Though the interface is still being refined, Korba describes the intended controls as a system designed to work on both PC and consoles, that combines the concept of a smart cursor (like the magic wand in King’s Quest VII, which automatically performed the only available action) with the more complex icon-driven interfaces of King’s Quest V and VI. When you activate a hotspot, icons representing the available actions will appear on-screen mapped to buttons on the controller. On PC, you can use a mouse instead. “We have these icons inspired by King’s Quest V, basically, so we can examine, and we can use, and we can speak, and things like that. … It’s not point-and-click but it’s still an adventure game. It’s sort of move and click, if you see Graham as my mouse.”
And move he does, with way more style than the pixelated sprite that made off with the magic mirror the first time around. “Because adventure games are a lot about exploring and walking around, we wanted to make sure we had a really good character controller, so he feels really good to move around. That said, this is not an action platformer,” Korba says, acknowledging that the trailer might have mistakenly given that impression. In fact, Graham jumps and climbs automatically when necessary, no dexterity required. And when he reaches an area in the cave where he has to sneak past the sleeping dragon, he tiptoes all on his own—just one example of a unique animation created to enhance the storytelling: “There are no ‘modes,’ it depends on what story beat we’re trying to hit. So right now he’s tiptoeing, that doesn’t mean there’s a stealth mode in this game, it’s purely only for this section. He does it automatically, there’s no sneak button. It makes [the game] really hard to make, because we don’t get to reuse anything.”
Navigating Graham through the dragon’s underground lair—which is significantly larger than the original’s two screens and full of charred skeletons and, curiously, double beds—Korba notes that since the bulk of the first chapter is chronologically set before this intro, all apparent non-sequiturs will be illuminated later in the game. “Because of the way we’re telling the story, we get to play with time a lot. So the main part of the story takes place five years before this, and so you’re going to see a lot of weird stuff in here, like why is [there a] skeleton crushed under a bed, why are there weird switches in here? That’s all going to be explained later. Similar to a Breaking Bad or even the movie Big Fish, we’re putting in these little breadcrumbs and then everything comes full circle.” (Indeed, right around the point where the player will be wondering what’s up with all the beds hanging from stalactites, Gwendolyn chimes in to ask. “We’ll get there,” her patient grandfather replies.)
While exploring you can sometimes go into a close-up view to see an area in more detail. “As we were playtesting, people really wanted to explore more and more and look at the art closer, so we added some investigation triggers, so you can scan around and get close, and get more clues,” Korba explains. “Sometimes you can pick up something in this view. But you can’t just switch to FPS whenever you feel like it, it’s not Call of Daventry or anything.” Graham has a traditional inventory to hold the items he pockets, and in a throwback that will have old fans cheering, picking up an item or solving a puzzle is rewarded with a familiar “you got points!” chime.
Gameplay in this initial section involves reaching the dragon, then distracting it long enough to steal the magic mirror. “Talking to [Sierra’s founders] Ken and Roberta [Williams], the main thing [for them] was always story and gameplay working together. Our biggest guideline is, ‘What’s the story moment, and what puzzle or gameplay would be best for that?’” Korba says. Early on, most puzzles involve manipulating the environment to progress past obstacles; in the dragon sequence, for example, you’ll figure out how the contraption that feeds the dragon works and modify it to achieve your own goal. (Who’s actually feeding the dragon will be revealed later, in the part of the game that takes place five years earlier.) While more advanced graphics and technology allow for more complex scenarios, they’re similar in spirit to pushing a boulder to reveal a hidden hole or finding a way past a troll guarding a bridge, as we did in King’s Quest I.
But environmental puzzles aren’t all the series reboot has to offer. Later the game will open up in “a section that’s basically like King’s Quest I, where you can roam the whole forest, and you can grab something from one side of the map and try to figure out where it goes.” There will be plenty of fatal possibilities along the way, but since King Graham is telling this story years later, clearly he didn’t really die—“That’s what would have happened if I had pulled that switch” he might qualify for Gwendolyn, or “I was just checking to see if you were awake”—a clever way of working KQ’s infamous deathtraps into the framing story.Continued on the next page...