Rumor Mill: the Return of Sierra?
Will Sierra ever create another adventure game? It’s one of the most frequently frequently-asked-questions people have been e-mailing us about. Gabriel Knight 4? A new Space Quest? This article will help you make sense of all the rumors.
It’s not surprising that Sierra still has such a large fan base. Founded in the 1970s by Ken and Roberta Williams, Sierra held legendary status as the single biggest producer of adventure games. Their popular series, such as King’s Quest, Gabriel Knight and Leisure Suit Larry, sparked the imagination of thousands of adventurers. A group of fans were even inspired to create remakes of classic Sierra adventures (see: Fan-made sequels: An Interview with Tierra Entertainment) Unfortunately, almost all of Sierra’s rich history was lost in recent years, after numerous corporate takeovers, lay-offs, and finally the closure of their original office in Oakhurst. After the release of Gabriel Knight 3 in 1999, insiders suggested it may be their last adventure game. With the loss of nearly all the talent at Sierra and no prospect of another adventure, most of us bade a bitter farewell to the company three years ago. But in our hearts we still prayed for the return of the old Sierra.
Even though I can’t help but be very skeptical, there have been many indications this year that Sierra may actually go back to what once made it so great. Sierra’s president Mike Ryder has mentioned on several occasions his intent to bring back the company’s glory days. Mike Ryder first spoke of the company's new direction in the March issue of PC Gamer. “We’ve looked at which brands you think about when you think of Sierra, and which have enough value in the marketplace to bring back. There’s King’s Quest, Space Quest, Gabriel Knight, and Leisure Suit Larry,” he told PC Gamer. “We’re focusing on fewer games, but they’ll be better-quality titles.”
Al Lowe, creator of Leisure Suit Larry, had some preliminary talks with Ryder. Sadly, these talks stranded due to little further initiative on Ryder’s part. Al Lowe is either no longer going to be involved in the series, or the idea has been dropped completely. “I've got some great ideas for revitalizing adventure games,” he says on his website. “Is there a publisher with enough courage to try?”
Okay, so that is a little disappointing. But there have been some very positive signs, too. There have been discussions about a new King’s Quest. In February this website broke the news that a new Space Quest-based game is definitely being worked on. Our informant couldn’t say anything about the genre orientation of the game, but did say that it is being created by a new Seattle-based independent developer. Our secret operatives (cough-Google-cough) even uncovered this highly classified clay model for a possible character in the game. Naturally, we blocked his eyes to ensure his anonymity. At least, I think those are his eyes. (By the way, his name is Keebo... oops!)
Then there is Gabriel Knight. Even though we don’t have first-hand information on this one, some interesting tidbits popped up on the internet this week. Firstly, Gabriel Knight creator Jane Jensen dropped by at Sierra’s forums to ask fans what they’d like to see in a Gabriel Knight sequel. She also inquired about the age and gender of her fans and whether they prefer 2D, 3D or live action. It sounds to us like she may be pitching a new sequel, so if you want to support the Gabriel Knight series, be sure to send Jane a nice constructive letter.
Interestingly, Dean Erickson (the actor who played Gabriel in the second game) updated his online diary and is apparently dying to spill the beans on a new project. “My sources tell me that it will be another 2-4 weeks before they know if they get one of their projects up and running,” he writes. “Then they have to figure out whether I'll be involved or not. Isn't the actor's life grand? Anyway, there's some possibility that I will work again as an actor in my lifetime. :-) That's the most I can tell you right now. Sorry.” It is not impossible that he is referring to a Gabriel Knight project. He says that the news may interest “many of you”, while his website is visited almost exclusively by GK fans. Then again, this is all just a little gloating speculation on our part.
Even though these rumors will make any fans heart pound with excitement, it is impossible to be sure of anything until some official announcements are made. Nothing in this article has been confirmed in any way. We do know that Sierra is working on games based on their classic franchises, but we were also told they may not (all?) be pure adventure games. There is also the financial situation of Vivendi, Sierra’s parent company. Vivendi is selling many of its assets and revising its business strategies. It is unknown how this will affect Sierra.
It is perhaps fitting to wrap this up with Ken Williams’ comments on Sierra’s new policy. Even though Sierra founder Ken Williams retired as CEO in 1998, he of all people should know best what the company was really about. This is what he said to SierraGamers in March: “I did have lunch with the new head guy at Sierra [Mike Ryder], and he confirmed that his intention is to "bring back" the old Sierra. He has several of the old games back in development, and is meeting with several of the old designers to explore their possible involvement. I think it's great! My only concern is that I hope that they are able to find something new and exciting to do with the old series, and don't just continue them as they were. I like things that use the old characters, and the worlds that we created, but that somehow move entertainment forward in some way.”