Corey and Lori's Quest Log

Corey and Lori’s Quest Log

Posts Tagged ‘Quest for Glory’

Women of Glory 4: Dark Mistress

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

In which we follow our heroine Katrina’s rise to power, her journey to Mordavia, and learn how she falls in love for the very first time.

It’s not easy being a Dark Master.

KatrinaIt requires a delicate balance. If you piss off the neighboring rulers, they declare war on you. Terrorize the locals too much? They call for a Hero to take you out. Not oppressive or scary enough? The peasants revolt and slaughter your monsters. Don’t get too soft, or they start calling you “Nice Master” and expect you to be the Godparent to their kids. Like I said, it’s delicate.

The old Dark Master was nasty, but he had strong self-preservation instincts and good PR. He was rumored to be a mysterious Wizard of the “subtle and quick to anger” variety. Although he was a Vampire, The Dark Master never lunched on the locals. He fed only upon travelling merchant caravans. He called them his “Meals on Wheels.”

Despite all that care, Katrina managed to lure a Hero into slaying her Master. With the Dark Master gone, Katrina simply took over his place, title, and reputation.

Silly Wizard

Ad AvisThen one day, a brash young Wizard who called himself Ad Avis came to call upon the Dark Master. Katrina met him, but Ad Avis insisted that he was a great Wizard and had no interest in dealing with maidservants or mistresses.

Needless to say, Katrina was not impressed with Ad Avis. For a “great Wizard,” his powers of observation were lacking, and his manners were worse. So after teaching Ad Avis a valuable lesson that gurrls can be Wizards, too (by trashing him in a magical battle), Katrina bound Ad Avis to her will with her Vampiric Charm. Ad Avis would either be useful to her as a servant, or he would pay for his arrogance the next time Katrina needed a meal.

As it turned out, Ad Avis actually had some useful knowledge about summoning demons. Katrina had read about a Dark One called Avoozl, who had the power to shroud the lands with eternal night. If Katrina could summon and control Avoozl, then she would never fear daylight again.

Even as a servant, Ad Avis was arrogant and annoying. He despised women in general and Katrina in particular. He treated Katrina’s servants like they were, well, monsters. Although he was always subserviently polite to Katrina when she was around him, she knew that Ad Avis would love to drive a stake through her heart.

Unfortunately for Ad Avis, destroying Katrina would also destroy the vampiric bonds he shared with her. As a Vampire’s personal servant, he did not age and he had the same ability to charm mortals as a Vampire had. So while Ad Avis hated Katrina, he loved power too much to give in to his resentment and fury towards her.

Eventually, Katrina soon grew tired of Ad Avis’s snide superiority and sarcasm and sent him back to his homeland of Raseir. Good riddance!

Moving to Mordavia

Continuing her research, Katrina learned of the land of Mordavia. The Dark One’s cult had come very close to unleashing Avoozl upon the world. So she brought her monstrous servants to Mordavia and took over the abandoned Borgov Castle.

From the Borgov library, Katrina read about the Cult of Avoozl and the role that Erana had played in banishing the Dark One from the land.

Mordavia was a haunted land, marked by death and dark rituals. The villagers were mostly frightened fools huddled in their walled town. Some sort of spell emanating from Erana’s staff protected the town. To her annoyance, Katrina couldn’t even enter it. She had to use her crystal ball to spy on the town.
Katrina in Mordavia


Innocence Lost

One day, she saw a lonely child named Tanya playing in the garden that grew around Erana’s staff. The child was singing a lullaby to a faded ragdoll. Katrina watched as Tanya cradled the ragdoll and said plaintively, “I wish we had a friend.” Something about the child’s innocence touched Katrina’s heart.

She sent one of her servants to a distant city to bring back a fine china doll. Then she ordered Toby, her most trusted monster, to hide the doll in the garden for Tanya to find.

TobyToby was monstrous, but he was not evil, so Erana’s spell did not affect him. He easily climbed the town wall and hid the doll. While Katrina slept in her coffin, Toby waited in the gate tower to see what would happen.

When Tanya found the doll, she was delighted. She had never seen anything as beautiful as this doll before. Tanya danced merrily with the doll, and even Toby smiled to see Tanya so happy. For days and nights, Toby and Katrina watched Tanya’s joyful fun with the doll.

Then Tanya’s mother saw Tanya playing with this strange doll. Bella took the doll away from Tanya. Bella was afraid that the doll was magical and dangerous since it had clearly enchanted Tanya. Even though Tanya begged for the doll, her mother kept it hidden.

