A history on remaking King's Quest
First posted on 23 April 2008. Last updated on 17 July 2010.
The advent of King's Quest series in the early 1980s heralded in a new era for graphical adventure games. The original King's Quest was a true classic and arguably the best of its genre. Since its first release in 1984, the game had undergone no fewer than 10 re-releases or remakes by its original developer. The game had also been heavily redeveloped by a large community of enthusiastic fans who released their fan made remakes for free. In fact, the 18 years of developments of King's Quest had overseen great advances in both software and hardware on which the game was built, with improved graphic engines, higher screen resolutions, and enhanced display colours. Despite all these changes, the core of what made King's Quest a timeless masterpiece had basically remained the same.
In 1972, at the age of 19, Roberta Heuer married Ken Williams, who was then a contract programmer for IBM. They co-founded a software company called On-Line Systems in 1979, which later became Sierra On-Line in 1982. It was in this period that Ken Williams was first introduced to a computer game on the IBM mainframe called Adventure, also known as Colossal Caves.
Although not really interested in computer games at the time, Ken Williams showed his wife this game and she played the game right through. From that time on, she was hooked. Around 1979, another game company called Adventure International began development of text adventure games for the Apple II. These games were entirely text based with no graphics. Immediately, Roberta Williams had the foresight to imagine adventure games being played with both graphics and text, and this would open up a whole new market for games on the personal computer. She also had a keen interest in both fairy tales and mythology. By writing games that featured these themes, she sought to encourage players to immerse into her stories and characters in order to solve the puzzles in her games. After all, graphics that scrolled from frame to frame should make games so much more interesting than just static text.
1984 PCjr release
With King's Quest, Roberta Williams needed to create her own fairy story to use in the game. She created a fictitious land called Daventry, with its own kingdom that was ruled by King Edward and his Queen. After losing his wife and 3 valuable treasures that would ensure the kingdom's prosperity, King Edward commissioned his knight Sir Graham to find the 3 lost treasures and restore the kingdom to its former glory. In the Kingdom of Daventry, fairy godmothers, elves, gnomes, giants, magical beanstalks, condors, witches, and fiery dragons inhabited the land of the magic.
Around this time, IBM marketed its short-lived PCjr for home and educational use. Roberta Williams finished writing the game (with her husband doing the programming) in late 1983, and the game was sold to IBM to be distributed for its PCjr the following year. Some early copies of the game were also sold and distributed from Roberta and Ken Williams' garage workshop. This original version of the game was known simply as King's Quest (without the subtitle, Quest for the Crown, that was only added later). Like the ill-fated PCjr platform, the game at that stage was met with only limited success commercially.
The original version owned and distributed by IBM came in 2 graphics modes. Depending on the graphics card on the PCjr, the game could support a resolution of 320 x 200 pixels with a color depth of 1-bit or 4 colours or a resolution of 640 x 200 pixels with a depth of 4-bit or 16 colours. The graphics mode would be called CGA or Colour Graphics Adaptor. It was IBM that helped to develop the CGA standard.
The original packaging box contained a printed manual stamped with the IBM logo and came with a keyboard overlay with a scene from the game on it that was designated for use with the IBM "chiclet" keyboard. The game was distributed on 1 5.25" floppy disk. As there was no mouse, navigation was done manually by using the 4 direction (up, down, left, right) keys. At the bottom of the screen was a parser where you would type in the commands (for example, pick up stones or get knife). The current score (out of a possible total score of 158) would be displayed on the top of the screen. As you picked up treasures or performed feats in the game, the score would increase. There were often 2 ways to solve most puzzles in the game. The alternate way still enabled you to complete the game, but at a small loss of points.
1984 PCjr 2.0 release
Later in 1984, still for the PCjr, IBM issued a second version of King's Quest. The new release was virtually identical to the original release but included a smaller function key template together with a minor update. Navigation, graphics, and gameplay did not change otherwise.
1984 Tandy release
Still later in 1984, a third version of King's Quest was released, specifically redesigned and repackaged for the Tandy 1000. Tandy was the first of the IBM compatible computer systems introduced to the home market. The machine was geared toward home users with a modest budget. It copied the PCjr's 16-colour graphics (PCjr's graphics mode was an extension of CGA) and 3-voice sound but did not use the PCjr's cartridge ports. As the Tandy 1000 line outlasted the PCjr line over the ensuing years, these graphics and sound standards would eventually become known as Tandy-compatible standards and the graphics mode would be called TGA or Tandy Graphics Adapter.
