From 2010 to 2014 Richard Corbett Wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling dice to bring random obscure games back to light. This week, dice brought some history — and when game companies tell it it’s like…at least, to a degree.
In the 80s and 90s, Sierra Online was one of This company on the computer. They are now best known as Lucasarts’ rivals in adventure games, and the usual nostalgic trope is that Lucasarts makes movies and Sierra makes TV shows. None of them took a risk, though, especially since Sierra has made a lot of cool stuff over the years. One of them is InterAction. Then it was a newsletter that morphed into a magazine, which ended up being bundled with the regular magazine as an occasional freebie. Now, here’s a wacky little time capsule…emphasis on wacky.
The entire collection is available on Sierra founder Ken Williams’ website, Sierra gamer, as part of a more general collection of company history. They’re in PDF format, unlike some of the other ubiquitous copies, and more interesting than you might expect from a brochure.
At least, early on they were. By the end of the InterAction’s run, like Sierra itself, it’s even just what it once was. The great catchphrase “A blatantly biased view of the Sierra family game” was replaced with the first “In-depth knowledge of Sierra’s products and people” (presumably after the official thought that the word “family” was paired with suits and they pulled their suit carts to the Destroy the place), and ultimately the message “Praise Mamon for he is God”, around a pentagram drawn in invisible ink. If you squint hard enough, you can see it in the scan.
Clearly, InterAction is unabashed about what it is: a glorified directory. Still, it manages content that will turn the modern marketing type’s hair gray. Take, for example, a reprinted interview with King’s Quest creator Roberta Williams in 1989.
“Do you have time to play computer games by yourself?” the interviewer asked. “No,” Roberta replies, almost explaining King’s Quest V, Phantom Magic, and the Rumplestiltskin puzzle in one syllable. “A generation Look in them. I don’t sit and play. I would go through a few screens or watch Ken play or watch the kids play. But I never sit down and play because I don’t have time. “
This is Sierra’s star designer and co-founder inside Official Sierra Magazine. In the same article, she promoted the mystery game based on Colonel Agatha Christie’s bequest by saying “I’m not really a mystery reader,” and Phantasmagoria later suggested we might add the word “horror watcher” to it also listed. Just saying, that says a lot. “Master Storyteller” Mine all Burned.
The same interview does cover other aspects, though, including talking about the potential controversy of having a heroine in King’s Quest IV (not an industry first, Plundered Hearts just pushed Princess Rosella to the post, but it’s certainly the first highly regarded High-profile example) in the end it wasn’t a big deal, and it would be nice to talk about one day Sierra grows big enough that she doesn’t have to play games every year.
(Needless to say, this happened, and then some. Sierra became an empire with multiple development studios and publishing deals. Its most famous game in the late ’90s? A little thing called Half-Life. You probably Heard it. Shooter. Used to be the cover star of InterAction.)
The most bittersweet part was when she came up with her retirement plans. “I have dreams of retiring and being away on a sailboat for about two years. No, no, not really. I can never stop doing what I’m doing because I really love it.” In fact, that ended up only saying Half right. Sierra’s takeover and collapse were brutal and bloody, and Williams really set sail after that.
There’s also quite a bit of future outlook on the issue, including from Ken Williams. In a year where the word “multimedia” was a) exciting and b) had to be explained, Williams’ explanation continued: “At Sierra, our goal is to one day realize our dream of making truly interactive films” and “if Don’t be surprised that some of Hollywood’s top actors will perform in Sierra products.”
Both ended up happening…more or less…even though the dream turned into a financial disaster, more likely to be a waiter at Cafe Nervosa than Dennis Hopper, unless the CEO of the company Make him a golf buddyStill, in retrospect, “we really just needed to be able to do two things that we can’t do right now: voice and TV-quality graphics”, which goes a long way to explaining why interactive movies are so important to most companies so failed. Sierra is certainly not the only company making this mistake, but few realize that there must be a third pillar: games worth playing. In terms of Sierra’s attempt, that means Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within and… er… um. Well, go on!
