King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember was a breath of fresh air. The game was developed by The Odd Gentlemen and revolves around an aging King Graham as he reflects on his life of heroism with his granddaughter Gwendolyn. In the game’s first chapter, the player navigates Graham’s first day in Daventry as he contends for a position in King Edward’s Court. I spoke with the game’s creative director, Matt Korba, about how Roberta Williams helped The Odd Gentlemen make a new King’s Quest game. Bill Linn, a member of Sandbox Strategies who’d worked with Sierra for 8 years, joined in as well.
You mentioned that you worked closely with Roberta Williams and Sierra Games, the original King’s Quest developers. What advice did they offer and how did that help form the philosophy for your approach to reviving the IP?
Matt Korba, Creative Director: She gave us a lot of advice. Earlier, I mentioned that John Williams told us about the pyramid they used to have – gameplay, story, and art all working together – but when we met with Roberta, we zoned out for a bit and just talked design. She told us about how she branched stories about and then brought them back together, but we also spoke a lot about our companies in general – to be specific, how difficult it is to hit the tone of family entertainment right. If you succeed, you cast a really wide net because anyone can enjoy it. We also talked a lot about the references we used. We could have very well just done a King’s Quest VI HD, but we really wanted to make a game like they would make if they had continued making adventure games.
So, we wanted to make sure that we got the core right and were pulling from the right sources. We asked them what they used to look at. It was great seeing Roberta play it, because she’d frequently stop and say “Oh! I always wanted to do something like that but we never had the technology” or “I wish I could have done that too but we didn’t have the animation budget,” and so on. One question she’d ask at every scene of the game was “Can you die here? What about here? And here?” to which I’d say “Yeah! Of course!” There is death in the game. We didn’t show any of that today, but there is a lot of death in the game as well. It’s been great having them help us out. They’re basically the best mentors-slash-video game parents you could have.
What was your biggest concern transitioning from the old point-and-click adventure style game to a 3D adventure title? How did you maintain the essence of the originals, was it difficult?
It’s a hard balance, right? There’s obviously a lot of fans of the old point-and-click games, but we’re also trying to appeal to that broader audience who’ve maybe never played a King’s Quest game before. Overall we made a good, funny, charming adventure. We’re always trying to balance those things out. Luckily, I’m a huge fan of King’s Quest – it’s one of my favorite game series’ of all time. My challenge has been to be careful about how many references to other King’s Quest titles I make in the game. There are a few that only the hardest of the hardcore King’s Quest fans will understand.
The cool thing about King’s Quest is that each new game seemed to evolve. That makes it easier to make a new one, right? The first was a text-cursor game, but then we get to the seventh game where you can interact using a magic wand, so, all along the way, I think that Ken Williams was really good about pushing Sierra to ask “What are we going to do that’s different in this title?” They never really made the same game again twice. That made it easy to make a new game like this since it’s not really jumping away from a long line of tradition – the tradition is change!
You mention that you wanted to approach this title as a family oriented game. The original King’s Quest didn’t necessarily have many of those elements, so what was it like developing the game from a solo experience to a family one?
You know, I think they’ve always been doing the family games thing. I grew up playing these games with my uncle and my dad. When I look at the video game industry I ask “Where’s our Goonies?” We don’t have that. We have some stuff, like the Lego games which are great to play as a family, but I think that King’s Quest has always been set up as a family adventure. If you look back at the series, you’ll see that none of them have cursing, or mature violence, or anything like that.
Bill Linn, Sandbox Strategies: The answer to that question, having been there when the transition happened, it was family friendly until we decided to to Phantasmagoria and Gabrielle Knight: Sins of our Fathers. There was a lot of discussion about how to position Roberta from the King’s Quest franchise to these kinds of titles. She’s a creative force and has a lot of different channels. So, it was definitely a huge departure for her to go outside the family sphere and do those sorts of titles. Most people don’t remember that she also worked on Mixed-Up Mother Goose, which was one of the first CD ROM games ever, and she was also contributing on a bunch of other projects as well. She was also contributing to more mature titles like, ah, what was it….
MK: (laughs) Oh yeah, Softporn Adventure!
BL: Right! Even after that, though, her passion and her love was in the world of Daventry. You can see that in A Knight to Remember.