Remembering Sierra Adventure Games

I’m not that much of a PC gamer anymore. I used to play a lot of video games on my old IBM PC XT way back in the ’80s (which probably dates me as an old fogey… but never mind that) even though I did own a Nintendo Famicom/NES back then. It was much easier and more forward thinking to upgrade our personal computers then rather than ask to get a Super Famicom/Nintendo. Because, at least with a new computer, I could do other stuff, like word processing and the like. But when the PlayStation came out (and how easy it was to get pirated games in the Philippines), upgrading our computer didn’t seem like a priority since I could do the other stuff I mentioned on my old Pentium processor powered PC.

However, I do like to look back at the time when I gamed a whole lot on my computer. I mainly played adventure games, more specifically, the ones that Sierra Entertainment would produce. I basically grew up playing games like King’s Quest, Space Quest and the other games that had the word “quest” plastered on them. They were a big part of my childhood and I have a lot of fond memories. So, let’s go take a trip down nostalgia lane and let me wistfully remember my time with Sierra adventure games.

So, what exactly is an adventure game? I mean, aren’t most video games giving players an adventure? Well, yes, in a sense. But old school adventure games were like RPGs without the fighting and the stats. You basically control a character who has to gather items and use these objects to solve whatever obstacles they run across. You do have this overarching goal and it just so happens all of the things you’ll need to reach this goal is in the limited world your character’s living in. Sierra, alongside LucasArts who were known for Maniac Mansion and Zac McKracken, were the best at delivering really fun adventure games.

Now, nothing against the LucasArts games, I do have more of an affinity towards the Sierra games because I played them first. I did like The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle (which is one of the funniest games out there) but there was just something about the interface that didn’t gel with me. Maybe it’s because the older Sierra adventure games used a typing interface and, later on, a very simplified icon point-and-click style. LucasArts used predetermined words you’d have to select in combination with your inventory or the environment and it just didn’t feel all that intuitive because I’d have to search for the proper action word and it basically devolved into trying out every possible combination until I get the right result. Oh, I’d still do the same thing with the Sierra games but it just felt a little less random. In my mind, at least.

In fact, it was through the early Sierra games where I learned how to type at a very early age. Oddly enough, I never really was good at typing even though I started out with the first King’s Quest. I went on to King’s Quest II: Romancing the Stone and then to the very first Space Quest. I managed to play through those games despite still being a very poor typist then. That’s because there weren’t any real timed events in those games or I could enter an area and pre-type the command and then just press Enter to execute the command to get whatever timing was needed. Sure, it took me much longer to finish the games because of how slow I was at typing but I didn’t care. I was still having a blast with them.

Then came Police Quest. Police Quest felt like a totally different beast when it came to the Sierra games library that came before it. It wasn’t a fantasy or a sci-fi adventure. It was much more realistic and you had to follow police procedures and all of that. I ate it all up! I loved how you needed to consult the manual to decipher what each radio code meant and why you should never handcuff a suspect in the front. As much as I loved it, there was one point in the game where I would always die. That would be in the bar and you’re confronting a biker gang. Instead of using a gun, which would be unnecessary force, you would use your nightstick. The problem is “nightstick” was a big word and you had to type it in during a short amount of time! So I actually practiced and practiced typing in the word “nightstick” over and over again so I would eventually get past that point of the game. Later on, I figured out I could’ve just put in “PR24” instead of “nightstick.” Still, thanks to Police Quest, I got used to typing really quick!

Speaking of dying, one of the best things about Sierra games is trying to find out how to get your character to die! It may seem morbid but trying to see all of the deaths were enjoyable! Some can be pretty easy to find, like falling off a steep cliff in King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human or not disarming a bomb in time in Police Quest II: The Vengeance. Others are a little more obtuse, such as getting naked in Police Quest 1, sticking your face in a hole in Space Quest I: The Sarian Encounter and letting too much time pass and being forced into marriage in King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella. I will say the best deaths come from Leisure Suit Larry, a game I played when I was supposedly too young to play it. You can die in some really stupid ways, like going down a dark alley, bringing booze into a taxi, losing all your money gambling, flushing a clogged toilet and getting a venereal disease! Yes, it’s a little juvenile but, when you’re a kid who playing Leisure Suit Larry, a game that’s supposed to be for adults, then juvenile is right up your alley!

