Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Adventure of the Week: King's Quest I (1990 remake)

Back in 1980, Ken and Roberta Williams added graphics to the traditional text adventure with the pioneering Apple II title, Mystery House.  In 1983, with IBM's encouragement, they brought the graphic adventure format another step forward with King's Quest for the PCJr., adding animated characters and simulated 3-D environments to the mix, and setting the technical standard for some years to come.

This week, we're going to tackle the 1990 remake of King's Quest, King's Quest I: Quest for the Crown, renumbered and subtitled to fit into what was then an expanding series (there's that George Lucas vibe again).  The original game ran on Sierra's Adventure Game Interpreter; the remake was completely rewritten to run on Sierra's SCI (Sierra Creative Interpreter) engine, which allowed forh EGA graphics, mouse support and a fuller, more orchestral musical score.  The AGI and early SCI games were still firmly rooted in text adventuring, however, with keyboard command entry and detailed text descriptions of environments, characters and items in response to LOOK and EXAMINE commands.

We'll see plenty of the earlier AGI technology in King's Quest II; as fewer people have played the remake of the first game, I thought it would make for a more interesting entry here.  (It's also the version that Universal Vivendi opted to include in the King's Quest Collection released a few years back; why they couldn't have included both versions with all that CD space to burn remains a mystery.)

One immediately visible difference from the AGI edition is that the introductory sequence in the new edition is conveniently set up as a non-interactive Introduction cartoon; in the original game, Sir Graham has to wander into the castle and talk to the king to set the story in motion.  The remake begins in the castle, as the King introduces himself at some length, then anachronistically proclaims, "But enough about me," and sets Graham's quest into motion:

We are required to cover three magical treasures -- a magic mirror that foretells the future, a magic shield that protects its bearer, and a magic treasure chest that is forever filled with gold.  Sir Graham is only too happy to help, of course; he's got the right hat for the job, and plenty of free time, apparently.

So off we go to create dangerous paradoxes, start a magical arms race, and destroy the economy with rampant inflation.  Ha ha -- just kidding! Williams' storytelling style assumes that magical treasures bring only good fortune and happiness to all.

With that said, be forewarned that dead giveaways lie ahead!

****** SPOILERS AHEAD *********

One aspect of modern graphic adventures that Sierra did not pioneer is the kinder, gentler approach to problem solving and player character self-preservation.  Sir Graham can die easily right off the bat -- all he has to do is walk out of the castle and straight down the screen, where he falls into the moat to be devoured by the resident serpent.

The game also preserves Williams' penchant for randomly appearing threats that can be avoided by leaving the room and coming back in again.  This game includes a sorcerer waiting to try out a paralysis spell (which is not actually fatal); an irate ogre; a thieving dwarf; and a witch.  A fairy godmother grants a temporary protection spell, which can be helpful, and there's a wandering elf who gives Graham a very useful invisibility ring.

The world of Daventry is relatively small, and the world map wraps around on itself.  I generally prefer the faster pace of the text adventure, but the deliberate animation and bucolic settings, generally full of trees and rocks, lend King's Quest a serene pacing that's quite pleasant at times.

Of course, there is violence in the story as well -- and it's not particularly heroic in my opinion.  The invisibility ring does not work in the witch's cottage, so Graham has a tricky challenge ahead in trying to sneak up behind her without being seen; it took me a good twenty minutes to pull this move off successfully.  Even so, Williams' tone here is a little too gleefully sadistic for my tastes, as Sir Graham takes the coward's approach to dealing with the witch.  Congratulations?  Really?

There are a number of hidden items which make some situations easier to deal with, but don't necessarily need to be found to complete the game.  Underneath one particular rock is a fine silver dagger (though I had to MOVE ROCK unsuccessfully in a lot of places to find it -- and moving it from the downstage side is fatal.)  There's a golden egg in a tall tree, with careful maneuvering required, although a fall here is not fatal (and doesn't even break the egg.) 

Of course, there's a bridge, so there must be a troll to block our crossing of it.  We can get past him temporarily by giving him a treasure, and consequently losing points.  This is not only costly, but hard to do, as we must GIVE GOLD EGG TO TROLL, and the parser won't stand for calling it a GOLDEN EGG or simply an EGG. A more point-worthy, permanent, and visually entertaining solution is to convince a neighboring goat to butt the troll into the river.

We also meet a starving woodcutter and his wife, traditional icons of fairy-tale poverty, who can be fobbed off for the moment with a carrot or cheese, costing us precious points.  We're better off waiting until we find a magical bowl, which, Roberta-style, has the word FILL written in it.  Following her cue, we SAY FILL and an infinite supply of stew materializes.  Unfortunately, the limitations of EGA graphics in rendering the woodcutter's "joyful" expression give the impression that Sir Graham has just delivered his version of The Aristocrats, starring the woodcutter's dead mother:

In Sierra's 3-D adventures, even though there's a parser involved, Sir Graham must be positioned fairly precisely in order to interact with items.  Near the well, finding the right spot to stand in to be able to LOWER BUCKET is a pain -- he has to stand upstage of the crank, but not too far upstage.

