Friday, November 12, 2010

Game (and name) changin'

Since the day dad first brought home our first personal computer - a two colour lump of metal, plastic and cutting edge silicone, with a CGA monitor and no hard drive (it need a boot up floppy), I have had a love for PC games. In particular PC adventure games. They are an artform almost lost to time, except for the few adventure games that have managed to endure today such as Telltales Sam 'n Max and Monkey Island series. The classic adventure game, which had their golden age in the late eighties and early nineties, were a magical mix with less emphasis on action and more on puzzle solving and story and characters. Many video game enthusiasts who grew up in that era of gaming have fond memories for the early Sega and Nintendo consoles and characters like Mario, Sonic and Chun Li, but what turns my nostalgia dial up to eleven are classic Sierra and Lucasarts adventure games and characters like King Graham, Roger Wilco and Guybrush Threpwood. The adventure game was more cinematic (for it's time) and told stories and developed characters. My childhood imagination may have been inferring more onto these old games than I now know, but back then these games were magical to me and I spent countless hours solving their puzzles and quests. I think this trend towards games that have strong storytelling has carried right into my modern gaming habits. Although I enjoy the odd Modern Warfare 2 match my favourite games of the current generation are all story strong such as Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age and Bioshock.

If I had to pick a single classic adventure game that solidified my life long love of video games I would have to choose the original Hero's Quest: So You Want to be a Hero. This game blended adventure gaming with roleplaying in a way that captured my imagination back in 1989 when it was first released. First you picked a character class from fighter, thief and magic user (thief was my favourite), and assign some stats to some D&D like attributes and skills such as strength, stamina, magic use, stealth etc. and then you were thrust into a fantasy adventure game world set in a forested valley filled with monsters, magic and interesting puzzles. 'Ahead of it's time' is definitely one way I would describe Hero's Quest. I'm not aware of an earlier game that blended RPG and adventure so well. This game had multiple ways to solve it's puzzles based on your characters abilities, had multiple endings and even a night and day cycle. Designed by adventure gaming legend Lori Anne Cole and developed and published by Sierra using their SCI scripting engine, Hero's quest is a classic genre hybrid. However after the games initial release Milton Bradley, the board gaming company, began legal action against Sierra on the grounds of naming infringement of their board game, also called Hero's Quest. Subsequently Sierra re-released their game under the new name of Quest for Glory. I owned the original 5 1/4 inch floppy boxed version of the game called the original Hero's Quest. The game world was light hearted and had a great sense of humor throughout with Monty Python references (to gain entry to the wizards house his gargoyle would make you answer three questions such as "What is your name? What is your quest? What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?") and some slapstick moments. Although the 16 colour EGA graphics are basic by modern standards they were injected with nice details and some charming art design. The plot boiled down to your character entering the game on his own personal quest for adventure and glory and with the ultimate goal of becoming a hero. Soon you were fighting goblins and brigands, rescuing the local land baron's children and defeating the evil witch, Baba Yaga. If you were so inclined you could enter the game's town at night and rob the residents blind in some hilarious (well, hilarious when you're 9) burglary scenes. I'm sure you could solve this game in two or three hours nowdays if you knew what you were doing but as a kid I played this thing to death. I knew this game inside out and finished it with all three classes. The game was filled with great characters like the shady misanthrope's down at the local thieves guild, an eccentric old wizard with a pet talking rat, a weird little guy that lived up near the waterfall and Yorik, a crazy court jester. The game had several sequels and one of the great features was that you could carry your character from the end of each game into the start of the next one, character stats and all. I managed to get my hero, Gunther, all the way to Quest for Glory IV. Each iteration of the series saw your hero travel to a new game world. Part 2 was an Arabian nights style desert setting, part 3 was a fantasy African savanna and jungle and 4 was a dark Eastern Europe themed world with werewolves and gypsy's. This game was such an influence on my gaming evolution. This type of adventure/RPG hybrid led me on to play games like Baldur's Gate, Knights of the Old Republic and even World of Warcraft to some degree. The elements of character building, exploration and adventure were formulated with golden age games like Hero's quest and it's a shame to me that although characters like Mario and Link have their place in modern gaming Hero's Quest and games like it from that primal era are almost forgotten by all but the faithful few classic adventure gamers. I wish I could be carrying my original hero back from '89 into a new Quest for Glory adventure on current generation systems but I think the old Sierra adventure franchises are lost to time. They are not hard to find online, however, and there is talk of iphone ports for some of these old games so maybe they will never be entirely forgotten. If you are so inclined you should grab an old adventure game of yesteryear from the interweb and get stuck into some classic gaming goodness.

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