King's Quest: Mask of Eternity
First posted on 01 January 1999. Last updated on 08 August 2009.
King's Quest has long stood as the best selling adventure game series of all time. Sold over 7 million copies, adventure fans are all too eager about the next installment of the series—King's Quest: Mask of Eternity. Roberta Williams, creator of the series, has spent over a year in sabbatical after finishing Phantasmagoria doing background research for this game. She is determined to bring King's Quest to the next level, in 3D! This sequel also marks the first title in which the main protagonist is not a member of the Royal Family of Daventry. After all, how many times can the Royal Family save the Kingdom of Daventry?
In the Realm of the Sun lies a sacred mask called the Mask of Eternity. It is a symbol of truth, light, and order. The mask is guarded by a magical race known as the Archons. Over the years, all habitants in the Kingdom of Daventry enjoy both peace and prosperity, until one day when Lucreto (leader of the Archons) betrays his sacred duty and wrecks havoc by shattering the fabled mask with an evil spell. The spell scatters the shattered pieces of the mask beyond the Kingdom of Daventry and causes a malingering storm to sweep over the enchanted kingdom. All the inhabitants of the land, including King Graham, are turned to stoneall except one, Connor Ly Marr.
It seems Connor has been protected from the curse when, by chance, one of the pieces of the broken mask rains down on the land and has struck his foot. With the mask in hand, he is shielded from the consequences of this terrible omen. Playing the role of Connor, you learn from a local wizard, who has also been half turned to stone, that you must embark on an ultimate quest to locate the other missing pieces of the mask in order to restore law, light, and order to the land. From the now deserted land of Daventry, Connor must travel through many different lands inhabited by strange beasts, monsters, and magic. You must use your mind as well as your might to outwit and outfight all those who prevent you from fulfilling your quest.
Unlike all previous titles in the series, King's Quest: Mask of Eternity features true 3D instead of 2D sprite graphics. This means that the camera moves in a 3D space along with Connor in every step he takes. It also means that every detail of the world is rendered in real time, including all scripted in-game cut scenes. In fact, when you exit a land and enter another, the game has to spend some time unloading and loading the large amount of graphic data. Since there are hours after hours of gameplay in each land, a few moment spent loading between the lands should not be too bothersome to the player. There are 7 lands in the game—the Dimension of Death, the Swamp, the Underground Realm of the Gnomes, the Barren Region, the Frozen Reaches, Paradise Lost, and the Realm of the Sun. Each of these lands is rendered in glorious detail, complete with local weather. Leaves blow across the skies of Daventry and snow falls on the Frozen Reaches. There are even moving water and burning fire.
The flexibility in the 3D game engine is seen by the variety of characters and foes rendered from land to land. As surprising as it may sound, Connor looks and moves very realistic in 3D. He can climb, jump, and run in full animation. He even breathes and sighs. During a conversation, both Connor and other characters make expressions with their hands and faces (even lip synchronization). Dynamic changes in camera angle are automatic, but you can easily change the camera angle yourself.
The 3D game engine used in this game is called 3Space. 3Space is based on 2 design tools called TED and ZED. TED is the terrain editor previously used in Sierra On-Line's Red Baron while ZED, which is based THREAD (a shareware Quake level editor since brought by Sierra On-Line), has been thoroughly enhanced to support enhanced color texture mapping. Combining minor features taken from engines used in previous Sierra On-Line titles Cyberstorm and EarthSiege, 3Space allows 3D level design to be rendered on the fly and in both interiors and exteriors simultaneously. Features such as colored lighting, transparency, and shadowing are all supported. The game provides native support for 3Dfx through Glide API as well as a variety of 3D accelerator cards through Direct3D. The setup automatically detects any 3D accelerator card and selects it. Preference is given to 3Dfx should both 3Dfx and Direct3D modes are supported. DirectDraw is used for those systems without 3D acceleration. DirectX 6.0 support is required. To enhance performance on slower systems, dynamic lighting as well as Connor, monster, character, and object shadows can be turned off in the graphics menu.
All the music and sound effects in the game are digitally recorded. The music is enveloping and context sensitive. It is different from land to land, place to place. For example, when you are strolling outside in Daventry the music plays with an eerie tone, but as you enter the house the music changes to a light one. It works great to add to the atmosphere of the game. The music simply fits to each world like a glove. Equally, all the voices are professionally acted. The tenor voice of Scott Bullock suits perfectly as the brave hero Connor. Other characters have unique and sometimes amusing voices, such as the swamp wisps. This is a far cry from the voice acting in King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride in which all the characters speak in modern English. In King's Quest: Mask of Eternity, all characters speak in formal Old English with phrases such as "Aye" and "'Tis beyond my reach." The dialogs are well written and sound very authentic.
