Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Adventure of the Week: King's Quest II (1985)

This week, we're playing Roberta Williams' King's Quest II: Romancing The Throne, sequel to the pioneering "3-D" animated adventure King's Quest.  The game was originally released in 1985; we're playing the slightly-updated 1987 version for the IBM PC, with EGA graphics support:

The game was created using Sierra's original Adventure Game Interpreter, which runs in half-resolution to save memory for the depth masking used to create the 3-D effect.  My first experience with KQ2 was with the 1985 version, on an IBM PC with CGA graphics, using dithering of the 4 available colors to approximate the intended look; the full 16 colors available in EGA look much, much nicer.  As with other Sierra AGI games, the keyboard interface is still very important -- we type our commands, although the animation means that many of them cannot be executed unless Graham is standing in the right spot.

As the story gets underway, now-King Graham is doing well as a ruler:

But he is a lonely monarch; a vision of a beautiful woman trapped in a tower appears in the future-foretelling magic mirror hanging on the wall, and, in a simply rendered but dramatic moment, Graham dons his adventurer's cap once again to venture forth in search of love.

King's Quest II bears many striking similarities to King's Quest I.  There are three sub-sections to complete in order to find keys to unlock three nested doors; the wraparound world map is sparsely-populated, dominated by trees, fields, mountains and beaches; and the random hazards and characters are almost exactly the same as in the first game.  With King Graham at large looking exactly like Sir Graham, this adventure feels more like an alternate version of the first story than a true sequel.

For new readers, let me point out that this series of blog posts attempts to document the noteworthy features of vintage adventure games, beginning to end.  So the following discussion will give away many of the game's surprises and story points.  If you plan to play King's Quest II yourself, you may wish to refrain from continuing beyond this point.  In other words...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

Roberta Williams uses fairy tale elements in many of her early games.  This time, we find Grandma's cottage early on, and randomly encounter either Grandma ailing in bed, or a fatally carnivorous wolf.  What I found interesting about this scenario is that there's a basket of goodies in the mailbox outside, but for some reason Grandma doesn't want them and instructs us to return them to Little Red Riding Hood.  When we do so, Red claims that somebody stole her basket of goodies and gives us a bouquet of flowers for our trouble.  Something about this family is either very strange or very confused; one doubts the goodies were stolen by a well-meaning thief and sent to the wrong Grandma.  But it's an adventure game, and such conflicts are par for the course.  A nice visual touch here is that Little Red's animation changes from a mopey walk to a bouncy skip after we give her the basket.

Religion in adventure games is usually treated perfunctorily, deus-ex-vending-machine style, and this one's no different.  We get a protective silver cross from the monastery by kneeling and PRAYing next to the monk.  The monk also turns up later to perform certain official duties.

Oddly, the game has no INVENTORY or TAKE INVENTORY command -- we have to use the Tab key to see Graham's possessions.

As in King's Quest I, there are hidden treasures in several places -- for example, a diamond brooch concealed within a hole in a rock -- and a randomly wandering dwarf who steals these goodies if he touches us.  At least in this game we can visit the dwarf's home when he's (randomly) away, and steal some (presumably second-hand) earrings from his treasure chest.

There are numerous ways to die -- we can drown in the poisoned lake, or fall into a chasm, or get taken out by the wolf, or Dracula, or Hagatha the cannibalistic witch, or the wandering enchanter (whose spell ends the game by turning Graham permanently into a frog.)  And there are tricky physical challenges again -- climbing up ladders and staircases at odd angles, Graham is prone to fatal falls.

Hagatha is very much like the witch in KQ1, but fortunately, she doesn't see as well.  We can enter her cave quietly to rescue a nightingale she has kidnapped -- but if we pick it up without covering its cage, it sings, alerting her, and we are treated to a recycled joke about how much she would "love to have you for dinner."

Thankfully, Ms. Williams does provide us with some clues this time around.  Each of the three magic doors has an inscription hinting at where the key may be found.  The first reads, "Whosoever chooses to seek the key for this door will undoubtedly make a splash."  Hint hint.

So off we go to explore the ocean -- the map is seemingly infinite, but we can swim too far out into the ocean, at which point the game tells us, "You are so far out to sea, you have no chance of ever getting back.  You can no longer swim."  But I discovered Graham's drowning animation would still allow him to struggle all the way back to shore, as long as I kept him moving.  The key is to meet the Mermaid, perched on a large rock; there may be other ways to solicit her help, but I gave her a treasure, and she summoned a large seahorse.  The creature takes us to see King Neptune, perched  upon his underwater throne:

We return his trident (assuming we picked it up from the beach) and are given a key and a bottle containing a cloth.  Opening the magic door, we are confronted with a second magic door, and a clue indicating that seekers of the second key should "set their sights high."

