Summer may be rapping up, but hot deals on video games sure aren’t going out of season, and the latest Humble Bundle should keep player’s thirst for classic games quenched.
Kings Quest is a series of games with a long history. Each installment gave players new ways to enjoy the universe and had a fresh take on what the series could offer.
1984 was the year the foundations of the adventure gaming genre were put into place by a parser-based game, designed by a woman, about a skinny hero named Sir Graham who had adventures with fairy tale tropes. That woman was Roberta Williams, and that game was King’s Quest.
Eight games and fifteen years later, the King’s Quest saga, and their publisher, Sierra, fizzled. Multiple attempts to continue the series have met the same fate. Then, a small company called The Odd Gentlemen approached Roberta Williams to get her blessing to re-imagine the series with an aged King Graham telling fables of his youthful adventures to his granddaughter Gwendolyn. Obviously Williams said yes, and the result is a magical, whimsical joy of a robust episodic fantasy game saga that was easily my favourite game of E3 2015.
Filled with multiple branching paths, big-name Hollywood voice acting, Zelda Williams in her first video game voice role, and tons of original music, King’s Quest redefines replay value by promising three different midpoints, three different endings, and a large number of different responses when examining or interacting with the same objects. For instance, there’s a horn that you can blow up to seventeen times and get a different bit of dialogue from the game every time. Influences include the film The Princess Bride and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld book series, which gives you a sense of both the humor and the visual marvels that the game footage shown and playable at E3 contained. The notable thing about the King’s Quest games is that their heroes and heroines are never the strongest, the fastest, or the most technically skilled. Their heroism comes from bravery, wits, and compassion.
King’s Quest also boasts a unique art style that was derived from printing out the 3D scenes and drawing over them by hand to create a storybook look. The result is both distinct and beautiful, even if the cape animations didn’t have all the bugs smoothed out yet. Both the art and sound rival the best gaming has to offer these days, if in a simpler, kinder, more whimsical package than we’re used to seeing and hearing.
And yes, King’s Quest‘s notorious puns are on full display, right down to the chapter titles. Chapter one, for instance, is subtitled “A Knight to Remember.” The homages to the original King’s Quest games are so plentiful that you probably won’t catch all of them on your first play-through, even if you’re a die-hard KQ fan like me. I missed one in the demo. I got the other four… or was it five? Even the developers themselves can’t keep track of all the nods to past games they’ve included.
Now that doesn’t mean that the game only appeals to old-timers like me. The player after me on the demo was a twenty-ish gent who had only passingly heard of King’s Quest. I gave him a few clues to solve the trickiest part of the demo puzzle, and he found the experience enjoyable just on the merits of the graphics, gameplay, and voice acting without the benefit of nostalgia.
The last major selling point is that these chapters aren’t the brief two-hour experiences we’ve come to expect from episodic games. While The Odd Gentlemen didn’t have a hard playtime number for us, we were assured that it would be significant. In other words, it’s well worth the cost, because for these devs, this game was clearly a labour of love that paid great respect for the legacy they were continuing. I believe King’s Quest is in phenomenally good hands, and I can’t wait to play the complete first chapter when it comes out in July.
Have you been excited about the prospect of a new Kings Quest being released? While the wait is almost over. The first chapter of the new Kings Quest will be hitting on July 28th. The game will be coming out for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC. Beyond this, you can also pre-order the full package for only 39.99.
It’s nice when a new installment of a long-running franchise is executed with self-awareness. It doesn’t get much longer-running than King’s Quest, the adventure game series that birthed a genre in 1984. Roberta Williams’s work on the original King’s Quest games not only brought graphics to adventure games; it also set out what would become some of the best practices for interactive storytelling.
It seems inevitable that any new additions to the franchise will be played primarily for nostalgia. So it’s fitting that their 2015 release will focus on the nature of memory and self-reflection, and how treasured stories are passed from one generation to the next.
In the forthcoming King’s Quest, you play the part of a young Sir Graham, as remembered by his future self, retelling the stories of his adventuring days to his granddaughter. Your choices in the game affect the kind of person you influence your granddaughter to be. Under her gaze, the stakes of your choices seem a little higher — a young girl is learning whether the patriarch of her family is a brave warrior or a cowardly fool, a pragmatic beast-slayer or a beacon of good.
