Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Game 18: King's Quest IV - Final Rating

There's more excitement than usual with this final rating. Not only will we see where King's Quest IV ends up on the leaderboard, we'll also find out who wins the 10 points for predicting the result. My gut feeling says the game will do pretty well, particularly as it has the advantage of being pioneering from a technological point of view.

Puzzles and Solvability
This is a tough category to rate for King’s Quest IV. The game is very difficult for numerous reasons. There are quite a few possible dead ends (entering the whale without the feather or the fish, leaving the ogre’s house without the axe). There are also a few particularly nasty puzzles, with the main culprit being everything to do with the whale. Finding the whale is hard enough! Knowing you’re supposed to and then managing to get inside it is next to impossible unless you’re really lucky (I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have managed it without reader assistance). Once you are inside the whale, the outrageous tongue maze merely adds to the frustration, particularly when you remember it’s quite possible a player could be there without either of the items they need once they do get through the maze. I’m deducting one point for the whale!


Even finding the whistle on the island after exiting the whale was difficult.

Some of the other puzzles in the game come with a high difficulty too, such as fishing off the pier (making you try the same thing numerous times before it is successful is just not cool) and the waterfall puzzle (although I’ll never know how long it would have taken me to solve this one unassisted). Even ignoring the difficulty of the above, the most challenging thing for me was that certain screens could only be solved at certain times. I wasted hours at screens such as the pool and the spooky house, trying everything I could think of when in fact nothing was going to work. Certain other actions needed to take place first, yet the player can’t know that. Despite everything I’ve just said, I really enjoyed the challenge that King’s Quest IV offered, and unlike some of the other games I’ve really criticised for being close to unsolvable (the ICOM games in particular), everything in King’s Quest IV makes total sense. Apart from the whale puzzle, I managed to avoid all the dead ends and solve everything thrown at me eventually, so it was far from unsolvable. I just had to persevere and learn the rules of the game, which are a bit different to the ones that came before it.
Rating: 5


I spent quite a bit of time on certain screens where nothing ever happened!

Interface and Inventory
Despite the new SCI engine being used for the game, the parser doesn’t appear any different to other recent Sierra attempts. In fact, the most suitable comparison would be Gold Rush! Typing “look” tells you pretty much everything you need to know about a location. If an item isn’t mentioned in the basic location description, there’s a high chance that it plays no role in any solution. This isn’t the case in every instance, but the exceptions are normally pretty damn obvious. On the downside, just as with Gold Rush, there are very few interesting or humorous descriptions to be found for items that are not of great importance, with most requests met with the defaults such as “you don’t need it” and “I do not understand the word grass”.


Typing "look" usually gives you enough information to get by

Movement is handled pretty well, but strangely Sierra still hasn’t managed to remove the difficulty their simulated 3D perspective gives to climbing stairs or walking across thin objects. Just as in Gold Rush, there are times where the game takes over control temporarily to move Rosella from point to point (this is totally welcome in my books), but there are other times where the player is forced to manoeuvre up spiral staircases through sections where the protagonist is not even visible. I died numerous times in the game either climbing up or down stairs or trying to cross something (such as the board to reach the fruit tree in the swamp). I could always slow down the speed of the game to make these sections easier, but I long for games where movement is not a concern so I can focus on solving puzzles.


It's hard enough when you can see yourself!

The inventory is expectedly adequate, but it seemed a small step backwards not to be able to request a description of each item I’d collected. Typing “look at pouch” just brought up a picture of the pouch with no description, stopping me from gaining any clues from item investigation. There are also times where you cannot get to your inventory, and they’re normally the times you really need to, such as when a bulldog is running at you. I get the idea that you wouldn’t have time in that instance to go through your items to find something of use, but this is an adventure game, and chances are you need to apply a unique item to each situation as it occurs. So, I’ve covered in detail the slight flaws that have been carried over to, or in some cases created in, Sierra’s new engine, but I should point out that in the overall scheme of things, King’s Quest IV feels extremely polished and professional. I’m merely nit-picking issues of little consequence in a perfectly usable and well established system. I guess I just expected more from SCI.
Rating: 5


I don't really understand why I couldn't see my inventory at certain times.

Story and Setting
The actual plot of King’s Quest IV is not very inspired. Basically it involves Rosella travelling to Tamir to find some magic fruit to save her dying father. To be able to get back home, she also needs to recover the fairy Genesta’s talisman, which is in the hands of the evil fairy Lolotte. To recover the talisman, Rosella gains the trust of Lolotte by fetching three items for her, before stealing the talisman back and saving Genesta, King Graham and all of Tamir. Roberta Williams hasn’t really ventured all that far from the first game’s fetch three magical items that have been stolen by an evil witch to save Daventry plot. However, there are lots of stories that sound stupid when summarised that are actually enjoyable for all the minor details on the way. As usual, Roberta picked snippets from fairy tales and mythologies to create the subquests and characters of Tamir, including the ogre from Jack and the Beanstalk, the prince frog, the seven dwarfs, Cupid, Satyr and even the whale that Jonah entered in the bible. It certainly helps to have some knowledge of the original stories to solve the puzzles that are associated with these characters, but it’s not essential. I probably should give the game a 5 here, but I’m going with a 6 for being the first to have a female main protagonist.
Rating: 6


