The Making of the Quests is an appendix in The Official Book of King's Quest VI by Donald B. Trivette.
Creating, designing, and producing a King's Quest takes a lot of time and work by people with a variety of skills. We thought it would be interesting to follow the process from inception to completion for a typical quest. Although King's Quest V is the quest we are going to view in detail, the others followed a similar process.
Each quest begins when Roberta Williams outlines the story on scraps of paper and in notebooks, making changes freely as the plot thickens. Sometimes she consults her children, as she did for KQV, but husband Ken is little help. He is more interested in the technical and business details than the story line. As the story begins to gel, Roberta makes rough drawings of each scene, called rooms by the developers. Along with the drawings, she sends lots of photographs to the artists to help convey what she has in mind.
Roberta also writes a script describing how each room works, although sometimes the action changes as the story develops. Room 2, the scene just south of Crispin's cottage in KQV, is the beginning of the path to the mountains. Cedric is supposed to warn Graham if he doesn't have enough gear to cross the mountains successfully. Here's the original script for that room:
- Room 2
- Path below Crispin's house.
- Hot spots - Path, large tree.
- Characters - Graham and Cedric.
- Special views or animation - None.
- "Look" messages (Eye icon) - Would give an "X" symbol if there's nothing to "see."
- Path or tree: "A worn dirt path wanders through a thick wood alive with the sound of many creatures. Between the trees, to the east Graham can see the outline of a great :mountain range."
- Manipulation (Hand icon)
- Path: Clicking the "Hand" icon on the path causes Cedric to POINT with his wing to the east and say- "See how the path goes to the east up into the mountains? That's the :route to Mordack's castle."
- Cedric puts down his wing and continues - "If you follow the path to the south over the next rise you'll come to the town."
- (On subsequent times (FOREVER AFTER THIS) just put up an "X.")
- Dialog-No "specific" dialog between Cedric and Graham except for the "Hand" icon on the path causing Cedric to "speak."
- A side note-If Graham is not ready to cross the great mountains yet because he hasn't obtained everything he needs, then when the player starts to take Graham up the :mountain trail (to the east), Cedric will fly nearer to Graham and say - "You aren't ready to cross those mountains yet, Graham! You'll never survive without being :properly outfitted."
- Of course, the player always has the option to ignore Cedric's warning and go up into the mountains anyway. If the player HAS everything he needs then Cedric won't say :anything.
- If the player tries AGAIN to go up into the mountains from here but is STILL not ready then Cedric will say - "You're not going to listen to me, are you, Graham? I told :you you weren't ready to tackle the mountains yet. Ah, well. Do what you will. I'm not going to warn you again."
- After that, whether the player is ready or not, Cedric won't say anything.
Later it was decided that something stronger than a warning was needed to keep a player off the path if he hadn't collected the necessary loot to survive the mountains. A poisonous snake was put in as an obstacle; to get rid of the snake you must have the right instrument. This gatekeeping/checkpoint routine keeps a player from getting to the end of the game only to find he has forgotten to pick up an important item at the beginning.
The snake change was one of 13 changes outlined in a memo to the programmers. This is how the room works in the shipped version of the quest.
- 7. The tambourine will not only be used to give to Dink - but it will also be used to scare off a snake which has been conveniently placed on the beginning of the :mountain trail - either room 2 or room 29 - whichever seems better. Without the tambourine to scare away the snake, the player can't go up into the mountains - and if :Graham gets too near the snake, the snake will bite and he [Graham] will die.
Even deaths are scripted in minute detail. In addition to a snake bite, Roberta's notes list 39 other ways to die, including this heartrending scene in the damp dungeon under Mordack's Castle.
- 37. Dying in the cell because you don't have the locket or didn't give it to Cassima (so she won't show you the hole in the wall).
- After about one minute put up the message:
- "After observing no discernible escape route from the small cell, Graham sinks to the floor in despair, knowing he will never see the light of day again."
- (Show Graham sinking to his knees and putting his head in his hands as in numbers 14, and 15-show the little mouse come up to him and either sniff at him or look at him :with curiosity.)
- Put up the death message of:
- "Cheer up, Graham. At least you're not alone."
- Show a picture of the little mouse wriggling his whiskers.
Animation, Artwork, and ProgrammingEdit
Once the script is written and the rough sketches completed, they are mounted on a storyboard so everyone can easily follow the plot. Then artists and programmers begin to construct the game using special programming tools developed by Sierra. The central character-King Graham in KQV-is always called Ego by the programmers and artists no matter what his or her gender is in the quest. In King's Quest IV Ego was the woman Rosella.
One of the first steps in quest construction is making the backgrounds. When the artists got Roberta's sketches of the village of Serena, for example, they first drew a thumbnail sketch, then a larger sketch, and finally a detailed pencil sketch. On each working drawing she made additions and corrections so that when the final color painting was done in acrylics on illustration board, the scene was correct. Once completed, the paintings are electronically scanned into computer memory.