Bella made Tanya stay in the inn so that Tanya would be safe. Tanya cried to herself as she looked out the open window at the garden where she loved to play.

Toby felt sorry for Tanya and tried to comfort her. He climbed up to the roof and sang her a growling lullaby through the window. When Tanya saw Toby, she wasn’t afraid of the big, hairy monster who smiled back at her. She somehow knew that he was the one who had given her the doll. She knew that he was the friend she had wished for at Erana’s Staff.

Leave No Child Behind

TanyaWhen Katrina found out that Tanya’s mother had taken the doll, she was angry. Katrina was even angrier at the idea that Tanya could no longer go outside to play in the sunshine. Tanya’s cruel mother did not deserve such a lovely daughter. If Katrina had a daughter like Tanya, she would give her child all the toys and gifts in the world just to make her smile.

Then Katrina got an idea. Tanya was a lonely prisoner, locked away from the daylight just as Katrina was. Katrina could make Tanya happy again. Tanya would become Katrina’s darling daughter and never have to be afraid again.

So Katrina had Toby “rescue” Tanya from the inn. Katrina had a way to make sure that Tanya would never have to fear the dark or bad things again. Katrina made Tanya her very own Vampire daughter. Together they could be happy forever, afraid of nothing but sunlight.

Katrina had an answer to that too. All she needed was to summon and control Avoozl. Once eternal darkness came to Mordavia, Katrina and Tanya could go anywhere any time of the day or night.

Of course, there was a slight complication in the form of Ad Avis, who was only mostly gone. Katrina had sent him to Raseir and thought she had seen the last of him. That suited Ad Avis as well.

Living on the Raseir’s Edge

For a while, everything in Raseir went as planned. Ad Avis had taken over the city. He brought law and order to the land and put women in their place – harems. He had all the information he needed to bind the Djinn Iblis to his command.

All Ad Avis needed now was someone gullible enough to enter the Forbidden City and retrieve the statue of Iblis. Sure enough, a hero arrived right on schedule. He made it through the Forbidden City as the prophecy had foretold. Ad Avis took the statue and left the hero trapped in the ruined city.

But Ad Avis underestimated his victim. Not only did the hero escape, but he interrupted the summoning ritual for Iblis. Ad Avis was furious. All those years of being Katrina’s slave, all those years of research, all his plans for world domination destroyed by one stupid hero.

Oh, and it got worse when the hero defeated Ad Avis and sent him falling to his doom from the tower of Raseir. It’s a sad day when you can’t even trust a hero to stay in the ancient ruins and die.

Mordavian Plights

With his dying breath, Ad Avis called out to Katrina through the magical bonds of Vampire and servant. She had no choice but to summon him to her side and return him from his death as a fully-fledged Vampire. Oh well, maybe he could help out with the ritual of summoning Avoozl.

Except that he couldn’t. The final secrets of the ritual were hidden in the old monastery in town. As Vampires, they couldn’t get past Erana’s spell to reach the monastery. They were also barred from the Dark One’s Cave. They needed some gullible fool who would do those things for them..

Ad Avis knew exactly who to use…

(To Be Continued)

See No Evil Done

Illustration by Pam Thien

Women of Glory 4: Daughter of Darkness

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

The last thing the Hero recalled was defeating a demon in Fricana and being greeted by the sight of his friends who helped him.

Then he felt himself magically drawn across dimensions to an eerie and dark cave that felt nasty. It didn’t take a Paladin’s sense evil to know that this was a very bad place to be. After a long while of exploring this weird place and avoiding unpleasant ways of dying, the hero finally made his way outside.

Shadowy MeetingThe outside of the cave wasn’t much more pleasant than the inside. It was cold and foggy. There was a sense of looming danger to this area. The hero got the distinct impression that he was not in Kansas anymore.

Then a young woman walked out of the shadows toward him. She welcomed him to Mordavia. She seemed surprised and almost relieved to find the hero here.

She called herself Katrina.

Before the hero could ask her, “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?,” she headed back into the forest and was lost in the mists. The hero might suspect that this sweet young thing was more than she seemed, but for the moment he was confused, bemused, and a bit amused by her. He could only hope that he would get to meet her again sometime.

