Tetris Retrospective

Today I’ve decided to do something different. And if you read the title, I’m sure you’ve, at least, heard about Tetris. If not, welcome to planet Earth and I apologize about all the craziness, but I’m sure you’ll love to hear about this game. So join us at taking a look at a very popular game (that defined the puzzle genre), its history and its most famous versions and ports.

Tetris was created in June 1984 in Soviet Russia, when Alexey Pajitnov, a 28-year-old computer engineer working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow, decided to program a puzzle game to test the capabilities of the Electronika 60 computer. Based on the puzzles he played as a child, Pajitnov programmed shapes formed from combinations of 4 blocks, which he named tetrominoes. And combining that word with tennis, he created Tetris:

1st version of Tetris. (Video courtesy of the Sergei Frolov)

As you can see, the gameplay is extremely easy to understand. You only need to combine all the different shapes as they fall until a horizontal row is filled. Then said row disappears, clearing that particular line, up to a total of 4 consecutive rows. After a certain number of cleared rows, the blocks start to fall faster and faster, increasing the difficulty until the entire playing area is full, prompting a game-over.

Pajitnov showed the game to his colleagues at the Academy, who became easily addicted to it and two of them, Dmitry Pavlovsky and Vadim Gerasimov (who was 16 at the time) helped Pajitnov to port the game to DOS and later distribute it through BBS in 1995.

This is the DOS prototype found on the Tetris Gold compilation by Spectrum Holobyte.

After being smuggled to Hungary, it spread across Europe like a virus until it fell to the hands of British software publisher Andromeda, who after failing to secure the rights from Pajitnov due the Cold War politics at the time, decided to illegally sell its rights to Mirrorsoft and Spectrum Holobyte, who then released the first commercial versions of the game for several computers, featuring Russian imagery and music.

This is the 1st commercial DOS Tetris game by Spectrum Holobyte.

But back in Russia, following the initial success of the game, Pajitnov was forced to give the rights of Tetris to Elektronorgtechnica (Elorg), a state-run organization, for 10 years. But Elorg’s director at the time, Alexander Alexinko, found out that Andromeda was selling Tetris rights (which they had no legal claim to) to almost everybody, including Atari, Sega and a certain Dutch publisher called Henk Rogers.

Tetris arcade version by Atari. (Video courtesy of 90’s Arcade Games)

Henk Rogers’ participation was key in finally securing the rights. After watching a version of the game in the Las Vegas’ Computer Electronic Show in 1988, Rogers saw its potential and broke a deal with Nintendo, but unfortunately, Tengen (a subsidiary of Atari) already made a version of Tetris for the NES:

Tetris for the NES by Tengen (Video courtesy of EMN Company)

Rogers then travelled to Russia to properly secure the rights from Elorg and Pajitnov. But he wasn’t alone. Robert Stein from Andromeda and Kevin Maxwell from Mirrorsoft also travelled to Russia for the rights to Tetris.

What happened later was the stuff of legends (so much so, that Hollywood wants to make a movie trilogy based on it), from the fact that Rogers travelled with a tourist visa instead of a business visa (which could have put him in a very tight spot) to even an appeal from Mirrorsoft to Mikhail Gorbachev to mediate all the legal chaos. But Rogers, using his charm and with Pajitnov’s help, finally secured the rights for Nintendo. Although the battle for the rights would continue to rage on through the following years.

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Alexey Pajitnov and Henk Rogers in Moscow, 1989

Nintendo then, with the rights properly secured, mass-produced Tetris for their new portable console, the Game Boy! And they had the masterstroke to bundle Tetris with each copy of the Game Boy, insuring Tetris’ place in videogame history.

Tetris for Game Boy (Video courtesy of 316whatupz)

And after releasing their own version for the NES, Nintendo then forced Atari and Sega to recall their own copies from the market, claiming sole ownership of Tetris for consoles. Which made the Tengen NES and the Sega Mega Drive versions of Tetris so rare, they’re considered extremely valuable among collectors nowadays.

