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Lagomorph 11-28-2010 12:25 PM

Lagomorph Plays Sierra Games
 


For many, many years I have been hearing of the legendary Sierra adventure games. Having grown up on LucasArts, the similarities between the games of the two companies have attracted me to Sierra, while at the same time, the differences that Sierra offers in their many deaths and infamous dead ends have only made me strangely more intrigued. I searched for these games for many years but was never able to find them at affordable prices. Now I have begun to acquire them and am finally ready to start on what will surely be a long and challenging quest.

In reviewing the games, I will be paying special attention to their context and their relation to each other. I will make comparisons in such areas as quality, difficulty, and perceived length.

Which game will I like most? Which series will I like most? Which game will be the hardest? Can Sierra games live up to the LucasArts games I grew up with and love? Stay tuned to find out the answers to these questions and more.

Lagomorph 11-28-2010 01:04 PM

King's Quest (1984)
 


King's Quest (1984)

Perhaps King’s Quest’s primitiveness is its major downfall, but for me it is also the game’s redeeming joy. Through the simple aesthetics and often frustrating gameplay, I find myself transported back to the era in which graphic adventures were born. Stripped of the cinematic elements that dominate new games, it is pure game.

Admittedly, the gameplay and puzzles don’t provide much satisfaction in terms of problem solving. But there is a satisfaction, at times ironic, in discovering how the genre’s first designers decided to craft a puzzle. I would find the difficulty of climbing stairs annoying in a game now, but here I can’t help but be amused. It’s as if watching a child take her first steps.

The writing of course is sparse and shallow. Yet it is interesting to see how an old narrative form such as the fairytale is merged with a new one such as the graphic adventure game. We see such parallels in film, where the first films often tried to adapt the narrative techniques of plays and novels. These early prototypes help us see what it is that separates new forms from old forms. One new thing that becomes apparent is the nonlinearity that adventure games offer. The game contains allusions to multiple fairytales, and those fairytales can arise in the game’s narrative in an order determined by the player. They can be interrupted and revisited and even be completed or left uncompleted to varying extents.

The graphics and music also promise new aesthetic possibilities. Some may shun the pixilation in old games, but I say it should be celebrated in the same way black and white photography and mosaics are. None perhaps offers the most “realistic” representation, but each offers us new ways to explore more personal and idiomatic representations of reality. Similarly, whenever the sounds of that PC speaker kick in, I fall instantly into a world like none other. When I play games I want to experience the unique things that they offer.

However, all of these things—these good things—still need refinement. Hopefully, future Sierra titles will offer me just that.

Additional Notes

It took me a long time to complete the game, but I did not find it overly difficult. Most of the difficulty comes through the finding of objects in the low-res environment and in the exactness that the parser demands. I did get some hints somewhat inadvertently. I found the layout of the world to be problematic. The fact that everything wraps around makes the world seem small and confining. It also makes it even harder to navigate.

Hardest puzzles:

Spoiler:
*Guessing the gnome’s name—though it’s optional, and I had heard part of the solution before I played
*Killing the giant—I knew what to do, but couldn’t figure how to type it
*Jumping on the eagle

Dead ends:

None encountered.

Best part:

Spoiler:
Climbing the beanstalk—well, it’s the most visually appealing anyway. I also loved anytime the screen shakes.

My final score (in the game): 112/158

needlefeast 11-28-2010 02:44 PM

Hi Lagomorph

You should be able to acquire most sierra games quite readily as they have been remade to work on xp. The only ones you may have difficulty getting are the gabriel knight series (the best ones incidentally) but you could still get them on ebay.

The first few kq games drove me crazy cos of the low res and how easy it was to die but I really enjoyed 5,6 and what I could play of 7 (there is a bug where it's impossible not to explode). I can't remember what number kq it was I think either 2 or 3 that I found quite tough especially as it starts off on a time limit.

I hope you enjoy your Sierra gaming adventures as they do have some really great games! Try the Leisure Suit Larry ones if you are craving a bit of humour. Good luck!

Lagomorph 11-28-2010 02:55 PM

Thanks for the reply, needlefeast. I currently own the collections for King's Quest, Space Quest, and Leisure Suit Larry. I've so far played at least one game from each and will be having the reviews up soon. I also picked up Gabriel Knight 3 at a thrift store, but I still need to get the first two.

