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The Williams: Were they KQ fans, fans of technology, or fans of money (or a mix)?

posted by BagginsKQ on - last edited - Viewed by 374 users

So, in your opinion where did Roberta Williams and her husband sit on how they viewed the KQ series? What were they more interested in? Did their views change over time? If so when did the views change?

For was Roberta Williams more interested in technology than the KQ universe itself? Was Ken more interested in the monetary success? Was Roberta interested in the monetary success or not?

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  • Good grief. It would be more than a little presumptuous for many of us to try to answer these questions. These are questions that could best be answered by Ken Williams. Even today Williams (though busy with many other things) remains remarkably accessible for fans when he is able to participate in the forums at SierraGamers.com, is forthcoming about his Sierra years, and is also supportive of new adventure game projects. I just want to say right now that the man is a genius. You don't remain the undisputed leader of an entire industry for as many years as he did and not have some serious skills.

    To try to answer your question, though, Sierra seemed to rely on the KQ series to introduce new technologies and design features.

    By the way, who isn't interested in monetary success? And didn't the very survival of Sierra at one point depend on the success of KQ1?

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    exo

    First of all, it is a question. And all opinions are presumptuous to some degree. I find it hilarious that you came and called this question presumptuous, right after posting a threat "demanding" answers from TellTale...

    Anyways, I think Ken gave away his motivations fairly clearly when he decided he needed to establish a "forever" company. The concept of a "forever" company, especially in terms of software, is a joke. Not only would you have to produce multiple software products across a broad spectrum of needs, but you would also have to continually predict the best use of new technology.

    Based on the software releases that Sierra had in the years before Ken departed, it seemed he thought a "forever" company could subssts on raping the PrintShop license, a ton of productivity shovelware, a few sports games, and a smattering of action games with a highly variable bar of quality. Sure, they published Half-Life, but for that one title they also published 15-20 generic POS titles.

    Ken was a business man, first and foremost. It goes back to his days of having traveling salesman hawk their games... or setting up booths at trade shows. The way Al Lowe describes Ken's hiring and payment practices (in interviews with Paul Trowe for the LSL Remake) really made him sound like he was always looking for the cheapest way to handle things, and Al wasn't even trying to sound disparaging.

    Roberta is a bit harder to pin down, primarily because she wasn't as vocal as Ken about her motivations. However, her body of work (and lack there-of in the past 15 or so years) gives me the impression that she simply saw the opportunity to fiddle around with this "new fangled computer game world" due to her husband's company. She hit upon a particular winning formula, and it gave her a creative outlet. Attempts to recreate the success of KQ with franchises like Phantasmagoria didn't do so well. And the changes that occurred in kq7 & 8 hint to me that she didn't really understand what it was that people enjoyed about her games in the first place. Even KQ6 is hard to attribute to her, as Jane Jensen was such a driving force on that game creatively.

    In another thread I compared her to George Lucas, and for me at least, the comparison stands. They both managed to stumble upon something that was commercially and creatively successful. And they both fiddled with it until a majority of their fans got frustrated. Change is required to sustain interest... the real key is knowing what one can change without alienating the user base. It is a safe assumption that removing most of the puzzles and the hand drawn world of KQ and going 3D Action/Adventure is messing with the wrong knobs.

  • @exo said: Roberta is a bit harder to pin down, primarily because she wasn't as vocal as Ken about her motivations. However, her body of work (and lack there-of in the past 15 or so years) gives me the impression that she simply saw the opportunity to fiddle around with this "new fangled computer game world" due to her husband's company. She hit upon a particular winning formula, and it gave her a creative outlet. Attempts to recreate the success of KQ with franchises like Phantasmagoria didn't do so well. And the changes that occurred in kq7 & 8 hint to me that she didn't really understand what it was that people enjoyed about her games in the first place. Even KQ6 is hard to attribute to her, as Jane Jensen was such a driving force on that game creatively.

    In another thread I compared her to George Lucas, and for me at least, the comparison stands. They both managed to stumble upon something that was commercially and creatively successful. And they both fiddled with it until a majority of their fans got frustrated. Change is required to sustain interest... the real key is knowing what one can change without alienating the user base. It is a safe assumption that removing most of the puzzles and the hand drawn world of KQ and going 3D Action/Adventure is messing with the wrong knobs.

    I'd say there's a couple of big, big differences between Roberta and Lucas.
    1) Lucas had a bucketload of help and advise from day one. Go read his first four original drafts of the original Star Wars film, starting in May 1973. One is a direct rip off of a foreign film. The next several have only very vague similarity with the film that came out in 1977. Han Solo is an alien with green skin and gills, for example. Only in his last draft in 1976 does the plot of SW come out. Lucas had tons of friends in Hollywood giving him ideas and helping him out, his wife Marcia heavily edited the original film (before she did, everyone who saw it felt the pacing was terrible). On Empire, he was barely involved. On Jedi, he took a direct hand's on approach and we got the least of the original films.

    Roberta, on the other hand, was the main creative force behind the King's Quest games until KQVI. And even on VI, she and Jane hammered out the design document, the story, the characters, the events. Jane wrote the dialogue and descriptions, but basically what she did was adapt a story that'd already been laid out by Roberta. She and Jane are listed equally on the list of Designers, Directors, and Writers.

    KQ7 is the game with the least input by Roberta. She's only responsible for the basic story and characters. She doesn't even have a writing credit on the game.