It's the unpredictable mix of characters that makes an otherwise cliche story interesting

Sound and Graphics
While I’ve mentioned how the SCI engine failed to make any significant improvements from interface and parser points of view, it certainly did in the sound and graphics category. The visuals are substantially better than any game on the list so far, with a higher resolution, more colours and detail, and much more convincing animation. As soon as I saw Rosella swaying her way along the screen with her braids smoothly swinging from side to side, it was obvious that Sierra had once again raised the bar for graphics in the adventure genre. They did even more than that on the sound side, with King’s Quest IV being the very first game to make use of dedicated sound cards. After putting up with either PC speaker driven bleeps or bad quality digital recordings, the comparatively lush compositions are most welcome. The downside is that for the most part, the game is still silent, with effects and melodies utilised only occasionally. In fact, there are 75 different pieces of music that kick in at different times during King’s Quest IV, but none of them stick around long enough or form any sort of theme to be truly memorable. There’s no doubt that King’s Quest broke new ground in both the sound and graphics department, so I’m giving it the very first 6!
Rating: 6


The game looks, sounds and feels classier than any before it on the list

Environment and Atmosphere
Tamir is a reasonably varied place, but it always feels like a King’s Quest land. It follows a similar grid style to previous games, with borders to the east and west and wrapping screens to the north and south. It has all the typical fields, meadows and beaches that we’ve become accustomed to, occupied by cottages, caves and streams. Where the game differs from the first three games is that it offers a creepy element, mostly through the inclusion of the haunted house in the zombie infested cemetery (within which all the action occurs during the night), but also through the groves of evil looking trees and skull shaped witches’ cave. Adding this lightweight horror to the mythological and fantastic elements that are typical for the series makes it more to my taste. I initially thought the environment was too limited in scope, but once I broke through the ocean and mountain wall barriers to screens beyond, it was more than satisfactory.
Rating: 6


I'm sure Rosella didn't expect digging up graves in the middle of night to be on the adventurer job description

Dialogue and Acting
I don’t have much interesting stuff to say for this category. The narration and description are to the point and get the job down. There are very few attempts at humour, but then King’s Quest has never attempted to compete with the likes of Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry. We’re still at a stage in the evolution of the genre where the protagonist has little to no voice (both literally and figuratively), so I’ll increase the rating I gave to the previous games by 1 for the simple fact that the dialogue is nowhere near as silly this time round.
Rating: 5


The game makes limited attempts to take the language far beyond the essential


Well there you have it! King's Quest IV gets a respectable 55. That means it comes in equal with Space Quest I and third overall. To be honest, I thought it would be higher than that after my first session and lower than that after my second, but the third session evened things out and I ended up thoroughly enjoying the game despite some obvious flaws. A score of 55 means that Nicolaj wins the prediction points! I'll be changing the prediction system for the next game which means more people will have a chance to win points. That game will be Leisure Suit Larry 2, another Sierra game I've not played before. Looking forward to it, despite the many dead end warnings I've received already.

30 comments:

  1. This is a justified rating - I expected more based on how I remember enjoying the game (after it was released), but the rationale behind the points makes perfect sense!

    BTW, what sound card did you use?

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    1. I used whatever emulation the GOG version used through DOSBox. Sounblaster I assume? I did see that a few readers were recommending using other types of emulation, but I was happy with what I heard so went with it.

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    2. The MT-32 version is "slightly" better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19r6RnReAf4 :-)

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  2. My memory may be failing me (it's been at least 20 years since I played this game), but wasn't KQ IV the first Sierra game that allowed mouse movement? Where you using that or the keyboard in those sections (staircase, etc.) that you found difficult? If you were using the mouse, the speed setting should have be irrelevant, as you can always just click ahead a few pixels at a time.

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    1. Yes, I really should have mentioned that it allows for mouse movement, but to be honest, I didn't use it. It was cumbersome and probably would have made things harder in the spiral stair sections from what I can tell. While a parser is still required, I'm unlikely to use mouse control very often. I do look forward to more point and click games.

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  3. I am pretty sure that you can use the mouse, although in my mirroring playthrough I used the keyboard. I don't remember what I used as a kid.

    Looking back, my memory of this game is really tinged with nostalgia, because after playing through it again, 55 is absolutely right. A lot of the puzzles were illogical or timing based, and the world was a lot smaller than I remembered.

    Still, fun game! Glad I was close with 57!

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    1. It was nice to have you long Joseph! :)

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  4. Damn, I was far off with 62.

    I thought it was worth more points than this, I don't think I'd mark it down for the possible dead ends (they aren't that bad, as you'll see when you get to KQ5, which wears the crown in that regard).

    Also, as someone who played this back in the day, having the mouse available and being able to pause while typing were really a big deal.

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  5. A respectable rating. It'll be interesting to compare the games in an adventure series when you finally get around to finishing every game in that series.

