Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter

Posted by Mervyn Graham.
First posted on 02 October 2009. Last updated on 01 November 2011.
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Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter
Better question the man now before he dies!
Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter
Having crash landed on a strange planet, Roger sets out to explore it.
Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter
Roger finds that the crew is all dead.
Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter
The Rocket Bar (1986 EGA)
Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter
The Rocket Bar (1991 VGA)

The universe is in need of a super hero—faster than an Ulence Flats skimmer, more powerful than a Keronian Orat, and able to leap over a Sarien Spider Droid in a single bound. Look up into the Earnon Galaxy! Is it a bird? Is it a spaceship? No, it is Roger Wilco! This bumbling janitor, aboard the spacelab Arcada, has been tasked to save the galaxy from certain destruction by the Sariens—this is, when he is not found snoozing in a janitor's broom closet.

In a galaxy far, far (and far) away, lies a planetary system known to its inhabitants as Earnon. For centuries, the sun has been dying, resulting in the planets growing cold and food becoming scarce. The scientists of Xenon, the governing planet of the system, have developed an experimental solution to the problem aboard the spacelab Arcada.

The solution centers around a device called the Star Generator, which can convert a lifeless planet elsewhere in the system into a new sun. Final testing has just been done aboard the Arcada in the far reaches of Earnon, and the scientists have declared the Star Generator to be fully operational.

As the Arcada heads for home, it is attacked by the Sarien battle cruiser, Deltaur. The Sarien space pirates, once citizens of Earnon, have been banished long ago for their warlike ways. By capturing the Star Generator, the Sariens want to inflict the worst catastrophe possible on Earnon. They aim to destroy all life on Xenon, which will bring the rest of Earnon to its knees.

Aboard the Arcada is a hero in waiting, a janitor named Roger Wilco. He may just be the person needed (or not) to thwart the nefarious intentions of the Sariens.

The game starts with you taking on the role of Roger, awakening from yet another of his many daily naps inside a broom closet. As he reenters the corridors inside Arcada, he finds dead bodies everywhere and himself being hunted by the evil Sarien space pirates. Roger has to use all of his IQ (what IQ?) to save himself. In order to escape from the Arcada, Roger has to wander around rummaging through dead bodies, scouring for items and clues that may be of help to him. It is imperative that you possess the space manual that comes packaged with the game. The manual contains encrypted data charts from the library catalogs on both the planetary references and the navigational grid codes.

Somehow, Roger manages to escape from the Arcada and the Sarien battle cruiser using the ship's space pod and plots a course for the planet Kerona. Kerona is largely a dry, rocky, barren, and inhospitable desolate planet. Roger arrives at the Ulence Flats, where the planet's few alien life forms frequently congregate. Apparently, the Keronians utterly despise the Sariens and are only too eager to help out Roger with his mission. After obtaining a spacecraft from a shady local salesman, Roger leaves Kerona for the Deltaur, where he must find a way to blow up the Sariens' ship and the Star Generator on board.

There have been only 2 single versions of Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter (also known as Space Quest Chapter I: The Sarien Encounter and Space Quest I: Roger Wilco in the Sarien Encounter) ever released: the original 1986 EGA version and the 1991 VGA version remake. Originally titled "Star Quest", the game's name has to be changed late in development by Sierra On-Line to avoid a naming and copyright conflict. The game is created by Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, who are later known as the Two Guys from Andromeda for their work on the series. The original version is built using the AGI engine and is released in both 5.25" or 3.5" Floppy Disk versions. In this version, Roger Wilco is not the default player (a fact that is later changed). Instead, you are asked to enter a playing name at the beginning of the game, and that name is used as the character's name. The DOS version does not have native sound card support, so the sounds are played through the computer's internal speaker. Commands are typed in on a text parser, and the score are shown at the top of the screen to mark the game's progress. The EGA graphics support only a screen resolution of 160 x 200 pixels in 16 colors. In consequence, the quality of artwork is quite (though understandably) poor, making some objects very hard to locate in the game.

The VGA remake version is built using the SCI1 engine and is released in 5.25" or 3.5" Floppy Disk versions (not including a startup disk in the latter). The remake has exactly the same storyline as the original but includes a number of enhancements. The text parser has done away with in the re-release and is replaced by a point-and-click mouse interface that includes a dropdown menu. The VGA graphics are much more aesthetic as compared to the older EGA graphics, and motion capture is now used for some animations and scanned paintings are used for the backgrounds. The screen resolution has been improved to 320 x 200 pixels in 256 colors. Interestingly, the supplied drivers also enable the game to be played in 640 x 480 pixels resolution but only in 16 colors. The remake has a much improved MIDI score that can be played through a dedicated sound card such as the Adlib or Soundblaster.

In later games of the Space Quest series (except for Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge), Roger Wilco's name is made to be the default name of the player, so that you can no longer enter your own choice for the player's name. It is rumored that the name Roger Wilco is originated from a simple reference to the abbreviated radio communication, "Roger, Will Comply."

To appreciate the differences in the graphics between the EGA and VGA versions of the game, it is instructive to compare screenshots taken of the game at the same place and at the same point of time. They show off well the differing quality of the graphics and the background artworks. There are several other notable differences between the EGA and the VGA versions. In the original, Roger Wilco has brown hair; in the remake, he has yellow hair. The maximum score in the original is 202 points and only 201 points in the remake. Some tasks are allotted more or less points between versions. Several scenes in the game have been entirely redrawn. The Orat cave looks completely different in the remake, as does the dinosaur skeleton, when compared to the simple cliffs in the original.

Gameplay is relatively simple. You are advised to save very often, as it is very easy to get killed. Death can be less than a second away. It is also wise to have multiple saves in various place, since a poor timed save in the wrong places can leave you with instant death as soon as you restore the game. The game offers you a choice to participate or not in certain sequences. For example, the skimmer can take you to Ulence Flats either manually or automatically. It is so much more fun to play this segment manually, as you try to negotiate some rather large surface rocks with your finesse flying.

Both the original and the remake have times sequences where you are given 15 minutes at the start of the game to find and gather the required objects in order to escape on the pod. At the end, there is also a timed sequence where you have limited time to destroy the Sarien battle cruiser and the Star Generator, giving some time to escape. Saving the game in these places can be very handy.

In all, Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter is surely regarded as among the most original classic adventure games of all time. The plot may be paper thin, but the game is so full of fun. Some diehard adventure gamers may prefer the EGA original to the later VGA remake. Personally, I prefer the remake with its enhanced graphics that make it easier to spot objects needed in the inventory. I only wish the game has been made much longer as it is far too short. The game is very addictive, and once you start playing, you will not want to stop until the game is finished. Certainly, history has shown that Sierra On-Line has matched its success in King's Quest with the introduction of Space Quest. If you have not played this game before, I suggest you give it a try. You will not be disappointed. It is a sure winner.

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