    KQ8 had a very messed up development history with a lot of executive meddling and a lot of pressure on Roberta. Had the circumstances been different, we might've gotten a much different game. She'd planned action elements in the game and 3D as early as 1994-1995 but I think the idea was that action was only going to be limited to Bosses...And then the suits got involved.

    I think Roberta knew full well what people loved about King's Quest, but at the same time, she was a contracted employee in a public company. The computer game market and what the public at large wanted was changing very rapidly. At the end of the day, even though Ken had control of Sierra for the first year of KQ8's development, he was still responsible to the shareholders. After he left, she had neither strong backing or support and was probably pushed toward adding more and more action elements. Remember, this was in the era where RPGs and FPS games were becoming HUGE...And the adventure genre was considered a dead genre as early as 1996. I think she knew what the fans--the core fans--wanted--but balancing that versus the demands of the shareholders, the executives, and the market--was an incredibly difficult task.

    Also, Phantasmagoria was a big hit. It was the best selling game in Sierra's entire history. Sold around a million copies in it's first month alone. She handed Phantas II to Lorelei Shannon because she was busy working on KQ8. Lorelei took Phantas in a different direction than the first game, and by the time Phantasmagoria II was out, movie games were passe. And they were too expensive and risky for even big companies like Sierra to continue investing in.

    2) Roberta never went and tweaked the original games. Lucas has tweaked the original Star Wars films to the point of utterly alienating his fans. While Roberta didn't please fans with KQ8, she didn't also go back and tweak the originals and make the original games unavailable. Yes, KQ1 was remade by Sierra, but the original didn't stop being offered--Whereas you'll probably never see a re-release of the original, unaltered Star Wars trilogy unless Disney forces Lucas to do it.

    As for Ken, I think he was just as interested in the games end of the business as he was with the business end. Actually, before Sierra's sale, he'd gotten himself mostly out of the business end of Sierra. He appointed an executive named Michael Brochu as President & COO of the company. Brochu would handle the day to day running of Sierra and business decisions, while Ken focused on R&D. Every three months, Ken would embark on a one month trip to every Sierra studio and spend all day going over every game in development with the designers, trying to tweak this or that, acting as sort of an Executive Producer.

    I look at Ken as being basically sort of like a Walt Disney type of guy. A shrewd businessman who also had a keen interest in the creative end of things.

  • Tweaked games never? Let me point to the year, 1990 - when King's Quest I was remade in the glorious SCI engine.

    Bt

  • I'll point out that the KQ1 remake was the only great remake Sierra ever made. It was beautiful and a total improvement on the original in every way, unlike the other remakes which always had something wrong with them somewhere. Then again, it was also designed by Josh Mandel.

  • However, too bad the remake was a total failure. Sierra lost alot of money on the remakes.

    Though personally I found the Space Quest I remake one of the best of the remakes.

  • @BagginsKQ said:
    Though personally I found the Space Quest I remake one of the best of the remakes.

    SQ1VGA had a lot of great improvements on the original in the form of a few alternate puzzle solutions, hilarious additional deaths, etc. But the graphics were always the one area of that game where I felt they really faltered. It's not that the VGA graphics aren't pretty, it's that the art direction is such a drastic departure from the original game, which had a bit of a grittier tone to the visuals. It just never sat right with me. It's sort of like if someone remade the original Alien and changed all ships and technology to look like 1960s Star Trek.

  • Well, I see major difference in KQ1 vs. the SCI remake art styles as well. One went with a bright and happy cartoony fluffy fairy tale style, and the other went more for a dark/ominous/gritty/realistic look.

    I actually liked the homage to old 1950's scifi movies in the art style of the SQ1 remake, and the improved and more detailed room descriptions.

    I find both versions equally entertaining though.

  • You think KQ1SCI is gritty and realistic? Huh. Can't say I wholly agree with that. It's got dynamics and a lot of tone for sure, but it's not inherently gritty or realistic at all. I picture KQ1AGI as the low budget kids cartoon, and the remake as a fairy tale storybook major motion picture. (in the art department, that is, though the writing was much better, save the plot which was largely unchanged)

    SQ1VGA was ok. But like Lamb, I disliked the art direction. The older 80's "angular" type architecture style was far more interesting. I often wonder what SQ1VGA would have looked like if Mark Crowe had directed the arwork.

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    exo

    Anakin, you went a bit too far with my Roberta/George comparison. I meant that they are similar in that they both had commercially successful properties, and as they continued to develop those properties, they continually moved away from the things that people enjoy in the first place with their respective properties. Sure, phantasmagoria did fairly well, but the game was an fmv gimmick. The acting is/was horrible, and the game may have sold well, but it was also incredibly expensive to produce. I'm not saying that they are so similar they both stand up to pee in the same way.

    I am speaking about Roberta specifically in regards to KQ here, and I feel she moved away from what people liked most about those games as she moved on. KQ7 tried to go casual adventure with everyman appealing graphics, while KQ8 said - oh people like polygons and action? Lets do it.

    This has derailed the topic though. The original question was, what were their motivations. I am saying I don't think the creative outlet nature of gaming was Roberta's primary motivation. I feel she just messed around with it because she could. Not like an Al Lowe or 2 Guys from Andromeda that specifically worked towards making their own game.

    It is telling when all the other game creators are out there getting new projects going, and Roberta is quick to say she is totally done with it.

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