Backgrounds for quests I through IV were done in a different manner. They were drawn directly on the screen using a paint program with a 16-color palette, but that technique was not detailed enough to show the full impact of the 256-color VGA graphics used in quests V and VI.
Whether painted directly on the screen or on illustration board, all King's Quest rooms use shade and shadow as well as perspective to give the illusion of three dimensions. Notice how roof lines slant to a vanishing point and paths narrow to give the illusion of depth. Vanishing points are chose to be high on the horizon to give the characters as much space as possible to walk; a low vanishing point would limit Ego's range.
To maintain and enhance the three-dimensional quality of the rooms, every object is constructed with a priority in relation to the other objects. There are 16 bands or areas in which things may be placed. Although the priority bands are invisible in the finished product, the artist must use them like a horizontal grid as he draws the room. Considerable effort and time is spent placing houses, bushes, and trees so that the player remains unaware of the room's mathematical rigidity. It wouldn't do for things to look like they were lined up on a checkerboard.
As the room nears completion, the artist adds control lines which determine where Ego can walk. He shouldn't walk through a wall or tree, for example, but sometimes he does. If a tree is placed between two priority bands, then Ego will walk right through it. The Sierra staff spends a lot of time running Ego all over the rooms looking for places where he falls off or walks through something he shouldn't. Fixing an error may involve shifting a tree to a priority band or adding new features to a room to cover up a programming bug.
The Sierra programmers work with a standard IBM PC and mouse, using pulldown menus and windows similar to many commercial CAD programs. Backgrounds in King's Quest V and VI are stored on disk as completed pictures in a compressed format; backgrounds in the other quests are stored as detailed instructions (called vectors) describing how the computer is to paint the screen.
While one group of artists is working on backgrounds, another is busy working on the animated characters. In previous quests the characters were drawn as pixels, but once again more detail was needed for the 256-color versions.
Sierra staff donned cloaks and other paraphernalia while acting out parts of the script. These were photographed with a video camera and the resulting tape was used to construct individual cells of the action. The final drawing is produced by painting on top of the live action cells with a paintbrush program. The technique is similar to that used in the animated film The Little Mermaid.
A typical character is created in a box 33 squares high and 16 to 18 squares wide. By changing the colors of the squares, the character takes on different shapes and activities and appears to move. One of the colors, the background color, is special. It is the invisible-color color and takes on whatever color is behind it in the room. Thus, as Ego walks by a tree, you see brown bark surrounding his arm. The invisible-color color varies form room to room, but it is always a hue different from everything else in the room.
Animation is achieved by rapidly displaying several of these drawings or cells one after the other, similar to a flip book. It takes eight cells for Ego to take one step to the right(east), but a step to the left (west) is handled dynamically by using a mirror image. This trick helps to conserve valuable computer memory. A step north or a step south requires a cycle of six cells each. Thus 20 separate drawings are required just for a character to walk. Ego himself requires several thousand drawings to animate all his activities and actions.
A room may take several days to draw, and then additional time is spend debugging and cleaning up. If the room takes too much memory - the average in King's Quest V is about 45,000 uncompressed bytes - it will load slowly and waste space. As part of the clean up, the artists look for places to economize. The Willow Room in King's Quest V, for example was unusually large because of the scene where the tree turns into a lovely princess. It was necessary to simplify the actual transformation to save memory, but it's not apparent in the finished product.
The programmers are the ones who put all the rooms together and animate the characters to make the game run. They do this using a special computer language called SCI (Sierra Creative Interpreter) developed by Sierra. SCI is an object-oriented language similar to LISP; it is written in Assembler, C, and itself. An older version of the interpreter, called Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI), was used to create King's Quests I through III and the 256k version of King's Quest IV. The 512K version of King's Quest IV and all versions of King's Quest V and VI were done in SCI. (King's Quest I has been re-created using SCI.)
Using SCI the programmers establish classes of objects. The Actor Class, for example, includes anything that moves such as sea gulls, Dinks, and Graham (Ego). The Props Class is composed of items that move but don't go anywhere - like a candle flame or smoke. The Views Class is for things that don't require any animation - like an old shoe. The programmer writes scripts in the SCI language that define how the objects come together and interact with one another.
The exterior of the town (room 3) is a fairly simple room by King's Quest V standards; in addition to Cedric and Graham there are four things to animate: a cow, smoke, the water well, and the river.