Tetris for the Mega Drive (Video courtesy of Oberon Gaming)

But it was the Game Boy version released in 1989 that became the most famous version of Tetris, due to its portability combined its addictive nature and simplicity, that even people that never thought about playing videogames, could easily play and enjoy it anywhere! Also, an arrangement of a Russian traditional song, Korobeiniki, became so associated with Tetris, that people still call it the “Tetris theme”. In fact, it became so popular that Andrew Lloyd Webber (you know, the guy behind the Cats and The Phantom of the Opera Broadway musicals) even recorded a dance remix with Nigel Wright under the name of Doctor Spin:

Yes, this is your brain on Tetris

But our story doesn’t end here. In 1996, the rights of Tetris reverted back to Pajitnov, who then with Rogers, funded the Tetris Company and trademark not only the name, but every aspect of the game, regulating every license and prosecuting every unlicensed version and clone. Pajitnov and Rogers also created other puzzle games, but never recreated the success they had with Tetris. But they still produce new versions with new features up to this day.

Tetris basically reshaped all the puzzle genre and even the videogame industry itself. Its gameplay is extremely simplistic and yet, extremely addictive. Its accessibility however is what makes Tetris so enjoyable. Seeing someone with disabilities that can’t play typical videogames, enjoying a simple game like Tetris, is a sight to behold. And it opened the Western world a bit more towards Russian culture, so I think I’m not exaggerating when I say Tetris is a true icon of Humanity.

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So, what did you think of my retrospective of Tetris? I hope I made it proper justice. If there’s anything you’d like to add, please leave it in the comments below. Next time, is back to basics. Till then, keep on stacking those blocks.

Quest For Glory I/Hero’s Quest review

To end our Sierra retrospective, I decided to do something different. Instead of reviewing another typical graphic adventure, I decided to review the first of one of my favorite series: Quest for Glory (originally known as Hero’s Quest).

Corey and Lori Ann Cole were two designers at Sierra who are avid D&D fans and one day, they pitched the idea of creating a RPG game using the SCI0 engine. But as development went on, they ended up creating a hybrid graphic adventure/RPG game.

Hero’s Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero was originally released in 1989 for DOS, a year later for Atari ST and Amiga and in 1991 for the PC-98.

But a year after the original release, Sierra was forced to change its name to Quest for Glory to avoid confusion with the board game Hero Quest by Milton Bradley (which was adapted into a computer game later on).

Quest for Glory I was supposed to have more RPG elements, like a deeper character creation with multiple races and also the ability to play as a female, but due to time constrictions and difficulties with the engine, these and other options were cut from the original concept.

But let’s look at the cover, shall we?

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Talk about a diet rich in iron!

The cover shows our hero-to-be fighting a Saurus Rex, one of the hardest monsters in the game. It’s a good cover with decent artwork and conveys exactly the tone of the game.

But let’s boot this sucker, shall we?

Despite the intro showing a dragon, unfortunately you won’t find any (living) dragons in the game. You’d have to wait further along down the series for that.

The game doesn’t have a lot of backstory; you’re just a recent graduate from the Famous Adventurer’s Correspondence School, recently arrived to the valley and town of Spielburg, who are in dire need of a hero.

The game starts with you creating your protagonist, first by choosing a class (Fighter, Magic User or Thief) and then relocating your points to your preferred stats and finally naming it. The character’s appearance however is always the same.

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The original title screen

The Fighter is an expert in combat and the most direct in his approach towards the puzzles and quests. The Magic User cast spells which you’ll have to look for, learn and use to solve the puzzles and the Thief has to use his abilities to solve said puzzles. Take a locked door for example: the Fighter would simply smash the door open while the Magic User would cast a spell to open the door and the Thief would simply pick the door’s lock. Because of the latter, the Thief class is my personal favorite due to its gameplay being closer to a traditional graphic adventure.

While it is possible to create hybrid characters by allocating points in different stats (like giving the Fighter the ability to cast spells), the game will always treat you as the class you’ve chosen. For example, you can still use a spell to open a locked door but you won’t get the points the Fighter would usually get for smashing said door.