Out of the Darkness

Katrina was indeed surprised and relieved to see the hero alive. She hated it when a magical spell went awry. Her magic had summoned the hero to Mordavia where the hero was supposed to arrive in the Borgov castle. Instead, the power of the Dark One’s cave interfered.
The hero was either very lucky or very skilled to come out of that cave alive.

Either way, Katrina knew that the hero would be very useful to her.

For once, Ad Avis had given her good advice when he suggested that she summon his murderer here. This was not a matter of petty vengeance. This would have world-altering consequences.

And the hero seemed just gullible enough to do the job for which Katrina brought him here..

A Shadowy Past

Katrina grew up in the city of Slava in the kingdom of Vakia. She was the daughter of a Knight’s mistress. Katrina grew up on the edge of poverty, never knowing if her father would continue to support her and her mother from month to month. She hated to see fear on her mother’s face when the knight did not show up to pay her bills.

However, when the knight did visit, Katrina soon realized that her father was as charmed by Katrina as he was by her mother. Katrina learned how to wrap him around her finger with just a smile, a hug, and “I love you, Daddy.” Her father wasn’t the only one. All the older men in the neighborhood enjoyed her friendly smile and cheerful greetings. Sometimes, the old men would give her an apple to share with her mother.

For Katrina learned from her mother – You do whatever it takes to keep from being helpless and hungry.

When Katrina was thirteen, her mother became ill. The knight had not been to see them in months and there was very little money left for food. Their landlord was threatening to evict them for back rent. Katrina cared for her sick mother, but there was no money to buy her medicine. There was nothing Katrina could do to save her mother. She could only watch her mother die.

Then Katrina wiped the tears from her face. She brushed her hair and put on her mother’s best dress. She kissed her mother’s cheek, put two of her remaining coins on her mother’s eyes to pay for the ferryman, and then Katrina walked away, never to return.

You do whatever it takes…

The Wizardess of WIT

Katrina had a series of ‘boyfriends.’ These were older men who were thrilled to have a sweet young thing to flirt and cuddle with. One of these older men was a Wizard. He was surprised when Katrina showed an interest in his magic. He was even more surprised that she had a talent for magic. Soon, she learned all that he could teach her.

Katrina saw magic as a means of taking control of her own life. No longer would she be dependent upon others for food and shelter. She had the power to take charge of her life. She would never be helpless or hungry again – or so she hoped.

When she applied for the Wizard’s Institute for Technocery, the Wizard Council did their best to discourage her. They set the hardest of tests before her. They explained that Wizard magic was a man’s skill. She should go off to learn how to be a healer. Healing was woman’s magic.
(Yes, Erana had been there before, but she wasn’t quite human. Nor was Erana a seductive young woman who seemed determined to have her own way.)

Katrina did not let the old fools in the council keep her from the chance to learn more magic. She excelled in her classes. Most Wizards and TA’s were delighted to have someone lovely in their classrooms who actually listened to their lectures and learned their lessons. It was a novel experience for them.

Katrina spent her nights in the library learning about magic that the Wizards didn’t teach at WIT. There were some spells that were considered too dark, dangerous and unpredictable for sensible Wizards to ever learn. Katrina believed that magic was neither dark nor light. It was all a matter of how the magic was used.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Then came a demonic invasion of Russ caused by an unfortunate former graduate of WIT. To avoid the bad publicity towards Wizards and the institute, the Council sent graduate students to deal with the demons.

Unfortunately, these demons had the ability to possess Wizards. The situation was getting steadily worse.

Katrina offered to go and stop the demons. She had studied the old books and even older spells. She wanted a chance to prove that she was a true Wizard.

The council had a long conference about sending her. On one hand, it seemed wrong to send a woman to do a Wizard’s job. On the other hand, it would get rid of this troublemaker. There were far too many besotted Wizards at the Institute with her around. Besides, she was making the other students jealous because she was the teachers’ pet and got good grades just by blinking her eyelashes. Or so they assumed; it did not occur to most students that one could actually succeed by studying and practicing magic.

So the Council decided to send Katrina off to deal with the demons. It never occurred to them that she might succeed.

However, succeed Katrina did. Using a variation of the ‘Thermonuclear Blast’ spell (one that did not involve suicide as a major component of the spell), she destroyed the demons and the portal. She also disintegrated all of the possessed Wizards and grad students. She felt this was a fair trade-off. They knew the job was difficult when they took it.

Horrified that Katrina had accomplished what much greater Wizards could not do, and that she used ‘forbidden’ magic to do so, the Wizard Council banished her from the Institute.

