Post by KostaAndreadis @ 04:17pm 30/04/15 | Comments
Throwback Thursday is a weekly column here on Ausgamers where Kosta opens up the proverbial gaming industry attic, has a poke around, finds dusty copies of games from a different time – and plays them!
Watch Kosta point and click his way through this Sierra classic
The Game: King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!
The Year: 1990
The Developer: Sierra
The System: PC (DOS)
The graphic adventure game as we know it today began with the original King’s Quest in 1984. Before then the adventure game was a text-based affair, with detailed descriptions of the premise offered, sometimes an image, and always a cursor waiting for input. King’s Quest changed all that by being the first adventure game that put the protagonist up there, on the screen.
And by giving players the ability to move around and interact with an environment, King's Quest provided a ground-breaking gaming experience. Now being 1984, creator and Sierra co-founder Roberta Williams was able to do all this with the limited screen resolution of 160x120 pixels. Which is a pixel count so unfathomably low, that a kid today would probably have a better time trying to get a realistic picture of how big the Milky Way is than trying to conjure up a picture of the original King’s Quest.
"Forget about the Milky Way, have a Milkybar!"
From the very beginning the King’s Quest series was at the forefront of PC gaming technology. The fourth entry in the series, The Perils of Rosella, was not only one of the first major games to feature a female protagonist but also the first to utilise a sound card to present an accompanying musical score. That game, which first released in 1987, was a milestone for many reasons and arguably one of the better entries in the entire series. And although having a female protagonist didn’t require any sort of special technological breakthrough (as some modern developers would have you believe) it served as the basis for a clear narrative that made story and character as important as puzzles and location. Thanks in part to the wonderful music.
So when it came time for the fifth King’s Quest game, King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!, both Sierra and Roberta Williams knew that in order for the series to remain relevant they would have to keep pushing the medium forward. To have 256-colour VGA graphics in 1990, and then follow that up with a fully voiced CD-ROM edition was extremely rare. At this point in time the CD-ROM was very much a luxury item -- hardly the mass market peripheral it would become during the mid-‘90s.
The One Where Chandler and Rachel Learn How to E-Mail
In fact, there was general sentiment at the time, even within the walls of Sierra, about whether or not the CD-ROM could even become part of what makes up a home computer. You see, the anatomy of the Home Computer of 1990 was not dissimilar to something one might learn in a sex-education class. You had a Floppy Disk and a Hard Disk, and nine months later a program was installed.
Anyway this new VGA and CD-ROM technology helped push the adventure game as a genre forward. In terms of the interface, King’s Quest V would be the first Sierra title that could truly be called a point-and-click adventure. By not including a text-parser, and instead creating a set of context sensitive icons that would represent actions like walk, look, touch, talk, and use, Sierra would add a sense of accessibility to the series that would soon become the norm. Also the increased sizes of not only CDs but also Floppy and Hard Disks at the time meant a greater focus on animation.
So much so that every so often players would be interrupted with a ‘cartoon’ which was essentially a cinematic or cut-scene – two terms which had yet to become part of the gaming lexicon. In fact, by calling them cartoon sequences Sierra were acknowledging and embracing the feedback they had been receiving since 1984. And that was, that playing King’s Quest for a lot of people was like being in charge of your very own cartoon.
"Willow just leaf me alone please?"
So how does it stack up today? Well, there’s one other part of the King’s Quest legacy that should probably be talked about. And that is, their utter cruelty. And, something which became an intrinsic design element for many classic Sierra adventures. Take King’s Quest II for example, there’s this rickety bridge you need to keep crossing in order to go through a series of magical doors. In the end you need to cross this bridge like seven or eight times. But, if you happen to spend time exploring and cross it one more time than the bare minimum, it will collapse. Game over, and restart.
Also items, of lack thereof. Because some you can miss entirely and if you don’t have them later on you’ll be stuck and forced to reload an earlier save where they're still obtainable. Also you can die a lot, and usually from exploring and working out what you can and can’t interact with.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that even though King’s Quest V is definitely a more advanced game than the original, it’s still quite cruel. You could even call it overly cruel, perhaps randomly. There’s one section in particular where you come across a cat chasing a rat, which lasts about three or four seconds of screen time. A seemingly random occurrence that turns out to be a crucial part of completing the game. Turns out you need to save the rat by throwing an old shoe from your inventory at the cat. You need to do this because the rat will end up saving King Graham from being tied up and left to die later on in the game.
So this is a puzzle you need to observe, analyse, and solve within the space of three seconds. Because it will only happen once. If the rat dies, its game over. King Graham has no chance of crossing the ice mountain, saving his son from the evil wizard, and going home to Daventry. All because a rat dies. Albeit a friendly rat.
Hardly the tombstone befitting of a King
Playing King’s Quest V and it’s clear that it’s not as timeless as some LucasArts efforts from the same era. This doesn’t mean that it’s not a great game, it’s just that as a whole this rings true for many Sierra adventures. King’s Quest V is the sort of game where you need to save often, map out mazes to work out safe zones, reload saves whenever you die, and slowly make your way through the puzzles and story knowing full well that you’re probably going to reach a dead end after you ate what was just described as a delicious pie. And not from the old 'poison the King by the way of his food' variety, but in the way in which this delicious pie becomes the key to ridding an evil Yeti from a mysterious ice cave hours later. That is, by means of pie-in-the-face Three Stoogery.
Best Forgotten /A Trip Down Memory Lane / Timeless
Kosta Andreadis remembers a time when in order to get the best out of a console game you had to blow gently into it and whisper sweet nothings like "please work, I’m up to World 8-3, for fudgcicles sake". Situated in Melbourne, Kosta is a freelancer who enjoys playing RPGs, strategy, adventure, and action games. Apart from investing well over 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim he’s also an electronic musician with an album recently released.
Find him or follow him on Twitter - @toadovsky, Steam - toadovsky and Xbox Live - Toadovsky.