by Austin Auclair
by Austin Auclair
originally posted on www.SpectacleRock.com on June 5, 2009
My grandparents gave me the game, King’s Quest 5, as a present during a visit the summer when I was 13 years old. They are a funny pair. At the time they were almost bigger gamers than I was. They loved games like King’s Quest and would play together, the whole time arguing about what to do next and how to solve the game’s puzzles. These are the same people who to this day refuse to buy a microwave or a DVD player.
It was my grandparents’ gift that introduced me to the type of games I came to enjoy the most. My first adventure games were the Commodore 64’s X-Men: Madness in Murderworld and Maniac Mansion on the NES (which I played obsessively), but it wasn’t until I played King’s Quest 5 on our PC that I truly saw my video game future.
Soon, I started to try and get my hands on every adventure game I could find. Titles released by Sierra On-Line quickly became my favorites as I played the rest of the King’s Quest series and moved on to Quest for Glory and Space Quest. They all contained what I have come to enjoy about the genre: a good story, well developed characters, and best of all, really bad jokes.
I also loved how the games contained challenging puzzles and required you to solve problems in unusual ways. I remember being really stuck in one part of King’s Quest 5 and spending a couple days in agony trying to figure out how to move on. These were the days before the internet (or at least before we had it) so there were no walkthroughs I could quickly peek at. Nor was there any way in hell my parents were going to let me call the 1-900 Sierra On-Line hint line. I broke down and called my grandparents to ask them how they got through the puzzle. My grandmother told me that she was disappointed in me, that she had thought I was smart enough to be able to beat the game myself, and that they weren’t going to give me the answer. Ouch, grandma.
Chastened, I returned to the game a few days later determined to beat it. Shortly I found that the answer had been right in front of my face the whole time and completed the game soon after. My grandparents had once again shaped my video game playing future. Even now I still can’t bring myself to look at a walkthrough, no matter how stuck I am.
Over the years, I’ve seen lamentations over the death of adventure gaming. To some extent those mournful cries are correct; Adventure gaming today isn’t what it was when it was at its pinnacle. Not nearly as many titles are produced these days, nor, for the most part, do adventure games enjoy the marketing dollars and mainstream attention that other genres have.
Now it takes a bit more hunting to find an adventure game and I enjoy the search. The big-name gaming websites seldom give adventure games more than a sparse listing, but they do grudgingly list them. There are websites dedicated to the genre that keep an eye out for titles near release. And there are still many out there that I have never heard of or played – my “to be played” folder remains quite large. Mostly I scour websites that list older games that are now unprotected and free to download, or are extremely cheap (gog.com or abandonia.com are my favorites). Free or cheap makes it a little less painful when the game turns out to not be very good – at least I didn’t burn $60 on it.
In any case, good adventure games can still be found, new and old. Plus, fans like me are still out there, full of nostalgia over what got us started playing video games in the first place. Many of my gaming generation are now developers and, like myself, can’t quite move on.
In recent years a game development group called AGD Interactive (www.agdinteractive.com) has remade King’s Quest 1, King’s Quest 2, and Quest for Glory 2. Sierra On-Line actually remade King’s Quest 1 and Quest for Glory 1 itself in 1990 and 1991 with better graphics engines than the originals, but, apparently, slow sales kept them from remaking any more. Even though the remakes aren’t necessarily the latest news, AGDI very recently re-released the games with even better graphics than before.
King’s Quest 1 stays pretty true to the original version, apart from few improvements to the game play here and there. Most changes were implemented in order to try and put a stop to some of the original game’s frustrating moments. For example, while the death of your character in the King’s Quest series is one of its best parts (really bad puns galore), there were a few exasperating problems that were more related to control mechanics than game play mistakes – climbing the beanstalk, walking along the tree branch to grab the egg, walking along the stairs in the cave, etc. Those things have been fixed and King Graham will no longer fall to his death over the slightest misstep. Also, a no-dead-ends feature has been added to the game. In the original it was possible to permanently lose an item by using it at the wrong time, and it would become impossible to move on in the game without that item. It was especially annoying when it was your first time playing, as you had no idea that there was no way to continue. By selecting the no-dead-ends feature at the start of the game, you cannot use items incorrectly, or at least you won’t lose them if you try.
The story in the King’s Quest 2 remake has been greatly expanded. The original was a fun game but didn’t do much to advance the narrative of Daventry’s royal family. Its elements weren’t tied together very well, nor were they particularly challenging. The remake is almost a completely different game with a dramatic plot and puzzles that relate to your journey. Since I had played the original so many times, I was initially stuck in the mindset of the first version and had some difficulty since in the remake many solutions are very different. Plus, the remake continues where the original game stops. All in all, I really enjoyed playing the remake as it felt like a brand new game, yet was very faithful to the original.
King’s Quest 1 and 2 feature voice acting, which for the most part is very good. After playing the first, I was ready to trash the actor who played the role of narrator – It really seemed like he’d never done a voice-over for a video game before, and, while he did read his lines with enthusiasm, his tone contained none of the irony and tongue-in-cheek that is required of the series. Rather, it seemed as if he was just reading the lines off a sheet of paper, one by one, with no connection to the game itself. In the second game, however, the actor completely redeems himself and is perfect as narrator. Also, you can’t beat that the voice of King Graham is the same actor who originally played the character in King’s Quest 5.
