Lori Ann Cole

Posted by Don Rayner, Philip Jong.
First posted on 08 September 2003. Last updated on 04 July 2010.
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Lori Ann Cole
Lori Ann Cole is a game designer and the co-creator of Quest for Glory.
Lori Ann Cole
Lori Ann Cole

Lori Ann Cole is best known as the creator of Quest for Glory. Co-designed with her husband Corey, it is among the earliest hybrid role-playing/adventure game series ever created. With a background in fictional writing, elementary education, and film animation, Cole has initially been hired by Sierra On-Line only as a freelance contractor but has eventually joined the company as a fulltime employee for her work on Quest for Glory. She is also the cofounder (along with her husband) of FAR Productions that is the developer of Shannara. We are privileged to have this exclusive interview with the iconic game designer. In the interview, Cole speaks of her career at Sierra On-Line, her past works including Quest for Glory and Shannara, her thoughts on the current state of adventure games, and what holds for her in the future.

How did you originally get into the game industry? How did you end up working at Sierra On-Line?

Corey and I got into computer game industry because of the Wizardry RPG series. We would get together with a friend and play it until very late at night. It was not quite the same as playing a paper RPG, but it was an acceptable substitute. We designed a paper RPG system about that time which would one day become the foundation for the Quest for Glory skill system. I proposed a couple of designs to a Video Game company, which didn't go anywhere, unfortunately. However, what did get us into the industry was a friend from the Science Fiction Convention community who worked for Sierra. Never underestimate the power of friendship when it comes to getting good jobs.

How much of your prior experience in creative writing and tabletop gaming did you you bring with you to Sierra On-Line?

Ah, to be a game designer, one incorporates everything you know and have done. I also had classes in art and animation that contributed to the job. And in High School, my drama classes gave me stage design and directing. Even a course of motion picture studies helped. But certainly, my experiences with tabletop gaming and writing were important in designing games.

Are you still a gamer? Which genre do you prefer? Do you have any favorite games?

I seldom actually play computer games by myself. I prefer more social interaction like kibitzing while others play. I really enjoyed "Kingdom Hearts" on the PS2, but I let my son play it for me. I'll always be an RPG'er at heart, because I love the emotional thrill of combat, but it has to have a strong story. That's why Quest for Glory was created, because no other game combined storytelling and role-playing before that time.

The Quest for Glory series is considered to be among the best adventure/role-playing series ever created. Years after its release, what are your current thoughts about this series? Do you believe your works have influenced more recent games in any way?

The Adventure game puzzle-solving aspects of Quest for Glory were intrinsic to the world, not patched-on, "here we need a puzzle" types that some games used. Too many Adventure games had puzzles based on the "Guess the Designer's Mind" school of design. There was only one solution to a puzzle, and you needed to find it out no matter how illogical it seemed.

I also disliked the fact that when you came up against a puzzle in an adventure game, you were stuck hitting your head against it until you figured out the solution. In Quest for Glory, almost every puzzle had multiple solutions. Some of them stemmed from the skills of the character that you were playing. And if you were stuck on a puzzle, you could always forget it for a while and go out practicing skills or slaying monsters while your brain cooled off.

The main thing about the Quest for Glory series that stands the test of time is that the game is not about puzzle solving or monster killing, but about story and character. All of the characters you meet in the game are more than just information devices – they all have personality as well as their own story. I wanted to create the impression that this was more than a game, but a living world that the player somehow managed to step into. I wanted the computer interface to be as smooth as possible so that you didn't have to think about how to do things, but simply be immersed in the world. And I wanted the player to feel like he really was a hero.

So I believe what has stood the test of time is that Quest for Glory is like a beloved book that stays in your heart because you believe in the cause of heroism and feel as if you became a part of it. But most of all, they last because they really are fun to play.

Other games have taken aspects of Quest for Glory, but I haven't found any that tried to capture the essential nature of the series.

Which game in the Quest for Glory series is your favorite? Why?

My favorite game is Shadows of Darkness. It had the proper moods of sombre and silly, scary and magical. It brought back Ad Avis to plague the hero, and introduced the tragic villain of Katrina. It even had the tragic sacrifice of the monster Toby that foreshadows the ending. The game had the strongest of the stories, and put the player in the greatest of dangers without friends or allies. If you could make it past the thousands of bugs, it was a great game.

What prompted the creation of Quest for Glory III: Wages of War as the third game for the series, since Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire ended with a message referring to Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness as being the next game in the series?

Several things caused us to shift Shadows of Darkness a game later. Partially, it was because of a time gap between Game 2 and Game 3. We worked on Dr. Brain and Mixed-up Fairy Tales, and so we felt the series lost some momentum. We didn't really think we could reach a new audience by restarting the series with something that was darker and grimmer than the previous games, so we didn't exactly want to turn off new players with horror. Besides, one of our friends, Ellen Guon (who later went on to Origin Systems and the Wing Commander series of games) suggested that Rakeesh and Uhura could clearly lead the player to Tarna. Seemed reasonable to us. Besides, the idea of playing a white-skinned character in a dark-skinned world and all the culture shock that goes with it had great merit to us. The game was definitely all about "Walking a mile in another man's moccasins."