Katrina was furious that WIT wouldn’t even acknowledge that she had just saved a land and WIT’s precious reputation. However, it didn’t really matter. She had learned about as much as she wanted to from the Institute. It was time to find a new, more powerful teacher.

So Katrina went off to seek the legendary Dark Master.

Dark Mastery

The Dark Master was a former Wizard at the Institute many decades before Katrina’s time. He had the reputation of being very learned and powerful. It was rumored that he had found the secret of agelessness.

Katrina thought it would be easy to become apprentice to an elderly old gentleman. She had charmed every other teacher and would do the same to him.

What she did not know was that the Dark Master was no gentleman. Nor was he alive. He had managed to conceal the fact that he was a Vampire from all of the Wizards. He had no need for an apprentice.

But he did have a need for a Vampire slave.

The Dark Master delighted in the cruelty of turning Katrina into a Vampire and forcing her to do his bidding.

Katrina hated him and hated being helpless to disobey him. She hated the fact that she had to return to her grave before dawn. She hated the fact that she was totally defenseless in the light of day. Being a Vampire sucked.

The Dark MasterKatrina was a servant of the Dark Master for many years until, one night, she seduced a naïve young man. She easily convinced him to stake her evil Vampire master, something Katrina could not do herself. Pity that the hero perished in the process…

Katrina became the new Dark Master.

For all her magic and power, Katrina still had to fear the dawn. She feared that one day some fool would find her coffin during the day and destroy her while she was helpless.

There had to be some way to stop the day from dawning. There had to be some way to end this helplessness.

You do whatever it takes. If there are consequences – and there always are – you deal with them later.

Katrina’s story is a bit more complex than Erana’s. In the next article of this series, we’ll see the Dark Master in action.

The Fiery Females of Quest for Glory 2

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Trial by FireWith Quest for Glory’s Trial by Fire, we wanted to take the player where he had never been before – Right in the heart of an Arabian Nights tale. The original stories of “A Thousand Nights and a Night” are a series of interlocking tales told by Scheherazade on her wedding night so that her husband wouldn’t kill her.

That probably is not the sort of story premise that promises a gender positive image system.

Of course, we set out to break expectations and overturn stereotypes right from the start. We knew that the City of Raseir was not going to be on anyone’s vacation list. Although the women in Raseir are forced to wear veils and stay in harems, we wanted the player to feel righteous indignation that any culture would treat women that way.

Then again, there were many other things wrong with Raseir. It was Shapeir’s Evil Twin. It was Animal Farm and ‘Brave New World.’ It was like working at Sierra at that time. “Raseir” is an anagram of “Sierra” for a reason.

The Feminine Wiles

In Trial By Fire, nine male characters make major impacts upon the story in a positive way. Four other male characters go out of their way to give you trouble. Six female characters help you with the story and there are no villainesses in the game. If you do the math, clearly the women are on the whole more helpful than the men.

Dinarzad, the Money Changer, is one of the first women you meet in the game. She is happy to flirt with the player, but the only thing she actually exchanges with you is money.

Dinarzad presents a very different side to Thieves who make the Thief Sign to her. Once you demonstrate that you are “one of the brethren,” she will assign you a few nighttime excursions to obtain items of value.

In fact, Dinarzad is the Chief Thief of Shapeir. In her, “women’s liberation” meets “liberation of valuable possessions.” She is a strong – although not necessarily entirely positive – female role model.

Warrior Woman

UhuraThe Adventurer’s Guild master, Uhura, represents another break with traditional roles. Uhura had been a Simbani Warrior. Unfortunately, she was also a woman, and her society wanted her to choose between being a wife or a warrior.

Uhura did not want a husband; she wanted a baby. So she left her home among the Simbani and came to Shapeir to find a boyfriend to sire her child.

Uhura is a powerful fighter who helps the Hero improve his fighting skills without having to risk his life and limb. She is a woman, a mother, and a warrior at the same time.

As the game comes to a close, Uhura decides to return to her homeland with her baby to reclaim her rank as a Warrior. She refuses to allow the traditions of her society to prevent her from being the person she wants to be.

Uhura is a fine role-model for both women and men. She teaches that you should not let the dictates of society prevent you from achieving your dreams.

(Unless of course, your dream is one of world domination. Ad Avis is your role-model for that sort of goal. His fate is to die and then face his worst nightmare. So let that be a lesson for all you would-be Evil Overlords.)

