Today the monsters of PC gaming are well known to all. Blizzard, Steam, EA, Bethesda and so on. Huge multi-billion dollar corporations chugging out carefully crafted and polished money extraction software. Modern games require the kind of budget that epic blockbusters are made of. Quora estimates that Overwatch cost about $165 million to develop. Modern PC gaming is a mega-industry of unearthly proportions with annual revenues exceeding the gross national product of most third world countries.
But before these modern gods of gaming Olympus, there were the titans of the primordial age. Infocom, Origin, Broderbund and of course Sierra Online.
Back in the early 1980s if you wanted to be a game dev, you didn’t need a multi-million dollar budget, you just found the On switch on your IBM clone (admittedly that wasn’t always easy), and started programming.
The early days were ruled by Infocom and their headliner, Zork. The early games were entirely text driven.
Then the husband and wife power couple of Ken and Roberta Williams decided to try their hand at writing a game and added something no one had ever seen before. Graphics:
I won’t pretend that it was particularly amazing stuff, but it was a start. You could get a look at what you were supposed to be imagining. It was a start for Sierra Online and quite a good one. Mind you Sierra certainly had its ups and downs. Successes frequently spawned failures.
Sierra had the Ultima series and couldn’t hang on to it.
And early gaming companies had an unfortunate tendency to blow themselves up in the wire by trying to get into business software, just like Encom did…in the movie Tron. That was the only place that ever worked. Everybody else who tried it usually went bankrupt. Infocom had had the best start of all with Zork but their database, Cornerstone became known as Tombstone in the business. Sierra nearly met a similar fate but pulled out of it thanks to the massive success of their Quest series of games. King’s Quest, Police Quest, Space Quest, Panty Quest (okay that series was actually that was called Leisure Suit Larry), all made major bank for Sierra.
So at the sunset of the Eighties Sierra went back to the well one more time to launch the last of their Quest games. Hero’s Quest.
And after getting an infringement letter from Parker Brother’s it became Quest for Glory. Although most of it’s fans doggedly called the series Hero’s Quest anyway because Gen-X.
Honestly, of all the Sierra Quest titles this one was my favorite.* It had charm, humor, and fun. Unlike King’s Quest, it actually felt a little like a D&D game night.
The title card starts with an EGA card dragon that climbed over the top of the Sierra logo and roared in a bloopy kind of way. And you never saw that dragon again for four games.
It was the first PC game I played that let you pick a player class.** Fighter, Mage, Thief. No Cleric and really none needed since this was a solo outing. You start by meeting the sheriff of the town of Spielburg. A very German looking town and this was deliberate. The devs had wanted to set each of the games in one location with a very strong cultural motif.
Now before you begin the highest tech game that 1989 had to offer you would have needed a paper and pencil. Seriously, this was not optional. You were going to have draw something nearly unknown to Millennials and Zoomers. A map.
And this was not a simple map.
You will note that there are more blank squares than lettered squares. Nothing happens in those maps except random encounters with stuff that is going to kill you.
The other thing you needed was PATIENCE. Perhaps the devs thought that grinding was part of the fun but I don’t remember enjoying it all that much. But grind you would if you were going to raise your stats.
They also seemed to think that getting randomly killed was a blast because that happened all the time too.
In its original iteration, Restore was not an option, you went back to your last save point and if you didn’t do that regularly you would lose a lot of ground.
But I suppose the random deaths were part of the challenge if not exactly “fun.” After a while, you might rage quit and dig through your collection of Next Gen VHS tapes and watch the adventures of a Captain Picard who didn’t suck yet. However, you would soon be back at it.
Hero’s Quest did have quite a bit of replay value. Your first time through you would probably play as a fighter as that was the easiest way to get through it with minimum grinding. Then Mage and lastly Thief. Thief was the most fun and more unlocks than any of the other classes. That one had the Thief quests, the thieves guild, climbing walls when you needed to get into the safety of Speilburg at night.
Being outside of the town at night was not recommended, there would be a lot more monster encounters and not enough time to rest up and heal between attacks. There were a few sanctuaries that you might be able to get to in time if the sun was going down. The Castle stables were good. Erana’s Peace at the top map you could use any time but you would likely die of exhaustion running to it, also it was in a freaking cul-de-sac and if you missed your turn you would end up in the Ogre-bear’s cave.
One of the nice things about Hero’s Quest is that the classes weren’t completely segregated. For instance, if you left Magic at zero points when you generated your character you could never learn any spells but if you put five points there you could grind yourself up the magic ladder part way. Very useful for a Thief.
After you had defeated Baba Yaga and rescued the Baron’s brats and restored peace to the valley, you would get your victory cut scene. Where the entire valley turns out to cheer you. One little court jester cartwheels, apparently forever, in celebration of your achievement. You read the bubble that praises your amazing achievement in having wasted days of your life trying to get to this cutscene. You could then save your character and move on to the next Quest for Glory game. Which I can’t really recommend because Quest for Glory II kinda sucks.
Ken Williams had had the chance to buy up a struggling start-up in 1992 called id software that had just released a game called Wolfenstein3d. From what I’ve read, he thought the concept of a first-person shooter was flash in the pan. Sierra stuck with what it knew, which was puzzle adventure games. By the time Williams thought better of it, Sierra was drastically behind the power curve. Sierra did publish the first Half-Life game but Valve decided not to sell out. In 2008 Sierra was shuttered.
Today Sierra Entertainment has been revived by Blizzard to sell it’s old games as well as being a venue for a few new ones. But it really isn’t the same. There was a crazy ambition to be the next Walt Disney that just isn’t there anymore.
Regardless, all five Quest for Glory games are now available from GOG.com for the paltry price of ten bucks.
Cataline Recommends with…fond remembrance.
*With Space Quest being a very close second.
** There may have been others before QFG but I honestly don’t care.