King’s QUESTROSPECTIVE – How Roberta Williams Designed A Game Changer

King’s QUESTROSPECTIVE – How Roberta Williams Designed A Game Changer


Hey everyone, PushingUpRoses here and today
I am going back to my roots and covering a King’s Quest game. You may be thinking, “But Roses, didn’t
you cover all of the King’s Quest games?” NO, I never got around to the first game,
at least not the parser command version for the computer. I DID discuss the one for the Master System,
and I’ve referenced it many times over the years on this channel, so it feels like I’ve
covered it a million times over. I’ve decided that today is finally the day
to discuss this game officially in all its glory, because yes: This IS a defense of King’s
Quest I, one of the most influential video games… of all time. On top of my normal review style and commentary,
I’d also like to discuss how designer Roberta Williams came up with the concept, and why
this game is just so damn hard. As of right now, I haven’t written the conclusion
to this video yet, but I am predicting some introspection and gushing. Stay tuned to see if my prediction about myself
is right. King’s Quest was developed by Ken and aforementioned
Roberta Williams, who are now considered pioneers in the gaming world. Their company, Sierra online has created some
of the most memorable and technologically advanced computer games in the mid 80s into
the mid 90s, the King’s Quest series being just ONE of the many franchises the company
produced. Prior to King’s Quest, Ken and Roberta worked
on a few other parser driven games like Mystery House, a monochrome command game with cute
little scribblies as characters, and Wizard and the Princess, which also has cute little
scribblies as characters. Cute snake. In 1982, Ken and Roberta were approached by
IBM, and asked to develop a launch title for their new computer, the PC jr. It was announced in PC Magazine, and it boasted
a lot of things. Smooth animation, high quality sound, amazing
game selection! Then the PC Jr. flopped. Oops. Because of this, King’s Quest didn’t sell
very well. Or maybe it was because of this god-awful
box cover; this is NOT what the main character looks like. And you certainly don’t get a sword. Regardless, after some touch ups, minor changes,
and releasing the game on different terminals, notably the Tandy 1000, it became a HUGE success. The subtitle “Quest for the Crown” was
added for the 1987 re-release, which is the version I will be looking at. The first thing I would like to point out
are these flags waving in the wind. Ah yes, you wouldn’t think this is anything
special. But yes it is, yes it is. In fact, this is the first screen you see
in game, and that’s important because this is the first adventure game to really have
animations. At least, mainstream wise, it is considered
the first; I know these things are hard to determine but a lot of sources to point to
King’s Quest as one of the first, if not THE first adventure game to do it. Prior to this you would have static settings,
usually in a 1st person view, like you see here in Wizard and the Princess. This simple animation, happening at the same
time your character is exploring, is an innovation, something we take for granted today but very
much worth remembering. And look at this main character! Look at him! Brave Sir Graham in his cyan hat, his weird
pink shirt (maybe it’s salmon), and these supposed boots, walking! Picking up things! Falling! Falling again! Falling AGAIN. Getting squashed by a rock! This was essentially an open world title where
you control your character, give him commands, and watch him flounder about as you traverse
a sizeable map. The plot is quite simple – You are Sir Graham,
brave knight under the ruling of King Edward the Benevolent. The kingdom of Daventry has become impoverished
after three magical items were stolen by some greedy inhabitants – a magic chest, swiped
by a cloud dwelling giant, a magic mirror, taken by a fire breathing dragon, and a magic
shield, purloined by a community of Leprechauns that have been overwhelmed with an interesting
case dance hysteria. Sir Graham is tasked with finding these items,
bringing them back, and if they make it back safely he is promised the Kingdom. Rescuing the treasures will not be easy, as
there is a series of inventory object puzzles to complete before you can even try. And yes, they are hard, and yes, you can find
yourself in an unwinnable situation by doing the wrong thing. The game does not alert you when you make
a mistake, to win you must use the trial by error method, or you can do what most people
do. Cheat. This is where a lot of modern criticism for