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  6. You know, given how much people rant about how short attention span based modern games are, I'm starting to despair at these plots. Day of the Tentacle seems to be the only even remotely interesting one; I can't wait until we hit Myst and Gabrial Knight (I've heard good things about it).

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    1. Day of the Tentacle rules. Probably one of my top three favorite adventure games ever.

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    2. @Canageek: If you want decent scifi plots, the two Gateways are to be expected at the beginning of 90s and also I have no mouth and I must scream (all of which are based on novels or short stories). From non-scifi games, KGB is quite intriguing and handles quite mature themes.

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    3. I'll look forward to those then. However, right now I'm less then impressed with the "Older games were better" crowd.

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    4. I don't think too many adventure game fans would be thinking of the '80s games when they're fondly reminiscing. The Trickster is only just on the verge of the golden age now. In Sierra's defense, these early games are limited by space - focusing on graphics and sound necessarily meant limiting the number of places you could go and hence the complexity of the stories you could tell to some extent. This started to change when Lucasarts appeared on the scene. But even Loom, which I'd probably consider the first of the really immersive, original concept adventure games, surprised me with how short it is when I played it recently.

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    5. Ah, ok. Earlier there was an argument on why adventure games died, and people kept saying it was that modern gamers can't do anything except act on reflexes.

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    6. We haven't moved out of the 80s -- these early Sierra games were just beginning to explore and expand the medium, and that's a huge part of their legendary status. Seems obvious to point out that there's not a genre you can go back and not find primitive by today's standards, even those favored by the twitch, shoot, jump & run crowd that drives the bulk of the market today.

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    7. @Ilmari: I had forgotten that the Legend games were on the list! I think at one point I thought they hadn't made it (they're basically sophisticated text adventures). I was a fan of Frederick Pohl's Heechee series back in the day, so it'll be interesting to play along the Gateways...

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    8. I don't really know whether or not the Legend games should be considered graphic adventure games or interactive fiction (I'm thinking the latter), but they're on the Wikipedia list so you guys will at least have the opportunity to trade points for them.

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    9. Well, they can be played without writing anything and they do have occasional animation and music... But true, they are closer to interactive fiction (at least up to 1993, because from Companions of Xanth onwards Legend made graphic adventures). I think I'll have to get hoarding points then, I'd like to see at least the Gateways on the playing list (and most preferably also the other early Legend games).

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    10. Gateway 2 was the first Legend game I played, and it really impressed me! You can count on my points as well, if they are needed.

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  7. More great news from GOG! Dreamfall, the sequel to The Longest Journey, has been added to the site. I recommend any adventure fans that haven't played it give it a go. It's not up to the high standard of The Longest Journey, but it's certainly one of the better adventures I've played from modern times.

    http://www.gog.com/en/gamecard/dreamfall_the_longest_journey

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  8. Huzzah! I'm liking the PISSED system more and more.

    Also, just to set the record straight, before pointing it out becomes awkward: It's Nikolaj, with a k. :)

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    1. Sorry Nikolaj! That was a total typo!

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  9. Congratulations on solving KQIV with so many points! I'm pretty satisfied with the score it got. I actually played this a few years ago and found it terribly frustrating. Then again, I was never a big fan of the KQ series, and unfortunately V did little to sway me... ;-)

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  10. Too bad there isn't some sort of amnesia pill or something you could have taken before playing the other King's Quest games, just to see how much longer those would have taken you. In those cases, your younger self was providing the spoilers. ';D

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  11. Great game! One of the first Sierra games I was able to beat on my own (well, with one of my friends). I absolutely love KQ IV but that stupid whale puzzle still drives me nuts. It's a shame that Rosella's next starring role is so awful.

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  12. "In fact, there are 75 different pieces of music that kick in at different times during King’s Quest IV, but none of them stick around long enough or form any sort of theme to be truly memorable."

    This is something that has always bothered me about King's Quest IV... Why can't I ever remember the music? Why do I never hum it to myself? It's not like it's bad or has no themes to remember... There's quite a few leitmotifs here, like Genesta's, the dwarves, the main theme, the witches, the ghosts, etc.

    I think it has to do with there being no happy themes. The closest is the intro fanfare, and that get's robbed of its thunder by the fact that there isn't really a theme for King's Quest as a series like there is for Space Quest or Quest for Glory (Hero's Quest). Every other theme really gives off a feel of... loneliness and emptiness. Seriously, I felt a bit like crying after watching the intro for the first time. (Well, that, and bored at how LOOOONG they drag everything out so they can show off more music. :P Probably that has something to do with me forgetting the music too.)

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  13. Replies
    1. Spellcasting 101 was voted (bought) in, so it's coming next year. Why did you think it wasn't?

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  14. The Cutting Room Floor is a wiki dedicated to finding and documenting game content that is created, and in the final version (or demos, or released source code, or anything else that the writers can get their hands on) but not accessible during the course of normal gameplay.

    There isn't actually much hidden content listed here. However, there are a lot of changes listed between the 1988 version and the 1989 version, including screen-by-screen comparisons; They redid a lot of the backgrounds to be less detailed, so as to keep the emphasis on the forground: http://tcrf.net/King%27s_Quest_IV

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