Can Telltale Deliver a Quest Fit for a King?

Posted: March 14, 2011 in PC, PS3, Retro
Tags: , , , , ,

Last month, Telltale Games announced that, among other properties, they would be developing new entries in the King’s Quest series. For me, this was met with mixed emotions. On the one hand, Telltale has been carrying the torch of the classic adventure game for the past few years (reviving them when most others had given up on them, to astounding success). On the other hand…this is King’s Quest. This is the grandaddy, the crown prince (pun intended) in the pantheon of graphic adventures.

Now, as much as I’ve enjoyed Telltale Games’ contributions (especially for their humor content), I do have some major concerns with them taking on this series. For all the things I love about Telltale, there are some things that always bug me about their games. First and foremost is their lack of challenge – an experienced adventure gamer can finish one in a couple of hours at most. King’s Quest games were many things in their day, but quick and easy was not one of them. While the first King’s Quest game is probably solvable in thirty minutes if you know what you’re doing, you aren’t going to know that the first time. The Sierra games reward things like patience, ingenuity, and occasionally spitting in the face of logic.

The difficulty of a Sierra game could border on cruel and unusually sadistic at times. If that isn’t to the taste of everyone, I hope Telltale offers a selection of difficulties (not unlike LucasArts’ Curse of Monkey Island offered normal and “Mega Monkey” difficulties).

And another thing: King’s Quest needs to be more dangerous than Telltale’s other titles. If you’ve played King’s Quest, or Space Quest, or any of the classic Sierra games, then you know that you can and will end up dying a few times. Thus far, Telltale has followed the LucasArts game design philosophy of not allowing the player character to die. This has been fine for Sam & Max and Tales of Monkey Island, which are both continuations of LucasArts series. But in continuing a Sierra series they should bring the you-can-and-will-die-frequently-and-horribly design philosophy back. It may seem inconvenient, but death in Sierra games could actually act as an anti-frustration feature when you were stuck. Because once in a while, when you can’t solve something, you just wanted to get Roger Wilco vaporized or march Larry Laffer in front of oncoming traffic in a cathartic moment of killing your idiot hero, complete with hilarious description. Something I’ve occasionally wanted to do to Guybrush Threepwood, and never been able to.

An essential part of the King’s Quest experience.

There is also the problem of creative control. King’s Quest has always been Roberta Williams’ series, and when she wasn’t writing it she put it in equally capable hands (most notably Jane Jensen’s in VI). While I don’t doubt Telltale can translate the style of generally solving problems through wits rather than violence, I do wonder what direction they’ll take the feel of the game in. The games were pretty consistent for the first six installments, never going too dark or too light. King’s Quest VII kept the tone while giving the game a Disney-esque graphical makeover, while VIII, almost universally considered to be the weakest of the series, went to a more generic (and darker) fantasy setting with added combat. Since then, Roberta Williams retired from the game design business when Sierra was acquired by Vivendi, and as such probably won’t have anything to do with the new game.

The new game should strive to hit the stylistic sweet spot of King’s Quest V and VI.

However, since Telltale has gone to the lengths of having Steve Purcell, Ron Gilbert, and Bob Gale involved in their respective franchises, it would be nice to see some of the designers involved in King’s Quest. The two best candidates for this would be Josh Mandel (who returned to reprise his role as King Graham in the fan-made remakes of KQ I-III, and in any case should probably be Graham’s only voice), as well as King’s Quest VI writer and designer of the Gabriel Knight series, Jane Jensen (whose latest game Gray Matter recently released stateside, and which I will eventually get around to reviewing). I’d personally like to see Jane Jensen involved because I’d saw my own leg off to play a new Gabriel Knight, and this seems like it could swing the door open for it.

Finally, I’d like to see Telltale improve the graphical engine they use. They’ve been using the same engine for the past five or six years, and King’s Quest seems like the perfect opportunity for them to trot out a fresh engine. The original King’s Quest games were always on the cutting edge of their times, utilizing things like 16-color graphics cards, mouse control, CD-ROM technology and, eventually, 3D graphics engines. This is no place to phone it in, Telltale.

This was as impressive in 1984 as Uncharted 2 was in 2009.

Now, I don’t want it to sound like I’m an overly demanding fanboy – I genuinely want the new King’s Quest to rock, to see Graham and Valanice and their brood return after an interminable fourteen years. I’m rooting for you, Telltale. I’m eager to return to Daventry and to see the glory of the old days restored.

Don’t let me and the legions of fans down, guys. I know you can do it.

  1. Armand K. says:

    The King’s Quest series, particularly number 6 (my first adventure game!) are so dear to my heart that I can only feel a wild combination of excitement and absolute terror at this idea. I honestly wish them the best of luck with this, as they have some massive shoes to fill.

  2. Steerpike says:

    Telltale seems like the logical choice in many ways, because the company is reliably producing new adventure-style content that’s doing well with fans. Assuming they approach it like a King’s Quest game and treat the franchise history right, we should be okay. Another interesting question is whether this new deal will impact development of that current episodic fan-made one that’s been coming out over the last few months.

  3. Thanks for covering this Chad! I pretty much grew up on Sierra adventure games (well, as far as PC gaming goes), and for a long time they could do no wrong in my eyes. I spent countless hours playing just about all their series, and wrote walkthrus and point lists for their King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry and Gabriel Knight series.

    I completely understand how you feel about the Gabriel Knight series, as it is by far my earliest favorite game, and still my absolute favorite adventure series (…well, GK 1 & 2…). I played and re-played those games, and I’m not ashamed to admit I also bought the novelizations of the first two games, which I proudly count among my book collection! An announcement of a new GK game would, to me, be infinitely more exciting than even the AAA blockbusters that I’m looking forward to – but only with Jane Jensen at the helm!

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