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Fan-made sequels: An Interview with Tierra Entertainment

Imagine that you’re suddenly ten years old again, and you’ve just loaded up a brand new game called King’s Quest. The graphics? Amazing. The gameplay? Unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. The story? It’s the stuff of legends. Well, now you don’t have to imagine anymore, because a new group of game developers calling themselves Tierra Entertainment have breathed new life into the classic Sierra adventure games of old. And they’ve started at the beginning, recreating scene-by-scene the original King’s Quest in full VGA glory.

Who, or what, is Tierra? We went straight to the source and talked with the company’s “anonymous game developers” and two of their co-creators--writer Cadbury Wookie and musician Tom Lewandowski of QuestStudios--to see what we could learn about the King’s Quest and King’s Quest 2 remakes, the in-development remake of Quest for Glory 2, and another secret project currently in development. We think you’ll like the results. So sit back, relax, and get ready to discover what lies ahead for the classic games you thought you knew like the back of your hand.

Who are these guys, anyway?

You’re known as the anonymous game developers, and your real names remain a mystery. Is there anything that you can reveal about yourselves?

ANONYMOUS GAME DEVELOPER # 1: Classified information, I say. No, seriously, we usually don't like to give away such detailed information, as it goes against our purpose of releasing these games for a cause rather than for recognition. But, I think it's only fair that we let out a little information here or there to keep curiosity from killing off the fans!

I am a female from the Southwest, currently living on the West Coast after having spent the past few years in Europe working at an Internet startup company that I co-founded. I've returned to college in an attempt to give myself more free time to work on games, as well as pick up more art-related skills for game making. Lately, my life has been filled with game making, enhancing my game-making skills, more game making, and a lot of talk about games.

ANONYMOUS GAME DEVELOPER # 2: I am a nobody. I spend all day chained to the wall of a damp underground cellar in filthy living conditions, wearing little more than rags, while rats run across the floor and gnaw at my bare ankles. No sunlight penetrates my living quarters, so I spend my life wasting away down here, tirelessly scripting the games in near-darkness, eating only meager scraps, and surviving on less than an hour's sleep per night.

Well OK, OK, fair enough, the part about the cellar and the chains is pretty far-fetched—but the rest is pretty much true. When I'm not scripting the Tierra games or making animations for them, I'm usually doing something else related to the games. But on the very rare chance that I'm not working on the games at all, you might find me desperately trying to land a part in some cheesy TV soap or TV advertisement that I'll only end up severely regretting later in life. I live in Melbourne, Australia.

Is there any special meaning behind the name Tierra other than the obvious parallel to Sierra?

AGD#1: Strangely, the answer is yes! It was actually chosen for a few separate reasons that all coincided with one another. While making the official Tierra website, I realized we needed a name. I thought back to the various unusual words I knew of, seeing if any would make a good title for a game company. I immediately ran into "Tierra," the name of a mythical land that I'd created and written about as a kid. In Spanish, it meant Earth, hence the world logo.

I was pretty stunned when I realized it was so close to Sierra, making it the perfect choice, as T comes after S, just like Tierra coming after Sierra. Secondly, it was a pretty good choice at the time, since we were making a parody [called RoyalQuest, which Tierra has since canceled]. Interestingly enough, we've heard of previous Sierra workers that had at one time actually toyed with the idea of starting their own game company. What title do you reckon they ruminated over? Tierra!

Other than the games you've already announced, is there any one game or series that gets the most requests to receive the Tierra remake treatment? And do these requests weigh heavily in your decision to remake or not remake a game?

AGD#1: I would say that Laura Bow gets mentioned quite often. This is surprising to me, since most of us on the game development team have never played the game all the way through, and we are some of the biggest fans of Sierra adventure games! We also hear a lot of requests for Space Quest remakes (we got spammed one time by the whole Space Quest community!), as well as a Quest for Glory 2 remake, even though we're already in the middle of that!

Yes, I would definitely say that these requests can influence our choices. Although, it still takes a long time to make these games, so a request often can't be fulfilled for quite some time.

Next: The return of the King

The return of the King

Your VGA remake of King’s Quest hit every detail just right. Can you walk me through the process of remaking that game? Did you have to play the original King’s Quest a hundred times and try every possible combination of actions to see the results, or was there an easier way?