The packaging box came with a printed manual, and the game was distributed on 1 5.25" double density floppy disk. The game ran on DOS 2.11. The gameplay and scoring were identical to previous releases.
1984 AGI release
By now, Roberta and Ken Williams had severed their ties with IBM and began to distribute games under their own label, Sierra On-Line. The fourth version debuted in November 1984, nearly 12 months after the game first debuted on the PCjr. This version was designed specifically for multiple platforms, including PC, Apple, Amiga, Commodore, and Atari ST. The game was distributed on 1 5.25" double density floppy disk. It was attractively boxed and came with a printed manual.
This was the first version of King's Quest to be built on the AGI (Adventure Game Interpreter) engine. The proprietary engine supported a resolution of 320 x 200 in 4-bit or 16 colours. Like previous versions, the game ran on DOS and had no mouse input. Navigation was done by using the 4 direction keys. Commands were still done by typing into the text parser located at the bottom left corner of the screen. The current score would be recorded at the top of the screen. Scoring was the same.
Even though this version supported only a limited colour palette, the graphics were very clear and defined (Figures 1-2). Shading was done by simply colouring a few surrounding pixels in black. There was no subtle shading that was in later remakes of the game.
As with previous versions, the game commenced with King Edward bestowing Sir Graham his quest. After receiving his orders, Sir Graham could be seen leaving the castle and the castle gate being closed by the guards. Only at the end of the game after Sir Graham had completed his quest was he permitted to re-enter the castle.
1987 AGI release
This was basically a re-release of the 1984 release. The packaging was identical except for the graphics on the box.
The basic difference between this and previous releases was that all previous versions were distributed on PC Booter discs. This meant that you would boot the computer from the floppy disk already inserted into the drive slot. As the computer booted up, the game would play automatically. In this version, the game could be loaded onto the hard drive and played directly from there. This avoided damaging the floppy disks because of scratching from repeated uses. It was also much faster to play the game from the hard drive than from the floppy drive.
Although the game was still built on the AGI engine, it was the first time that the game supported the EGA or Enhanced Graphics Adaptor mode. The new graphics mode was slightly sharper because it supported a higher resolution up to 640 x 350, albeit still only in 16 colours.
1989 Sega release
By this time, video games had grown so popular that Sierra On-Line decided to branch out from the PC to the console for its games. In 1989, the company teamed up with Parker Brothers to release King's Quest for the Sega Master System.
As a console, the Sega Master System did not have a keyboard but instead used a buttoned game controller. Since text commands could not be typed into the game, the game was redesigned to use a text menu system instead that could be navigated with the controller.
For this port, all the screens were redone to accommodate the console system (Figures 3-4), so that there were marked differences in the rendered graphics between this and previous AGI releases. The scenery looked very different even for the same location. Because development on the console was largely done in isolation from development on the PC, the unique look of this release was not mirrored by later releases of the game.
1990 SCI release
Some 3 years after the AGI release, Sierra On-Line released yet another major remake of the game. Sadly, the remake was a total market failure. This version was nearly identical to previous versions, except for some notable modifications in the graphics.
This was the first game to be built on the SCI (Sierra's Creative Interpreter) engine. The proprietary engine still used only 16 colors but supported twice the graphics resolution of the AGI (CGA or EGA) engine (Figures 5-6). It also lent native support for sound cards to play music instead of the PC speaker. Only few sound cards existed at the time (for example, Creative Sound Blaster, Roland MT-32, and Hercules sound cards). The game could be configured at the start from a selection of 6 compatible sound cards.
A few of the puzzles in the game also varied slightly, such as the location of the pebbles and the guessing of the name Rumplestiltskin for the gnome's name.
The Amiga release was distributed on 4 floppy disks, whereas the IBM compatible releases were distributed on either 9 5.25" or 3 3.5" floppy disks. The manual was identical to the manual from the 1987 release, but a sticker was placed on the packaging box to advertise the enhanced graphics of this remake. Unlike AGI, SCI created shading effect by using 2 different hues of green together with yellow and black to colour and shade the grass or trees. The blending of these colours under normal viewing gave a much smoother texture to the graphics. Shading in AGI was done with only 1 colour and no blending.