Ms Manners

AzizaAziza is a wise and powerful Wizard; she is the Seer of Shapeir. She helps you learn a variety of information and, if you are a Magic-User, a magical spell. She also teaches you some manners. It pays to be polite to people who are helping you. The fact that she can electrocute you with the snap of her fingers might also a good reason to be polite to her.

She stands not so much as a role-model as an object lesson. Courtesy is a virtue and virtue is its own reward.

Damsels in Distress

The one female who really needs your help in the game doesn’t realize she needs it. She has forgotten the nightmares of her past and the fact that she was even human once. She was a rape victim who was turned into a tree because she could not deal any more with the terror of being a victim.

Julanar was a good person to whom bad things happened. Not even a hero can just kiss her and make it all better when her wounds are that deep. It takes more than a magical spell to heal such damage. That’s why Julanar is still a tree at the end of Trial by Fire. It takes a lot of love and understanding to heal such wounds.

ZayishahWhen you get to the city of Raseir, Zayishah does ask for the hero’s help to get out of the totalitarian nightmare. On the other hand, since she is has already escaped the harem, planned her escape, and knows how to get away, she is doing a pretty good job with or without your help.

Zayishah is the only one in Raseir who refuses to give in to Ad Avis’s misogynistic orders. Of course, those orders include marrying Khaveen, and that is probably a fate worse than death. No wonder she is desperate to escape the city and her fate.

Trial on Trial

QfG2 does have a scene of gratuitous sexual exploitation – The Thief’s visit to the harem. The harem is filled with sexy, sultry women dressed in diaphanous silks that reveal as much as they conceal. The bevy of beauties in the room make salacious sexual innuendo that borders on harassment. In this case, the sexual harassment is all directed at our very male hero. Mind you, he’s too much a hero to take offense. He’s also in too much of a hurry to take advantage of the situation. World to save, you know. Pity.

There’s also an Easter Egg with the x-ray glasses and the veil. Should you be caught doing this despicable act, I will disavow any knowledge of your actions.

Other than these minor infractions of the feminine manifesto, QfG2 is really very female friendly. It plays against the common tropes of women’s roles in games. There are very few victims or princesses to rescue here.

They are all too busy rescuing themselves.

Women of Glory

Monday, August 27th, 2012

The Roles of Women in the Quest for Glory Game Series

Part 1: The Women of Quest for Glory 1

Uppity GamersI grew up just as Woman’s Lib hit its stride. At that time, Women were all expected to grow up to be Suzy Homemaker – marry, have children, and be a good cook and housekeeper for our family. Those of us who didn’t fit the mold rebelled against the chains of expectations and conformity. We spoke out against the inequality of pay scales for women, the lack of women in lawmaking, and the lack of good female role-models in life, movies, and books. My favorite button was “Uppity Women Unite.”

(Besides, I am a lousy housekeeper. Suzy Homemaker and Martha Stewart would not approve of my house or me.)

Years passed… I became a school teacher. I married, had a child, cooked, and was still a lousy housekeeper. But other than that last part, I fell into traditional roles for women. I was clearly not a women’s libber.

Gamer Girls

Then came the day when I was hired by Sierra On-Line to be a Computer Game Designer. Now there was an unconventional career for a woman. ‘Everyone’ knew that only guys made and played games. But I followed the trail blazed by Roberta Williams, the woman who helped invent the computer graphic adventure game. Sierra On-Line had no issue with hiring a woman to design games. After all, Roberta was the undisputed Queen of the genre.
I designed the Quest for Glory series to be the kind of games I would enjoy playing. My proposed design allowed the player to choose the species and gender of the main character. However, the limitations of computers in that day and age and the nature of adventure games made having multiple main characters unfeasible. Too much animation and too little computer memory to handle it.

Hero Quest HeroSo it came down to telling one character’s story – the hero’s.

Did I forsake my position on the role of women in society and in games when I designed a game with a male rather than a female protagonist? Should I be stripped of my “Uppity Woman” status because I conformed to traditional game tropes and perpetuated stereotypes?

It’s time to take a look at the Quest for Glory series so that I can answer those questions to you and to myself. I’ll start with the first game, Quest for Glory 1: So You Want To Be A Hero.