the game stems from – the technical and artistic achievement is pretty well respected; Ken
and Roberta Williams were even honored with an Industry Icon award in 2014, Ken, being
the programmer, and Roberta being the writer and designer for many of their titles; however
present day critics have lambasted Roberta’s unforgiving puzzle design and frustrating
dead ends. To understand her motivations, I read up on
how she began conceptualizing games and why the puzzle design ended up the way it did. In the book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer
Revolution by Steven Levy, Roberta is described as a very shy, timid type, who was often afraid
to put herself out there. She had an adoration for fantasy, and as a
child would dream of grand adventures, like getting kidnapped by pirates, or being whisked
to a far off land. She states that she never really liked herself,
and to cope with that, she’d often dream of being someone else. Her younger brother suffered from epilepsy,
and she would tell him whimsical stories to delight him; it sounded like she took great
pleasure in storytelling, but because she was so passive, her drive petered out soon
after marrying Ken. The stress of adulthood, commitment, and becoming
pregnant almost immediately after their ceremony halted her creativity. According to her, it got to the point where
she was so unassertive that relied on Ken to provide a living because she, quote, “could
hardly make a phone call.” That all changed when Ken brought home a terminal,
connected it to an IBM mainframe, and booted up a new game. Despite her husband’s fascination with computers,
Roberta never liked them and found them intimidating, but with some coaxing, Ken got her to sit
at the terminal and try Adventure, a text based game written by Don Woods. To say she was captivated would be an understatement. Roberta fell in love with the complexity of
the game and would spend months drawing up maps and coming up with new methods to complete
the game’s more difficult puzzles. She didn’t find it frustrating, moreso inspiring;
instead of saying something like, “How many more things can I try to beat this damn puzzle?!”,
SHE would say, “How many more things can I try to beat this puzzle?” Roberta Williams: “I really got into it,
I just loved the idea of an interactive story and just had to play this game. I was really drawn into it, and had to finish
it. She wanted to see everything a game had to
offer, exhausting every option to get to the solutions, and when she finished it, she yearned
for more titles like it. Her early games, Mystery House and Wizard
and the Princess, were definitely inspired by her love of difficult puzzle games, and
I feel that love is even more apparent in King’s Quest. Some people think that because the game is
SO punishing, it must be because it was designed poorly or haphazardly, when in reality, everything
was implemented by choice so Roberta could share her excitement of those wildly infuriating
text based games, like Adventure, Zork, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. She was fond of challenge, and she made damn
sure to put that aspect into her games; the storytelling drought had ended, and she put
her knowledge of high fantasy into King’s Quest with a variety of magic, fairy tales,
and mythical creatures. Let us follow Sir Graham on his journey to
become king. What kind of adventures await us? Geezus fuck. One cannot deny the intensity, maybe even
utter bullshit, of some of these puzzles. You can make wrong decisions, you can do things
out of order that prevent you from winning, you can die by messing up your footing while
climbing – it’s not merciful. And yet, when I booted this game up, knowing
that I would likely mess up even after playing it all my life, I was hit with this intense
feeling, this desire, to explore this world thoroughly. I wanted to read every text box, every description,
and yes, I even wanted to see how many absurd ways I could die. The game looks outdated by today’s standards,
but I could still feel the atmosphere and whimsical setting that Roberta was going for. Even the descriptions are written eloquently,
sometimes even poetically, to match the tone of the fairy tales that inspired it. I mean, sure; the proportions are a little
off. Pretty sure this clay bowl could second as
a toboggan, and there aren’t many characters to interact with save this woodcutter and
his wife, but I still felt something exciting. I still felt like I was on a grand adventure. While we’re in this little shack, let me
show you exactly how easy it is to die. . I think the woodcutter is hiding a portal
to hell in this house or something, I fell FAR. He and his wife didn’t even seem to notice. “Honey did you hear something stirring in
