, some monsters appear randomly on some screens. They range from a temporary nuisance to instant death if they catch Graham. Learn where these screens are and save the game before entering one.
4th, the bloody gnome’s riddle! It’s a good thing you have an alternative way just in case you can’t guess his bloody name, but guessing it without a walkthrough is almost impossible. There’s a hint somewhere in the game and no, it’s not Rumplestiltskin (somewhat close though)! Also, while you get more points if you guess it right, you’re not going to like the reward (Graham is a lousy climber, as you’ll find out).
And 5th and perhaps the worst flaw: it’s very easy to get stuck at a dead-end because if you lack a certain object to progress or to solve a specific puzzle, you can’t backtrack. So, for those players who aren’t used to play graphic adventures, I recommend a walkthrough at hand and several save files. Also, there’s a bloody dwarf that appears randomly and steals one of your items and if it happens to be one of the treasures, you’re screwed if you don’t have a save file previous to the encounter!
Also one could say that’s very easy to click in the wrong direction, making Graham fall to its death if he’s near any ledge, but that kind of became a feature in all of Sierra’s adventure games.
Luckily, some of these flaws were fixed when the game was remade in 1990. Yes, King’s Quest I was also one of the 1st computer game remakes. Using a new game engine, the Sierra Creative Interpreter (SCI) with 16-color EGA graphics and better sound and resolution, Roberta Williams decided to expand on her former game with plans for other titles too.
Roberta Williams’ King’s Quest I: Quest for the Crown was released in 1990 for DOS and Amiga.
Also it features a new cover:
I also love this cover! It shows Graham sitting under a tree in front of Daventry castle and underneath it, the red feather usually found on his cap.
This game introduces more characters, more dialogue and the new EGA graphics look amazing. The castle’s bigger and the forest seems lusher, with more trees and vegetation.
It also introduces better sound, including ambient sound when walking through the forest (water splashing, birds singing, etc.) and a better soundtrack by Ken Allen. It also has a new text parser, in which you can write more complex commands and it pauses during the action. This means that you can take your time writing your commands without stress.
The game also has longer cutscenes and changed some of the puzzles and locations of the objects. The gnome puzzle is a lot easier this time (it still isn’t Rumplestiltskin, but closer) and you have better control over Graham, which means climbing is also easier. But it still maintains the same dead ends and the same random encounters of the original game.
But for me, the biggest flaw now is that it removes some of the non-linearity of the original version: you can go look for the chest or the mirror in any order, but the shield is now the last treasure to be found.
While the original version had a lot of success by players and critics alike, the SCI remake was critically panned and even compared to putting colours in a classic B&W movie, which temporarily halted the production of other planned remakes at the time. Nowadays, the SCI remake has a better reputation among retro gamers but there are still some who prefer the original.
And yes, while I personally prefer the remake over the original version, I think that Sierra might have waited until they improved the SCI engine to its more known version (SCI1, which includes VGA 256-color graphics and a point-and-click mouse interface) to resemble more other successful remakes by Sierra.
And I’m not the only one who thinks like this, because in 2000, a group of amateur programmers known as Tierra Entertainment (currently known as AGD Interactive) decided to make a VGA enhanced remake of King’s Quest I with 256-colour graphics and a point-and-click mouse interface. And you can download it here for free at their website.
This VGA remake is for me the quintessential King’s Quest I version. It takes the SCI version and simply expands upon it with better graphics, music and even has the option the remove all the dead ends, making it easier for newcomers of the genre. It even has the VGA intro of the sequels I love so much!
But that’s not the end! In 2014, when Sierra officially returned, they released a new King’s Quest episodic series. But it’s not a remake. It’s actually a sort of a reboot/reimagining. The 1st episode, A Knight to Remember (can be downloaded here for free at Steam), begins with Graham searching for the magic mirror, but then the rest of the episode occurs before that when Graham was newly arrived at Daventry. It’s a different game, but not a bad one.
If you’re looking for the original version, you can buy it here on GOG.com, bundled together with II and III. But if you’re looking for the SCI remake, you can buy it here on Steam, along with the original version and the rest of the series up to VII.
So, what did you think of my biggest review so far? Leave your comments below and next week, we’ll leave fantasy behind and go the final frontier and beyond! Till then, keep on playing!