Ah, good old Roger Wilco.
A legendary hero from the days when there was a Babbage’s in every mall.* The galaxy’s most intrepid janitor. An every man whose ambitions were constantly thwarted. A blue collar hero that saved the day every time and never got a thimble’ full of credit for it.
The Space Quest series ran from 1986 – 1995 producing six games in total. All of which were produced by that Eighties gaming powerhouse Sierra Online.
From my Quest For Glory post:
“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.”
Sierra games covered just about every genre from police procedurals to sex comedies. They made mysteries (Laura Bow) as well as horror (Gabriel Knight). Post-apocalyptic alien invasion (Manhunter) and even one techno-thriller (Codename: Iceman). In terms of genre that company was all over the place.
But today it’s mostly remembered for it’s Quest titles. All of which were puzzlers whose DNA could be traced to the Zork games. However, most of those titles played it straight. Sierra favored dramatic, very serious business. Space Quest on the other hand was at it’s heart a comedy.
It’s based on a trope known as the Fool Triumphant. Although poor old Roger never triumphed for very long.
“The 3 elements of a Fool Triumphant are:
1) A fool whose innocence is his strength and whose gentle manner makes him likely to be ignored by all but a jealous “Insider” who knows too well.
2) An establishment, the people or group a fool comes up against, either within his midst, or after being sent to a new place in which he does not fit — at first.
3) A transmutation in which the fool becomes someone or something new, often including a “name change” that’s taken on either by accident or as a disguise.”
He mostly easily fits the third element. In fact, Roger Wilco originally wasn’t supposed to be the character’s name it was a default. In Space Quest I, you, the player were supposed to name the character thus putting yourself in Wilco’s 1960’s era Star Trek boots. Sadly though he never could quite finish the transmutation and always ended up back where he started. This eventually became a drag on the series as time went on and Wilco’s character arc never progressed.
Regardless, the first two games were fine but it was 1989’s Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon where the series really found its footing.
Space Quest III references just about every American science fiction rope that existed from 1965 to 1989. In fact it starts with a pretty solid nod to Aliens. Wilco’s escape capsule is automatically picked up by a passing garbage scow, looking for salvage. Once aboard, the capsule takes your character out of stasis. A text bubble informs you that the escape capsule has run out of power and is now useless to you. Time for your adventuring to begin.
The Pirates of Pestulon was a product of the technology available to it. The graphics were EGA, and trust me, it was vast improvement over CGA. But the controls were quite a bit more primitive. Mouse driven games were just around the corner but in 1989 they were n-o-t quite there yet. You could use a mouse to direct Roger around but you could easily play the game without it. This was one of the last games that required a lot, (in fact a shit-ton) of text commands. Consequently Space Quest III lands in an nostalgic sweet-spot. The controls were as old school as you could get but you didn’t need to use your imagination to figure out what the hell you were looking at.
This is probably why the game is more fondly remembered than most of the series. It actually was about as good you remember the old text adventures being. It has a unique charm to it. It also has an air of that period’s science fiction. It feels like both the original Star Trek and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Even the Terminator shows up. The game devs spoke fluent Eighties Nerd.
The gameplay itself was pretty simple. Despite the picture you are presented in glorious EGA graphics you have to LOOK at pretty much everything in the game. By that I mean you had to open the text box and type LOOK at whatever. That told you the proper name of what you were meant to interact with so you would then TAKE it, and stuff it into a the portable black hole Wilco apparently carried around in his pocket. Then USE it at need. Note if you do play this game TAKE the ladder with you before you finally leave the garbage scow or you will deeply REGRET it.
One of the things I remember really liking about this one is that Roger finally got his own ship. The Aluminum Mallard.
Getting it running again was your first procedural puzzle. LOOK at stuff. TAKE stuff and then USE stuff, while trying not to die along the way.
There was actually a bit of a thrill to it when you first fired up the engines and took off…and then died in a wreck because you didn’t turn on the Flight Radar. This was a Sierra game and frequently saving was mandatory. There was absolutely no Restore option. And you were going to die in many, many gorey and amusing ways.
Aside from the usual procedural puzzles there are also mazes, crypto and even an in game video game that had me laughing my ass off the first time I tried to play it. There was just something about those chickens exploding that did it for me. And honestly the puzzles weren’t unfair, if you ever play this, get stuck and consult a guide you will not be left grumbling, “no one ever would have thought of that.”
After you work your way through to the end of the game you get to meet the games’ writers (the Two Guys From Andromeda) as well as Sierra’s founder and (at the time) CEO Ken Williams.
Roger of course get’s screwed and takes off again.
In conclusion, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you have a lot time on your hands because you can’t leave the house for whatever reason, Cataline Recommends picking up the whole Space Quest bundle from GOG.com
It’s a fun throwback that doesn’t drive you too crazy and will bring back a lot of memories from a time when your world was brighter and your problems were lighter.
Okay, I’m done here.
(*) They are still there, they are just called GameStop now.