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Roberta Williams/Josh Mandel discussion

posted by tomst on - last edited - Viewed by 9.2K users
Congrats to the Telltale team for announcing the return of mid-30 year old males (and anyone else old enough to remember this series) to the world of computer gaming!

Can anyone from TT comment on Roberta Williams's involvement in terms of story & design, if such plans even exist?
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  • Yes, Anakin the 15th Anniversary collections, the interrim reboxed collections (released a year or two after) and the Collections 2 series are actually really well done!

    They are the versions that Vivendi Universal should have based there 'updated' releases on (with the added DOSBOX support, and addition of any games not previously released in earlier collections)....

    Keep in mind collection 2 included latest games in the series respectively (KQ7, SQ6, LSL6CD (LSL7?), etc)

    The 2006 collections really dropped the ball in quality...
  • Excellent post (edit: there was a good post above this one, it mysteriously vanished) , you are right Ken Williams management of the company would have destroyed people's opinions of the company, had he sold it or not... He was after all as you said trying to simple take Sierra in the direction that would make him the most money (Adventure games were not part of that plan)!

    This quote was was especially important; By the time Sierra was sold, it was mostly a non-game company. In about 1990 I made the decision to focus away from games. This came about as a result of a discussion with Bill Gates himself. It's a bit of a long story, but we had been talking about Sierra and Microsoft doing a project together when I got bold enough to ask Bill if he would ever consider buying Sierra (I had always had tremendous respect for Microsoft, and would have teamed up with them in a minute). His answer changed Sierra's future.
    People at Sierra remember this meeting well, because I came back and changed the company dramatically. Bill said that he had just noted the bankruptcy of United Artists. His contention was that they were in a hit driven business, and that ultimately in a hit driven business you run into a time of no hits. Sierra lived and died with the best seller charts. Fortunately, the charts were very good to us, but Bill's contention was they had also been good to United Artists. Ultimately, you run out of hits and die. It might take a hundred years, as was the case with United Artists, but it always happens. My goal with Sierra was to create a company that would live forever. I didn't want to be a "hit machine".
    I set a new goal for Sierra to exit the hit business, and reorganized the company around a new vision to be 1/3rd education, 1/3rd productivity and 1/3rd perennial products. The first two categories should be obvious, but the last needs some explaining. My goal was to find products that could be "rev'ed" each year, such as Microsoft's Flight Simulator, or Electronic Arts Madden Football. I wanted to find an array of products that could be done better each year. Flight (and other) Simulators fit this category, as did construction sets. Products like Caesar fit this definition. The Incredible Machine.
    By the time the company was sold, I had about 80-90% of revenue that matched my vision. It's not clear that I would have continued in adventure games at all. My guess is that this vision won't make me popular with adventure gamers, but it was working. My focus was on building a company that would live forever. The new owners had different ideas and scrapped many products I considered key to this vision. I wish they had at least asked where I was trying to steer the company."
    Chris Williams quoting his own dad Ken Williams (on why KQ8 was moving in a different direction, and his choices to change the direction of Sierra in general) (Interaction, Spring 1997);
    "The traditional adventure game is dead."'s time to change adventure games at least as much as the gamers themselves have changed over the last few years. It's time to make them "less pretentious. More open-ended, faster paced, and just more fun to play than they have been." After all..., "what's the use of creating these super-serious, overly literary, and downright studious games when the major audience that will play them played a Nintendo or a Sega last year? These folks are used to playing games where the correct answer to any problem might be jumping over something, hitting it with a hammer, or maybe even shooting it with a big bazooka. Why hassle through all the literary pretense when most of today's gamers just want to blow something up."
    Ken said about the adventure genre, and how it needed to evolve into action or something else entirely;
    Ken: "The adventure game needs to be re-invented to succeed. Doing more of the same with a new plot wouldn't cut it, beyond selling a few Sierra fans. My #1 skill at Sierra was in pushing people to innovate. There is too much copycatting in the industry today. No one has the courage to do something completely different. I don't think Sierra (or, anyone) will do an adventure game anytime soon. If they do something like what Sierra did, it will be at best a mediocre success. My guess is that companies no this, but no one wants to go out on a limb with something completely different."
    He felt the future of "Adventure Games" was something neither action, but neither a 'puzzle' (as in traditional adventure game puzzle) either, but pure interactivity with the world;
    "Imagine Super Mario quality animation, and the ability to interact with the world, but with realistic characters, and mature plots. But, a story game - not a action game, and not a puzzle game. Focus on characters and plot. That said, I would launch two different projects to reinvent the market, and my second idea might be the bigger one.
    I can't help but that paragraph he is somewhat describing the direction Telltale games is taking things... Less puzzles, but not quite action either, more like an interactive movie...
    I like the idea of where infocom was going. There were the inklings of an idea in their text games - which was to focus on artificial intelligence. If the same effort were coupled with todays computers - perhaps a game could be built that is a VERY accurate simulation. I like the idea of an environment with unpredictable characters. The problem with multi-player is that most people don't like multi-player environments. I think that through having truly smart NPCs, something that could be done that gives the best of both worlds; single and multi-player games. If I personally did a game, this is the area I would focus on. The problem is that games become puzzle games at some point. It's the player versus the traps left by the designer. I have a lot of ideas on how to build credible intelligent characters."