This was to be the last true remake of King's Quest by Sierra On-Line.
2001 VGA release
In 1996, after many acquisitions and mergers, the purchase of Sierra On-Line by CUC International ultimately saw Ken Williams losing control of his company to Davidson & Associates. In late 1997, he finally resigned from the company and went into retirement. Sierra On-Line, which was once seen as the leading developer and publisher of adventure games (synonymous with Roberta Williams as a symbol for the genre), was now defunct. Unfortunately, the new owners showed no interest in continuing to develop new games under the King's Quest license.
However, many releases and remakes of King's Quest were still being widely sold and traded in the aftermarket. New generations of gamers also wanted to share the craze created by the series that ended a decade ago. Computers were getting better, running faster, and new operating systems emerged. Fans were screaming out for a new remake of the game. Disappointed that Sierra On-Line was no longer interested in developing the license, a number of dedicated adventure game enthusiasts banded together under the tongue-in-cheek company name Tierra Entertainment and set about to remake King's Quest. The new release would be called King's Quest 1 VGA. The indie project would be led by the company's founders Britney Brimhall and Christopher Warren.
Like many fan games, Tierra Entertainment had never received approval from Sierra On-Line to develop this remake. The game was much more aesthetically pleasing due to its new engine, otherwise it played the same as the older AGI or SCI release. The gameplay was identical to the original, as was the scoring and points total. The game was created using Adventure Game Studio, a popular game generator used by indie developers to create graphical adventure games. The graphics had been upgraded to 256 colours available in VGA or Video Graphics Array mode. The expanded color palette allowed for superior graphics and colour blending with richer tones and more subtle shading.
Unlike all previous versions where you had to type in the commands, this remake was the first version to support mouse control. Navigation was done by pointing and clicking the mouse on the screen in the direction you would want to go. From a drop-down menu on top of the screen, you could adjust the volume, speed up or slow down your character's movement, restore or save your games, along with accessing other system commands or functions.
The game could be run on MS-DOS 5.00 or higher as well as Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, or XP. It required SVGA compatible video cards and supported virtually any modern sound cards.
2001 VGA 2.0 release
Less than 1 month after the initial release, Tierra Entertainment released version 2.0 of the game. Demand from the fan community was huge, since the game could be downloaded for free. A number of initial system bugs were fixed. New to this release was an additional voice pack, though the voice pack was not compatible with version 1.0 of the game. The game was otherwise completely identical in every other way.
2003 VGA release
Over the next 2 years, the developer reported nearly 1 million downloads of the remake. The project was considered a great success. In 2003, Tierra Entertainment released version 3.0 of the game. To avoid any legal challenge from Sierra On-Line for trademark infringement, Tierra Entertainment renamed itself to Anonymous Game Developer (AGD) Interactive soon after this version of the game was released.
The new version featured not only a voice pack but also a translation pack. It included bug fixes as well as an optimised music pack. If you were chatting with the gnome, a zoomed image of the gnome would now appear and the gnome would talk to you (in addition to text appearing on screen). With the translation pack, the game added support for a number of non-English languages, including Dutch, German, Icelandic, Italian, Russian, and Spanish.
Comparing the graphics in the VGA release with the AGI release (Figures 7-8) or SCI release (Figures 9-10) would be like comparing chalk and cheese. The visual quality from the 256-colour screen was simply outstanding against the simpler 16-colour screen.
In addition to single releases, there had been 4 other re-releases of King's Quest that were packaged as part of compilations published by Sierra On-Line. These compilations included not only the original King's Quest but also other games in the King's Quest series as well as, in some releases, other games of Roberta Williams.
King's Quest Collector's Edition (1994)
This compilation was released to celebrate Sierra On-Line's 15th anniversary. The compilation was also known as King's Quest Collection. Unlike other compilations, this release included only games from the King's Quest series and no others. The compilation included the first 6 games of the series. As a bonus, it also contained the French Floppy Disk version of King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! and the German Floppy Disk version of King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow.