The storytelling leaves itself open to multiple readings; perhaps you’re embellishing the story for her benefit, or perhaps the player really does determine what actually happened to Graham. The nature of how the game plays out makes it clear that older Graham is prone to going off the rails when telling his story: every time you choose a game-ending action that leads to young Graham’s demise, you hear older Graham narrate the death, either jokingly musing about the grisly fate that might have befallen him, or teasing his granddaughter by seeing if she’d fall for a clearly preposterous turn in the tale.
The story takes Graham on all kinds of heroic adventures; trying to trick a team of oafish knights, solving mechanical puzzles deep in an underground cave, and meeting an array of strange characters along the way. Graham also gets to try his hand at killing a dragon. Or — and this is the part where I get really interested — you can choose to NOT kill the dragon, and just get on with your life.
Take a moment to stand and watch The Odd Gentleman’s dragon carefully, and you’ll notice an animal in pain. Bound and shackled for an untold number of years, the dragon is tired, forlorn, and stressed. Graham’s story takes him ever upward, from squire to knight to king, intellect and luck allowing him to scrape through despite his clear physical weakness; the dragon, in contrast, is trapped in a dark, lonely place, despite obvious physical strength and wings that would have allowed flight. It’s tragic, and I was happy to hear that the option existed to take pity on the creature.
I have long had a problem with the overwhelming bloodlust with which games approach dragons. Often they are portrayed as intelligent creatures, with their own language and their own civilisation, who just want to protect their domain and keep their treasure. And yet it’s okay for us to kill them, because… they’re grouchy? Because they might kill someone some day? Given the death toll at the hands of your average videogame protagonist, I don’t think any of us can claim moral high ground over a dragon.
Dragons may seem scary, but I find them quite charming a lot of the time. I like their swagger. They have a fierce attitude, an enterprising spirit, and a sense of pride that I think makes them quite admirable. King’s Quest’s dragon is just one example of a character that the game portrays with curiosity and compassion.
The protagonist of King’s Quest stands in quiet contrast to the dragon’s bluster. An unassuming figure with awkward, gangly limbs and a habit of dying in the most comedic of circumstances, Graham is a bit of a buffoon. But he’s a handsome buffoon, with a good sense of humour and a lovely hat and cape. The animators at The Odd Gentleman have painstakingly created a loving interpretation of this decades-old character whose adventures date back to the start of graphical adventure gaming.
Will King’s Quest be game of the year material, based on what I saw in this demo? Probably not. Other adventure games will be released by other studios, with more cutting-edge storytelling and creatively constrained art direction. But The Odd Gentleman still look set to pleasantly surprise, bringing charming storytelling and great visual art to a project that could have easily been dull and predictable. Not every studio can claim to have treated their most famous franchise with this much care and consideration.
I suppose I should start by pointing out the fact adventure games never really left in the first place but there’s no denying that after their early popularity in the late 80s and early 90s that they went through a bit of a slow phase. In recent years, they’ve been brought to the forefront yet again with Telltale Games leading the charge. Telltale has long been involved in the adventure game business with Sam and Max, Jurassic Park and Back to the Future all getting the interactive story treatment. They really started to get things rolling with The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, both of which were very well received both critically and in sales. On the horizon that very same studio has Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones titles heading to market. Finally, at Gamescom, the gaming public found out that the masters of adventure games, Sierra Entertainment, is back on the map with a revived King’s Quest. Does all this activity point to the return of adventure games as one of the premier genres in the business? While that may be a stretch it certainly looks as if a resurgence of the once dominating genre is well in motion.
