Friday, 13 January 2012

Game 5: King's Quest III - Final Rating

I really don’t know what sort of rating King’s Quest III will end up with. On the one hand, it does try to take the series somewhere fresh, with new characters and elements, but on the other hand, the interface and technology behind it all are pretty much identical. There’s no point pondering any longer, let’s see what happens...

Puzzles and Solvability
Hmmm...I think the game should be punished in this area, for the simple reason that quite a few puzzles are really only solved through mere chance. They may seem logical after the fact, but the thought processes required to solve them the first time round just don’t have much of a place in adventure games for good reason. Only seeing the key on the cabinet if you’re standing far enough away from it, reaching Daventry by ship only by waiting fifteen minutes doing nothing, and teleporting past the Abominable Snowman through random chance, are the types of puzzles that require luck (or unnatural perseverance) to solve. Adding a real time element to the game was certainly brave, but I think the fact this feature wasn’t used again speaks volumes. As for the rest, well the majority of puzzles are solved through the use of spells, so the major part of the game revolves around collecting ingredients and following the manual rather than doing any sort of real thinking. All things considered, I’m giving it a 5.

70 of the 210 points are gained by simply entering the recipes directly from the manual.

Interface and Inventory
Both the interface and inventory are almost identical to the way they were in King’s Quest II. There are not many places where the horrible stair climbing nightmares take effect. The stairs in Manannan’s house do unfortunately suffer from this however, which can be torture when you’re trying to get back to your room to hide items under your bed and the wizard is due back any second. The biggest change comes from an item rather than the interface itself, with the magic map allowing you travel quickly around Llewdor to anywhere you’ve been previously. Many fans criticised this for making this part of the game too easy, but given how difficult it is to find the map in the first place, I think its ok. The only real noticeable change for the negative is that the “look” command doesn’t give you very much detail this time round. After the progress made between games I and II, it’s disappointing that the game moved backwards, making you look at things very specifically to get any useful details about your surroundings. Wouldn’t it have been nice to go into Manannan’s bedroom, type “look” and be told that there’s something shiny on the top of the closet. It was 5 for part II, so it’s 5 here.

Forcing the player to use the keyboard to navigate this path multiple times is nasty!

Story and Setting
I guess Roberta Williams deserves some credit for changing things up for King’s Quest III. Instead of merely following the next adventures of King Graham of Daventry, the player finds themselves in the shoes of the enslaved Gwydion, in a land called Llewdor. Early reviews criticised this move, suggesting the game felt separate to the series its name suggested it belonged to, but I guess these critics would have had egg on their faces, as they clearly didn’t play through very much of the game. It turned out Roberta had a plan all along, and things come together quite nicely in the end. That being said, Llewdor doesn’t really feel all that different to Daventry, which isn’t surprising given the colours and illustration techniques are unchanged. There isn’t as much of the fairy tale storytelling found in part III, with the three bears being the most obvious inclusion, and with foes such as Medusa and the Abominable Snowman making an appearance, the game has a slightly darker tone all up. I kind of prefer that, so I’m giving the game a 6 in this category.

Daventry has been invaded by a three headed dragon and you give me a small stone!?

Sound and Graphics
Sound effects are unchanged from the previous two games, so there’s not much to say about that. Moving Al Lowe away from music into a designer role had a negative effect when it comes to the tunes in the game. King’s Quest II had a bunch of easily recognisable tunes showing up at appropriate times whereas King’s Quest III has none of these. I believe its Al’s wife handling the music after his promotion and while she doesn’t disgrace herself, I can’t say any of its particularly memorable. The graphics and animation use exactly the same techniques as the previous games and while Manannan’s house has some nice details, once you move out into Llewdor, the world looks extremely familiar. If I weigh up the increased graphical detail with the lower musical standard, I’m forced to give part III the same as part II, which is once again a 5.

The dragon looks heaps better than the one in part I. I'd say on par with Skyrim!

