Sunday, 15 March 2015

Game 52: King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder (1990) - Introduction

Written by TBD

It's time for King's Quest V, a game that was originally released with some strangely disturbing box art of a family being kidnapped as they were performing their nightly line-dancing routine.

Do owls eat children? I'm pretty sure that owl is planning to eat the kid.

King's Quest V is a game I have a little personal history with.

I originally bought it for the Amiga when it came out, played a little bit, and as usual with adventure games in those days, I became stuck relatively early and gave up somewhere in the first town.

Now this is a much more like the sensible box art I remember

I played the game again some years later (late 90s or early 00s) and finished it with a lot of help from a walkthrough. I very rarely play adventure games without using hints or a walkthrough these days, so I'm looking forward to testing my skills (and patience) in a playthrough of a difficult game using only my wits. I wouldn't be surprised if I get stuck at some point, so get your bets in on when I'll be asking for assistance.

I feel it's appropriate for me to play the game on this blog seeing as I own the PC version of the game because I won the King's Quest Collection here, in an extremely round-about way. The game was originally donated by Lars-Erik and won by Canageek for guessing the Conquests of Camelot score. Canageek regifted the game to whoever guessed the Circuit's Edge score. Ilmari guessed the Circuit's Edge score and regifted the game with his own quiz. I won Ilmari's quiz and took the King's Quest Collection prize which I only seemed to win because nobody else wanted the bloody game.

According to Mobygames, King's Quest V was the first adventure game to be released on CD-ROM in Multimedia PC format, the first to have digtitized voiceovers, the first to use digitized hand painted backgrounds, and the first to cost over US$1,000,000.

Following the lead of Lucasarts, this was also the first Sierra game to use a mouse & icon based interface rather than a text parser. Unfortunately for my sanity, it kept Sierra's 'deaths and dead-ends make good gameplay' policy. But, baby steps, right? If you haven't guessed, though I've enjoyed many Sierra games, I always much preferred Lucasarts adventure games.

Roberta Williams is once again credited as the lead designer of the game, with many of the other developers having credits in multiple Sierra Adventure Games (including our own Corey Cole listed under Development System... whatever that means.)

Like many games of this era, King's Quest V had various releases in different formats, on different platforms and in different countries. Trying to find release dates has given me some conflicting info, but it seems that the original game came out in late 1990 as both an EGA and VGA version (likely November 1990) with a CD-ROM 'talkie' version coming out in late 1991 or early 1992.

The VGA version even came with an offer to swap it for a worse version

Rather than hire professional actors, many of the voice actors in this game were also the game's developers, which was common at the start of the CD-ROM gaming era and led to some, shall we say, suboptimal voice work.

As for what version I'll be playing, I thought I'd leave that partly up to you, the readers (while trying to steer you towards my preference along the way.)

The Trickster came up with a basic policy of playing an updated version of a game if it comes out within about a year of the original version. My personal wish would be to play the version most people would be able to play today if they bought the game – within reason. I wouldn't play the Monkey Island Special Editions, for example, but would always prefer to play the 'final' version of the game from back in the day. The version I have is the Steam version, which is the CD-ROM version with voice acting.

I'd prefer to play the 'talkie' version, but if there are significant objections I could be persuaded to play a different version. Bear in mind though, that only one version will be played. We won't be playing the EGA version, VGA version and CD-ROM version so we should choose the most appropriate version for the blog. I've made my personal preference clear, with my reasoning largely being that there's no benefit in playing the non-final version unless we're going to be playing all versions and comparing.

King's Quest V used scanned paintings for the VGA backgrounds, and from looking at screenshots of different versions, it appears the graphics were then downsampled to lower graphics modes with some manual editing done to improve the image. More information and comparisons can be found here.

EGA version with 16 colours
Amiga version with 32 colours
VGA version with 256 colours
Whatever version I play I will make some reference to the version differences during the final rating post. Let the discussion begin!

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.

Example bet: (We're bringing it back!)
Zl tveysevraq'f tbar zvffvat
Naq V guvax V'z gb oynzr
'Pbf V whfg nobhg pnyyrq ure n juber
V jvfu jr jrer xvffvat
Ohg V'z cynlvat uvf tnzr
Enccvat guerr gvzrf gb bcra gur qbbe

Jub nz V sbe 20 PNCf?

If you want to read more about the game, much of the information and images came from Mobygames and SierraGamers


  1. Yay! I've been waiting for this game.

    I know it has a bad reputation, but I've never felt the puzzles were that bad (other than one particular one near the beginning, which is terrible). The solutions are sometimes strange, but with the limited amount of items available it didn't require much trial and error to proceed most of the time.

    I remember getting the talkie version, and it was an amazing improvement over previous adventure games I'd played, which had mainly been EGA. It really showcased the potential of the CD versus multiple floppy disks!

