Resource Quest: hidden treasures in Sierra's adventure games
First posted on 18 August 2008. Last updated on 23 May 2010.
About the author
Jess Beebe is an adventure game enthusiast as well as a casual writer and artist. Ever since rediscovering Sierra games after a 7 year separation, her goal has been to create an adventure game of her own. Having finally achieved that goal, mostly on her own, she now harbors a desire to create more games.
Beebe is the creator of Sierra's Resource Files, a website dedicated to uncovering graphics, audio, and text hidden in the resource files of Sierra's various VGA and SVGA adventure games.
Beside adventure games, Beebe also enjoys radio dramas, nature, and "retro" science fiction. She currently lives in the United States.
For more information, visit Sierra's Resource Files.
In adventure games, many details can be easily missed by the player during gameplay. These may be as simple as an overlooked plot element or character, but there are subtler minutiae as well. There are randomly occurring events that are often completely unrelated to the plot of the game (such as the Batmobile occasionally speeding out of Hagatha's cave in King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne) or Easter Eggs that are intentionally hidden by game designers which often require a series of actions to be performed before they are revealed (such as the various titillating Easter Eggs in Leisure Suit Larry: Love For Sail!). However, there are other game elements so concealed that they never appear during normal gameplay at all—they only exist hidden in the games' resource files.
For years, the contents of these files have remained a mystery to gamers, even the few who are obsessed with the inner workings of their favorite adventure games. With the growing popularity of fan websites dedicated to adventure games, free fan-made software capable of reading these games' resource files has also become widely known. Thanks to this software, the games' background art, animation loops, audio clips, text, and programming codes have been exposed for all to see.
Among the earliest programs of this type is AGI Studio (1), which lets the user not only view the components of Sierra's AGI games but edit them as well. Other programs of this type include: SCUMM Revisited (2), which exposes resource files in LucasArts' SCUMM games; Game Audio Player (3), which plays audio stored as compressed files in many games; and SCI Studio (4), which decodes the contents of Sierra's SCI games.
Navigating around a game's resource files may be easy, but it takes a long time to explore them thoroughly. For the patient explorer, though, there is no telling what may be discovered hidden inside these files. I myself have spent a lot of time digging through many resource files, and I have stumbled across a veritable cornucopia of materials that never appear in the games which they are part of. Though I have looked at files from many different adventure games, in this article, I am only going to focus on exploring Sierra's VGA and SVGA games. Examples of VGA adventure games from Sierra are King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! and Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers, while examples of SVGA adventure games from Sierra are King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride and Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in The Spinal Frontier. Needless to say, if you have not played at least some of these games, be prepared for spoilers!
I will start off this little odyssey with a description of some of the dialog I have found hidden in the game files. There are very few game audio formats that Game Audio Player cannot read. Consequently, I have been able to spend a lot of time listening to the audio from various Sierra "Talkies", such as Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers, Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out!, and King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride. The Sierra resource files that contain audio are typically called resource.sfx (for sound effects) and resource.aud (for speech).
In particular, Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in The Spinal Frontier provides a variety of previously unheard oddities, such as unused descriptions of various inventory items, alternate versions of some of the characters' lines, and even a clip of the voice actor playing Roger mumbling, "I wanna try that one again, though... missed something in there."
A search through the audio files from Torin's Passage reveals a similar line, where the voice actor playing the Phenocryst guard is trying to make the sound of the guard eating the meal that Torin has prepared for him. After a few seconds, he starts snickering for some reason, then someone next to him can be heard saying, "I'm not squeezing his berries", causing the actor to burst out laughing. Likewise, the audio files from King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride reveal several lines from the kangaroo rat offering items to trade in exchange for inventory items that cannot possibly be presented to him (such as the moon, which cannot be taken out of Falderal, and the beetles, which cannot be taken out of Vulcanix).
However, the amount of hidden material found in the audio files pales in comparison to the graphics that I have found hidden in the main resource files of these games. The latter can be viewed using SCI Resource Viewer (5), another program for looking at the "bones" of adventure games. This program can view nearly all of Sierra's 2D adventure games, excluding those that are scripted in AGI.
For Torin's Passage, it reveals an unused close-up of the Crystal City guard, several images that look like character sheets for the women under the seraglio and the skunks, rough sketches of the archivist's organ, and a simplified 3D rendering of the planet Strata. There is even an animation of a dragon; this is curious, since a dragon is mentioned in the game's design document but never appears in the game.
For Shivers, it reveals rough mockups of every puzzle in the game. There is also a simplified version of the museum blueprint and a view (a grouping of animation loops or still images) of the sparking wire in the game's finale with a single word written in each frame. Strung together, the words spell out "Marcia Bales is a moron" (Marcia Bales is Shivers' designer).
However, the game with the most unused material is undoubtedly King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride. Among the backgrounds hidden in that game's resource files is a drawing that looks like it comes from the planet Polysorbate LX in Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in The Spinal Frontier. There are also a number of scanned pencil sketches of scenes from the game, some renderings of scenes that never appear in the game (like a closeup of the kangaroo rat's shop and a high stone bridge in Vulcanix), and an alternate version of the west side of Falderal.
There are even more treasures to be found in the game's Views folder, which stores both static and animated graphics. Larger versions of Rosella chipping a scale from the crystal dragon's tail and Edgar riding Necromancer can be found, as well as an animation of the jackalope running in circles around Rosella, then jumping up and kissing her. There is also a view showing the snake oil salesman turning Valanice into a doll instead of a statue, another with Valanice trying to stab the giant scorpion with a stake, and another showing the Boogeyman walking up to Rosella (while she is disguised), placing his hands on her shoulders, leaning close to her, and leering at her creepily.
A find that interests me particularly is a view showing cracks appearing in stone, pebbles falling and Edgar and Valanice running frantically. There is also an animation of Valanice leaping over a crevice (presumably, since there is no crevice visible in the animation loop) with Edgar catching her. Since this view shows up in the Vulcanix region of the game's resource files, it seems as if the animations are meant to be part of an additional cut scene from Chapter 6 that plays sometime between the scene when Edgar clears the elevator shaft to Vulcanix and the scene when he and Valanice reach the Volcano Control Room.
Among the oddest finds in the resource files for King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride is hundreds of animations of Rosella and Valanice performing a number of actions from various angles, such as jumping, sitting down, kneeling, looking sad, laughing, gasping, picking something up, putting something down, grinning, and falling forwards and backwards. It is strange that out of all 456 of these animations, only about 80 have been actually used in the game.
An unused view which still puzzles me shows Rosella after she has been turned into a troll. In it, she bends down, grabs the hem of her dress with both hands, lifts it up to her knees, kicks her furry hobbit-like foot, then grins perkily. I have no idea what possible purpose such an animation is supposed to serve in the game.
However, the extreme peculiarity of these discoveries has not diminished my interest in exploring games' resource files in the least. Seeing the graphics, sounds, and codes neatly grouped in separate sections and finding out how they intermingle to bring the game to life may not be quite as entertaining as playing the game itself, but for those few who have the patience and a lot of free time, it is an interesting experience.
There is always the possibility of discovering an unused background, animation or sound file, or even just an interesting little comment made by a programmer in a script. As small and uncommon as these discoveries that I have made may be, they add a new dimension to the experience of enjoying these adventure games. In a way, they can be compared to the deleted scenes or audio commentary on a DVD release of a movie, and they give the interested gamer some true insights into the games' design. Since I have only looked at a small portion of the files in just a few adventure games, who knows how many other hidden treasures have yet to be uncovered?