Friday, July 19, 2013

Discovery: King's Quest: Quest for the Crown

Summer sales abound! Between GOG and Steam, there are a lot of options for the thrifty among us aiming to fill out our PC game collections. I recently picked up a whole collection of Sierra games (all of the King's Quests, Space Quests, and Police Quests), which means I've now been able to check out where it all began: King's Quest: Quest for the Crown. Expect spoilers from here on out, but honestly, you probably should have played it by now. I feel like I should have!

Watch out for the crocodiles in the moat!
The Sierra 'Quest' games were my PC games of choice during the late eighties and early nineties, but somehow I managed to miss the one that started it all. The first one I played was King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne on my dad's Mac Plus (in monochrome!), followed by the IBM PC version of King's Quest III: To Heir Is Human at my neighbor Joel's house. They were fascinating examples of early adventure gaming, but we never got very far in either of them; in the days before Gamefaqs, if you weren't allowed to call one of the (expensive) tip lines or had access to a strategy guide, you generally played one of these games until you got stuck, and then wandered around the few screens you could before falling prey to a random death of some kind.

It seems such random deaths began with the very first game. My search for a suitable screenshot to demonstrate such a death took me two screens away from the starting location: I pushed a funny-looking rock, which moved, but unfortunately it moved *downhill* and crushed my now-lifeless body. Now I'll know not to stand in that spot when I push the rock, but is that the sort of person you want to trust with your kingdom? I'd say Graham already failed the test of kingship, two screens away from where he started.

At least that death happened right in the beginning. Such instant game overs are possible throughout, and they're not always telegraphed so obviously. In some cases you might enter a room, fail to do something you need to do, and then find yourself trapped in a subsequent location with no way to recover. Sneaking around a witch's house while invisible? I hope you remembered to ransack her cupboard for the cheese within, or you might not have a way to deal with the giant rat that waits for you later in the adventure. Or maybe you didn't pick up the mushroom on one screen before you jumped down a hole on another screen, and now you're trapped in the Land of the Leprechauns with no means of escape.

The story is simple and to the point. King Edward has lost the Three Treasures of Daventry to treachery and deceit, and now the kingdom is in poor shape. He needs a hero to find the Three Treasures and restore Daventry to its former glory. Perhaps that hero will be our character, Graham! Unless he crushes himself beneath a rock two screens from the start. I hear that can happen.

The Three Treasures are varied and interesting:
+ A chest that never empties of gold coins
+ A magic mirror that reveals the future
+ A shield that's really awesome

The instruction manual contains the story of the three separate villains who tricked King Edward into giving up the Treasures, and while the villains show up in the game, the story doesn't really give you any clues to finding them. The Treasures are just sort of there, not even in the possession of the villains that took them. It's like once the Witch got her hands on the Treasure she wanted, she stuck it in a random spot in Daventry somewhere and forgot about it. The sequels have a stronger connection between story and gameplay.

One interesting thing about King's Quest I is that many of the puzzles have multiple solutions. If there is a non-violent or generally more clever solution to a puzzle, that's the one that will give you the most points. On my first playthrough (which I just mistyped as 'okaythrough' ha! Appropriate) I did not achieve the maximum number of points, so clearly I missed out on some of the optimal solutions.

On this merely Okaythrough, I didn't get the clue I needed for this until later. Whoops!
Fortunately, in this case the gnome lets me proceed with my adventure by leaving me a gold key. The gold key opens a door to the Land of the Clouds, where one of the Three Treasures awaits. If there was any question that this was not the optimal solution, check out one screen of the multi-screen stairway that the gold key unlocks:

Graham's nemesis: stairs! Step carefully!
So the game is friendly enough to give you a second chance to proceed, but it doesn't reward you for failing the puzzle. Instead, it gives you an annoying, patience-testing route to the Land of the Clouds, which is exactly as it should be! If you successfully guess the gnome's name, you get a less irritating way up there. Very smart game design.

On the whole, if you have the patience to reload earlier saved games and good-naturedly start over when you lose or get stuck, King's Quest I is still worth playing. My final score on this Okaythrough was 117/158, so I have lots of room for improvement. If you do load it up and try to beat my thoroughly average score, be sure to watch out for boulders... and stairs... and rats... and Leprechauns... and...

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