    I also found the interface a massive improvement over other adventure games, I think it was a good step forward from Lucasarts mouse interface.

    So I'm going to suggest it scores quite highly, but not quite knock Monkey Island off it's perch: 72

    Also I'm assuming the Steam version doesn't have the copy-protection parts?

    1. I also assume there's no copy-protection, but don't know for sure. From my research the copy protection was removed for the CD release (probably because CD Burners didn't exist for individual users at the time and worked perfectly as its own copy protection) and most digital releases do remove the copy protection anyway (though not all)

  2. I think there was a little more richness and nuance in the text parser version because you could think of all kinds of actions and try them out (most of which would not work). The switch to the mouse base made sense since that was the way everything was going but it did seem to "dumb" down the game to "what can I click on this screen?"

  3. I'm guessing 43 for this game, there's just no way it's better than the KQ1 remake despite better graphics :-P

    This thread seems to indicate that the original CD release was in December 1991. Nonetheless, I think we should cheat a little and play the vOOOIced version.

    I actually have an original box of the floppy version, and will play along (played it in 2009 but lost the saves.)

    The puzzles are cruel, although not quite on the level of Les Manley. I'm going to bet that you require assistance for:
    -jnvgvat va Zbeqnpx'f yvoenel
    -guebjvat gur obbg ng gur png
    -genccvat gur snvel va gur jvgpu'f sberfg
    -svaqvat gur purrfr va gur pryy

    1. Nice site. I browsed it a bit and found this thread,,2802.0.html

      which indicates that KQIV's graphics quality was deliberately decreased in a re-release so it could fit on 8 floppies instead of 9. Fascinating stuff!

      Also, is that 4 bets? Nice to know you have so little faith in my adventure gaming skills :)

    2. V nz tbvat gb qvggb gur org ba guebjvat gur obbg ng gur png, nffhzvat gung vg'f bx gb qhcyvpngr n org.

      Gurer ner ybgf bs cynprf jurer lbh pna zrff hc naq qrnqraq lbhefrys, ohg V guvax na npghnyyl pbzzvggrq Nqiragher Tnzre (v.r. abg zr jura V jnf n puvyq :/) jbhyq svther gurz bhg. Sbe rknzcyr, vg'f rnfl gb zvff cvpxvat hc vgrzf va gur qrfreg grzcyr be gur tvnag oveq'f arfg, ohg na nggragvir tnzre fubhyq vzzrqvngryl guvax nsgrejneq "BX, jung jnf gur cbvag bs gung fprar," ernyvmr gurl'q zvffrq fbzrguvat, naq erfgber. Yvxrjvfr, gur "jung sbbq qb V rng gb nibvq fgneivat va gur zbhagnvaf" chmmyr vf hasnve, ohg hayrff lbh zvffrq trggvat bar bs gur sbbqf rneyvre, vg fubhyqa'g or gbb uneq gb svther bhg gung lbh ngr gur jebat bar jura lbh uvg gur qrnqraq.

  4. Oh yeah, my number is 68! I'm going kinda high because it is King's Quest and they had advanced graphics for its day and it was the next natural step up from text adventures.
    Plus, I loved playing it as a kid.

  5. 50! Fun game, lots of charm, but the puzzles are some of the worst. Get ready to restore...a lot.

  6. I'll give KQ5 a 55. Whether or not it succeeded, it was Sierra's greatest art achievement up to that date. They pulled developers from every other project except Quest for Glory II - We were left alone because they weren't sure KQ5 would hit Christmas, and Sierra management wanted to make sure they shipped at least one major adventure game in 1990. Unfortunately, that also meant we had to use 16-color graphics and the text parser. (Good and bad on the latter, but it certainly cost us sales.) Al Lowe and his team helped on King's Quest V, then immediately switched back to Leisure Suit Larry III, so I think that was the next game released.

    As for "Development System", it was crucial to all Sierra games. SCI included a scripting language, graphic and sound features, the parser, ways to animate characters, and so on. As we're now learning with Hero-U, developing a game without a solid Development System is time consuming and painful. Technically SCI does the same thing as, say, Unity, but it was finely tuned to making adventure games. We could tell a character to move to a certain spot, and it would automatically cycle the walking animation, change animation loops as the character turned, properly move it "in front of" and "behind" objects, etc. (The latter used a 4-bit Z-buffer, so there were only 16 possible depth levels in a scene.)

    Besides some minor bug fixes and maybe one or two features of SCI, my work on it was mainly to convert SCI to the Atari ST without requiring any changes to resources or scripts.My code was also used as the core for the Amiga and Macintosh versions, as all three used 68000 processors, while the PC used the 80286 and related processors. About one-third of SCI was coded in assembly ("machine") language, and some of the C code relied on specific features of X86 processors, so this was a major effort and took up my first 6-8 months at Sierra (before Hero's Quest).