A repeating cycle of four drawings gives the illusion of smoke coming from a village chimney. Because SCI is a proprietary tool developed by Sierra - indeed, it's at the very heart of the business - it is a closely guarded secret. The following code is from the older AGI language, but it demonstrates the detailed computer instructions that are needed just to make a chimney smoke. The "work=3" statement causes smoke to move at one-third full speed.
animate.obj( smoke); ignore.horizon(smoke); set.view(smoke, v.cottage); set.loop(smoke, 1); ignore.blocks(smoke); position(smoke, 95, 16); work = 3; step.time(smoke, work); cycle.time(smoke, work); draw(smoke);
The sea gulls that fly around the generic ocean room are another example of how something that looks so simple can require a lot of computer instructions. The gulls' actions are governed by a built-in Wander function. The sea gulls' bounds are limited by control lines and priorities. There's a control line just above the horizon so the birds won't wander into the ground, and their priority is set to zero so they will always appear to fly behind a boat.
A function is a set of generic instructions that can be used over and over to do the same operation on different sets of date. The BASIC language, for example, has a square-root function which calculates the square root of a number; spreadsheets have an average function to find the average of a column of numbers; and SCI has many functions to speed up programming, including Wander, Chase, and Moveto.
Chase is a tricky bit of programming; it takes a lot of instructions to assure that Ego gets chased properly. At all times the Chase function knows its co-ordinates as well as those of the chaser. When Ego moves around a rock or tree, the Chase function must compute a path for the chaser to follow. The Yeti in King's Quest V is controlled by the Chase function.
If Ego gets caught, there is no Death function to kick in an automatically take care of the details. Each death scene gets individual animation and attention; there's no standard way for him to die.
Room 3, the exterior of the town, is an average King's Quest V room, yet it takes more than 700 lines of instructions to describe how things happen there. A programmer spent two days writing room-3 code, and the cleanup programmer spent more time improving and correcting the code. The entire King's Quest V game contains about 120 rooms and more than 100,00 lines of instructions.
In order to play the splendid music of King's Quest V, most computers need optional equipment called sound cards; these range in price form about $100 to more than $600. (The Sierra staff is working to add support for some of the less common sound cards, so if you have unsupported hardware, check with Sierra Customer Service.)
Sierra On-Line was a pioneer in integrating quality music and sound effects into its games. King's Quest IV was the first adventure game to be scored by a professional musician.
For King's Quest V the music and sound effects staff at Sierra used some new techniques they call simultaneous sound. The same technique was used for King's Quest VI.
A few musicians performed all the music using an IBM PC, a Roland MT-32 multichannel synthesizer, and software like MidiQuest and Voyetra's Sequencer Plus. Two musicians were involved directly in the composition.
It takes about twelve weeks to compose and record all the music. It is done first in MIDI format on the Roland and then edited for other sound devices like Sound Blaster and Ad Lib.
The biggest headache in composing music for adventure games is accommodating computers of vastly different speeds. For example, a scene that takes one minute on a 33-MHz computer may take twice as long on a a 12-MHz machine. Music must bet written in an open-ended manner so it can be looped to fill the extra time.
Music for the exterior of the town is a typical score. It took a composer about a day to work out the contents of the scene which has three simultaneous sounds. The first is the distant accordion music coming form the town; it has a Swiss/German flavor and is intentionally corny. Next are the sounds of the forest - things like woodpeckers and birds. Finally, if you listen closely, you'll here the water wheel turning. If you are using a stereo system like a Roland MT-32 or a system with optional stereo sound such as the Sound Blaster, you'll notice the water wheel has a right bias.
The opening cartoon was a particular challenge because the music had to work with a future CD-ROM edition in which the narrator will read the text that is displayed on the screen in the disk version. The music had to be restrained and low key so as not to drown out the future narration.
Although the Roland is considered the ultimate hardware for reproducing the "music" in Sierra games, the Sound Blaster has digitized sound which produces more realistic sound effects. In addition to a stereo option, the Sound Blaster also has a built-in voice channel. For example, in the opening cartoon a Sound Blaster produces realistic lightning cracks when Graham's castle is engulfed in a tornado; the Roland can only produce some distance rumblings.
The music/sound staff at Sierra is constantly working to make sound effects more realistic. When Graham falls, you'll hear a thud that was digitized from a recorded sound of books dropping. This is readily apparent when Graham trips and falls in the Door-in-the-Tree room, although the sound is more realistic coming from a Sound Blaster.
Once the game is thought to be finished, it goes to the Sierra Quality Assurance department along with the story line and the programmers' maps. one of the first things QA does is to extract from the software all the text and messages - things like, "Secure within a small pen, a pretty cow quietly chews her cud." This results in a small book which is then proofread for grammar, run through a spelling checker, and scrutinized for punctuation by the quality-assurance people.