You and Corey worked on Shannara for Legend Entertainment, a game based on the literary works of Terry Brooks. How did you first get involved with this project?

After QG4, Sierra didn't want to give us the budget or the team to do QG5 right, so we moved on. We knew one of the founders of Legend Entertainment, Bob Bates, from the Computer Game Designer Conferences, and he was looking for people who could put together a team to do licensed games. He had the Shannara rights, and asked if we were willing to do it. So we started a mini-company called "FAR Productions" (which stood for "Flying Aardvark Ranch," our home) and created the game.

Shannara is also a hybrid adventure/role-playing game, albeit slightly different in concept as compared to Quest for Glory. How had your experience with the Quest for Glory series aided the design or creation process in Shannara?

The biggest skill we acquired from doing the Quest for Glory series for Sierra was that of working with the team. All games require communication skills to create. The core of our team consisted of a couple of other former Sierra employees with whom we had worked previously on our games.

Shannara is a brand new tale that takes place between the first and second books of the original trilogy of stories (The Sword of Shannara and The Elfstones of Shannara respectively). What was it like creating a new chapter in the mythos? How much input did Terry Brooks have during the design of the game?

To come up with the game story, I studied The Sword of Shannara and The Elfstones of Shannara intensively to capture their mood and characters. After we came up with the plotline for the game, we met and presented it to Terry Brooks. Terry was concerned that we would maintain the integrity of his series, and we did our best to capture his grim fantasy series. He gave his approval, and so we created the game.

Terry's series was very serious, and so we had to refrain from our usual puns and humorous characters. We worked directly with Bob Bates, who has an impressive resume of Adventure Game Designs of his own, to develop the puzzles. The game has a very different feel from the Glory series as a result.

Where do you believe the adventure genre is heading into the future? Do you think the traditional "pure" point and click or even more recent keyboard/gamepad controlled adventure games are on their way out in favor of hybrid action/adventure games?

The factor that most hurt the straight adventure game genre is the expense of creating such games. They are just too art intensive, and art is expensive to produce and to show. Some of the best of the Adventure Games were criticized they were just too short. Action-adventure or Adventure Role-playing games can get away with re-using a lot of the art, and stretching the game play.

I think as technology develops better strategies to create Adventure Games, the genre still has a lot of potential. It needs to concentrate upon story and less upon arbitrary puzzles. Grim Fandango was a great game concept and fascinating characters, but the puzzles were tough to do even with the hint line. To appeal to a broader market, the games need to stress the Fun over the problem solving.

Despite the increasing numbers of female gamers, the majority of game companies are still releasing games marketed primarily towards males. Do you believe the gaming industry have any responsibility to provide a wider range of games for both genders? What may make these game companies take on such responsibility?

I think the industry is making a mistake by concentrating upon the male audience exclusively. When King's Quest 4 first came out so many years back, some people said it would never sell because it had a female protagonist. Men wouldn't want to play a girl, and girls don't play games. Those people were vastly mistaken. That game was a tremendous best seller, despite the fact the heroine was Rosella.

Games don't have to be geared specifically toward women to appeal to women – look at the gender statistics for on-line games. Those games offer something that truly appeals to women – a chance to socialize on-line. Adventure games appeal to more women since they emphasize brains over reflexes.

Game Companies tend to be run now by either of two types – people from out of the industry who are terribly clueless about games, or game players/programmers who want to make the kind of game they like to play. The clueless want to make the games just like those that top the bestseller list. The devoted former fans usually prefer the twitch genre. Thus, we have the current situation where most games seem about the same old thing. Until someone with different gaming tastes gets hired into game companies, and gets to do something original, things aren't going to change any time soon.

At last sight, you are at TranSolar Games. Are you currently working on any new project? If so, what can you tell us about your current project? Are we likely to see another Quest for Glory from the Cole stables in the future?

Right now, I'm writing a series of Quest for Glory-esque novels all loosely based on the game with a fan of the series, Mishell Baker. We will be finished with the first book by the end of this month. The first set of the series will be entitled, "How to be a Hero." While they started with some of the original storyline of the first book, they are very different. Fans of the series who previewed it really enjoyed it, although they had a few quibbles about some of the changes we made. This is not just a Quest for Glory novelization, but it's own story based on similar events. I didn't want to just re-create something that has been done before, and this series will capture the best parts of the original games and go from there.

What do you see yourself doing 5 years from now?

Well, let's see – if this book sells, we will have the sequel written for next year, both of which are based on the events in game 1. Each game in the series will break down into at least two books, so that is a minimum of 10 books. However, unlike the game series, we won't end with DragonFire. We have more stories to tell about the characters and the world. So I figure we'll be writing this series as long as it will sell.

Would I like to do computer games again? You betcha. I spent over a year designing MMOG's for a company that didn't manage to make enough money to get started. I would want to do a game that is designed for many players to get together, because I think playing with others is much more fun than playing alone, even if the others are miles away. It would certainly be a story-driven game that would appeal to Adventure gamers. However, I'm waiting for the right company to come along and want to make the games I want to play.

Thank you, Lori, for answering our questions and taking time out to keep in touch with your fans.

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