    1. I can't get enough of this kind of stuff. Thanks!

      Do you recall if the CD version was planned from the beginning or if it was an afterthought after the game became a success?

      I suspect it may have been planned from the beginning due to the back of the 'family' box as well as the ad on the back of the Laura Bow box mentioning "characters that speak* to one another using real voices" (*CD-Rom version only) but it's possible that box scan on the Sierragamers website is from a re-release.

  7. Nostalgia-influenced score? 65! Legitimately though, the game is aggravating enough to go down to about 53, so I'll go with the latter.

    Maybe subtract 20 points or so for Cedrick the Owl's voice, though...

  8. I'll go with 56.

    Also, it's not because nobody wants the damn game. It's because we ALL own those mothers like a Level 60 Human Paladin owns a Level 1 Orc Peon.

    1. If someone still has a spare KQ collection, they can give it to me. :P

    2. I'm happy to donate a copy of the KQ collection to whoever gets the closest score, perhaps that will be you? (or were you wanting to play along?)

  9. I'm gonna go with 60. Even considering I really hate some of the dead ends and it is basically the game that made me avoid Sierra games for a while, it is a noteworthy game.

    1. Oh, Illmari already had 60.. Let's say 62 then

  10. I'll guess 58. I haven't played that particular KQ, but I suspect the balance will be between King's Quest nostalgia vs the actual quality (or lack thereof) of the puzzles and voices. (Yes, I think you should play with the voices if you're only playing one version.)

  11. Wow, that first box art! Never seen that before, the second box art is definitely the one I had.

    I remember loving this game an awful lot, despite its flaws...I don't think I can bet against Secret of Monkey Island, though. Actual bet here is quite tough, since there's a big gap below SMI until the next games, which is a huge cluster around the mid-high 60s, most of which I haven't actually played myself. I THINK it should edge those out though, so I'll guess... 70.

  12. Hey, no one has yet guessed the answer for the riddle!

    Then again, I have no clue either... Let's say Znavnp Znafvba, just because it involves a missing girlfriend.

    1. Not Maniac Mansion. I'll put another clue up later today if nobody solves it.

  13. So, I'm thinking about the uncollected games. And our CAPs. And how to go about combining them. How about a monthly Bidding for Retro Adventure Games (BRAG) with our CAPs?

    1) If it's a rare game that everyone wants, it could put a dent to the horrible amount of CAPs hoarded by some of our adventurers here (I'm looking at you, Canageek) to make it more manageable.

    2) If it's a game that most of us own, it could go for a low amount of CAPs to the odd-one-out who doesn't have the same crazy number of old games like most of us do.

    3) There won't be so many uncollected games floating around.

    1. I think there were uncollected games back when Lars-Erik was giving away the next game on the list because many people had lots of adventure games - when he changed to give the winner a choice of the next three games that stopped being an issue as the winner usually wanted one of the three and at one point Trickster had a giveaway for the remaining unclaimed game codes.

      We don't consistently give out free games at the moment so I don't think there's any unused game codes floating around.

      I like the way it works now with nobody feeling obliged to buy games for the community but plenty of generous people offering anyway.

    2. I agree that we shouldn't force/guilt-trip readers into "donating" games to the community but, thanks to Steam & GOG with their package deals, I end up having duplicate games in my accounts.

      Not all of them are adventure games, mind you, but I'd love to donate them away since most of my friends either already have those games or they're the type of friends who fall into another group of my social circle Venn Diagram.

    3. Hey, if you want to give away games here I'm not going to complain. We've already had Joe giving away a DVD - having some kind of vague relation to the game or blog would be useful though but if you think people here would like the game I say go for it.

    4. Y'know what? You're absolutely right! I'm gonna offer my extra games out on my next (Gods know when) play-through.

  14. And, for anyone still wondering, I've already started playing the voiced game. Is anyone playing along?

    If anyone has the King's Quest Collection on Steam, you might want to try this patch, which contains a few fixes for some of the games (Not King's Quest V though, apart from using a newer version of Dosbox)

    1. I'm playing the remakes by AGD Interactive to compare the differences. It has close to zero bugs as compared to the original but the lack of a parser takes away quite a bit of the original charm.

      Case in point, I'm now onto KQ3. The original requires you to type in what reagents to use on what apparatus. The AGD version just have you clicking around. Makes it pretty boring. Also, I used to be able to type what unspeakable things I would do to that stupid black cat. AGD only allows you to pet it. WTF?

    2. I shall be playing along, but I have the GOG version rather than the Steam one. All dosbox rather than windows, so I don't think it should have any issues.