    Let's not forget, Roberta and Ken's desire not to just 'make games', but to bring computer industry closer to the film industry, as multimedia extraganzas! Possibly replace the film industry... That was the whole reason they hired Bill Davis as a 'Creative Director'! Roberta dreamed of a day of making 'interactive movies', where the players made choices for the actors (see making of KQ6 video, and 15th Annirsary collection videos)!
    Ken: "I always thought the future of storytelling was on the computer. I predicted that computer games would be bigger than films, and still believe there is huge potential with story-telling games - if done correctly. Watching a story from the inside is more exciting than from the outside. Phantasmagoria was a first step towards where I thought the future was. It's disappointing that we blew it with Phantasmagoria II and shot the category."
    Ken's internal development motto for Sierra was;
    "think entertainment, not games."
    He felt the limitations of "adventure game" puzzle design were limiting and gimicky, some how restraining from the kind of interactivity and entertainment he wanted!
    Ken: "In some cases it was poor design, in some cases it was the natural thing that the designer thought would happen if someone did it in "real life". I'm a perfectionist. Sierra never shipped a game I felt was perfect. This bugged my staff, because it was tough to get complements from me. Oh well. My goal was never a happy staff - it was a perfect game. We got as close as we did because I, and more importantly the Sierra culture, was to find the perfect game.
    By the way: I always hated the word "adventure game". Phantasmagoria was a horror game. It worked when it scared you, and didn't when it felt like a "puzzle" or "adventure" game. Larry worked when you laughed. It was a "comedy" game. It didn't work when it felt like an "adventure" game. Decide the emotion you are going for; tears, laughter, fear, etc - and go for it. Do what makes the emotion, and blow off the rest. In some cases my own designers forgot the rule, and those were the weak parts of the games."
    They never really liked the concept of 'games', but more the idea of 'Interactive Fiction' (based on 'emotions')...
    don't recall Roberta ever wanting her name off KQ7. That was her vision; She had wanted to make a Disney-esque KQ and got it done, that was the mood she was in in '93/'94 as far as KQ was concerned, even though she acted as more of an "Executive Producer" on it than with the other games
    Anakin, the only evidence I can think of that may show that she was thinking of releasing the game minus her name (as well as the game's number), was in concept boxart;

    There is also a rather strange message "Based on original characters created by Roberta Williams" in the credits!... The line seems to hint at some kind of divergence in the game's early development from direct Roberta...