So You Want to be a Heroine

The first game was designed to start out like a typical medieval fantasy game – noob hero, European setting, some nods to folktales with Kobolds and Baba Yaga, and lots of fighting and derring-do. It was designed to ease the typical Adventure Gamer into role-playing. It wasn’t intended to be a feminist manifesto of gaming.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly how the game turned out – It was a typical middle-European, male-centric fantasy game.

Hilde PThere were more than thirty characters in the game. Of those characters, eight were female. Of those eight, one didn’t have any real lines, one didn’t have any lines to speak of – The little old lady mostly slept through her part of the story. One of those female characters was a quiet housekeeper and cook, Shima. The Centaur fruit seller, Hilde, was a flirt and had little to do with the main plot. The Healer needed help (like, who didn’t?). The Brigand Leader, Elsa von Spielburg, needed rescuing. And the main villain of the story was a wicked Ogress.

QG1 does not rate highly on the “Good role-models for Girls” list. Only Zara was a strong female character – and you only encountered her when you played the Magic-User.

Sex and the Single Game

Elsa von SpielburgThe game is not particularly sexist. True, the Brigand Leader needed rescuing, but at least Elsa was a strong woman who kept the brigands in line. While Elsa’s enchantment was the direct result of a curse upon her father, it was actually a positive experience for Elsa. She learned how to swordfight, lead men, and terrorize an entire valley. Were it not for the curse, she would have been married off to some nearby nobleman for political reasons. Instead, she learned valuable skills for her future. And the hero didn’t so much rescue her, as remind her that she had better things to do than destroying her father’s barony.

Baba YagaWhile Baba Yaga was the villainess, she wasn’t just some stereotypical wicked witch. No – Baba Yaga was an archetypical wicked witch! (er.. Ogress. She was a “hag”, not a “witch”, in the old Slavic tales. We didn’t want to offend our Wiccan friends by perpetuating the wicked witch image, so we decided she was an Ogress rather than a witch.) So what if Baba Yaga cursed the Baron and his son – the Baron tried to drive her out of the valley. So what if the hero almost became a hero sandwich? He got better.

Baba Yaga acted in this game in her traditional role in the old folk tales – she gave the hero the motive and the means to become a hero. So as long as you didn’t piss her off toad-ally, you could escape her pad without croaking.

Then there was the eighth female character in the game – Erana. You don’t meet Erana in the game, but you learn a lot about her. She protected the town from danger. She made a sanctuary for wanderers in the valley. She made a tree with magical fruit. She made music to meditate by… She was a loving presence in a troubled land.

She still didn’t get any lines in the game.

No Glory for Girls

I’m very proud of Quest for Glory 1. It has a few very strong female characters that proved that not all girls in computer games are there to be saved or to titillate. On the other hand, the first computer game I made doesn’t exactly stand as a stunning feminine tour-de-force. Compared to QG1, ‘King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella’ is “The Feminine Mystique” of gaming.

Maybe I got better as the series goes on… We’ll see in my upcoming articles.

I couldn’t get much worse.

I hope.

Talking the Talk

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Hero's QuestOn Tuesday night, Aug. 21, Lori and I were invited to do a podcast with Chris Pope, social media manager for the Guys from Andromeda Space Venture. We talked for about 75 minutes. You can find link’s to the podcast here.

Much of the discussion was about the making of Quest for Glory and tales about Sierra On-line. We have fun talking about our experiences, and the memories come rushing back. Chris did a great job as host, so we were able to share some of those old memories.

“You don’t have a game until all the pieces are there. It takes a good game design, it takes great storytelling, puzzles, wonderful graphics, and great music. The voice acting adds another layer, and when you have everything working together, that’s when you look back on having worked two or three years of twelve hour days and six- or seven-day weeks… and think, ‘You know? Maybe it was worth it.’” – Corey

That Was Then, This is Now

At the end of the talk (about 47 minutes in), Chris asked us about our current plans and the upcoming School for Heroes game. Lori started it off by saying, “Basically, the stars are aligning.” When we left Sierra in the late 90’s, the industry had shifted entirely over to first-person shooters, and publishers had no interest in making story-oriented games.

Now the tools are better, so games can be made for more reasonable budgets, and Kickstarter makes publisher-free funding possible. As a result, Lori and I started dipping our toes back into the game development water by doing some contract design work. We also had many fans asking us, “When are you going to do your Kickstarter?” and several developers saying, “We want to work with you on a game.” Suddenly the impossible began to seem possible again.

What’s It All About, Alfie?