AGD#1: We're glad you think so! It was really quite a task. We divided tasks for the game, each having a certain amount of work to do, and made a huge effort to keep each other motivated the whole way through. We would somewhat make a game out of completing animations, sending them to one another, running back, doing a background--just seeing how much we could accomplish per day. It was a bit difficult, though, being on different sides of the world in completely different time zones!

We did all of the backgrounds first, using screenshots from the original game as a guide to get all the backgrounds correct. I created all the dialogue pictures while on a train ride to Austria. AGD#2 had a book on King’s Quest that included every little detail you could ever imagine on the game; that was a great resource for figuring out scoring issues, and all the combinations of actions, etc.

Much of the game-making process was really tedious, but also an amazing experience. For instance, it took days for AGD#2 just to type in ALL the background comments for the game by hand. It took us months to animate the few characters that were in the game. The things that we thought would take the most time took the least, and vise versa. The good news is that, over time, we've become much more efficient, and can complete much more in a comparatively tiny amount of time.

Is the King’s Quest VGA remake your first completed adventure game?

AGD#1: Yes! We'd previously worked on one where we'd had no control over the outcome, which is still going but won't likely see an end anytime soon. Our first attempt at game making where we actually had full control was successful! And now, with our team expanding, it looks like our slightly larger group project will be successful as well. This is really exciting for us, as our next game is huge—a bigger undertaking than probably any fan project has attempted, and it's also very original. It's true that you must be motivated to complete a game. But most people also forget that motivation alone won't finish it—you also need to put in a hell of a lot of hard work as well.

What did you learn from making this game that has helped you in working on King’s Quest 2 and Quest for Glory 2?

AGD#1: Basically everything. From digital artwork, to scripting, to what makes good game design, to communicating with team members, to converting files. How to make games fast, efficiently, and well.

If you continue to do remakes, do you see yourselves only doing classic Sierra games or perhaps turning to other companies' games as well?

AGD#1: We have quite a few Sierra games up our sleeves that we would like to remake. But, we won't eliminate the possibility of making remakes of games from other companies. We just want to bring back the good old adventure games. Sierra had a lot of them, but they weren't the only ones.

King’s Quest 2: Romancing the Stones

In the King’s Quest VGA remake, you stayed very close to the design of the original. One of the more exciting things about your King’s Quest 2 VGA project is that you're apparently changing some things around—including the title. [The remake is subtitled "Romancing the Stones," in contrast to the original's "Romancing the Throne.] What was it about the original King’s Quest 2 that you felt needed to be changed?

AGD#1: Everybody has differing views on this topic. Some people loved King’s Quest 2, and some people thought it was below the quality that it could have been. I personally liked it. But, a lot of the puzzles were rather illogical, and people were just randomly scattered throughout the land of Kolyma. After reading [Tierra contributor] Cadbury Wookie's ideas for a story, we realized that King’s Quest 2 could be turned into a much more complex game, almost on the level of the Quest for Glory games or King’s Quest 6. We wanted more history, more logical puzzles, more interaction with the characters, and overall more fun and better game play for the players. We want it to be a memorable experience, standing out along with the better games of the King's Quest series.

CADBURY WOOKIE: I felt that the basic story outline had merit. However, a skeleton needs a body. I tried to give the game more depth, and more purpose. Each of the three main quests have been expanded. Characters have been explored. Plot twists and sub-plots have been added. Certain elements have been altered a tad. And there is an additional and original--not to mention important--general thread running through the game. Always leave yourself open to a sequel. Also, you'll know I didn't like something from the original game if you can't find it in this one!

Next: favorite King's Quest moments...

One of my favorite moments of the original King’s Quest 2, and I can recall this vividly even though it's been at least 10 years since I've played it, is sneaking around Dracula's castle. What are you personal favorite parts of the game?

AGD#1: Oh, I have a feeling you'll like the atmosphere created in the Dracula scene in the game this time around. I remember that feeling as well! For some reason, I really loved this game, and have a lot of fond memories of it. It was a very long time ago, though, so only small snippets of thoughts stand out in my mind here and there. Things that come to mind are seeing the mermaid on the rock, diving to see Neptune, finding the pearl bracelet, trying to get around that poisonous river, meeting Dracula, and finding that strange door standing up in the middle of nowhere. I just loved the overall feeling of the game. It wasn't my very favorite one in the series, yet it had a unique feel to it that makes it one of my top choices.