    Note, that Roberta was thinking of leaving her name off of the games as early as KQ6, but then she believed that King's Quest was something that went much beyond herself, and was a universe that she felt other designers should be able to add to, without her involvement! But she was continually pulled back into the series... and still put much of her control over KQ6's development... There was a short period though, shen she almost left it entirely in Jane Jensen's control (and was thinking of putting little involvement into it)...
    "I originally wanted to be the Creative Consultant on King's Quest VI", "I wound up being much more deeply involved than I planned." As hard as it is for people to imagine a King's Quest game that wasn't designed by Roberta, it almost happened with King's Quest VI. It was believed that it would probably come to pass in the "not-too-distant future".-Interaction Summer 1992

    Still Jane Jensen was able to leave her own signature on the game ("darker, more ominous...more wordy", as some put it).
    This quest seems to have a darker, more ominous tone than the other King’s Quests; it is also more wordy. Is there a reason?

    I was thinking that same thing the other day, but I don’t believe we made it intentionally ominous. It just turned out that way.

    The reason it’s more wordy is that I didn’t write the text. This is the first time I have had a collaborator. Jane Jensen wrote all the script, and we worked on the story line and character together. We spent a month working together before Ken and I left on a two-month vacation to France.

    Jane has a different style than I do, and maybe she is more text oriented. Even her design documents were four times as thick as mine usually are - her fingers just fly on a word processor.
  • I did notice with Phantasmagoria that their games started feeling more cinematic, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but insofar as the last chapter of the game went.. let's just say I never did find everything you could spot, or even beat it with the good ending, cause the time-based elements were pretty unforgiving. I think that The Beast Within did a better job with the finale.

    Hmm.. I'm wondering.. while I enjoyed the earlier KQ games, 5-7, especially 6 and 7, seemed to really appeal to me a lot more than the others. While I do think that the decrease in frustrating puzzles might've been part of the reason (as was the now mouse-based user interface), I think looking back what got me to enjoy them the most was the increased amount of writing I saw in them. The stories got longer, deeper, the characters were fleshed out more.

    Kind of off topic, but did any of you ever read the King's Quest Compendium? It was the really elaborate book, must've been over 500 pages long, and it included a written story based on each of the games in a way that helped players solve the games.. BUT also included a more normal guide for each game in the second half of the book.

    I used to just sit down and read the heck out of it, and the theories that would get put forth about some of the stuff which happened, cause it was all written in-universe by a royal chronicler.

    Oh, and I do have the '97 version of the collection and it was so wonderful being able to play in both the original and remade versions of the games, along with the bonus content like interviews and documentaries. I'm really sad that the Sierra Collection I got at GOG is just.. a pale imitation.
  • It was the King's Quest Companion.
  • Huh, so it is. I wish my memory wasn't so poor. Just went and dug out my copy. I have the Fourth Edition. Heh, almost panicked when it wasn't where I'd originally thought it was, but I had stuck it with some other guys instead.

    I'm glad that I wasn't the only one here familiar with it.
  • There have been a number of conversations about it. A lot of the things in the Companion don't really mesh with the games themselves, though. Some completely opposite to what Roberta had intended (Hagatha being the sister to Manannan and Mordack) and other explanations and back stories are just plain bizarre. I remember something about lizard people?? Still, a neat book to have. I still need to get one. Though, I'd rather have the SQ Companion first.
  • The Lizard Folk, it's his nod to a DND race (the book like the games has many nods to pop culture, literature, fairy tales, and myth). Particularly the Spelljammer variety.

    Also keep in mind the Lizardfolk are an earth race descended from our dinosaurs, have little to do with his concept of the world of Daventry, another world in the 'multiverse'. They are primarily brought up when discussing the history of Earth. They are kinda like the Reptites in Chrono Trigger as the original sentient race on Earth before the evolution of mammals. Many may have left earth in space ships, or simply destroyed themselves through use of dark magic that may have brought a large asteroid to earth (a nod to the Cretaceous mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs)

    The Hagatha sister among the other KQ5 novel material is something he claims to have directly worked on with Roberta. He got her 'help and blessing' in both first and second editions, and she fully endorsed the book as early as the first edition. She has read through at least the first, second and third editions (though Jane Jensen primarily gave most of the assistence on the KQ6 material in the third).

    Other people at Sierra have used the idea since too, as it's brought up in material in the 15th Anniverary Collection, including Josh Mandel...