Environment and Atmosphere
As with King’s Quest II, the third game in the series wraps around from north to south, but the west and east have boundaries (more specifically the desert to the west and the ocean to the east). Given the magic map allows you to travel anywhere you’ve been previously by clicking on that location on the map, I think Roberta and co. missed an opportunity to remove the wraparound effect altogether. It certainly makes Llewdor feel small (particularly as it’s made up of only twenty screens outside Manannan’s house) and doesn’t give any suggestion that Gwydion is exploring only a small portion of a larger unseen land. As previously mentioned, the tone of King’s Quest III is slightly darker than the earlier games, but it’s still kid friendly despite the fact the main villain kidnaps young boys and kills them on their eighteenth birthday. Nothing much has really changed, so 6 it is.

Many criticised the magic map but I thought it was a nice addition.
Dialogue and Acting
I know I’m sounding like a broken record here, but the fact is King’s Quest III does very little to evolve the adventure genre (if you ignore the time element which was considered a failed experiment). As with the first two games, there are very few occasions where NPCs actually talk to Gwydion and a lot of the “dialogue” is narrative or overheard conversations. It is all done in a very similar style to the previous games, which means very basic descriptions and twee use of language. I can’t say anything stands out in particular, so I’ll cut to the chase and give this a 4.

It’s a 52 for King’s Quest III, which is not as high as I was expecting prior to playing. The general feeling in reviews around the net suggest this entry to series was groundbreaking and one of the best, but I can’t ignore the frustration caused by bad design and deviant (if not illogical) solutions to puzzles. Perhaps my scores are a bit skewed by the fact I’ve played these games before and it’s possible I would have a completely different outlook if I was experiencing them for the first time. I guess we’ll never know! Onto Space Quest we go...


  1. Just found your blog via the CRPGAddict. Great job so far. I'm surprised you haven't had many comments thus far, so I though I would say a few words.

    I've played 3 of the 4 games you've completed thus far and it's great to re-experience the games via your blog. Space Quest I was the first Sierra adventure I actually purchased and played to completion (I had played KQ1, KQ2, and Below the Root; I got stuck in each and never returned to complete them).

    SQ1 remains my overall favorite adventure game (top adventure games for me included Codename: Iceman, King's Quest V, King's Quest VI, Maniac Mansion, Leisure Suit Larry III, Space Quest III, Space Quest IV, I Have No Mouth and Must Scream, Drowned God, Gabriel Knight II)

    I understand your rationale for avoiding the graphic/text adventures, but in many ways those games had an edge over the graphic adventures and much of my early time with adventure games were with those games. The storytelling was often far better.

    The biggest challenge I anticipate for you is the sameness of the games. You'll quickly realize there were really only a few engines used for the games (AGI, SCI, SCUMM), and as such, they very much feel like the same game over and over until you hit Myst.

    Best of luck and keep up the good work!

  2. There is another way to get past the snowman, by using a different spell - I think you never actually need to use the teleport stone, although it can come in handy (you can even get off the pirate ship when you've arrived, rather than swimming, if I recall correctly!)

    I saw the link to your blog via CRPGaddict like Scott above me, and have spent a while catching up to here! It's been a good read so far, keep up the good work. Not sure you'll ever hit that 6-hour limit though, I've played quite a few adventure games (mainly Sierra and Lucasarts) and most can be finished in a few hours or less (especially when you're replaying them! I replayed Space Quest 2 over Christmas and I think it took me about 90 minutes.)

    I can't wait to see you cover more of the Sierra games, they are still my favourites after all these years (especially Quest for Glory and Space Quest). My Dad borrowed King's Quest from a friend of his, to show me what his new computer could do. I was very impressed, and those early, relatively simple games were enough to keep me a PC gamer for life.

    In your quest to complete all graphical adventures, I'd point you in the direction of Abandonia, who host rather a lot of old games that are no longer sold (I've reviewed a few games for them and hang about on their forums). Won't link directly, never sure of people's opinions about "abandonware" sites. For freeware games and remakes though, I'd check out

  3. Thanks for posting Scott. :) I think two of the great things about doing this blog is that 1) it makes me work really hard to finish the games when I might otherwise have given up and 2) as much as I love adventure games, I haven't actually played a lot of the classics for some reason. Series like Gabriel Knight, Tex Murphy and Myst (yes, I've never played Myst!) avoided my attention in the past, so I've got a lot of renowned games to experience.