One area where KQ2 improves on KQ1 is that its structure keeps us from trying to solve problems too early.  The antique shop is closed initially, opening for business only after we have opened the first magic door.  The proprietress has an oil lamp for sale that costs us two treasures OR a successful rescue of her nightingale from Hagatha.  I got hung up for a bit after acquiring the lamp, but finally remembered Roberta's general approach -- if we find a lamp, we should perhaps think of the Arabian Nights more than Zork.  We have to RUB LAMP, at which point a genie appears and gives us a magic carpet.  We can then FLY CARPET to reach a mountain top, where a poisonous viper blocks the way.  We can actually rub the lamp three times; the second rub gives us a sword that efficiently dispatches the viper, the third a bridle that I never found a use for.

Wandering through the land, we may encounter a random fairy who gives us a temporary protective spell -- just like KQ1's fairy godmother -- but it does seem to last quite a while.

There's also a Scott Adams-style plug for another Sierra product built in -- if Graham happens to look into a hole on the mountaintop past the viper, he gets a fairly substantial non-interactive preview of Space Quest!

The inscription on the third door tells us we "must have a stout heart," which is fairly vague, but as we're running out of other areas to explore, implies it's time to see if we can get across the poison lake to the foreboding castle visible in its center.  Fortunately, there's now a boatman waiting there who can take us across, if we can beat the parser's unexpected stubbornness -- he's not FIGURE or BOATMAN, but FIEND, apparently.

This was the most frustrating part of the game for me -- maneuvering Graham past the dangerous thorns growing in front of the castle without making fatal contact with any of them was VERY difficult.  I failed utterly using the keyboard, and finally had to plug in a gamepad and inch through the thicket, saving frequently -- it took me a good twenty minutes to get past this single screen:

Having made it through the thorns, I was dismayed to encounter some scary-looking ghosts -- but fortunately I was wearing the silver cross from the monastery, which frightened them off.  Entering Dracula's castle, we find some twisty paths that make impressive use of the AGI 3-D technique as Graham carefully ascends the ramp:

After finding my way to Dracula's coffin, I was prepared to do away with him (though it's not strictly necessary.)  But while I thought I had my vampire slayer's kit all set to go, with a mallet and a stake, the game thought differently.  KILL DRACULA WITH STAKE does not work; nor does STAKE DRACULA; nor USE STAKE AND MALLET ON DRACULA.  A simple KILL DRACULA does the trick.  But we need to be quick about it -- if we don't kill him efficiently, he sees the cross we are wearing, transforms into a bat, and flies away.  Killing him lets us find an extra silver key, which opens a chest in one of the castle's towers with a tiara treasure inside.

We have to pass through the thorns AGAIN on the way out, but at least we don't have to pay the boatman for the return trip.

Having opened the third door, we enter a different world with psychedelic coloration:

We have to find a way across the hot pink ocean -- there's a fishing net on the beach, and if we cast it, we catch a golden fish.  LOOK FISH once it's been landed on the beach reveals that it's gasping and writhing in agony, and when we kindly toss the poor creature back into the ocean, it says, "In return for saving my life, I wish to offer you a ride across this ocean."  Which is much appreciated, and very handy; Graham is apparently of Machiavellian philosophy, or simply feels it would be impolite to mention that it was he who endangered its life in the first place.

We find an amulet on the island, which, Roberta Williams-style, has the magic word HOME written on it.  Inside the tower, we find more tricky stairs to navigate, encounter a lion at the top, and (in my playthrough, at least) give him some ham found in Dracula's castle to pacify him.

Past the door, Graham finally meets the girl from the magic mirror.  We weren't allowed to KISS MERMAID, but are able to KISS VALANICE to wrap things up.  King Graham is apparently a fast worker when it comes to the opposite sex:

This is probably my favorite scene in the whole game -- when Graham and Valanice marry, everyone's at the wedding.  The guest list even includes several characters whom Graham has previously murdered in cold blood, including Dracula and the Giant and Dragon from KQ1.  I guess everybody loves a royal wedding:

I had played through King's Quest II on my college roommate's computer, back when it was the new game on the block, and enjoyed revisiting it -- it's not notably better than King's Quest I, but nostalgia does have its attractions, and seeing it in proper 16-color EGA was a minor revelation.

Sometime soon, we'll take a look at King's Quest III, which finally takes the world of Daventry into new storytelling territory.


  1. I just love your Adventure of the Week posts. So many fond memories! Did you know that if you hang around outside Hagatha's cave a lot, you might see the batmobile drive out of it?

  2. Yes, I remember seeing that back in the day -- didn't hang around enough to see it on this playthrough. There are always little easter eggs like that in the Sierra games.

  3. So apparently if you use the bridle on the snake it turns into a MAGICAL FLYING HORSE that takes you across the effin' brambles of frustration. Who knew?

  4. Ah, so THAT's what the bridle is for! If only King Graham had kept it and passed it on to Rosella when she desperately needed one in KQ IV! :) Thanks for filling in this detail -- sometimes I research the gaps in my knowledge, sometimes I just let them remain part of my own experience of the game. Alternate solutions are interesting but not usually essential. Using the bridle on the viper is not something I would have thought to try!