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“Welcome to Spielburg. Don’t mind the goon with the yo-yo”

And those aren’t the only RPG elements in the game. Your character won’t level up like in most RPGs; instead you raise your stats by repeating the same action several times over. Fighting with your weapon raises your Strength and Weapon Use stats, throwing a dagger raises your Throwing and Weapon Use stats or casting a spell raises your Intelligence, Magic and that specific Spell proficiency stats and so on and so forth. You can raise your stats to a maximum of 100 points each (except for the Experience stat which always increases along with any other stat).

You also have Health and Stamina points that when depleted, it’s game over! These are linked to your Strength, Vitality and Agility stats and when these stats are increased, so are your Health and Stamina. Magic Users also have Mana points linked to your Intelligence and Magic stats, although if depleted, you’ll just lose the ability to cast spells.

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No, you can’t turn enemies into frogs, unfortunately

To avoid your Health and Stamina (and Mana) to drop drastically, you need to eat and sleep, so you’re always need a steady supply of food and potions. While there is a specific place in the game where you can get free food and rest, potions aren’t free and you need money to buy them, therefore you need to solve quests and kill monsters in order to make money (although the Thief has another alternative).

Also you can’t just sleep anywhere. There are a few safe spots to do it, like the inn or the castle stable for beginners, although there are also a few safe spots in the surrounding forest for you to find.

The game also has a day/night cycle in which some places (like the town and castle grounds) are close and inactive during the night, while other places become active.

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Where’s Thor when you need him?

Another RPG element is the ability to export your character to the next game of the series, maintaining all the stats, money and items you’ve collected.

You begin your game in the town of Spielburg, but shortly after, you need to explore the entire valley. The map is somewhat reminiscent of the one found in King’s Quest I (with the exception that it doesn’t revolve around itself) and you are free to travel anywhere inside said valley. This gives the game a non-linear aspect also reminiscent of King’s Quest I.

All the monster encounters (except in specific screens and locations) are random, and during the day, you’ll find the easiest ones to fight. The hardest ones come out at night, so be careful if you find yourself at night in the middle of the forest. Also the majority of the night monsters start to appear during the day after achieving 1000 points of experience.

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Not as easy as it looks and it doesn’t look easy!

All the fights are shown in an over-the-shoulder POV and are fought using the keypad arrows. The controls are tight and easy to master. You can even run away from a battle (except the main ones)!

But my favorite part of the game is the NPCs, which are all well written and fleshed out. It’s impossible to hate them. Almost all the characters and by extend, the fantasy elements themselves, are based in Germanic folklore.

While the game isn’t a parody, it still has a lot of comedy sprinkled out through it with lots of easter eggs. But the story isn’t afraid to get serious and somewhat dark when needed.

The game’s EGA graphics are very well detailed and colorful, with great animation throughout. The soundtrack is quite appropriate with certain main NPCs getting their own theme. The main title theme would later become the series’ main theme, with some differences in each entry.

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Does anyone wants to play Ghosts and Goblins?

But unfortunately, the game also presents some flaws. Because of the nature in raising stats, some grinding is inevitable, forcing you to develop a daily routine for your characters at the beginning before their stats are high enough to tackle the harder quests.

And while the Thief might be the hardest character to play in a graphic adventure perspective, the Magic User is the one that, for me, has the most grinding, due to the fact that you not only have to grind all the necessary stats linked to spell casting, but also have to repeatedly cast all the spells in order to increase the proficiency of each individual spell.

But spite these little flaws, the game not only has great replay value, but also due to the grinding, a considerable gameplay length.

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Then in 1992, to coincide with the rest of the VGA remakes Sierra was making, the Coles decided to remake Quest for Glory I using the SCI 1.1 engine, with VGA 256-color graphics and a point-and-click mouse interface.

Quest for Glory I: So You Want to Be a Hero VGA was released in 1992 for DOS and in 1994 for Macintosh.

And with it, also a new cover:

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“Yummm! Hero fricassé”

While I like the stained glass type artwork, I don’t like the image’s content, which shows the Hero facing a dragon and scared after said dragon broke his sword. We’ve already established that there aren’t any dragons in the game. So why depict a dragon instead of any other monster that’s actually in the game? Because of this, I prefer the original cover.