Ascovel 11-28-2010 03:19 PM

I like your approach to games from another era, Lagomorph. I think you could also create a blog version of this thread. Your "journey" through Sierra titles has a very promising start.

needlefeast 11-28-2010 06:02 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Lagomorph (Post 564624)
I also picked up Gabriel Knight 3 at a thrift store, but I still need to get the first two.

GK1 will probably give you a massive headache if you pick up an original version as far as I know they have not made it windows compatible (don't ask me why). I ended up downloading it from somewhere and was able to play it no problem as longed as I changed my resolution.

What are you playing at the moment?

I think ascovel's idea is great as it's a trip down memory lane for seasoned sierraheads.

Tiocfaidh 11-29-2010 06:02 AM

Very promising thread !

I´m really looking forward to reading all your game reviews :9~

Lagomorph 11-29-2010 08:18 PM

A blog might be a good idea. I'm just not sure of the best way to go about it (like getting people to read it).

I'm currently playing KQ4, actually. I'll try to get the second review up tomorrow.

So far I have been able to get the games running with Dosbox. Many of the Sierra games are also now supported in ScummVM. Hopefully, I should be able to run them all between the two.

sierramindy 11-30-2010 02:09 PM

Hi Lagomorph,
I totally enjoyed seeing those three screenshots at the top of this thread. I am a really *old* Sierra fan having been there at the very beginning. So I recognize Lefty's from Leisure Suit Larry In the Land of the Lounge Lizard. The second screenshot is from Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter, I think, with Roger Wilco, Space Janitor standing by the spaceship. The third is the forest from King's Quest 4: The Perils of Rosella, which just happens to be one of my 3 all-time favorite adventure games. The other 2 are Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (played 6 times) and Syberia 1 and 2, which I played one after the other so it is like one big, terrific game to me. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane!

Lagomorph 12-01-2010 06:59 PM

Wow, it must have been something to play the Sierra games when they were new.

I still have to get to the Syberia games (own the first one). I agree that Fate of Atlantis is a great game.

Lagomorph 12-01-2010 07:12 PM

King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne (1985)
 


King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne (1985)

Well, here it is—the first Sierra sequel, and I suppose the first sequel in graphic adventure game history. Following the basic formula of the first game, King’s Quest II was an instant hit when it was released. Gradually, however, the game has earned the reputation among fans as the worst game in the series. It is criticized for not fixing any of the annoyances of the first game, and also for including too many disparate fantasy elements (Dracula, Neptune, and Little Red Riding Hood in the same game?).

Yet despite this status, I enjoyed King’s Quest II immensely. This game is like a camp classic. All the diverse references collide to create a pastiche that’s impossible to take seriously. The story is framed by a typical fantasy premise and filled-in almost entirely with other recognizable allusions. Musical clichés abound as well with Chopin’s funeral march returning from the first game (I love the inappropriate upbeat ending tacked onto the end) and Tchaikovsky’s “Love Theme” from Romeo and Juliet. One Easter egg even has the Batmobile roll out of a cave with music and everything. In entertainment value, it’s a definite improvement over the original.

A slight improvement is also made in the construction of the world. While the north and south directions still wrap around, the east and west are blocked off. This makes it a bit easier to navigate and also gives a bit more of a shape to the world, a world that seems a little more varied and interesting. However, the increased linearity removes a dimension of interactivity. On the other hand, the story has a marginally stronger thrust. The puzzles continue to mostly consist of retrieving objects. It is not a very hard game, and despite what Robert Williams says, it’s not much longer than the first one.

While aiming to be unoriginal by constantly alluding to preexisting material, King’s Quest II manages a spark of originality when its collage is seen as a whole. The juxtaposition brings new meanings to the material, adding some pleasantly absurd humor though perhaps lacking in substantial depth.

Additional Notes

Hardest puzzle:

Spoiler:
For some reason I never bothered to read the etchings on the door and wandered around for a long to time before looking up the solution. After that, I plowed through the game pretty easily. Getting past the ghosts was a difficult puzzle that I lucked out on. Again, at the end, I never bothered to look at the amulet and actually guessed the right command without it.

Dead ends:

Spoiler:
I knew about the infamous bridge dead end before playing, so I didn’t run into that one. However, I did hit a dead end by eating the meat and then forgetting to restore the game afterward (I figured it might be used for something).

Best part:

Spoiler:
Running from Dracula and then defeating him. The genie was also a hoot.