    As for the sameness of the games, the biggest challenge will be keeping the blog interesting when the games don't have anything fresh to offer. I'm sure the CRPG Addict will face the same problem and probably is right now with Wizardry V.

  4. You're probably right Andy and it might just be that the solutions I've complained about are not the ideal ways. That's probably going to happen a bit and I welcome anyone correcting anything I've got wrong in my posts.

    Quest For Glory was the series that made me truly fall in love with adventure games. I'd played the likes of King's Quest and Leisure Suit Larry prior to that, but there was something really magical about Quest For Glory.

    I'll always buy games if they're available (I've got well over 100 games in my GOG library, most of which are adventure games), but anything I can't find for sale, I'll be downloading from wherever I can get it. Thanks for the tips.

  5. Ah, King's Quest III! This one started my love for Sierra games, and the adventure genre as a whole. My uncle is considerably younger than my dad, and was still living with my grandparents back in the mid-to-late eighties. My grandfather, always one for new technology, had an at-the-time state-of-the-art Leading Edge machine, which my uncle bought a bunch of games for: this, Space Quest I, Police Quest I, and, much to everyone's chagrin, Leisure Suit Larry. All great stuff.

    KQ III, though, blew my mind. My brother and I spent months trying to get rid of Mannanan, but could never get the hang of spellcasting, despite having the manual. I remember even getting off the mountain was a Herculian endeavor. I wasn't able to beat this one until I was about sixteen or seventeen and picked up the KQ Collection. What a sense of satisfaction, though like you Trickster, I found the pirate ship and yeti sections pretty frustrating.

  6. 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.

    KQIII has a very large page: Cut text and graphics, and a bunch of version changes. No music this time though.

  7. Hi, I've enjoyed reading these blog entries; I love your sense of humor, especially in the captions. I spent a lot of time playing KQ I-IV when I was a kid, and it's a huge nostalgia trip to revisit them now.

    Regarding the frustration of having to wait for the pirate ship to reach land, it helps if you periodically look at the magic map. Check it every couple of minutes, and you'll see the ship's progress along a red line from Llewdor to Daventry. IMO that helps with the logic of knowing that you simply have to be patient and wait until there's land nearby.

  8. Trickster, I assume that you played all the AGI games with PC speaker music? If you set DOSBox to emulate a Tandy, AGI games can use its sound chip. You get 3 voices instead of one, allowing polyphony and harmonies. The introduction has some beautiful baroque-inspired chords.

  9. It's interesting that you consider the technology of KQ3 to be identical to its predecessors, because my impression is that a large part of KQ3 is based on its programmers showing off their cleverness by making technological improvements.

    In particular, having characters appear in multiple rooms to interact with you, like Manannan or the cat, is something never done before in graphical adventures, AND only rarely done since. Even having multiple rooms respond to you being a fly, or to having the magical dough, is pretty unique; e.g. you can transform in the bar to overhear the pirates talk, or get yourself killed by flying into the web or over the ocean, or use the storm spell in many places (including on the ship). There's even little touches like how Manannan doesn't appear in the first room if you've watched the intro (because he has already given you a chore), how he can appear even in Daventry to kill you (because the ship is triggered by visiting the oracle), and how the in-game debug menu common to AGI games uses the teleport routines, making this the only Sierra game where debugging can't land you in a wall.

    While the game has a clear overreliance on mountain path mazes, you can actually skip almost all of those via the flight spell (which is the only spell you can make just with ingredients in the wizard's house). Manannan will teleport you back home, although you are likely to carry one of the forbidden ingredients by that point. Once you hear "land ho" on the pirate ship, you can immediately morph into an eagle and fly all the way up to the yeti; touching him as an eagle is another way to solve that puzzle. Overall this gives KQ3 a playaround factor that most adventure games lack, albeit one that doesn't really work in the age of internet walkthroughs.

    The downside of all this is that showing off programmer cleverness doesn't generally make for good puzzle design, and that the player is highly unlikely to find any of this. So I'm not disagreeing with any ratings here, just pointing out the game has hidden depths.

    The clue to having to wait 15 minutes on the pirate ship is found on the magic map, which shows how far the ship has sailed. The five points you most likely missed is using the fly form to enter the hole underneath the bandit tree.