Mixed-Up Mother Goose (1987, 1991)

While Roberta Williams is mostly known for her King's Quest games that made Sierra the name it was in the first decade of computer games, she did other games as well. Among those Apple II titles, Laura Bow games and Phantasmagoria is a game aimed for smaller children, Mixed-Up Mother Goose, that was originally released as an AGI version in 1987, having a greatly simplified interface that required no typing and later, on 1991, released as a remade version, fully voiced and mouse driven, but with a simple as possible interface.

Everything about Mother Goose is built around simplicity and ease of access. The story itself is a simple one: you choose a character who resembles you, be it a boy or a girl, then the story begins on your bed time. When you drift asleep, Mother Goose picks you up to the land of nursery rhymes, where her stories have been mixed up and it's up to you to collect right items and get them to the right stories. After you've fixed all the 18 stories, the game ends.

Sierra had experimented with a simple user interface before, with a Disney license The Black Cauldron, that was developed by Al Lowe. As that was game for a younger audience, it too lacked the parser interface. Instead of typing, you only had a couple of function keys you needed for actions, like use or interacting with something. But even that was probably a too complex system for the smaller kids Roberta had in mind for Mother Goose.

The character choice has an effect on your appearance in both versions of the game. Besides gender, you can also choose from different ethnicities in order to broaden the appeal with different kids.

A mouse-driven interface for  PC machines wasn't still a mainstream thing in the 1980's. While old PC machine did have a mouse, it wasn't a mandatory peripheral like it is today in the world of graphical user interfaces we live on. Back then you only needed a keyboard for doing most things, so that was on which Mother Goose built upon as well on its original version.

The gameplay itself consists mostly of walking around, On the AGI version you use the cursor keys, in the remake you have a mouse pointer for the job. In the remake, you can discuss with the fairytale characters by clicking a large mouse icon, on the AGI version you just need to bump into them in order to find you what they need. The AGI version also supports a joystick, which can make things even simpler, as the gameplay does feel like it was designed a joystick in mind.

The second half of the game is picking up items, which you can have only one at a time. This is done by just walking over the item you see and then it's automatically picked up. You take the item to a character it belongs to and give it to them, On the eAGI version you just walk to them and the game does its things, on the remake, you click the mouth icon on a right screen and watch things roll out.

The save system is as simple as it can be. There's only one save slot, which is used when you exit the game. Then, when you want to continue, you just continue from where you left off.  For a 1980's game, this kind of design is as simple as it gets, at least I don't recall that many other single save slot games from the era.

While the remake does seemingly have more interface options, most of the AGI versions items are hidden behind a menu accessible by pressing ESC-key, whereas the remake has everything on screen.  Bottom left shows how many stories you've completed, the blue area shows what item you are carrying, the map access, speak icon and then volume and speed controls and a quit button which also saves the game.

There are some differences with the game content between the remake and the original. The biggest difference is that, that in the original there's a character that needs multiple items, whereas in the remake he only needs one. The remake has a built-in map, which shows you all the completed and incomplete story locations and you can even rewatch the completed stories from there. Also, in the original AGI version, everytime you complete a character they turn into inactive props, whereas in the remake you can still talk to them. But other than that, the both versions have an identical map and identical tales. There's also a small amount of randomization, as while the items are always the same, they are scattered in different locations n each new game.

From a modern perspective, the remake is easily more approachable, because of its better graphics, voice acting. The AGI version has only PC-speaker sound effects and music, which aren't a treat for the ears. In the remake, every time you complete a rhyme, you get a sung version of it accompanied with music.

Sadly enough both versions are, besides the snippets of rhyme songs, pretty silent. It's actually surprising, that the remake opted not to use background music, as the game itself can feel very silent during those moments when you need to walk from one end of the map to an another while ferrying an item to its owner.  Granted, the game itself isn't very long, considering the target audience, but as Sierra did have competent musicians at their disposal, it would have been a good idea to record a couple of tunes for the wandering as well.

Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall. Both versions of the game also show the lyrics so you can sing along.

While Roberta Williams is often seen as a queen of unfair game design, she did, in the end, know her audience. Back in the 1980's games were fewer and more expensive than they are today. People expected bag for their buck what came to length so that lead into unnecessarily cruel game designs, as that was the easiest way to pad the games, which often were actually quite short. If you know everything, something like King's Quest 1 can be played through in an hour, but with needlessly unfair puzzles that hour can be spread over several days.

But Mixed-Up Mother Goose wasn't aimed at adults looking for complexity, it was aimed at little children, who could barely read. So the design choices reflect that and show, that there was more in the design principles of Roberta Williams than a desire to sell hint books or make the phone hint lines glow red.

Both versions of the game are even from today's point of view very suitable for the audience they were meant for. They are fun, simple games, which provide challenging enough of an experience for kids its aimed at. Sure, it's not a complex game, but it doesn't have to be and Roberta Williams knew that. It is a game perfectly made for its target audience.

To my knowledge, Mixe-Up Mother Goose isn't available through any digital outlets, which is a bit of a shame really. It is such a game, that either version of it could be easily turned into something working in modern tablets, making it even more accessible to smaller children by using a touch screen. But as for now, you have to settle getting it from other sources. Or you can just watch Youtube videos, but then again, that isn't as fun as playing it.

As a final note, while I was looking for these Youtube videos, I found out there's also a Deluxe version of Mother Goose, which has higher resolution graphics. I've never played it myself, but I'd assume it's very similar to these two versions, at leas as far gameplay goes. This version came out in 1995. And it even has background music.