King Graham’s evolution in sexiness.
With my limited game playing time, I initially dreaded playing the remake of Quest for Glory 2. I’ve played the original many times and the game doesn’t move very quickly. The story is very event based and can’t really be sped up, especially with all the usual stat leveling you must do in a Quest for Glory game. Quest for Glory 2 sticks to the original story very closely. However, due to some changes to the game’s mechanics, I ended up really enjoying it. The combat system has been completely revamped.
In the original, combat consisted of pressing the attack buttons as quickly as possible, in no particular order, to kill monsters. Now it requires a well-balanced offensive and defensive strategy that has to be tailored to specific monsters. Even once you get your stats to their highest point, you can still be destroyed by most enemies if you’re not paying proper attention to the fight. Also, once you get your stats to certain levels, you attain special counter attack abilities which are very useful in later fights.
For those players who don’t like combat, there’s an auto-combat function where AI will do the heavy lifting in battle by managing your defense, offense, or both. And you can always turn down the game’s difficulty if you’re not into the difficult fights; though frankly, if you don’t want to play a game with combat, don’t play Quest for Glory. To be fair, I played through as the fighter and not the two other classes. Perhaps, as they’re not as combat focused, fighting monsters won’t be as fun with the other classes.
On the whole, AGDI has remade three wonderful games into something even greater. The new VGA graphics are excellent and the music and sound effects are superb. The remakes all feature a point-and-click interface which is well thought out. Most static objects in the games elicit a unique response. While I did enjoy the old text parser input system (which the Quest for Glory 2 remake does allow you to partially use) I didn’t find myself missing it.
There are many more minor changes and additions to each game. Individually, these small adjustments didn’t often dramatically change my experience, but as a whole really showed me that the AGDI has a deep and true knowledge of the original series. The game designers weren’t out to fix something they thought was broken but merely paying homage to titles that had a serious influence on our video game playing generation. This appreciation for the original games is well reflected in their work. Whenever I came across these little tweaks I found myself nodding in agreement – if I had been the one remaking these games I would have made the same modifications.
AGDI isn’t the only group out there remaking Sierra On-Line games. Another group under the title of Infamous Adventures (www.infamous-adventures.com) has remade King’s Quest 3. Before playing the game I swore to myself I’d give it a fair look since King’s Quest 3 was my least favorite of the original series. The game itself is built around an outrageous copyright protection – a spell book whose spells you need to complete to finish the game. If you don’t have the game manual, don’t even bother playing. Even once you get past the game’s frustrating elements, the game is surprisingly quick and lacks any device that really sucks you in. Even the magic map you find, while a nice feature, is designed to help hurry you through the game.
The remake does remarkably well with the material that it has to work with. It makes the spell sequence easy (with no copyright protection) and while closely sticking to the original story, features great graphics, voice acting, sound, and music. However, it is very clearly a first effort by this game development group. The interface and game play can be a bit buggy and while the game world is very pretty, you can’t interact with much of it.
Look, but don’t touch.
These few criticisms aside, I think it’s a great first effort by Infamous Adventures. On their site they advertise their next remake, Space Quest 2, which I will definitely give a try, hoping that their previous experience will allow for an even better game.
Nostalgia isn’t just keeping the adventure gaming genre alive with remakes; it is also extending series that were thought to be finished. The game development group, Phoenix Online Studios (www.tsl-game.com), is currently working on The Silver Lining. Essentially, King’s Quest 9 (though they’re not allowed to call it that due to copyright issues with Vivendi Universal Inc.), the game will be released in three parts. Vivendi is allowing the production of TSL but only under the new game title. King Graham puts on his adventurer’s cap once more to pursue an evil magician who has cast a malevolent magic on his children.
As the game is free and developers are working on it without compensation, the project has been in the works for quite a while – seemingly stalled out for months at a time. The game’s website says that it’s scheduled for release in the summer of 2009, pending a review by Vivendi, which is the most definitive date I’ve seen listed yet. A demo of TSL was also recently released. The demo, while saliva-inducing to King’s Quest fans like me, is very rough. It has a lot of graphical issues, lip-syncing issues, and the voice acting is pretty bad. Plus there’s just not a lot of meat to the demo – there are no puzzles at all. I imagine, however, that wasn’t the intent behind the release. While not stated by its makers, I hope that the demo was made available just to show people that the game does exist and what the game will generally look like. In any case, I eagerly await the release of the full version and hope that the years it’s taken to come about just meant that they were taking their time to get it right.
Good story telling, interesting characters, and a mental workout will always have an appeal to a lot of the game playing population. With ever-advancing technology, the world of video games is constantly expanding. New genres are being created and old ideas blend into new concepts. While remakes and nostalgia-driven sequels help keep adventure gaming alive, the genre needs an infusion of new, good titles if it wants to move beyond the past and sustain the genre for the future. That said, if developers keep creating titles starring King Graham (and family), the Hero of Spielberg, or even Roger Wilco, I’ll keep playing them.