AGD#2: My favorite part was probably Dracula's castle too, although I was a latecomer to King’s Quest 2. I didn't actually play the game until 1994.

CW: To this day I still love the strange world in which Graham finds himself, after entering that weird door: The realm with the tower in it. We've faithfully recreated it in the new game, which is accompanied by some absolutely spellbinding music.

How much longer (in terms of rooms, puzzles, etc.) will your VGA remake be than the original? Can you offer some hints about what you will be

expanding or deleting?

AGD#1: Oh, this game is just huge. And so much of it is original. I wish you could hear the soundtrack. It's really improved from the bleeps of the '80s! I can't quite remember how many rooms the original had, but our version has well over 100. The puzzles are much more complicated, and have a purpose. No more just picking random things up off the ground.

We have some new characters in our game too. All the characters have a history, and know about the other characters in the land. You can learn more about the land of Kolyma and its people, and interact with characters on a much more personal level. We have many more unique background descriptions as well.

We also have several scenes with close-up shots of characters in action, and the music is timed to certain scenes. With Wookie using his whip to get us working to make the game just as he imagines it, it's almost becoming like a theater piece--a complete work of art! It's really a colossal undertaking, but I think that people will be happy with the results.

CW: The game has about 140 backgrounds (a good chunk of them being original), over 20 speaking characters, and a soundtrack that will be in the vicinity of two hours when it's completed. I never deleted anything in the story without at least replacing it with something else. So you're not losing out in this game. The whole experience might end up feeling a little different, and will definitely be a great deal longer, but it's still recognizably King’s Quest 2.

How far along are you in the game production process? Do you have a target completion date? Will the finished game also feature the same voice acting and music as your original King’s Quest VGA remake?

AGD#1: We are quite far along, but still a bit away. The beta testing process of this game will most likely take much longer than the King’s Quest VGA remake due to its size, and the fact that no-one will know how to make it all the way through, with maximum points, on their first shot! We've got almost every background picture completed, the large majority of the music as well as the dialogue pictures. Scripting is about 85% done. The thing that's holding us back at the moment is mainly animations, which we plan on jumping into very soon.

We wanted to get the whole game roughly scripted, like the Sierra programmers used to do it, and then add the animations afterwards. We hope to have a rough version of the game by May, and then work further from there. It will take a lot of effort though. As for voice acting, we most likely won't be including this due to the immense amount of dialogue that will be in the game, and also due to the fact that several scenes are precisely timed to the music and using voices here would desynchronize everything.

As for music, the entire soundtrack is original, and has been composed by Tom and Dianne Lewandowski of QuestStudios. It's incredible. I listen to these songs all the time while I'm working. In fact, one of them has become one of my favorite songs of all time. I must admit, if I downloaded the game as a fan, I would be asking for a CD of the soundtrack afterwards!

Approximately how much time do you spend on the project per week?

AGD#1: We take our jobs very seriously, as if we were working for a professional game company being compensated with a nice salary. I personally work every possible second I can on making games. Every spare second I DON'T have, I try to help other people out who are making games! I personally put in several hours a day. If we all didn't do this, no games would be done. You have to think realistically. Why put in two hours a week, if it would take 50 years to create one game? Nobody can stay motivated that long, technology won't stay put for that long, and fans would kick "you know what" if you made them wait that long!

So, we firmly believe that if you are serious about completing a game, and advertise it as something that will be released, you have the obligation to dedicate a large amount of your time to that game, even if you would prefer to go and do something a little less intensive at times.

CW: I spent three months using my (cough, cough) spare time to write the revised storyline. An additional month was dedicated to converting it to a screenplay. Early in the new year, I decided to stop altering the screenplay and allow it to stand up to the rigors of scripting. Now, every so often, I find "small" things to write for the game like the game manual, for example.

TOM LEWANDOWSKI: If I could, I'd spend all my waking hours working on the music for King’s Quest 2. But a full-time job and my family prevent that from happening. I do manage to put in a good 25-30 hours a week at composing, recording, editing, and providing samples and ideas to the Wookie and AGDs, though. And when I'm not physically recording music, I'm often composing in my head and taking notes for later.

Do you find working on remakes creatively rewarding?