When Sierra Entertainment hit its stride back in the mid-80s it was responsible for many of the most loved games of its time. The list of beloved titles from Sierra is a long one with the aforementioned King’s Quest as well as Space Quest, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Quest for Glory and a personal childhood favourite The Adventures of Willy Beamish (criminally underrated I say, criminally!). Perhaps their most well-known and critically acclaimed title was Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father which itself is seeing a remake by Pinkerton Road Studios. You’d be hard pressed to find a gamer in the 30 plus range that didn’t play at least a couple of these games. If you’re a bit younger there’s a great chance you fell in love with Lucas Arts favorite The Secret of Monkey Island. Perhaps the nostalgia of it all is what’s leading the way for this new generation of adventure titles?[pullquote align=”right” class=”blue”]”In an era where story sometimes takes a backseat to shooting another player in the face it could be argued that the gaming market is starting to feel deprived of intriguing and well thought out storylines.”[/pullquote]
In an era where story sometimes takes a backseat to shooting another player in the face it could be argued that the gaming market is starting to feel deprived of intriguing and well thought out storylines. You can argue until your blue in the face but I will never be convinced the latest Battlefield 4 plot is anything but contrived and force fed. Luckily games like The Last of Us, Bioshock: Infinite and the Mass Effect series have helped fill the void but they still have that primary focus of first or third person shooting. A classic adventure game keeps the story and puts the focus on puzzle and problem solving. Sure it slows things down a bit but it can be a welcome reprieve from the high action of those other games. The point, however, is that when you look at a number of the highest praised games in recent years a good number of them feature amazing stories with characters you care about. No matter how much action you throw into a game it puts one thing in perspective; story matters.
Looking deeper into recent releases, it truly indicates that adventure games are in fact making a comeback. The games might have been there all this time but they’re once again starting to receive top tier recognition from fans. Even some AAA publishers are jumping on board. Although it wasn’t as well received as many might have hoped Square Enix’s Murdered: Soul Suspect had many classic adventure game elements. Double Fine’s Stacking includes many of those elements as well. Daedalic Entertainment sets a high bar with their Deponia series and on the horizon we’re even seeing 1987’s Shadowgate get the modern treatment. I could keep going for a while yet… Heavy Rain, The Whispered World, Dreamfall Chapters… It’s quite clear the genre is alive and kicking.
The appeal of the adventure game is hard to resist and with history as proof, a tried and true videogame success. With companies like Telltale adding modern twists on to classic elements the newest adventure games are better than ever before and poised to claim a spot among the most popular games of our time. In the new era of Kickstarter funded games and independent developers getting a chance to show gamers what they’ve got it’s only going to get better. Consider the fact that Telltale’s The Walking Dead garnered its own fair share of GotY awards from various outlets and on a much smaller budget than an average AAA title. Take that same budget via Kickstarter and put it in the hands of innovative young developers and watch the magic happen. Machinarium is another example of an imaginative adventure game on a tiny, near non-existent budget!
Further to the point that story is one of the most important pieces of a great game you could make a strong case that even if Naughty Dog’s masterpiece The Last of Us had been made on a beer budget that it’s story-telling elements would have shone through like a diamond in the rough. It would have been a success either way; the graphics are just the icing on an already delicious cake. What’s the cost of a good story? Well depending on who’s telling it, it doesn’t have to be much.
Ultimately it’s clear that on a small budget, with a great story and time tested gameplay mechanics that amazing adventure games can be made. People are taking notice and the resurgence is marching on at a strong pace. What games are you looking forward to? Better yet, which classic games would you like to see brought back to life? You never know, it just might happen.
Though Faster Than Light brought back the space-ship genre in 2012, Sierra Ops is throwing romance and narrative to the mix.
Coined as a “Space Sci-Fi “Action RPG”, Ops has you take control of Junius Fahrenheit, commander of the Sierra. The gameplay has players modifying your ship with various parts and weapons, and then going into battle. The action is top-down, much like FTL, with countless enemies to defeat.
Plot-wise the main story revolves around an inter-planetary war between an oppressed Mars and Earth. You are part of an Ops team coincidentally called Sierra Ops. There are also a host of characters besides Junius, some of which you can even romance. Much of the story takes place during dialogue sequences in battle, usually after players complete an objective. Developer Innomen Productions says “the player’s choices, battle performance, Sierra’s upgrades, and the time spent on completing objectives can affect the storyline’s direction and may change it drastically.”
How’s that for a twist?
Innomen Productions is hoping to get Ops out by the end of the year, and is currently funding on IndieGoGo. There is also a demo available for the game.