Articles

LucasArts meets Sierra 15 Sep, 2009, 11:02 / 33 comments

elTee wrote the following article, after having experienced a strange compulsion to play both Police Quest and King's Quest, and instantly regretting both.

The thrust of the argument? The Secret of Monkey Island should be remembered in the context of its time, and that means Sierra.

Read on to find out more, but be warned that there is some strong language and mild insanity.

Comments

  • Shmargin on 21 Sep, 2009, 02:34…
    My first reaction to this article was to say "I guess youre just not hardcore enough to like Sierra games" but, obviously you played them enough to write this article.

    As a fan of adventure games for a very long time, I always loved both Sierra and Lucas Arts releases, and litterally owned pretty much all of them from both companies. Sierra deffinately had different ideas about what you could do to make an adventure game hard, but I kind of liked that. Lucas Arts were always the pure fun, laugh out loud experience. Where Sierra games were harder than hell, and didnt hold your hand at all. Sometimes to super frustrating results, sure, but it was still cool to sometimes walk into a room and see a Centaur totally gore your character out of no where with nothing you could do. Plus I always kind of thought of alot of Sierra games as the "R" rated games (I was just a kid), and Lucas Arts games being the ones my mom wouldnt get mad at me playing.

    All you had to do was remember to save.

    Then walk through the door.

    And save again.
  • Logic on 16 Sep, 2009, 05:01…
    I still loved the Sierra adventures. I think LEC's are better designed, for all the mentioned reasons, but the Sierra ones delivered distinctive experiences that I was very receptive to in my youth. They evoked vastly different feelings and emotions than the LEC games, and I think both bodies of work deserve to sit side by side as pillars of adventure game history.

    Quest for Glory IV is still one of my favorite games.
  • thesporkman on 16 Sep, 2009, 05:19…
    I never got around to playing the fourth Quest for Glory game way back when, but I recently watched a YouTube playthrough of it. Some of the characters' stories were so touching. I thought freeing the Rusalka's soul and the sacrifice of the monster Toby were very powerful and emotional moments.
  • Scummbuddy on 18 Sep, 2009, 01:05…
    SPOILER ALERT!
  • thesporkman on 16 Sep, 2009, 02:57…
    I've always been a huge fan of both LucasArts and Sierra. I never really thought it was entirely fair to compare the two. In my mind they sort of stood as two separate genres of games, and you had to go into them with a different mindset and different expectations.
  • syntheticgerbil on 15 Sep, 2009, 18:59…
    I really enjoyed this article. I did notice though you picked King's Quest and Police Quest as comparisons over maybe Leisure Suit Larry and Space Quest, the former two being notoriously rigid.

    If anything though, I think Monkey Island took a page out of the LSL book in terms of nonlinear game design allowing you to solve whichever puzzle you want at your own pace, although LSL2 was as godawful in terms of design, pitfalls, and restarts as much as any King's Quest game. Funny enough to see that LSL5 was an experiment in LucasArts game design virtues in which you couldn't die, not get stuck, and generally could not do anything to slow the game down from finishing. Of course Al Lowe went one step further than LucasArts on that game and did not require you to do half the puzzles of the game as well. I'm not so sure that was a good call, even though I bet some will argue otherwise, unless adventure game scores are your thing.

    I think I enjoy Space Quest just because the whole series seems to make fun of itself for even being adventure games rather than having much to do with good adventure design. Scott Murphy has a large chip on his shoulder towards Roberta Williams and her design methods and fame if looking over any recent interviews (over the last half decade) indicates. He's also notoriously fond of MI2. :)

    But yeah, there was a lot of clout and pomp that Sierra put forward on their realism and "endlessness" towards their adventures which you very successfully illustrate. I'm very familiar with the disappointment in the parser setup where it refuses to understand anything that I am telling it to do. Always has seemed to make more sense that a revealed finite number of options in an adventure game works much better than hiding you finite options and passing them off as infinite. But then the most hardcore will probably say the mouse killed the adventure game. Eh...