My final score (in the game): 161/185

Matan 12-01-2010 07:35 PM

I love your reviews of the games... really takes me back :)

King's Quest 2 was the first adventure game I ever played (back when I was 6 years old) so it has a really warm place in my heart. I didn't know it was considered the worst in the series... I think it was an improvement over King's Quest 1, and a bit more fun than King's Quest 3. I actually felt the added linearity was for the better (since, as you said, it helped give the game a more interesting story). But I generally prefer games that are more linear (and my two favorite Sierra games are SQ3 and SQ5 which are both very linear).

Lagomorph 12-01-2010 07:51 PM

Yes, linearity can be a mixed bag. I enjoy having greater freedom in exploring the world and accomplishing tasks. But once you've explored everything and get stuck, things can get boring fast. Like everything, it depends on how well it's done.

Tiocfaidh 12-02-2010 04:18 PM

Great review !

Have you played the VGA remake by AGDInteractive ?
It´s awesome, and that´s coming from a non-KQ-fan

Lagomorph 12-02-2010 07:03 PM

I have not played the AGDI remakes. I have been interested in them for awhile now, but have wanted to play the originals first. I'll probably review them here when I get to them.

Lagomorph 12-03-2010 08:58 PM

King’s Quest III: To Heir Is Human (1986)
 


King’s Quest III: To Heir Is Human (1986)

There’s a famous anecdote that when King's Quest III was released, Sierra initially received many complaints of how the game departed from the story of King Graham. What has always struck me about this anecdote is the revelation that fans cared so deeply about a one-dimensional character from something as simplistic as the first two King’s Quest games. Ironically, King’s Quest III offers a significant step in the direction of creating a more multi-dimensional world and doesn’t in fact make as serious a transgression as fans had initially presumed.

Though the plot remains pretty basic, for the first time something with originality is attempted. Gwydion’s struggle is more personal and unique than the more generic ones of Graham. What’s perhaps more important is how the gameplay and story become more closely intertwined. The addition of a time element represents an attempt to anchor interactivity to the linear nature of story. There are events that occur without the player’s doing. Mannanan’s unpredictable reappearances frustrate the player’s efforts, and not only add an element of realism, but also an element of tension and plot conflict. The player must battle an antagonist that acts (in some ways) like the player himself does. While this is more common in other genres, it is still rather rare for adventures.

Unfortunately, the real time element becomes less important as the game progresses. The game makes a somewhat awkward and underexplained transition and returns to the more traditional structure of its predecessors. I would have liked to see the end section fleshed out more, with perhaps the conflict tying back in some way to Mannanan and Gwydion’s origins. I think adding a real time element at the end would also have helped to create tension where it is needed most.

King’s Quest III takes major steps in shaping the King’s Quest universe into a unique one. Apart from the odd inclusion of the three bears, the game steers away from the direct adaptation of fairytales and instead contains characters that feel more at home with each other. The music this time is also mostly original. Graphically, the game is a major step up. The artwork is actually quite nice to look at in all its pixilated glory. Navigation is also drastically improved by the addition of the magic map that removes most of the tediousness of walking back and forth. We are also introduced to one of the best incorporations of copy protection that I’ve seen. The spells seamlessly fit in with the rest of the puzzles. The spells are also fun in how they allow the player to manipulate the game world in unusual ways.

King’s Quest III is a milestone of the genre and the best of the series thus far. Though it remains primitive in many ways, it holds up pretty well after 25 years.

Additional Notes

Hardest puzzle:
Spoiler:
Finding the key—Who would think of looking at the top of the wardrobe? It doesn’t even look like you can reach that high! Apart from this, the game was not too hard. I was stuck on the pirate ship for awhile until I realized you just had to wait.

Dead ends:

None encountered.

Best part:
Spoiler:
Learning the secrets of magic while escaping Mannanan’s detection

My final score (in the game): 195/210

Lagomorph 12-04-2010 11:57 AM

Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter (1986)
 


Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter (1986)

With Space Quest, the second quest series, Sierra began to develop a new sense of self-awareness. The numerous deaths start to become part of the humor. References across games become more common. One death even involves pushing a button that sends you to the castle in King’s Quest I.

Perhaps the best comparison point for Space Quest is its contemporary King’s Quest III. Both games use the AGI engine and are comparable in graphics and other qualities. On one hand, Space Quest can be seen as “King’s Quest in space.” But on the other, Space Quest takes the genre in new directions with its humor and parody. However, I don’t really think Space Quest is that much funnier than the early King’s Quests. Space Quest certainly aims for more humor, but I must admit to finding the antiquated idiosyncrasies of the King’s Quest series to be equally, if not more, humorous. Nonetheless, the spirit of parody is a welcome addition to the genre.