Anyway, let’s boot this sucker:

The intro’s a bit better, using clay models and stop motion animation, which was also used in the rest of the monsters and characters.

But unfortunately, using said techniques made the animations look a little jerky sometimes, especially during the fights.

The remake not only has better graphics and resolution but the night/day cycle has been improved because this time, you can actually see getting darker at sunset and brighter at sunrise. However the remake uses a brownish palette, so even though it has 256 colors on screen, it looks less colorful than the original. There are even 1 or 2 locations that don’t look as detailed as in the original.

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Work, work, work

Because of the mouse interface, the dialogues now have a tree scheme, with topics to choose from a menu. This make the dialogues somewhat shorter, but more to the point.

The fights are now in a sort of isometric perspective, with icons in the corner for fighting, which makes the battles also easier.

The stats now rise faster, reducing the grinding and therefore the game’s length.

But story wise, the game remains the same. All the characters maintain their characterization and with the new graphics, they also sport new character portraits during dialogues (except for the Hero).

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These flowers don’t swallow

Both versions had a tremendous success, with the original version selling over 250,000 copies shortly after its release.

So, which version do I recommend? Both, actually! It depends on your personal preferences: if you prefer a more colorful game and don’t mind the text parser, then go for the original. However, if you prefer an easier experience, the mouse interface and a better resolution, then go for the remake.

Whichever version you play, I recommend this game as an entry point for the RPG genre, due to its intuitive and easy gameplay. And I also highly recommend the rest of series.

Quest For Glory I’s (and consequently, the rest of the series) influence was extremely important and it’s still observed nowadays because not only it popularized the crossing over of genres in future video games, but it also encouraged the use of RPG elements in other types of games and the use of adventure/action elements in RPGs.

You can buy both versions (along with the entire series) here at GOG.com or here at Steam.

And so it ends our Sierra retrospective. Did you like it? If so, leave your comments below and tell me which are your favorite Sierra games and moments. And while you’re at it, tell me if you’d like to see more Sierra games reviews or other retrospectives.

Join us again in March, where we’ll take a respite from graphic adventures and go back to our regular reviews.

Till then, keep on playing.

Police Quest I review

Continuing our Sierra retrospective, we’ll now a take a look at the first game of perhaps Sierra’s most realistic series, Police Quest.

Like I mention before, after the successful release of King’s Quest I, several other games were made using the AGI engine. Jim Walls, a former police officer, designed a graphic adventure where proper police procedure was fundamental in how to solve the puzzles and to progress throughout the game.

Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel was released in 1987 for Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Apple IIgs, DOS and Macintosh.

All releases featured the same cover:

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Shouldn’t have shot those giant letters

While I do like the detail of the bullet holes in the title, I think it’s too big and almost overshadows the bottom, where we see a presumed criminal running from the police. The bottom image looks taken from the cover of a crime novel and it couldn’t be more appropriate for the game.

But crime novels aren’t the only influences behind the game. As you’ll see while I boot this sucker:

The intro is very reminiscent of the old Dragnet TV show (down to the police badge). In fact, the entire game plays as an interactive episode of a police drama series.

You play as Sonny Bonds (named after Jim Walls’s own son), a young police officer in the fictional city of Lytton, California where there have been a surge of crime lately.

And that’s the entire back story! The story develops throughout the game as you play along.

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“OK, so where’s the toilet?”

The game starts as a typical law enforcement routine day (going to the locker room, attending the briefing and going on patrol).

Then comes perhaps the hardest part of the game: the driving section. Controlling your car is extremely hard, especially during high velocity pursuits. Heck, even leaving the parking lot is a challenge! I recommend reducing the game’s speed until you get used to the controls. But I won’t deny that after mastering the driving controls, it gets entertaining.

During your patrol, you come across several traffic violations and other crime scenes. It’s crucial that you read the manual (or indoctrination guide, as it’s named. Yikes) before playing. All the correct procedure, along with penal and radio codes, it’s so highly detailed in it that the manual could easily pass off as an official police academy manual. And it also features a map of the city which you’ll find extremely helpful during the driving section.

