Despite King's Quest is, from a modern perspective, extremely simple game, it still is one of the most important games in the history of computer games. It is a game, that was born from a collaboration between IBM, which was looking for a game to demonstrate the capabilities of their IBM PC Jr. line of computers and Sierra, that had already shown their merits as game developers on other platforms like Apple II. PC Jr. was a failure, but King's Quest spawned a game series that lasted long in the late 90's and made Sierra one of the first modern game developers and publishers. King's Quest I was not only a technical breakthrough but a sign of things to come in the computer game business as well.
Before King's Quest, Roberta and Ken Williams had started stirring things up in the world of interactive fiction by making games, that did not only have graphics but interactive graphics. This meant, that while you did see only static screens, there were items on them, which you could pick up and then those items would disappear from the screen. You could also move to an another room and drop an item there to see it appear there. Then came along IBM, that had noticed people's interest on games on home computers. They had a new line coming up and Sierra seemed a right candidate to develop a game, that would amaze everyone of the superiority of IBM PC Jr.
Roberta knew she would have to do something special and that something was a game, where you could move the character on the screen by using the cursor keys. Not only would be able to move up and down but also behind and around objects. You'd be able to slip into a lake and start swimming around. There'd be objects on screen you'd be able to pick up, people you'd be able to interact with and puzzles to solve. All this would be presented first and foremost with graphics and the story would be told with text boxes.
|The story of King's Quest is given as a big slate of text in the original AGI game. The remake has a proper intro.|
So began the tale of Daventry and Sir Graham, a loyal knight to King Edward, who is childless and dying. Three treasures have been stolen: a magic mirror, a magic shield and a magic chest. The mirror would tell the future of the land, the shield would protect it and the chest would always be filled with gold. If Sir Graham is successful in his quest, the crown of the land would be his. And that is the story in its entirety, told on one black and white text screen. A screen, you don't even necessarily see, if you skip going to the king's castle at the beginning.
But really, King's Quest isn't about the story. It's just a setting, an excuse for a game, that is just a simple treasure hunt, just like many other games in the genre of the adventure genre were, owing this to the first entry in the genre, Colossal Cave Adventure, a simple text game that had come out in 1976. That was a game that did not only give a name to the adventure genre but dictated the style of which others followed with their own entries to a slowly growing industry.
For a long while adventure games were like that. Simple text games, where you'd move from room to room by writing commands like "go west". Every room would be a wall of text, describing what is there and you'd try to figure out what to pick up or if you'd be able to use something on some other thing. And then came King's Quest with all in graphical presentation and 3D-world, you could navigate in. And yes, they were touted as 3D-games, as there was depth in the graphics not previously seen. Obviously, it wasn't real 3D in a way modern gamers understand it with polygon graphics, but it still was more than just a still image with only a single layered image.
|There was 6 years between the original and the remake. A lot had changed in the technology. But from here begins the story of Graham.|
On this technical breakthrough of a game, you could freely walk all around Daventry, picking up items and looking for a puzzle to solve, trying to figure out where's the most important things at and how'd you go and tackle the big puzzles. Not all is important to pick up, as there are many treasure items just for score. Then again, you can use some of them to solve puzzles in an alternative fashion and all the magic item puzzles have two ways to solve them, a not so good one and a good one.
For an example, you can kill the creatures that guard the items or you can get rid of them in a more peaceful manner. The dragon that guards the magic mirror can either be killed or subdued. The Giant that guards the chest can be killed with a slingshot or you can use a magic ring that makes you invisible and wait for him to tire up and go sleep.
And this structure is really amazing, as the kind of a free roaming world, where things can be solved in a several different ways is something many modern games strive to do. Granted, this all is quite simple here and in many ways, Sierra did simplify a lot of this in their other games by limiting the choices, but there was ambition with King's Quest that was far beyond the available tech at the time. Roberta Williams ended up raising the bar very high with King's Quest. So high, in fact, that not many companies even dared to dream as high she had.
|On the AGI version, the dragon walks around the left side of the screen. If Graham gets too close on either version, he's toast. The solution to this puzzle is the same on both versions.|
This all is not to say that King's Quest was an easy game, far from it, as it still has some of the out there puzzles the genre has ever produced. One example is the infamous Rumplestiltskin puzzle, where you have to guess a name of a gnome. But it's not Rumplestiltskin, it's something you need to think backwards like a random note says you find while you don't even know what is's referring to.
On the remake the name of the gnome is "Nikslitselpmur", on the original it is "IFNKOVHGROGHPRM". So a tad harder to solve than just flipping Rumplestilskin backwards.
What you need to think backwards is the whole alphabet and stitch the name together that way. It's such a puzzle not many people were able to solve it. Thankfully, the game is merciful in this, as even if you fail, you'll get an item that helps you go forward. By guessing wrong you get a golden key, by guessing right you get magic beans. They both take you to the same place, but one gives more points than the other.
Sierra released a remake of King's Quest in 1990. It is largely the same game, but with SCI engine and far better graphics. It also has a more fleshed out story and a proper soundtrack whereas the original game had only a PC-speaker rendition of Greensleeves at the title and in the end.
Besides upping the graphics and the sound effects, the changes in the gameplay itself are quite minor. There's a proper intro sequence as well as an outro, but the puzzles and locations and the general freedom have been left greatly as they originally were. There are small changes, like the gnome's name puzzle, which no accepts a much simpler alternative than what the AGI original did, but otherwise, the game is just as punishing as the original was.
|The Witch's house actually looks like a gingerbread house in the remake.|
It's really a shame, Sierra did not set out to re-invent King's Quest with the SCI remake, as that would have been an able opportunity to make the game even more modern. But as it was, the sales of the remake were a disappointment and Sierra ended up cancelling the official remakes for King's Quest II and probably even for King's Quest III.
Out of the two versions, the original has more merit in the sense of how groundbreaking title it was back in 1984 when it was originally released. On comparison to the importance of the title, the SCI remake feels more like a half-baked attempt rather than a genuine one at trying to bring an old design into now ages of gamers, as the core design while containing still solid ideas, was just too marred with something that was still fine in the early 1980's, but was in the 1990's already archaic.
Still, King's Quest I: Quest for the Crown is one of the most important titles on what comes to computer games. It helped in ushering forward not only the genre of adventure games but also helped in solidifying Sierra as one of the first genuinely huge computer game companies. From there began a journey that gave birth on such icons as Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Police Quest and even Half-Life.
If you want to embark on a historically significant journey with Sir Graham, later King of Daventry, you can get the game on GOG and Steam.