    All of this said, I'm still not sure why Roberta Williams was so famous throughout the 80s and 90s, when her games nearly universally employ a lot of "design failures." It only seems more recent LucasArts designers have become much more beloved over the last decade, maybe with a lot of help of the internet.
  • Melancholick on 15 Sep, 2009, 18:17…
    That initial image of Guybrush drowning caused a goddamned conniption fit. And I can't really explain why.

    I mean that literally, actually. My wife overheard me howling and I had to try and give a succinct answer as to WHAT was so funny about it. The resulting five-minute lecture on the semantics of the Sierra design philosophy as a proxy for "Choose Your Own Adventure"-related absurdities resulted in her nodding once, going "oh-kay," and then wandering off.

    Thank you, Tee.
  • elTee on 18 Sep, 2009, 11:26…
    Haha, I'm glad you liked it. I think there's massive potential in the 'combine LucasArts and Sierra' fake-screenshot market.
  • The Tingler on 15 Sep, 2009, 19:04…
    It's hard to be an adventure gamer sometimes.
  • Giygas on 15 Sep, 2009, 17:28…
    elTee, I think you're playing Police Quest wrong. Don't play it as "game" where you have "fun", but play for what it is-


    Copy protection.
  • bgbennyboy on 15 Sep, 2009, 20:43…
    Heh
  • mrcolinp on 15 Sep, 2009, 17:06…
    Space Quest took Sierra's weaknesses and turned them into strengths. Space Quest was as good as most LucasArts games. In some ways it's dryer sense of humor is even more sophisticated.
  • Hümmelgümpf on 15 Sep, 2009, 14:52…
    "Think about it – there's one solution to every problem in any adventure game, LucasArts, Sierra, anyone."
    Not true. Maniac Mansion and Quest for Glory had several solutions for a lot of puzzles. Never understood why the concept didn't really pick up.
  • elTee on 15 Sep, 2009, 15:12…
    You guys are right, I suppose what I meant was that there is a finite number of solutions - the parser sometimes implies there are infinite numbers, even though that's a mistake made by the player rather than the game.
  • Scummbuddy on 18 Sep, 2009, 01:11…
    Scribblenauts!
  • Ascovel on 15 Sep, 2009, 15:38…
    And SCUMM suggests you can OPEN every object you can find...
  • Kroms on 15 Sep, 2009, 16:02…
    The difference being there was only one command for it. You'd have to think of synonyms in parser-based games.

    The open thing was never abused anyway, and dropped early on. Sierra never adapted their game structure like that.
  • elTee on 15 Sep, 2009, 16:25…
    Nah Sierra adapted constantly, and at least they re-made and re-released their old classics for new generations. The way you played each successive Sierra game in the 90s was different to the last, much more so than LucasArts who basically relied on modified versions of SCUMM. It's just a shame that they put so much effort into all this sort of stuff when what they really needed was someone to sort out the games themselves. It doesn't matter if it's three pixels or a live-action plate, if you're killed for trying to explore the result is the same.
  • Kroms on 15 Sep, 2009, 16:40…
    That's what I meant. I wasn't talking about the HUD or graphics or something; just the actual structure/design of their games was really flawed.
  • Kroms on 15 Sep, 2009, 18:06…
    By which I meant that whole "no dying" thing, mind.
  • Ascovel on 15 Sep, 2009, 18:21…
    I don't understand what you're talking about anymore, but I just wanted to say that parser's can be really cool way to play a game if only they are properly coded. I recommend to anyone to try the Lost Pig adventure game - brilliant stuff.
  • Giygas on 15 Sep, 2009, 14:58…
    Zak, the Last Crusade, and Loom also had alternate solutions to puzzles. (I think MI 1 and 2 also had a few)
  • Kroms on 15 Sep, 2009, 14:37…
    If any of you guys wants to read up on Ron Gilbert's design philosophy in making SMI, his Why Adventure Games Suck article is a good read.