The QA staff begins playing the game using the programmers' maps and notes. Even with this help, it takes at least two eight-hour days for them to complete the quest. The testers are looking for inconsistencies: places where Ego is visible through a tree, where he can't leave a room, where he is carrying the wrong object. Errors are reported to the programmers, who decide whether they are valid errors. In King's Quest III, for example, when the wizard demands a meal, Ego must leave the dining room and then re-enter in order for the wizard to sit at the table and eat. The QA people thought that was an error; the programmers said, "No." So if you put food on the table but the Wiz won't sit down, try leaving and returning.
Some obvious errors are quickly found and corrected. In the first walk-through of King's Quest V, Ego walked up the sides of the cliff in the Temple room and off into thin air in the Mountain-Path room. Other bugs are more devious. If you didn't have both the crowbar and the injured Cedric in the room beside Mordack's Castle, the game would lock up. All of these errors were fixed before the game was shipped.
The QA staff also makes aesthetic suggestions. They felt the antlers in the dining room in the Apple version of King's Quest III were the wrong color. The color was changed. Another color problem in the same game was not so easily resolved. There is a spider that gets carried out over the ocean and dropped into the water (if he doesn't get Ego first). The spider and the ocean were the same color in the 16-color version. The QA people, the programmers, and the artists had a meeting to discuss the problem of the invisible spider. Unfortunately, all the alternate colors were also in use and just caused the spider to disappear somewhere else. This colorful matter was bucked to the top: Roberta decided the spider and the ocean would remain the same color and the spider's splash was enhanced.
About a dozen people, working day and night, take six weeks to completely test a quest. In addition to the Quality Assurance staff, there are nine outside, unpaid Beta testers who play and evaluate products.
The Quality Assurance Department uses more than 30 different computers in the most popular configurations to test each Sierra product. About half of the machines are MS-DOS clones and compatibles, the others are Macs, Apples, Amigas, and Ataris. After four to eight weeks, hundreds of man and woman hours, and 20 to 30 error-correcting cycles, the product is deemed ready to ship. Even with all this careful testing, the QA staff knows that a few of us will try something or do something the designers and testers did not anticipate. There are usually a small number of follow-up bugs to exterminate.
The more complete a King's Quest becomes, the more difficult it is to test and debug. Can you imagine wanting to check out something in Dracula's Castle in King's Quest II, for example, and having to play the game to get to that point? Obviously programmers don't want to waste time collecting the items necessary to cross the Poisoned Lake, so special software is attached to the game to make checking and correcting easy. This is called debugging software, after the debugging process which is intended to find and fix errors.
Here's something few people know: The debugging software is still part of some of the older versions of King's Quest that were programmed with AGI. These include King's Quest II and III and the old version of King's Quest I (the new SCI version is now replacing the AGI version on store shelves). None of the SCI versions (King's Quest IV and V) have secret commands. If you have one of the older versions and would like to try to some of the debug commands, consult Appendix E - but remember, nothing is guaranteed.
Once a King's Quest is ready for market the publicity department sends evaluation copies to reviewers at leading newspapers, computer magazines, and mainstream publications like Modern Maturity; People; and, on occasion, Time.
Sierra's main marketing thrust, however, is its free quarterly magazine Sierra News. With a circulation of 800,000 individuals; 75,000 retailers; and 80,000 overseas readers in Europe and Japan, the magazine reaches a lot of people. Its 60-plus pages are full of interviews with developers, features about new products, letters from customers, hints and tips, and photographs of the Sierra staff. The magazine mailing list comes from customers who return registration cards.
There is another good reason (aside form being a registered owner) to return the registration card. Sierra sends a short survey to the first 500 people who return cards and then a reward for completing the survey.
From the survey, Sierra spots trends in adventurer gaming. The cards for King's Quest V are in. Almost 60 percent of you like the no-typing interface, while 30 percent of you (and me) like the old-style interface. Fifteen percent of you think V is too difficult, a like number think it is too easy, and 60 percent think it's just right. When asked if you would buy King's Quest VI, a whopping 92 percent of you answered yes; no one said no.
The age of those returning surveys is evenly distributed in three groups: 30 percent are under 20 years of age, 30 percent are between 20 and 30 years of age, and 30 percent are older than 30.
A force of about a dozen salesmen use these and other survey figures. They hit the road with Compaq computers under their arms to demonstrate products like King's Quest VI to dealers scattered across the country. These same people attend at least 40 trade shows a year to show off new software.
A lot of Sierra's marketing comes from satisfied customers telling friends about products. The marketing staff keeps in touch with 800 user groups and supplies them with demos, sample products, and videotapes. John Williams, the vice president for marketing, says user groups and happy customers are Sierra's secret marketing weapons.
Although many people are involved in designing, programming, drawing, scoring, testing, and marketing a King's Quest, Roberta Williams is never far from the action. She is constantly looking for ways to improve her games and no facet is too small to escape her attention: Sometimes it's a bush in the wrong place, or a house that needs more color, or a dungeon that isn't gloomy enough. That attention to detail is one reason King's Quests are so much fun to play.