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Take a guess which of these small rectangles’ your car

You can’t just go guns blazing like playing Narc! You have to observe the correct procedure in each specific case and apply it. If you forget any step of said procedure, the best that can happen is that you’ll lose points. The worst however, is an automatic game over.

The game initially received some criticism over the strict procedure, but since that was the intent to such a degree that Police Quest I even served as a police training tool, such criticism was consequently ignored.

The game is divided into 2 parts: the aforementioned traffic patrol and an investigation part after Sonny is transferred to the Narcotics division. The 2nd part is more lenient towards following police procedure, but a big mistake can still lead to a game over.

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Not even the beach is free from crime

The objective after becoming a Narcotics detective is to investigate and arrest the eponymous Death Angel, a newly arrived drug baron to Lytton. And you do it by arresting criminals, following leads and clues and interrogate suspects.

And near the end, there’s a poker mini-game in which you’ll need to win enough money to progress through the game (TWICE). And because there aren’t any poker instructions in the manual; the 1st time I played the game, I had to ask my dad to pass the poker part, which then prompted a half-hour long lecture about the dangers of gambling addiction.

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Two pairs. Break the house!

Because of all the situations and the strict procedures, the game feels quite long; perhaps it’s even the longest AGI Sierra title at the time.

And like other successful AGI titles, it was also remade using the SCI engine (SCI 1.1).

Police Quest I: In Pursuit of the Death Angel VGA was released in 1992 for DOS. With a new cover included:

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Are you trying to “cast your evil shadow over the city”?

Again with the big title almost filling the cover! Is someone trying to compensate? And the bottom image this time is more generic. It’s just an ominous face with orange eyes overlooking a city, nothing more. I prefer the original cover over this one.

But check out the game for yourself:

The intro this time around looks even more like a TV crime show intro. And the new soundtrack isn’t half bad!

The remake not only has better sound and graphics (as to be expected) but it also simplifies all the puzzles and the procedures. A little too much simplified in my opinion.

Even the driving section is simplified to the point that it’s hard to commit mistakes. Although the driving controls to turn are a bit confusing. It’s easy to mix left and right when driving in the opposite direction the controls are oriented.

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Believe me, it looks smaller on the inside

The game also presents a small window for interior locations which reduces the playing area and therefore makes it easier to spot objects and people to interact with, but it also bundles everything together or makes some locations look somewhat empty. And the main characters now have portraits during dialogues, but most of them are badly drawn.

The procedures to follow are also simplified, reducing the chance of mistakes and making the game easier to play. Even the poker mini-game is optional now, but you won’t be rewarded its points if you choose not to play it. Between Space Quest I’s slot machine, Leisure Suit Larry I’s blackjack and this game’s poker, I wonder if Sierra is responsible for an entire generation of gamblers. But seriously now, gambling addiction is no joke!

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“10-4, heading south on 9th. At least that’s what my on-board display is telling me”

There’s a better visual and sound presentation over the original and while it definitely looks and sounds better, the gameplay is so oversimplified that it feels empty in comparison with the original. And although the story and the dialogues have been somewhat rewritten, they’re basically the same. It’s hard to see the difference in that aspect. Although all of this makes the game easier and more attractive, it also makes it shorter than the original.

So, if you don’t mind the EGA graphics, the text parser and the harder puzzles, then I recommend the original version over the remake. But if you’re a novice graphic adventure gamer and prefer VGA graphics and the mouse interface then go for the remake.

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“Nothing to see, people. Just another random accident.”

You can get both versions along with the rest of the series up to (but not included) Police Quest SWAT here at GOG.com or here at Steam.

So, did you like this review? Leave your comments below and share it with your friends.

Just one more review to finish our retrospective and next time, we’ll go back to fantasy, but not as you’re thinking.

Until then, be careful out there and keep on playing!

Space Quest I review

Like I said before, we’ll continue our Sierra retrospective by going to SPAAAAAACE! More specifically, Space Quest I.