Another point of departure is the structure of the world. Exploration wise, Space Quest is a more linear game. Once you leave a main area, you don’t return. This provides for more variety in the locales and also eliminates much of the dead space found in the King’s Quest games, where there are “dead” screens that offer limited interactivity but which must be crossed again and again. The side effect is that it develops one of Sierra’s most controversial characteristics: an abundance of dead ends. Space Quest I has a number of dead ends that are easy to get into. However, you generally realize it once you get in one. Personally, I kind of just brushed them off as an amusing quirk.

Graphically, Space Quest doesn’t quite rise to the artistic level of King’s Quest III. Frankly, many of screens in Space Quest are a bit drab and ugly. There also seems to be less music (with the exception of the wonderful bar scene). The atmosphere overall is a little lacking.

Space Quest I
is the easiest game up to this point, though there is one object that is very hard to find. The necessity of playing the slot machine is also rather annoying. I believe this is also the first Sierra adventure to incorporate an arcade sequence (the skimmer). I found the sequence to be a welcome diversion, but I understand that many consider it frustrating. The game is around the same length as King’s Quest III, which is short by later standards but which I think is fine for what it is.

Space Quest I isn’t the most compelling start, but there is enough potential there to make me eager to see what the rest of the series can do.

Hardest puzzle:
Spoiler:
Finding the piece of glass—You can’t see it in the original. I had to play part of the remake to solve this puzzle.

Dead ends:
Spoiler:
Entering the caves before getting the glass. Leaving the key in the skimmer. Not getting the jetpack. Not getting the grenades (you only have one chance). I may have encountered more that I don’t remember.

Best part:
Spoiler:
Defeating the spider and the monster at the same time. The King’s Quest Easter egg.

Worst part:
Spoiler:
Slot machine—so tedious.

My final score: 193/202

needlefeast 12-08-2010 05:41 PM

I remember that KQ3 when you leave the castle there is a cliff you have to walk down, I had so much trouble doing that I always fell off :(

Lagomorph 12-10-2010 08:13 AM

Yeah, there's one part on the cliff where you have to walk behind some rocks, and you can't see where you're going. And you can't skip the cliffs with the magic map going up (you can going down).

Lagomorph 12-10-2010 03:52 PM

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (1987)
 


Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (1987)

Despite all of their technical and design innovations, Sierra games up until this point all met a certain limitation. They all took place in some far off fantasy world and involved epic quests in pursuit of some grand objective. That’s when Sierra got an inspired idea. Remake the game Softporn into a humorous graphic adventure set in the real world with a fairly ordinary objective—to get laid.

Leisure Suit Larry is a rather brilliant game for its time and may have been one of the key games in bringing about the golden age of adventure games (which is roughly 1987-1994 in my mind). Compared to the earlier King’s Quest and Space Quest protagonists, Larry Laffer is a much more fleshed out character who we can sympathize with. Larry also helps make the game funnier than any of its Sierra predecessors.

The graphics of Larry 1 generally aren’t anything special, perhaps even a step down from its contemporaries. However, it does contain some wonderful close-ups, a first for Sierra, I believe. These are important to conveying the beauty of the women that Larry pursues. Without them, much of the motivation would be lost. The sound, though minimal, is very good. The main musical theme is among the most iconic in adventure history.

The game is pretty short and easy, but that only plays into the game’s less ambitious appeal. I understand that Larry 1 was the first adventure game many people played (it was my first Sierra game when I played it a year ago). It probably would make the best entry point into Sierra’s AGI period. The puzzle’s are pretty straightforward and the dead ends less numerous than in other games. There is one major annoyance that returns from Space Quest I: gambling. You need to make money at a casino which requires constant saving and restoring.

Leisure Suit Larry is the most original idea Sierra has had yet. I can’t wait to how this series evolves.

Additional Notes

Hardest puzzle:
Spoiler:
Finding the wine—Being my first Sierra game, I wasn’t aware that you had too look at each spot. Now I know better. Overall though, it’s perhaps Sierra’s easiest game thus far.

Dead ends:

None that I can remember.

Best part:
Spoiler:
Buying the condom. Getting in the bathtub with Eve.

Worst part:

Gambling.

My final score: 197/222


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