our hell chasm?” “Nope, just the screams of the tortured,
everything’s fine.” I should also mention the now infamous Rumplestilskin
puzzle, which definitely drives home Roberta’s intentions. During your journey you come across a wiley
character living in a tent by the river – he says if you can guess his name in three tries,
he will reward you. If you are familiar with fairy tale lore,
you could probably guess that this is based on Rumpelstiltskin, where a woman has three
days to guess his name. However, the answer is NOT Rumpelstiltskin,
oh no. That would be too easy. If you found the witches candy house prior
to this, you’ll have found a note that says “Sometimes it’s wise to think backwards.” Okay, cool. I’ll type it backwards and…no. That’s not what the game wants me to do
either. It wants you to use the backwards alphabet,
so it becomes this. And the letters in Rumpelstiltskin become
these, and as you can see in my playthrough I spelled his name wrong but I am assuming
it’s just spelled like this in the game on purpose. In the novelization, it’s also spelled this
way, instead of this way. I know a lot of people are going to respond
with “But HOW would you ever guess that”, and I’m going to be honest – I think with
the hint of being close with the first guess would have led me to consider the backwards
alphabet. There just aren’t that many options, and
I think when I was younger I did eventually get there, which was exactly what Roberta
wanted, she wanted me to think of every conceivable way, and to be honest this one, though notorious,
is not as bad as it seems. I do recall using the backwards alphabet as
a secret code with my friends, so perhaps that is part of how I got there. It does seem like a middle finger to the player,
but I don’t think it’s totally impossible to get to this conclusion, there’s kind
of a method to the madness. That isn’t to say you can’t make some
horrible mistakes that seem like the right answer. For example, this fire breathing dragon seems
dangerous, and hey, you found a dagger buried under a rock earlier so maybe you just need
to kill it. NO, LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE! Oh god, humanity…the bloodshed… how could
you do this? You are a bad person and you should feel bad! Anyway no, all you have to do is throw some
water at him, it’ll put out the flames, and he’ll become so embarrassed that he’ll
run away to sulk. As an aside, I always thought this Dragon
ran away to Ooga Booga land in King’s Quest 7, you know, the one who lost its spark and
we have to find some fire to bring it back. So Graham messed up this Dragon in the past,
then as Rosella, Graham’s daughter, we fix him again. And it only took 16 years! This is now official King’s Quest canon. Also, is it just me or is this Dragon very
tiny? Rainbow Randolph: It’s small but FIERCE.” So yes, the game does try to guide you to
take the high roads – Graham has always been portrayed as having morals and not wanting
to resort to violence to solve a problem. Instead of killing the Dragon, you embarrass
it. Instead of killing the Giant with a sling
and rock, you tire him out by making him chase you. Instead of killing the witch you…oh. Actually you kill the witch. But in our defense, she IS actively murdering
people and cooking them in a stew. The Dragon and Giant were just kinda minding
their own business but that Witch was a serial killer. It’s not said in this introduction, but
since the game’s fourth release a backstory was added to the lore, involving this witch. Her name is Dahlia, who previously disguised
herself as a princess in an attempt to woo King Edward. On their wedding night she revealed herself
as an evil witch, stole the three treasures from him, and hid them throughout the land. This is different from the original King’s
Quest, which states that the King had simply heard there were three magical items somewhere
in Daventry, and he just wants them, making him look like a selfish asshole. I like the addition of the witch because otherwise,
it just seems like you’re stealing from people for no reason. I pretty much ruined this Leprechaun kingdom
by taking back the shield, so I was pleased to hear they’re some of Dahlia’s pawns. On top of finding those treasures, the king
wants Dahlia destroyed, which is why you can push her into the oven and get points for
it, versus LOSING points for killing other characters. And if you are interested in even more of
the lore, the King’s Quest companion has an entire novelization. In fact, if you read this before playing any
of the games you might have a better idea of what to do, it really spells everything