A total of 3 different box covers were created for the compilation that went on sale in different regions and at different times. Regardless of the box covers, the packaging box included 2 CDs and a number of extras or memorabilia: Inside the Chest (a repository of articles related to King's Quest), Behind the Developer's Shield (more articles related to King's Quest), Royal Scribe (a dossier containing historical information on King's Quest), King's Quest trivia game, and Crazy Nick's Picks Checkers/Backgammon with Graham. The release also featured videos of interviews with Ken and Roberta Williams as well as on the making of King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, along with a playable demo of King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride (the later version only). The game manual for this collection contained the full text from the original manuals.
The Roberta Williams Anthology (1997)
This compilation included the complete works of Roberta Williams up to 1997. The collection included 14 games: the first 7 games from the King's Quest series, Mystery House, The Wizard and the Princess, Mission: Asteroid, Time Zone, the 2 games from the Laura Bow Mystery series, and Mixed-Up Mother Goose. The compilation also included an Apple II emulator for Windows necessary to run the Apple II titles on the PC.
Both the AGI and SCI releases of the original King's Quest were included in this compilation. However, the compilation did not contain any of the foreign language versions of the game. The release featured videos of interviews with Ken and Roberta Williams as well as some behind-the-scene footages on the making of King's Quest: Mask of Eternity. The packaging box included 4 CDs and other extras or memorabilia: Inside the Chest, Behind the Developer's Shield, and artworks from King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride. The game manual contained a lot of historical information about the series, time lines, and reprints of past interviews about Roberta Williams. Unfortunately, some of the game sections in the manual only contained excerpts of the original manual, like the Guidebook to the Land of the Green Isles.
King's Quest Collection Series (1997)
This compilation included the first 7 games from the King's Quest series, the 2 games from the Laura Bow Mystery series, Mixed-Up Mother Goose, Mystery House, The Wizard and the Princess, Mission: Asteroid, and Time Zone. Both the AGI and SCI releases of the original King's Quest were included in this compilation. The packaging box included 1 CD and extras or memorabilia from previous compilations: Inside the Chest, Behind the Developer's Shield, Royal Scribe, King's Quest trivia game, and Crazy Nick's Picks Checkers/Backgammon with Graham. The release featured an updated video of a sneak preview of King's Quest: Mask of Eternity that was slightly different than that from The Roberta Williams Anthology, showing more of the on-screen game action.
The game manual contained some of the historical information about the series reprinted from The Roberta Williams Anthology, and it lacked the time line and interviews included in the other compilation. Aside from this, the manual from the King's Quest Collection Series was almost identical to that from The Roberta Williams Anthology. Some of the game sections in the manual only contain excerpts of the original manual, like the Guidebook to the Land of the Green Isles.
King's Quest Collection (2006)
In 2006, Vivendi Games and Sierra Entertainment released a new compilation of the works of Roberta Williams. This compilation included the first 7 games from the King's Quest series, the 2 games from the Laura Bow Mystery series, and Mixed-Up Mother Goose. The packaging box included 1 CD and a printed manual.
Unlike previous compilations, this compilation was advertised to run in Windows 2000 and XP. However, as the original King's Quest was developed to run in DOS only, it would not run under the current Windows platform. Instead, the compilation included a freeware x86 emulator called DOSBox that was used to run the game in Windows. Because the original game supported a much lower screen resolution than the resolution of the Windows desktop, the game could not be run in full screen mode natively in Windows unless the DOSBox settings were altered to resize the game screen. Only the SCI release of the original King's Quest was included in this compilation. The AGI release was missing.
The original King's Quest had been developed for a wide variety of computer and console platforms. This included the Amiga, Apple II, Apple IIGS, Atari ST, DOS, Macintosh, PC Booter (including PCjr), Tandy, and Sega Master System.
To make an overall comparison of the various platform releases, it would be instructive to compare the different screenshots of the game captured on the different platforms, such as Apple II (Figure 11), Atari ST (Figure 12), DOS (Figure 13), and PC Booter (Figure 14).
Lastly, perhaps the penultimate comparison between the different platform releases of the game could be seen by comparing screenshots taken at the start of the game at a near identical location outside the castle (Figures 15-18). All versions of King's Quest could be seen as virtually identical, so that no player would miss out on the fun in playing this wonderful game.