Our new School for Heroes game is most definitely not Quest for Glory, but it has a few elements in common. We are once again reaching back into our tabletop D&D roots to make a game that combines role-playing with story and strong character interactions.

This time, the emphasis is on the role-playing. The School for Heroes will be a 2D game with two distinct parts – In the school and beneath it in the catacombs. The latter part is an old-fashioned “dungeon crawl” with tactical combat similar to Fallout 2 or Dungeonmaster. Your character will explore the catacombs to solve mysteries, fight monsters, and acquire money and equipment.

Back in school, you will improve your skills and learn how to be a Hero and a better adventurer. You are also competing against other students and trying to survive hostile instructors. Getting to know the other students and weave your way through social interaction is just as important as your schoolwork and “dungeon time”. If you’ve played Persona 2, you’ll have a feel for that part of the game, although we will give you far more choices.

We plan to develop the game in several phases. In the first scenario, you will play a Rogue. For you, the school is more like a reform school, and most of your instructors treat you like a prisoner. You need to find a way to improve your skills, and at the same time, you learn what it means to be a Hero. And it’s a good thing, because you’ll need both sides to survive.

When you come back to the game in the second scenario (as a Wizard), you’ll be in the same setting, but playing an entirely different game. The dialogue, story, and your abilities are all new. In the third scenario, you take on the role of a Warrior, and once again playing a completely different version of the story. We also plan to include the Paladin scenario in the third release, but only players who have completed at least one of the other character stories will be able to unlock and play it.

Of course, there will also be plenty of our trademark humor. After all, even great dramas usually include humor to release the tension occasionally. Our goal is to make games that are at least as fun as Quest for Glory or Castle of Dr. Brain. But we also want to make sure that every game is a new experience. Every time we make a game, we ask, “Would we enjoy playing this?” If the answer is “Uh, maybe,” we do something else.

Enjoy the podcast, and we hope all of you will join us in November on our Kickstarter Adventure!



Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

This Sunday is Easter, a time of symbols and traditions. It’s Springtime, and Easter represents hope, new life, fertility, and rebirth. Kids get a few days off school, and families get together to feast and celebrate the joy of life.

Easter Egg MeepAs far as children are concerned, the most important traditions of Easter involve chocolate, candy, and a bright pink or yellow Easter Bunny. People decorate colorful hard-boiled eggs which are then hidden about the house and yard by the Easter Bunny (cunningly impersonated by game-loving parents). On Easter Day, the kids scurry around trying to find and collect the eggs. A few eggs were usually hidden too cleverly. The real surprise came from finding these hidden eggs the following Easter. So these days most wise parents substitute hollow plastic eggs with a few jelly beans or chocolate coins inside. Easter is obviously sponsored by the dental industry.

Un-Egg-Spected Surprises

Game Developers like to hide Easter Eggs, too, but they do it in their games. An Easter Egg is a hidden character, place, or event in a game that seems a little odd, hopefully in a humorous way. They can be references to pop culture, history, other games, etc. Sometimes they open additional game play (“secret levels”), but more often they are just there as a reward for observant players.

While Easter Eggs can be distracting, they actually have an important role in improving the quality of a game. I like to describe the “intensity graph” of a game as looking like a roller coaster. The action and intensity build to a peak, then drop down to a more relaxed level before starting to build again. The “low points” of intensity provide contrast for the high points. Without them, a game becomes stressful and less fun. Also, the highs seem higher when there are lows against which to contrast them. An all-action game or movie will not feel as intense as one that gives players/viewers a chance to relax a little between the action scenes. Easter Eggs provide that lull in the action.

Egging on the Clowns

Quest for Glory featured many Easter Eggs, including “mirages” in the desert such as the Persian Golfer (a reference to the Persian Gulf War), the Awful Waffle Walker, and a submarine that showed up in the lake near Spielburg. We also had cameo appearances by such luminaries as the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and “Sanford and Son.”

During the development of Trial by Fire, Brian Hughes mentioned that our menu system reminded him of the menus in productivity software such as VisiCalc (one of the early spreadsheet programs). These programs often contained disabled menu items intended for future enhancements, and he suggested that we could have a menu item that did absolutely nothing. Thus was born the “Silly Clowns” menu, originally a feature that had no game effect whatsoever.

We may have lost some of the purity of the idea, but probably made it more fun, when we decided that we could actually do something with a “Silly Clowns” mode. In the production version of Trial By Fire, Harpo Marx only makes his cameo appearance in the alleys of Shapeir when Silly Clowns is active. Some of the death messages have sillier versions too. Since these are totally useless changes, they keep the spirit of the useless menu option.