I will say that, for games that have a lot of puzzles, a lot of the answers just seem to come out of left field. There are things like having to spell Rumplestiltskin’s name using a backwards alphabet in the first King’s Quest, not throwing out the spinach dip when you escape the ship in Leisure Suit Larry 2: Looking for Love (In Several Wrong Places) and not returning to a fully explored area to get a rope in Police Quest 4: Open Season. These puzzles can be hair pull inducing because of how unfair they come off. And this was before the time of the Internet! So getting a full walkthrough was a little more difficult than just going to a message board. Thankfully, Sierra games were fairly popular in the Philippines and the store where you could copy the games (Hey! This was the only way to get them before!) would have a bulletin board where you can post a question or answer a question relating to the game! It was really nice to feel like part of a community, despite never meeting anyone who wrote on that board.

I will say I was kind of disappointed when Sierra finally gave in and switched from a typing interface to the point-and-click method. I’ve gotten so used to typing in the commands so switching over to the icons just felt weird and more in line with what LucasArts had already done. But with this new interface came a totally new graphic design that did move Sierra forward. As much as I loved the old graphic style, I do feel the newer games that used the new graphical engine looked much better and more detailed. However, there was a certain magic that didn’t translate to the newer games. There were some gems like King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers and Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father, but it just didn’t feel as charming as the other games that came before it.

Strangely enough, the games that I do feel got better were the Leisure Suit Larry games! For some odd reason, the Leisure Suit Larry games became a lot more streamlined with the “hero” just trying to boink as many women as possible and, as luck would have it, each girl would have the required item to impress the final lady of each game. They were all dumb but incredibly funny and charming. Then again, I don’t think they could make games like this anymore. But it was this transition to a more silly and less storylined approached that made Leisure Suit Larry my favorite Sierra game series.

Sadly, I stopped playing Sierra games by the time they released King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride. Not because I didn’t want to. But because my PC couldn’t handle it. This was when they switched to a more cartoony style that I didn’t care for so I wasn’t in such a huge rush to upgrade. Also, by this time, I got myself a PlayStation so I was totally enamored by the system. We did eventually get a better PC that could play the newer Sierra games some years later but playing adventure games wasn’t on the top of my video game genres then. I do remember playing Space Quest 6: The Spinal Frontier and the bug riddled Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness but I also remember not having as much fun as I did with the earlier Sierra games. Basically, besides the Leisure Suit Larry games, I generally quit playing Sierra games.

Now, I’m not saying all of these games hold up by today’s standards; the first King’s Quest looks pretty archaic now. But, during the time these games were released, they were state of the art. I did buy the King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest and, of course, the Leisure Suit Larry collections because I have a lot of nostalgic love for them. Some of the magic is gone because I still remember how to solve each puzzle and, well, the Internet makes it so easy to find answers. But I will always have love for these games and, if you like games where you don’t have to have good reflexes or just want a change of pace, I do recommend trying a Sierra game now and then.

Have you played any Sierra game before? Which is your favorite series? Let me know in the comments section below!

2 thoughts on “Remembering Sierra Adventure Games

  1. It’s funny, as my family grew up vice-versa, with consoles before computers. I always wanted to play The Day of the Tentacle, but we were sticking with the Super Nintendo instead of getting a computer for gaming, per my dad’s love of Mario and Frogger.

    I did come in the later years though, when they were getting into point and click and FPS’s. I mean, Half Life and F.E.A.R. were pretty amazing, as well as Spyro. But, that was when they already had left their roots, like you mentioned. I do miss some of the old companies, they just had a niche and rocked it right.

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