AGD#1: Yes, very much so! Many people have made snide remarks about our work being uncreative. But this is simply not the case. It's such an incredible experience, being able to recreate something that you've come to love, and have so much good feelings for, in your own way, and through your own eyes. You feel the need to keep it faithful to the original, yet you can add all the things that you've always felt would be really neat to be in the game. I personally find nothing more rewarding than working on dialogue pictures of characters that I've come to know from the previous games. It gives you just a slight glimpse into what the feeling might have been like working alongside the original Sierra crew!

Most artists I know paint pictures from a photograph. Most people still consider that making art. I feel as if we are painting, but based on an experience. We were all there, in the various lands of the King’s Quest games, during our childhood. And now as adults, we get to recreate them as we once saw them. It's really a rewarding feeling.

AGD#2: I find it personally rewarding in the sense that it's a great feeling to see the project all coming together and seeing it actually resemble a classic Sierra game--progressing through the stages of its development towards completion! It's also rewarding getting so many emails from fans who really enjoyed the game and are ecstatic that they will finally get to play remakes of classic games that they never thought they'd have the chance of playing in VGA.

CW: Immensely rewarding! I haven't had this much fun writing since I wrote the "Future's History" Space Quest fan novel.

TL: King’s Quest 2 has been the most exciting project I've ever worked on! There's so much to it, such a variety of emotional twists, that I've had a chance to challenge my own musical limitations to the max. Though I have to say, working alongside such talented and dedicated people has been the catalyst for my excitement. I've worked with many teams in my life, but the Wookie and AGDs have kept this project alive and exciting from the start.

Do you see your remakes as a way to build a name and a following before turning to an original project?

AGD#1: We'd actually never thought of this. Our original goal was to make one game: [A King’s Quest parody called] Royal Quest. Along the way, we realized how much we loved these adventure games, and wanted to make our ultimate goal to bring them back. We didn't feel it was right that we were told to take a hike and forget game playing altogether if we didn't want to play the most popular 3D shooter games that are made by most "jump on the bandwagon" companies today.

From the immense success of King’s Quest VGA, we realized, there were tons of other people out there who loved these games as much as we did, and we decided to continue with our campaign to bring back adventure games. Over time, we've gotten massive amounts of emails from people asking about original games. Although we have our hands full with other projects right now, it is a potential option, as it would allow us to continue making games into the distant future. (It's actually cost us thousands of dollars to keep everything running, and although we're glad to support our cause, it does become difficult at times!) Also, it would allow players to play entirely original, yet nostalgic, adventure games.

Next: So you want to remake a hero?

So you want to remake a hero?

A lot of people (myself included) consider Quest for Glory 2 one of the jewels in Sierra's adventure game crown. It's also a much more sophisticated game that King’s Quest and King’s Quest 2. Is it a lot more difficult to remake this game than those games?

AGD#1: Yes, in the sense that there are character stats, skill building and three separate character classes to keep track of with the programming. However, we've started to get this--the most difficult part--out of the way already, so that once we finish King’s Quest 2, we'll have the biggest hurdles of Quest for Glory 2 over and done with, and only the "easy" bits remaining. ("Easy" meaning the rest of the actual game!)

Are you making the same kind of major changes to Quest for Glory as you are with King’s Quest 2? Why or why not?

AGD#1: No, Quest for Glory 2 is a relatively complex game already. King’s Quest 2, on the other hand, is a very simple game, which, when it was made in 1985, was more or less used as a training ground for new artists and programmers at Sierra to cut their teeth on, and learn the ropes of the AGI engine. As a result, King’s Quest 2 always seemed to be the odd game out in the King’s Quest series, being the only game in the series to remain AGI without having a complex plot.

Given Roberta Williams' usual standards for high quality and big budgets, we felt that King’s Quest 2 also deserved similar treatment. However, Quest for Glory 2--as you so eloquently put it--is already one of the jewels in Sierra's adventure game crown, and is already up there with the best in terms of plot and features. So, nope, no major plot changes for Quest for Glory 2 VGA. It's just the graphics and interface we'll be updating.

What prompted you to turn your attention to Quest for Glory over other remake candidates like the Space Quest or Leisure Suit Larry games?