After the success of King’s Quest I, other game designers at Sierra started to play around with the AGI engine and two of them, Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy (you know, those Two Guys From Andromeda) designed a sci-fi comedy featuring a janitor as the protagonist.

Space Quest: Chapter I – The Sarien Encounter was originally released in 1986 for the Apple II, DOS and Atari ST and a year later for Amiga, Apple IIgs, Macintosh and a 2nd version for DOS.

This prompted at least 3 different covers:

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Somehow, I don’t think this book will recommend the use of towels.

While I do like the title lettering, the rest of this cover is very unimaginative. It looks more like a manual cover than box art. Also, “3-D animated”? I know this wasn’t the first or the last game of the time to claim it, but I wouldn’t call the ability to walk in front and behind background objects, exactly “3-D”.

But the second cover is sort of an improvement:

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Is that a space cab?

Again, I like the title and the space car, but the background is just empty. 3 flare effects imitating stars doesn’t exactly screams “SPAAAAAAACE”. And adding a screenshot at random doesn’t help.

Although there’s a variant cover that’s better:

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Yes, much better. Although that space car doesn’t appear in the game, this looks like a proper sci-fi cover.

But enough star-gazing and time to boot this bantha:

As seen above, in a galaxy far, far… several light-years away, Xenon’s sun is dying, so a Star Generator is created to revive it. You play as a janitor employed on the starlab Arcadia, where the Star Generator is being transported back to Xenon. But a group of evil aliens called the Sariens, board the ship, kill the crew and steal the Generator to use it as a weapon. You escape the massacre because you were asleep inside the store closet. Your mission is to escape Arcadia, find where the Sariens are hiding and stop their evil plans.

You can even name your character and if you leave it blank, your character’s default name is Roger Wilco.

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“Hey! Why is everyone taking a nap?”

Space Quest I is more linear compared with King’s Quest I and just as hard (the first 2 locations are infamously difficult). But one can say is no more difficult than any other Sierra AGI adventure title, but then again the real gem here is the humor.

And it’s quite funny, especially the death animations! Don’t forget to save before trying one.

The game is littered with several references to classic titles, sci-fi and otherwise. But again, the music is almost non-existent and the title theme is a bit grating on a PC speaker. And again, regarding this, the Apple IIgs version wins over all other versions.

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Well, it’s no cantina, but at least the band is trying to raise money for a orphanage.

There’s even a small arcade sequence that appears unexpectedly and it’s quite hard to master. I recommend reducing the game’s speed in order to make it easier.

The game isn’t too big, but still a solid experience. Like I said before, the first 2 locations are hard because you need to be always on the move and there are several traps and dangers to avoid, which are harder than the puzzles themselves. But it’s the slot machine located in the Ulence Flats bar that takes the cake. If you run out of credits or get 3 skulls, it’s game over! But spite that, Ulence Flats (the 3rd location) is still my favorite part of the entire game, ranging from the bar to the droid shop.

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In space, no one can hear you get sick.

And like other titles, this one was also remade using the SCI1 engine.

Renamed Space Quest I: Roger Wilco and the Sarien Encounter, it was released in 1991 for DOS, Amiga and Tandy and a year later for Macintosh.

And check out this cover:

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“Hey, good looking, do you come here often?”

Instead of focusing on sci-fi imagery like the original covers, this one focus more on the comedy elements with 3 (presumably drunk) aliens partying with poor Roger.

And it shows:

Isn’t just the audio, the animation and the music that have been improved, the art style and new visual gags are more than welcoming sights. Almost everything is improved in the remake. There’s even more references included.

The new gags are funnier than ever, including a sports-type replay commentary from the Two Guys from Andromeda on some of Roger’s deaths.

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Have you try to turn in off and on again?

The new art style is based on 50s sci-fi b-movies bringing a new visual presentation to the game fitting the comedy. Especially inside the Sarien ship!

While the game makes some parts easier in comparison with the original (like the slot machine and the arcade sequence), other parts have become harder (like avoiding the Sariens on board of the Arcadia).

But not only I strongly recommend this game, I also recommend the remake over the original version.