    I suspect it's something like the Society of the Black Cloak, in which Roberta discussed it with Jane Jensen but then forgot about it (the reason they never showed up again). In any case Roberta fully endorsed the books directly claimed the books were a pleasure to read, and were a good way to learn more about the history of her universe, greater depth and detail! She is known to have read them, and said to have given her own input into them. Likewise she has been known to forget ideas that were left on cutting room floor from games, as they were no longer important to her... Such as the idea of making the swamp witch's part in KQ8 a little more important, having her in disguise, etc.

    For all intents and purposes the Evil family and the Black Cloaks share nearly the same intent... As far as attempts to try to tie many of the villains together into confederacies...

    In contrast she read the three Berkeley novels, and thought they were only ok, not excellent reading.

    Also you have to remember Roberta has been known to say she was more concerned with technical side of game making than the story. Story making came second. That's one reason that not all elements in the games match up with each additional game. She was never trying for 'consistent persistent universe', it evolved as her technology permitted it. That's why Daventry changed shape in nearly every game it was shown.

    She has also claimed that she always looked forward and never back. That she didn't like looking at her earlier games and preferred to only look at what ever game she was currently working with at any given time. This apparently even went as far as the phases of development and may explain why she absently forgot details of things that ended up cut from games she was currently working on or had just finished.

    Btw, I'm not sure the designers other than Mark Crowe had nearly the same involvement with helping with the creation of the Space Quest Companion that Roberta herself did with the KQC. It takes far more liberties, changing names, especially for the sake of humor. They certainly didn't give any endorsement in the manner Roberta did herself, that is one quoted on the cover of the book itself (though the authors claim at least Mark Crowe gave his personal endorsement)... Although I don't know the exact involvement as I don't have a copy of first edition. I do know in second the primary involvement was with Mark Crowe. It may possible that the first edition may include a note of endorsement from one or the other. I just don't know.

    But based on what little I know of the second edition, it doesn't sound like Scott Murphy had much involvement with the book at all (and perhaps not even in the previous edition).

    However, I have to say personally I don't find it up to nearly the same quality as King's Quest Companion. Each of the novels are much shorter than their KQ counterparts, there aren't any of extra chapters that talk about the world, technology, characters, races, etc (other than an introduction chapter that gives a little bit extra from "Roger's motives" for 'sending files back in time' so his ancestor's will be able to play games based on him)... Then there are the strange and pointless daydreams he has before each chapter, that don't really add much to the stories. There is nothing approaching the quality of additions of maps and artwork found in the King's Quest Companion.

    Also if you are against he idea of having every villain in the entire series tied together... Well Peter and Jeremy Spear did it... Yep, Elmo Pugg's full name is Elmo Vohaul Pugg... Rhaems Quirk is the son of Sludge Vohaul's sister ('Lady Vohaul')... etc...

    Though the hilarious writing does make it an enjoyable read...
  • Yeah, I remember there being a lot of communication between Roberta, Jane, and the writers of the KQC. It was one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much and took a lot of it to heart regarding the games, because I knew the people involved with the games had given input for the book. I'd love to have gotten a copy of the SQC, but I never saw one. In fact, I'm amazed I got the King's Quest one cause I've never seen it again in stores.

    The idea that Roberta never looked back.. I've often thought that knowing what you've done before is important when deciding what to do next. I'd heard before that she rarely thought about stuff she'd done previously or would drop ideas and never revisit them. I dunno, I always thought it was kind of sad. Just cause an idea doesn't work at the time doesn't mean it wouldn't come in handy later. I also like continuity in my stories and the idea that a plotline is never revisited because the creators don't remember them has always disappointed me.

    Star Trek had this happen frequently.

    EDIT: Also, Baggins, are you by any chance the same Baggins I've seen on GOG?
  • Yes, I'm the same Baggins. Same one on the King's Quest Omnipedia as well, and other Sierra wikis.
  • Well, I guess that'd be why you're such an authority on their stuff. :p Always interesting to run into someone on multiple locations online.
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