Williams is also fond of clues that are simultaneously painfully simplistic and irritatingly hard to recognize.  There's a note in the witch's cottage which reads, Sometimes it is wise to think backwards.  This tip comes in handy later on, when we meet a gnome who has been busily spinning straw into gold.  Challenged to come up with his name, I tried RUMPELSTILTSKIN and RUMPLESTILTSKIN to no avail, sure I was misspelling it; but then I remembered the note, and NIKSTLITSLEPMUR worked.

Williams' design does a good job of allowing for minor failures and alternative solutions.  The invisibility ring can be used a couple of times -- it disappears each time after it wears off, but the first time it goes back into Graham's pocket for a second use, providing a fair opportunity to learn how it works.  A successful answer to the gnome's riddle yields some magic beans, which planted in the right place provide a quick way to reach the Giant's home in the clouds.  Failure to answer the riddle after three tries yields fewer points but still grants Graham a key, which opens a door that allows us to get to the same place, after quite a bit of tricky maneuvering up treacherous stairs.  Not that it's much easier to climb the beanstalk: 

Fortunately, the SCI remake supports mouse control with auto-pathing, which allows us to click carefully through the tricky sections fairly reliably, instead of having to maneuver with the arrow keys or a joystick as in the AGI era.

Certain storytelling limitations are imposed by the graphical approach that were rarely an issue in the text-adventure format -- most notably here because Graham's invisibility-mode animation only covers walking on dry land.  If transparent Graham walks into water, he becomes visible again; the same happens if he gets paralyzed; and he mysteriously loses his ability to play the fiddle while invisible.

I had a hard time dealing with the Giant -- there was no reaction at all to THROW PEBBLES AT GIANT.  I tried turning invisible and killing him, but was unable to THROW DAGGER successfully, as it simply disappeared into the ether (it can only be used to kill the Dragon, as it turns out.)  A hint from the excellent Universal Hint System site informed me that patience was necessary -- not my strong suit, apparently -- as eventually the Giant tires of looking for invisible Sir Graham and goes to sleep, making his treasure chest easy pickings.
The UHS hint system also helped me find a pouch with some diamonds in it -- I could have sworn I looked in the stump where the treasure was concealed, but had only looked AT it.  It also pointed out that the walnuts sometimes have gold inside -- and the one I had picked up did.  Neither of these treasures is essential to finishing the game, but they do count for points.

I got stuck trying to reach the Dragon; I couldn't find any way to move the boulder, so an alternate route seemed to be in order.  I had discovered that I could climb into the bucket in the well, ride it down, swim in the water, and climb the rope back up, but had found no reason to do so.  SWIM DOWN didn't do anything interesting.  But UHS came to my rescue again -- DIVE worked, although swimming through the underwater maze is tricky and it's easy to drown Graham in the process.  Getting through the maze leads us to the Dragon's cave:

I used invisibility to snag the Dragon's magic mirror the first time, but I ultimately backtracked and killed the fire-breathing beast with the dagger instead, in order to save the ring's magic for dealing with the Giant.

At last I only had the leprechaun kingdom left to deal with.  Cheese from the witch's cottage got me past the giant rat guard, and after pointlessly playing the fiddle all over the map, hoping something magical would happen, I at last discovered that fiddle music sends leprechauns into an uncontrollable dancing frenzy that causes them to disappear in puffs of smoke:

Having vaporized the leprechauns with the power of music, Sir Graham confiscates the magic shield and returns to the castle with all three treasures in hand.

It seems a trifle too convenient that elderly King Edward almost immediately drops dead, lying crumpled on the ground without benefit of medical attention as Graham is immediately crowned the new King.  He is cheered into office by a cheerful but mindless group of royal courtiers, presumably happy with any ruler so long as the bon-bons keep flowing:


And that's that -- a fairy-tale ending to a fairy-tale adventure.

I enjoyed playing through King's Quest I, as random and simplistic as it is in many places.  Williams has a colorful imagination and a drive to push the state of interactive technology, but as a designer she's too often satisfied with letting the player poke around at random until something interesting happens; there's not much of a plot in her early games beyond finding the whatsits and claiming the reward.

When next we encounter King Graham, he will have regressed to AGI technology.  He will look considerably blockier and his world less audiovisually interesting.  But that's a subject for another post.


  1. This Rumplestiltskin solution was vastly preferable to the AGI version's requirement for "Ifnkovhgroghprm" -- re-encoding the name with a reversed alphabet.

  2. Apparently Ms. Williams decided to simplify that puzzle for the remake, based on her commentary in the King's Quest Collection manual. I agree, having to invert the alphabet itself would have been even more maddeningly difficult! At least in both games there was the alternate path to the giant's area, so it's not a fatal conundrum.

  3. the gnome's name isn't right in the tutorial above. the L and the E are misplaced.

  4. Whoops -- I clearly didn't remember which approach had finally worked. Thanks for the correction!