A quick note: I’m not slipping already, I was travelling this past weekend. I’ll be back with the next video game post this coming Friday.
King’s Quest I is a weird game. Not that I was expecting it to be otherwise, I suppose; a big attraction to going back and finally playing the King’s Quest games was to look at adventure games as they evolved through the 1980s and 1990s, despite the rather perverse nature of said evolution drawing the genre closer to death rather than further away from it, and recollecting my own experiences with the series.
Roberta Williams’ adventure games about a man called Sir Graham, his various progeny and the kingdom(s) they inhabit mean a lot to me. My first experience with video games came sitting beside my dad as we played the games together. I marveled at my father’s ability to figure out the various puzzles, my eventual discovery of the official Sierra hint book covered in magic highlighter reveals notwithstanding. I first learned to type on a computer at a decent speed playing the first three King’s Quest games and become acquainted with function keys for the first time. F3 repeats the last line of text. Various other function keys (in later games) save, load and the like. I even got the hang of basic DOS commands by figuring out how to load the games myself when my father was at work.
So yes, the Sierra adventure games genuinely hold a special place in my heart. It’s a well-worn phrase, but I do care about these games quite a bit. I’ll never have quite the same personal connection with the classic LucasArts adventure games for example.
But man, King’s Quest I is weird. I sat down after a few minutes and took note of the various ways that poor Graham had died.
Walked into moat by accident within seconds of game starting, eaten by moat serpent.
Attempt to dive into lake thwarted by… gravity, I think.
Snatched by enormous bird.
Chased down by sorcerer and frozen in place. Then killed by ogre.
Turned into confectionary by witch from Hansel & Gretel.
I vaguely remembered the games (and the early games in particular) in this series being arbitrary. A timed opening section to King’s Quest III is particularly memorable and to this day I’m not comfortable playing a video game on PC if I can’t save every three or four minutes. Not to mention the need in Sierra games to effectively stagger your save games in case an ogre/king/goblin/leprechaun/fairy asks you for that innocuous item present earlier in the game but no longer accessible. Then, of course, you have the text entry model for the first few games. I was actually looking forward to using it though I was concerned at how finicky text input would get. Imprecise memories of having trouble using the right combination of words to open a door proved to be faulty however. I didn’t have many issues with using text input exclusively. I even typed actions such as “duck” and “jump” despite *gasp* there being an option to use a function key for these specific actions.*
*I have no idea why. I only actually needed to jump once and there was no ducking. But hey. Technology.
So yes. Weirdness. Ultimately though, I really enjoyed King’s Quest I. I had been a bit worried. Sure, I thought, nostalgia will get me through a game or two, but how am I going to get through the next six games if that’s all they have going for them? It ended up not being so. King’s Quest I is a fun game. It seems rather simplistic not just in technology but in theme, but there’s a lot of fun to be had. Trolls over bridges, a witch in a house made of candy, a goblin weaving gold: the clichés abound but King’s Quest I gets away with it. The game frequently hits a pitch at homage rather than simple theft. I suppose it’s possible I’m being too kind to the game, but it hit a nice level for me and by the end of the game the weirdness had become a bonus. What’s the deal with the dwarf thief that basically breaks your game if you haven’t located a magic ring yet? Did I get the magic mirror too early in the first place? It felt like I got there very early, and I completely fluked it thanks to a spell cast upon my character by a fairy godmother I didn’t see again for the rest of the game. The king that had promised the protagonist a just reward for locating the kingdom’s lost treasures collapsed prostrate in front of his own throne, his death granting Sir Graham’s ascent to power. I mean, it’s odd.
This is more an effect of playing the game in 2013 I think, than anything in the design of the game itself. In that sense I am guilty of filtering my enjoyment of the game through nostalgia after all, or at least a hipsterish skewed view of the game that seeks the status of a hidden treasure from the outset. Well, I’ll cop to the former but not the latter. In its own way, the game truly does stand up: this is a classic not just because it was a pioneer in the genre or because it pushed video game graphics of the time. Roberta Williams struck on something fundamentally impressive here, with a gameworld that could so easily have skewed generic but instead successfully evokes faery tales from Western literature to flesh out its own atmosphere. I’m rather looking forward to the next few King’s Quest games now. Thank God for that.
Next up: The Longest Journey!