Since you can read any of these questions at your leisure, let’s skip ahead a bit. This is a great example of why InterAction is unusual – the 1995 “holiday” issue’s letter page. Almost the entire first page of the magazine, and the actual magazine, is made up of complaining readers. “When my 3-year-old daughter opened our InterAction issue last week, she started crying when she saw pictures of bad guys hurting puppies,” the first begins.
On the same page, the photo was also reproduced: “I would like to oppose the use of spaceships that look like bibs in your latest magazine. This childish attempt at humor is utterly tasteless and lacks respect for the many women dedicated to your magazines reader.”
Weird? Granted, it’s not as weird as a photo of a pair of panties showing disrespect for women, but still. The official answer to the complaint? “To find more to offend, check out our latest glimpse at Space Quest 6’s teenage humor (p. 28).” Hmm…
In retrospect, this question also contained something interesting — a two-page spread… PC Gamer, complete if you subscribed to a CD of special demos and other content for Sierra products. So, if you get this promo for Sierra, it comes with an ad for PC Gamer as a subs loader and it comes with a free disc full of… Sierra demo. I think this marketing machine just shuts itself off.
Let’s have another one, from the era of “blatant prejudice”. In the spring of 1994, Sierra did quite well, although there was some rotten smell in the air in the background. Space Quest VI was announced here, but ended up causing a lot of feuds in design and production. Also announced is a game that I don’t think is really mentioned anymore – the casual suit Larry’s creator Al Lowe wrote a political satire based on the scraps of ancient Sierra Leone meat known as “The Death Penalty” or “The Capitol Punishment” you happen to have pored over.
There are some great games in this issue, including Quest For Glory: Shadows Of Darkness, a CD walkie-talkie version of Gabriel Knight (reportedly, the dub process is “I want someone who sounds like Tim Curry to play Gabriel.” We might get He”), as well as the incredible cartoon characters of the cartoon puzzle game Sid and Al. It also has one of the most unhelpful hints and tips pages ever. This is the actual advice for Police Quest 4.
Q: The little girl keeps closing the door in front of me
A: Talk to her
amazing! As if to compensate, its work on Quest For Glory IV actually shows the end of the fight, although to be fair, that’s not a spoiler unless you know what it’s showing.
However, one of the big articles in this issue – if you ignore a column trying to get everyone to casually rename mech games to “Herc” games after the Battledrome/Earthsiege series, even though MOBAs are clearly more appropriate – is by Written by Ken Williams, focusing on the big controversy that’s taking place in the US about so-called violent video games, but actually totally harmless night traps.how could there be This song Is it dangerous? If you don’t count the kids cutting their throats to get away.
These arguments are pretty old now, but context is everything. It was a bad time for gaming, when government censorship seemed likely in the US, and was already a reality in the UK (and would get even more stupid in the next few years, banning the manufacture of Carmageddon and Shadow outright) Merchant warriors had to swap shuriken for darts, on the grounds that they were more suitable for adults to throw). Williams advocates for appropriate content, free speech and gaming for the right audience. you know. Usually common sense stuff.
Note that this is a small Unfortunately, the same page has a column for his son gleefully talking about Roberta’s bloody, unbelievably controversial Phantom saying “My mom refused to let me write it because it was rated R and this article was for Teenagers. I, of course, argue that we are the ones to play it.” Also, perhaps the question at the end of Ken’s column was “What makes these few government officials appropriate censors for the rest of us?” Nope ideal The problem with this joke:
Of course, it’s easy to sneak around. Also fun! But these magazines represent an interesting era in PC gaming, and it’s cool that they’re readily available. read online here.
The site also has a lot of good stuff to dig through, including scanned tips books, and copies of ridiculously old-fashioned video catalogs. It’s hard to overstate how awesome this kind of thing was at the time, without…well…YouTube letting you see these games in action. See also the 2011 Crapshoot on Click Magazine. But first, enjoy Cheese (Drum Fill) from the Sierra On-Line 1989-1990 video catalog, which introduces “movie-quality animation.”