AGD#2: I actually started making Quest for Glory 2 even before we started on Royal Quest or King's Quest VGA. I was just messing around, experimenting with Adventure Game Studio one day and I thought, "Wow, wouldn't it be cool to make a few screens from Quest for Glory 2, just to see how it would look as a VGA game?" So that's exactly what I did. After a while, I really got into it, and finished up a whole bunch of backgrounds from the game. Then I met ADG1, and showed my progress to her. She told me about Royal Quest and suggested that we try making it. I agreed and put Quest for Glory 2 on the backburner, and the rest is now history!

So, Quest for Glory 2 is taking precedence over other Sierra titles for two reasons. First, because it's my favorite game, and second, because it was originally first on the priority list and it's now long overdue! The limitations of AGS were also holding us back and preventing us from progressing on Quest for Glory 2 VGA for a while, but now the engine has enough features in it for us to successfully finish scripting the game.

Will players be able to import characters from Sierra's original and remade Quest for Glory into your Quest for Glory 2 remake? Will they be able to export characters from your game into Quest for Glory 3?

AGD#2: Yes, yes, and yes!

Will the infamous X-Ray Glasses Easter Egg be a part of your remake?

AGD#2: Of course. Tierra has always been the subject of controversy, after all. Why stop now?

I have so many favorite moments from Quest for Glory 2. What are some of yours?

AGD#2: To me, this was the Quest for Glory game that made you feel the most like a hero. Everything was done perfectly, from the way merchants greeted you and praised you, to the amazing sequence at the end of the game! It literally brought tears of pride to my eyes upon finishing the game!

Not only that, but the EGA games had many more character animations, since animations were cheaper for Sierra to make for the older EGA games. Animations such as people randomly walking around the towns, or characters getting up and following the hero around, became more scarce in the later VGA Quest for Glory games, due to the fact that such animations became more expensive to produce, and the fact that the budget had to be spent on other more important things.

As a result we saw things like the farmers in Mordavia [in Quest for Glory 4] standing around, but not doing much of anything else, and other characters like Igor the gravedigger only having specialized walking animations for the south direction, since the only time we see him walking is when he leaves the cemetery that one time. Quest for Glory 4 was an excellent game, but being an admirer of animations, it was the lack of these little artistic details that I really noticed.

I started to miss the highly animated scenes from the earlier Quest for Glory games. But the beauty of remaking Quest for Glory 2 ourselves, is that we have no budget to portion out, and thus no trade-offs to make. We have no time constraints and no limit on the number of animations that can be made. We're planning to make this game every bit as detailed as the original version, and hopefully portray all of the same emotions, moods, and feelings that were felt throughout the EGA game.

Was there anything about the original Quest for Glory 2 that you didn't like?

AGD#2: Unlike most people, I didn't mind the alleyways, and waiting for night in Raseir was never really an issue for me either. I'd actually have to struggle to think of something I didn't like, because I think it was all done so well. Perhaps, and this is a big stretch, the astrologer--but only because I found him to be the most boring character in the game.

Are you working on Quest for Glory 2 and King’s Quest 2 simultaneously, or first one and then the other?

AGD#2: We've started on the stats system of Quest for Glory 2 to get that out of the way completely by the time we finish scripting King’s Quest 2. But other than the stats, no, we're going to wait until King’s Quest 2 is completely out of the way before even touching Quest for Glory 2. There's just so much to keep track of with making just ONE game, and things would lead to total chaos with two going at the same time. That would also be bad for both games. Slow and steady wins the race, as the saying goes.

Next: The mysterious secret project

The mysterious secret project

Can you offer any hints as to what this secret project is? Is it a remake or an original game?

AGD#1: We can only reveal this: The secret project is another remake. But other than that, the secret project must continue to remain secret—for now—or else there'd be no secret to be kept secret, and then we'd no longer have a secret project in the works.

When will you make an announcement about the unidentified secret project?

AGD#1: When the time is right. It shouldn't be too much longer, but then again it depends on what one's definition of a long time is!

Why did you decide to announce it but keep it secret?

AGD#1: We wanted to compensate our fans for canceling the Royal Quest project. We wanted to let them know that we weren't just canceling the project because it was too much work, but because we strongly believed that the game was not representing our true values. To make up for this, we wanted to announce the "secret project" as a surprise, and work on that in replacement for Royal Quest. Also, by not mentioning the project name, it keeps us from having to answer too many emails pertaining to the secret project, which would hinder us from actually making progress on the current games.

King's Quest 1 VGA can be downloaded at Adventure Game Studio, or check out Tierra Games' website.


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