Hi-Res Adventures #6: The Dark Crystal (1983)

Hi-Res Adventures #6: The Dark Crystal (1983), by Roberta Williams, based on the story by Jim Henson and a movie the Dark Crystal directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, developed and published by Sierra On-Line

The final entry to the Hi-Res series was again a new step for a company that had begun as On-Line Systems but had changed its name officially as Sierra On-Line Systems in 1982. This time around the game wasn't an original idea, but an officially licensed product based on Jim Henson animated feature movie the Dark Crystal. So while it wasn't necessarily a technical evolution, nor as ambitious as Time Zone, it was a step to a new ground, none the less, for Roberta and Ken Williams.

The Dark Crystal follows pretty closely the story and the events of the movie. You follow the Gelfling Jen, and later on Kira as well, through a dangerous adventure of trying to repair the Crystal, so that the world could be unified again and the rule of the evil Skeksis would end. If you haven't seen the movie, I do recommend it, as it is a fine fantasy adventure in its own right. While the game isn't 1:1 replica of the movie, it still feels familiar if you've seen the movie.

There's also a different version of the game called the Gelfling Adventure, which uses the same graphics, but is more simplified, as it's aimed towards younger children. Instead of having a parser interface, it's played through multiple choices, thus being more easily approachable. I haven't played that version myself, but what I've read, it is closer to the movie, omitting the puzzles that were inserted in the original game

There are a couple of things of interest about the Dark Crystal. The first thing is, that it is a very text heavy game. Out of all the Hi-Res games, it is the most focused on the storytelling rather than puzzle solving, which might be a direct influence of it being an adaptation of the already existing material. A good example of this is the beginning, where you go to meet the dying mystic Ursu, who tasks the last of the Gelflings to repair the damaged crystal. Here the story is told through a couples of screens worth of text, which is quite unusual in the context of Hi-Res series.

All the game narrative strives to be more prosaic in structure, making the game feel more like an interactive novel rather than a game. True enough, you can die and you do have to solve puzzles, but out of all the games in the series, the Dark Crystal feels like it is embracing this interactive fiction structure the most.

Another aspect of the narrative is, that the whole game is told from a 3rd person perspective. The story doesn't refer you as Jen or Kira, but has a more book-like approach to it, telling what the characters are doing, not what you as a player, do.

Unlike the other games in the series, the Dark Crystal also shows you the main characters on the screen. Every screen you walk into has the main characters standing in there, within the game world, further solidifying the idea of that you aren't just playing a game, but following an adventure of these creatures.

Graphically the Dark Crystal also is a surprisingly good looking game. While the Apple II graphics are relatively meagre by modern standards, the art team has managed to follow the art style of the movie quite nicely, even making the various creatures of the world look close to their counterparts despite the low resolution and limited colour palette.

As a game, the Dark Crystal shares the same nuisances with the other Hi-Res series games: the parser is dumb as a boot, there are a million ways to die, you can miss important items and playing is more about mapping the whole thing out before you do anything else. But at the same time, it was a decent send-off game for a series that got Sierra rolling before they struck gold with King's Quest a year later.

While Sierra could have clung on the tech they developed for Apple II and the Hi-Res series, they decided to push further on, towards new challenges and the game world is better off because Ken and Roberta weren't willing to stay and wait for the old tech to die. Instead, they took what they learned with these 7 games (remember, Mission Asteroid was labelled as #0 after all) and built something grander.

But for the time being, this is all I have about the Dark Crystal. Not a revolutionary game by any means, but a decent little game, if you are willing to suffer the idiosyncracies the archaic engine it was built on. It really could have been a lot worse.