Brian was also responsible for the “Saurus Repair Shop” Easter Egg in Trial by Fire. This scene had to be cut from the original release because we ran out of disk space. However, AGDI contacted Brian and recreated it for their recent VGA version of the game. Saurus maintenance – not for the faint of heart.

One of the Sierra artists, Jerry Moore, was famous for slipping a Star Trek reference into every game on which he worked. For example, there is a miniature Starship Enterprise on the shelf of the magic shop in Quest for Glory II: Trial By Fire. Jerry also added the Maltese Falcon statuette to the treasure room at the end of Quest for Glory I: So You Want to Be a Hero.

At the time, this was purely an Easter Egg, but Lori decided it would make an interesting plot point for the rest of the series. We put a “black bird” in each game and added a Thief story thread inspired by the movie, “The Maltese Falcon”. It started as an Easter Egg and became a MacGuffin (a plot point object).

Easter Eggs of Azeroth

World of Warcraft is full of Easter Eggs. “Critters” in WoW are small level 1-3 animals that are just there for atmosphere. While wandering through the Grizzly Peaks, I came across an odd group of critters. They were in a group consisting of a deer named “Mother of Bambina”, a small fawn named Bambina, a rabbit named Thudder, and a skunk named Flower. The names are variations on characters from Disney animated films, and the reference could have stopped there, but…

Suddenly I heard a gunshot and saw Mother of Bambina fall. Off to the side appeared a dwarven hunter; I could imagine his gun still smoking. Bambina called out, “NOOOOOO! Mother, we will avenge you!” Then he ran to the hunter and stomped him flat in a single attack, after which the rest of the party wandered off. It’s amazing what a level 1 critter can do to a level 75 hunter, given enough incentive and adrenaline.

There are dozens, hundreds – maybe thousands – of other pop culture references in World of Warcraft including an entire quest chain with character and object names from The Legend of Zelda video game series.

World of Warcraft also has the traditional type of “Easter Egg”. Every year at Easter time (but running late this year), WoW features the Noble Garden festival, which includes having Easter Eggs hidden throughout Azeroth. Inside each egg is a small prize – a few coins, or sometimes a lovely Spring dress. The latter are rare and much sought-after by role-playing ladies and completists. Lori spent most of our first WoW Easter searching for eggs and slaying bandits with her Paladin in Westfall.

Speaking of eggs in Westfall, Alliance players can tame a chicken in Westfall by repeatedly doing a Chicken Dance around it. If they are willing to make themselves look completely ridiculous, they can earn the small reward of a special pet.

Egg-Qual Time

There are of course Easter Eggs in many other games besides World of Warcraft and Quest for Glory. We just don’t play very many of them these days. Feel free to comment on this article with some of your favorite Easter Eggs from other games. Here are a few from older games:

Some Sierra games were best known for the many ways the character could die. LucasArt’s Ron Gilbert thought that character death was bad storytelling, so the player character could not die in The Secret of Monkey Island. Except when he falls off a cliff, and a Sierra-style death message pops up: “Oh, no! You’ve really screwed up this time! Guess you’ll have to start over! Hope you saved the game!” A few seconds later, the box disappears and Guybrush bounces back up onto the ledge. He looks towards the camera and explains, “Rubber tree.”

In Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, the main villains are Trebor and Werdna. Try reading those names backwards, knowing that the game authors were Robert Woodhead and Andrew Greenberg.

During development of King’s Quest IV, someone substituted a picture of Roberta Williams topless in a hot tub on the death message screen. The original image came from the cover of Leisure Suit Larry, but was touched up to “add a couple details”. That image lasted almost until the final version, but Roberta made them take it out shortly before the game shipped. Alas.

Diablo is famous for the “Secret Cow Level”. Fan rumors suggested that the original game had such a level, so Blizzard actually added one in Diablo II. You have to play through the entire game, then take a couple of special actions in town, to unlock a game level populated entirely by very aggressive cattle.

Have an Egg-Ceptional Easter!

This Easter, hide some fun for your young (or not-so-young) friends and share some Easter Gaming Goodness. And maybe you can help us find some of those lost eggs from earlier Easters.

So, What Easter Eggs have you found in computer games? We look forward to reading about your favorite game – and real life – Easter egg experiences in the comments.

School for Heroes