    3. I really don't have the patience for a text parser anymore, as I discovered when I tried to play along with Police Quest 2 a few years ago and the King's Quest I remake last year. I hate thinking, "Did I have the right idea and just phrase it in a different way than the developers wanted, or should I try something totally different" At least with a mouse interface I know that it's just that I haven't tried the right thing rather than tried it in a slightly different way than expected (though some mouse based games do have this problem as well it's much less of an issue)

      And I think the GOG and Steam version of KQ5 are exactly the same

    4. As I said above, will play along with my own genuine, never-touched-the-Internet floppy version.

      I decided to take and share some photos. It's the edition with family kidnap art:

      It sat on our family's shelf gathering dust for years, because it was a version whose installation disk was 5 1/4 -inch and we didn't have an appropriate drive. Then in around 2009 I tried manually copying the contents of the 3 1/4 -inch disks and realised that the installation disk wasn't needed at all - the necessary game files were in the small ones.

      I also have The Legend of Kyrandia 1, which my sister bought at a flea market and gave to me.

      Disk 4 was bad and refused to work, until one day a miracle happened and got its contents copied just fine.

      The box also included a poster, which I've hung up on my wall:

    5. Nice. Makes me want to dig through some storage boxes to find my Amiga King's Quest V box

  15. Nobody's guessed the riddle yet. So here's the first clue along with a new second clue...

    My girlfriend's gone missing
    And I think I'm to blame
    'Cos I just about called her a whore
    I wish we were kissing
    But I'm playing his game
    Rapping three times to open the door

    With each puzzle I solve
    with my steely resolve
    I am closer to saving my lover
    Still he laughs when I fail
    But I slowly unveil
    The dark secrets I need to uncover

    Who am I for 20 CAPs?

    1. Trbetr Fgbooneg from Gur Oebxra Fjbeq?

    2. Nope. Not George Stobbart.

      Here's another clue...

      Moving bishops and knights
      With no working room lights
      Through this house I must endlessly rove
      Moving books green and red
      I fear she might be dead
      What the hell is a fruit loop on stove???

    3. Pney Qraavat sebz Gur 11gu ubhe?

    4. Correct! I'm Carl Denning from the 11th hour! 20 CAPs for you!

      'Fruit loop on stove' is, in my opinion, by far the most obscure clue in the game - the kind where you find out the answer and still wonder how anybody could possibly solve it without hints. And so ridiculous that I can never forget the answer.

  16. Version-wise, it has to be VGA... the graphics were a huge selling point at the time, and obviously a big deal for Sierra. The CD-ROM... I dunno. I didn't play that until MUCH later as we absolutely got the original as a Christmas item... I'm not sure but I imagine this was sort of typical. The voiced one is better known now, and an important milestone in the genre (for better or for worse), but it might be more "authentic" to play the floppy version, and then do one post, say, checking out what the voices add (or don't add).

    I'm going with 51. It's very good looking and certain sequences blew my mind at the time, but there are some stuuuuuuupid puzzles in this thing. In depth, complexity and the believability of its world it steps back significantly from the late text parser games, ground that Sierra would struggle to regain. Some of the mouse games are fantastic IMO, but with a little distance this one went from "event" to "difficult transition."

    1. I've already decided to go CD-ROM, but I will be playing through the first part without voice also to compare and mention the differences in the final rating post, and what the score would likely be if I didn't play the voice version and if the voice adds or subtracts from the experience.

  17. For maximum pain, watch (don't play!) the NES version on YouTube. Hell, the first four King's Quest games might have worked on the Nintendo, but by the time the fifth one came out the glory days of the 8-bit systems were far, far in the past.

    I'd say the SNES would have been a better fit, but look at how Ultima VII fared on that. Ugh.

    1. You're right about U7 on SNES. It was worse than pathetic. It's like they weren't even trying. It felt more like playing a single player watered-down version of Gauntlet rather than an epic RPG.

    2. I actually played U7 for the first time about a year back...on my roommate's SNES. It was not terribly enjoyable, but I managed to finish.

      I have owned U6 for SNES for a long time. Every now and again I try it, and still can't make myself put more than about an hour into it before putting it away in disgust. Kinda wish they had stopped porting to consoles after U4 (which is probably in my top 5 NES games).

  18. Is 49 taken? Then 49 it is. I haven't palyed the game so it is just a wild guess after reading all the comments.

  19. My guess is 59. I also plan on playing along with you, but I won't be able to start quite yet.

    And just because if I remember right we're all going to want to beat up owls before this game is through, a bet:

    I will donate $25 in the name of "The Adventure Gamer" to an owl sanctuary if any reader manages to hit the correct score in advance. This is lieu of donating any games or similar, but about a similar value I think. I am looking at places like this one:, but I'm not an expert on owls so I may do some Googling to find the best one to donate to. I will deduct $1 for every point that the closest score is away, but will make a minimum donation of $10.

    I challenge everyone playing this game and considering harming a virtual owl to join me in helping (in a small way), some real ones.