It is likely that you need to browse through the manual thoroughly as you explore each land. The manual gives well organized information and tips on all the monsters encountered in the game, plus a short description of each of the lands (including the Kingdom of Daventry but excluding Paradise Lost) which you must explore. Information on weapons, armor, and miscellaneous items, such as the rope and hook, rocks, gold, health and magic items, are also given. The game is packaged in a nicely designed box featuring on the front a pose of the brave hero Connor holding a shield bearing the Mask of Eternity and on the back several screenshots with a new photo of Williams.
Control of Connor is done using a combination of keyboard and mouse. The default keys can be redefined to suit the player's preference. The mouse serves 2 functions. The left mouse button is used to click on objects for descriptions or pick up items of importance. Melee fighting is done simply by clicking on the enemy with the left button. The right mouse button, when pressed and held, controls the camera. Moving forward or backward with the mouse zooms the camera in or out. Moving the camera right or left swings the camera around Connor. Continuing to hold the right mouse button while Connor moves maintains the camera in the same relative direction, though the game can automatically adjust for you the best point of view. A popup help dialog gives tips on how to maneuver Connor to perform feats such as back flip. Even instantaneous toggling between first person and third person mode is available and is a testimonial to the power of the 3Space engine.
Early in the game a wizard gives you a magic map. This magic map functions as an auto-map, revealing location details as Connor explores around. The map is very interactive. As you change things in the world (opening a locked door, chopping down a tree), the map reflect these changes instantaneously. Building locations are clearly noted on the map which can be zoomed in and out. Yet, what sets this map apart from the usual is the teleportation function. In each land (except for the Realm of the Sun) lies a teleport location. When at least 2 teleport locations have been found, the map can be used to teleport between worlds, alleviating the need to locate the entrance to leave the current world and enter another. The main on screen interface consists of a top and bottom bar. The top bar slides down automatically when the play cursor is moved to the top edge of the screen. It is used to store inventory items and display the Mask icon. The Mask icon gives an easy visualization of how many pieces of the mask has been found. The bottom bar is opened up by pressing the space bar. It displays the armor class and stat, weapon class and stat, health and experience meters, health and magic items, and other miscellaneous items in addition to the magic map. The game shares some rudimentary elements with role-playing games, such as armor and weapon classes and stats, health and experience points, and level. Each time the player gains a level the experience points which is required to get to the next level is doubled until level 15. Both combat and health stats increase with each level gained by Conner.
Gamers who are accustomed to 2D based adventure games should be pleasantly surprised by this title. With 2D, the player is limited only to explore a flat surface highlighted by hotspots. Often, the game is not nothing more than a point and click exercise. With 3D, this limitation is broken. The player now has an unlimited possibility to explore the world with complete freedom of movement and point of view. The player can peek around a corner or look over a ledge. Interaction with objects can be more than just a simple click such as pushing, pulling, climbing, and swimming.
Many critics cannot resist the temptation to compare King's Quest: Mask of Eternity with Tomb Raider. It should be clear that the primary focus of this game is adventure (with action and role-playing as secondary) while the primary focus of Tomb Raider is action. This game features many traditional adventure puzzles and not just physical obstacles that populates heavily in Tomb Raider. There are substantial amount of dialogs from interaction with characters in this game. Such technique is a key element used in this game to propel the story forward and is an aspect not seen in Tomb Raider.
As a game that has been under intense fan scrutiny since early in its development, there have been some negative opinions from critics of the game even before it is released. One of the criticisms lies in the incorporation of a combat system. This game is the first title in the King's Quest series to feature physical combat as an integral component in its gameplay. In my opinion, this use is justified since if there is no monster to kill, the world can no longer pose a danger to Connor and the weapons he finds or buys in the game are of no use. Unfortunately, the combat system is quite rudimentary. There is no ability to block, crouch, or dodge an attack. For those who are less apt in combat, an option is available to select the level of difficulty between Easy, Normal, and Hard. Setting the level on Easy makes combat virtually effortless. Another criticism lies in the use of 3D graphics, especially in their use on creating puzzles and mini-quests in the game. Rather, adventure fans should be assured that the tried and true classic "find an object and give it to a person" and "combine one object with another to uncover a secret function" type puzzles are plentiful in this title. The use of a 3D engine only allows for the creation of more complex and enjoyable puzzles. This is a refreshing break from the generic mold of adventure game puzzles and should draw the player into the action rather than away by clicking in frenzy with the mouse.
King's Quest: Mask of Eternity is the most beautifully designed game in the King's Quest series to date. It represents a new plateau in both design and gameplay. A well written story, professional voice acting, and cunning puzzles all make this sequel a joy to experience. Notwithstanding the few action and role-playing elements, King's Quest: Mask of Eternity is primarily an adventure game at heart. With the current saga ending on a high note, it remains to be seen what lies ahead in the future of this celebrated series.