out for ya. Also the maps are SO COOL. My favorite puzzle involves this very good
goat, who makes very good noises. (weird digitized goat noises) The solution
to this is partially intuitive and partially accidental – I found a carrot and decided
to offer it to the goat. That seemed like a logical decision. He liked it so much, he became my friend and
wouldn’t leave my side. Cute! So I ended up taking him with me, just me
and my goat having a grand adventure, until I came across a bridge guarded by a troll. To my surprise, the goat butts him off the
bridge, allowing me to continue my exploration and opening up new locations on the map. This is awesome, but the best part of this
puzzle is the text box that says “It is a known FACT that GOATS HATE TROLLS.” A KNOWN FACT. Well I had no idea. So if you are playing D&D and you’re in
the middle of being attacked by a bunch of nasty trolls, just go find a goat. Known fact. Hi everyone, Roses from the Editing room here
and I just want to say that I had somehow forgotten that this is a very obvious reference
to the Three Billy Goats Gruff fairy tale, and I have no idea how I forgot that. I was IN a Billy Goats Gruff play in Kindergarten. I still figured this out somewhat accidentally
because I found the goat before the troll, but still. FAIRY TALE FAIL. I do love this goat though. He’s a good boy. This all being said, even though I understand
the intentions of Roberta Williams, and personally enjoy this game now as much as I did when
I first played it, I understand why it’s not connecting with people in the present. I think people who find this game too frustrating
typically still acknowledge the game’s place in history and what it meant to computer users,
because at the time, this was a fun and exciting game that did challenge fantasy fans and fulfill
people’s desires for replayability. But players grow up, the gaming industry evolves,
our tastes change, and even I don’t think I’d desire another series in the vein of
Sierra logic. I like how things matured – Sierra shined
for a long time, then LucasArts came in and challenged that unforgiving puzzle design;
they evolved how we play adventure games even further with well thought out puzzles and
different UIs, and in modern times we get such a diverse selection of indie adventure
games with difficulty levels that vary. I adore a lot of the newer indie adventure
games that were released in the last 10 years or so, and we got to this point because developers
DID want to try new things, and make games that a new generation of people can enjoy. But Sierra games, particularly the King’s
Quest series, will always have a place in my heart. It was my introduction to gaming, it sparked
my love for the fantasy genre, and it became one of my favorite talking points on this
channel. The entire series, sans Mask of Eternity because
we do not speak of such things here, has gotten me through some really tough times; it distracted
me from a hard childhood, helped me with grieving the death of my father, and helped when I
was just simply lonely and looking for an escape. This game is like an old, familiar friend. Not like one of those weird Facebook friendships,
like an acquaintance you remember from High School and you added them because you were
curious about how they turned out and if you’re more successful than them and shit, and then
you kinda remember why you weren’t friends with them in the first place so you like…
eeeeeh. Unfriend. Definitely, definitely not that kind of friend. King’s Quest is reliable and comforting
and sometimes it pisses you off, but you love it anyway. Like my parrot! King’s Quest is like my parrot. Now that I have taken this analogy way too
far, I will conclude this video by repeating some of the wisest words ever spoken: Remember,
Save Early, and Save Often. Hey everyone, thank you so much for watching
my video on King’s Quest, I hope you enjoyed this visit back into adventure gaming. If you want to see more of what my channel
has to offer, I have such sights to show you, but first I would like to shove Patreon in
your face for the umpteenth time. No joke, it has helped me sustain my channel,
up my quality, and survive just as a person. If you wanna support my videos, please give
it some consideration, and if not, a like and a share is also appreciated. If you can’t decide on whether subbing to
my channel is a good idea or not, then why not give these videos a watch to help that? On the left we have a Murder, She Wrote review,
which is from one of my more popular series, and on the right I have a review of one of
the Nancy Drew Adventure games. Thanks again and as always, I’ll see you
in the next one.

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