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“Yes, I recommend this model in case you ever get lost out there, you know, in space”

You can buy the original version here on GOG.com along with 2 and 3, or you can buy the entire series (including the remake) here on Steam.

We’re now halfway through our retrospective and how are you enjoying it so far? Leave your comments below.

Next week, not only are we back on Earth but we’re going to take it to the streets.

Till then, keep on playing.

King’s Quest I review

We can’t make a Sierra games retrospective without beginning with the first graphic adventure made for the PC and Sierra’s first big hit; King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown.

As I mention 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 an 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:

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Why does this knight have a shield in place of his arm? And glowing red eyes?

The artist didn’t have any information about the game apart that it was a fantasy game with a knight as the main character. One might have the idea that this is a 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:

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Now this, is what I call loot!

This one I like more! It shows all the 3 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:

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“Sir Knight, is this thy bling?”

This is my favorite one. This is where the game received its sub-title Quest for the Crown. The cover shows Sir Graham presenting all 3 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?

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Ummmm…Yeah, I got nothing.

Oh boy! Where to begin? First, that’s doesn’t look a lot like Graham. Second, THERE AREN’T ANY SWORDS IN THE GAME! Third, 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 fourth, “a text adventure-action game”. REALLY?!

But enough talking 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 at how the 3 treasures were lost 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 a shining armor. In fact, he looks more like a bard. This is the first clue that Graham isn’t your typical fantasy hero.

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“Sir Graham, Sir Graham, walking besides the moat. Sir Graham, Sir Graham, he’s his own merry man!”

After you exit the castle, you’re free to roam through 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 adventure lack: different solutions to some of the puzzles. Although there’s an optimal solution that gives more points, the fact of presenting different solutions to one specific puzzle, increases replay value and it’s more fun to explore alternative ways to do stuff.

Daventry isn’t too big but 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 revolves around itself). Don’t ask me how that works in-game. Magic, I guess.

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“Right, just going to take measurements of the throne, Your Majesty.”

It also has good animation and it’s quite colorful on EGA screens.

But because it was one of the earliest graphic adventure games and although it helped popularize 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:

First, there’s very little sound 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 by Al Lowe.

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Graham enjoying his morning walk through the forest

Second, since all of the game is based on fairy tales, if you’re not at least familiarized 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.

Third, there are some monsters that appear randomly in some screens. They range from a temporary nuisance to instant death if they catch Graham. Learn where these screens are and save before entering one.

Fourth, the bloody gnome’s riddle! It’s a good thing you have an alternative 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)! Also, while you get more points if you guess it right, you’re not going to like the reward (Graham is a lousy climber).

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Just another boring wooden bridge in the woods

Fifth and perhaps the worst flaw; it’s very easy to get stuck at a dead-end because you lack a certain object to move forward or to solve a specific puzzle and can’t turn back. 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 lost treasures, you’re screwed!

Also one could say that’s very easy to click in the wrong direction, making Graham fall to its death, 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 first 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, and if successful, 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:

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Is the feather included with the game?

I love this cover too! It shows Graham sitting under a tree in front of Daventry’s castle and underneath it, the red feather usually found on Graham’s 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.

Also it 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 dead ends and the random encounters.

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Now, who could possibly live here?

But for me, the biggest flaw is the fact 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 must always be 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 colors in a classic B&W movie, which temporally halted the production of other planned remakes at the time.

Nowadays, the SCI remake has a better reputation among gamers, but there are still some who prefer the original.

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Yummy!

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 (the one that includes VGA 256-color graphics and a point-and-click mouse interface or SCI1) in order to resemble more their successful remakes.

And I’m not the only one who thinks like this, because in 2000, a group of amateur programmers known as Tierra Entertainment (now known as AGD Interactive) decided to make a VGA remake of King’s Quest I just like it should have been from the start. And you can download it here for free at their website.

This VGA remake is for me the quintessential King’s Quest I. 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 new comers. It even has the VGA intro 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 first episode, A Knight to Remember (you can download it here for free at Steam), begins with Graham searching for the magic mirror, but then the rest of episode takes back 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 2 and 3. 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 7.

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!