    Erik Wolpaw (yeah, the one who co-wrote Psychonauts) also wrote these two articles, back in the day, on adventure games. His Who Killed Adventure Games? applies far more to Sierra and the like than to LucasArts (and that company's spinoffs); he later wrote something in response to Roberta Williams' theory as to why adventure games died.

    Great reads, all of them.
  • noah on 15 Sep, 2009, 18:22…
    That Wolpaw article still bums me out whenever I hear about it. I really like GK3. Conspiracy mysteries are not everyone's cup of tea, sure, but I was really absorbed by the realistically detailed Rennes-le-Château and loved the simulaic world presentation along with the plot and characters. (An adventure game with dynamic NPC schedules - how freakin' cool is that?) Besides, no one seemed to complain about similarly absurd puzzles in, say, Day of the Tentacle. Was it the far more overt cartoon styling of DoTT that made skunk striping more palatable? Surely people recall the bits of humor interspersed throughout GK1 & 2... Personally, I enjoy puzzles for what they are - puzzles. I'm not looking for them all to make complete and total logical sense. The act of solving puzzles itself is fun and compelling. I don't agree that an illogical puzzle (by conventional standards) implies that it can't be fun for someone.

    I think Ron Gilbert said it best recently (in an Idle Thumbs cast) where he pointed out that (most?) modern gamers want to be told exactly where to go and what to do so they can simply do it and get on with things. It's out of fashion to savor and think over a puzzle - really soaking into the experience and not feeling rushed for time and action. I have my own answers that drift dangerously into perceived flame-war territory, but I rhetorically ask everyone why do you think that is? I believe any downturn of adventure gaming was far more due to these trends than one person's internet opinion.

    Wolpaw's diatribe (and an entire generation of late 90's FPS fans [myself included]) confirm this shifting of trends along with the advent of 3D graphics.

    Maybe I'm just bummed because I really like the occasional somber, melancholy, methodical, slow paced, long, intricate, interactive cerebral adventure game and I didn't want to, nor do I want to see them go away, however much I also love kinetic action FPS games, and zany screwball comedy adventures.
  • neon_git on 15 Sep, 2009, 14:31…
    My big issue with Sierra games is that they're basically a way for the designer to stroke their ego. All the puzzles are there for is to allow the designer to sit back smugly, with a wry smile on their face, saying to themselves "Man, I'm SO smart."

    The other side of that coin, one that that probably hadn't occured to the developers, is that they also end up saying to the player "Man, you are SO stupid."
  • The Tingler on 15 Sep, 2009, 14:19…
    Heh, how long has Mojo gone without a Sierra-bashing article? A very long time I think!
  • Jake on 15 Sep, 2009, 16:36…
    I don't know if Mojo has ever had a Sierra focused article ever, actually.
  • The Tingler on 15 Sep, 2009, 19:03…
    Yeah, didn't think so but didn't want to say it!

    About time then! They always bash us!
  • RatherDashing on 15 Sep, 2009, 13:44…
    Great article.

    Lucasarts>Sierra

    I did have fun with a few of the Sierra games. It was pretty awesome seeing Larry get blown away by the maid's husband in LSL 2.
  • elTee on 15 Sep, 2009, 14:27…
    I have to admit that I had a lot of fun in some of the Sierra games too - just proportionately more time being frustrated, usually.

    The first Gabriel Knight is a much better 'serious' adventure game than LucasArts ever made, too.
  • clone2727 on 15 Sep, 2009, 19:11…
    Gabriel Knight is (so far) the only Sierra game I actually enjoy playing. The King's Quest ones aren't really that fun, IMO. I have some others, but I don't really have the impetus to play them...
  • Kroms on 15 Sep, 2009, 13:43…
    Good job, elTee; but I do disagree with you on one thing.

    Guybrush's taunting of Meathook didn't seem out of place at all, for me. I'm aware that Guybrush (and all the characters) in the first game are a little less well-defined than they later became (they didn't even have names till the very end, right?), but it does reeal something about his character - and more importantly, something about Meathook's character as well.
  • Logic on 15 Sep, 2009, 13:26…
    Beautiful, Tee, and much agreed.