Tuesday 21 April 2015

Game 52: King's Quest V - Final Rating

Written by TBD

In trying to rate King's Quest V I tried to compare it by what came before, particularly the previous King's Quest games. King's Quest V has the disability of coming out soon after The Secret of Monkey Island, a game that raised the bar significantly for almost every PISSED rating category and therefore raised the bar for what you need to do to get a good PISSED rating. There were some categories where I was really close to going a point higher or lower but hopefully the final score is a fair one.

Puzzles and Solvability

I can sum up this section with 'some okay, mixed with a whole lot of bad'

Some of the puzzles were fairly satisfying to solve. Most of them were simple variations of having the right inventory item. I can't recall any puzzle that was particularly good but many were serviceable. The ones that weren't though - some of those were terrible. I was stuck a few times: I hadn't effectively pixel hunted once; I'd dead ended myself another time; and the third time I just had to do something I never would have done if not prompted.

The 'best' puzzle in the game was probably the desert temple puzzle. Seeing the bandits knock on the temple door, trying it myself, then realising I had to go back to their tents to steal their staff was fun, though simple, to work out. That's really the only puzzle I could think of that didn't consist of, “Oh, I'll just try this inventory item I picked up earlier” or “I don't have any appropriate inventory items so I'd better click randomly on every screen in case I missed something” There was no combining of items in the inventory, though you can use inventory items on yourself.

Returning to the previously empty tents was the only time I deliberately went somewhere with a plan to get an item to solve a puzzle

In fact, now that I think about it, I can't remember more than a handful of times you use an item on an item in the environment. The vast majority of puzzles are solved by giving/throwing an inventory item to/at a character.

Some puzzles are too hard to work out – the honeycomb puzzle was one I'd worked out accidentally by trying to do something else - that's also how I found the labyrinth compass, which should never have been invisible in the first place. The library waiting puzzle is almost impossible to solve on purpose.

Furthermore, there's no direction to the puzzles. You almost never get the option of looking for something specific, so never really have the chance to use your brain to solve the puzzles. At the beginning of the game you know you need to go east to get to Mordack's castle, but the way east is guarded by a snake. The only way to get past the snake is to solve all the other unrelated puzzles until a tambourine suddenly appears on a screen it wasn't on before.

Two exceptions are the baker saying the pies cost a silver coin and the gypsy saying I need a gold coin. But there was no thinking involved about looking for those items. I never thought, 'where will I find a gold coin – Is there a mint in the game, or a bank?' I just waited until I found a gold coin in a random location, then used it.

Good adventure game puzzles have you specifically looking for things. The puzzles in King's Quest V are simply, 'get past this obstacle... somehow' and the way to solve them is to throw inventory objects that you've found in random locations at the puzzle until it clicks.

Even the poster child for bad adventure game puzzles gives you direction. 'I need to hire a bike but someone else has already reserved it – can I somehow convince the clerk that I'm the one who reserved it?'

An example of this lack of thinking was the rope 'puzzle'. When I'd thrown my rope at the branch and died while climbing I was thinking, 'perhaps I need some way to harden the rope or perhaps I'm too heavy - can I lighten my load somehow?' when the solution was 'you didn't pixel hunt on this screen enough – the branch is a red herring'.

Apart from the inventory puzzles we have the three mazes: the ridiculously large desert with three important locations; the not too large ocean but with only 1 important location; and the deliberately hard-to-map labyrinth with 2 important locations (one of which is randomized) that contains the compass that only appears if you 'look' at the empty space below the screen. At best these mazes were not too bad. At worst they were just boring and only there in order to increase play time.

Seeing screens like this for 2 hours is not fun gameplay

I also really don't see the fun in dead ends. I'd counted 19 of them and the existence of them makes you spend too much time second guessing yourself – maybe there was something I needed from the snake before I scared him off. Maybe I missed an item in the desert that I now need in Mordack's castle. Again, something that is only there to increase play time.

I think the problem is that Sierra haven't quite gotten the hang of creating puzzles for a point & click interface yet, and fear of the new interface making the game too easy probably resulted in them making some puzzles annoyingly hard and increasing the amount of dead ends significantly. Although it was still rewarding when you solve a puzzle and get to see a new area, this game really had too many boring puzzles and no really fun ones,

Rating: 3

Interface and Inventory

The interface was good. With pathfinding and asimple right-click to cycle through icons mechanic it did its job well.

Comparing the interface to the Lucasarts one, this wins out in having icons instead of words on the bottom of the screen. It allows more of the screen to show the game graphics but still gives easy access to all necessary verbs. You can get the verbs both by right-clicking to cycle them and by mousing up to the top of the screen where you get the whole icon bar and inventory.

The one thing missing that some earlier non-Sierra games have had was a tooltip when scanning the screen with your mouse. This would have helped me not have to click on every part of the background and hearing the same message over and over, and would clearly have made the game easier.

The inventory was good. There was a simple visual of the item and if 'look'ed at in the inventory I got more detail on the item. The ability to combine items existed but I can't recall it ever being used in the game. (Though I did attempt to use everything with everything else whenever I was stuck)

A nice simple graphical inventory, with the ability to look, use or select items

Overall, pretty good job on the interface - some improvements to what's come before in the point-and-click genre but missing the important tooltips or "What is" option, perhaps deliberately so, to rely on the gamer missing things on the screen. Inventory was up to par with the exception of combining items.

Rating: 7

Story and Setting

The story was standard King's Quest fare. Nothing too out of the box here. Evil wizard kidnapped my family. Rescue my family and destroy wizard. Everything in between, apart from perhaps meeting Princess Cassima, was just random obstacles thrown in the way of my goal. How does wandering a western desert help me travel to an island far to the east? Because I need to pick up a shoe to throw at a cat so a rat will save me when I'm trapped in a cellar – otherwise I won't have a leg of lamb to give to an eagle so he'll carry me to a beach when I'm captured by a roc. That's why!

There are small unrelated stories in between but its all simple fairy-tale stuff – the transformed princess with the stolen heart – the ice queen with the need for a hero to kill a monster – the labyrinth below the castle. None of it feels like a part of a greater whole.

Rating: 4

Sound and Graphics

This is definitely where the game shines.

Graphically the backgrounds are even better than our current leader in this category. Some of the detail is amazing. The character models are much more simplistic, but still decent. Character animations were nice and there were lots of them. I liked that things were often happening in the background - the toymaker's granddaughter playing with her doll and the face that follows you across Mordack's organ room being two examples. I particularly liked Graham picking up the dying Cedric on Harpy Island and carrying him back to the boat.

The closeups are also well done and detailed

Sound wise, the game has bubbling brooks and appropriate sounds but one thing I loved was the use of music. Almost every location had its own music which really helped add to the location's atmosphere – the desert's music was lonely and solemn, the willow tree's music was sad, the forest music was slightly eerie, the town music was upbeat and annoying - and was softer when outside the town but louder inside. The idea of each piece of music was great, but there are no standout tunes. Nothing really made me want to listen to it specifically, but that's not what I really need music for in games – in this game it served its purpose brilliantly.

A small example of the location-specific music

Rating: 9

Environment and Atmosphere

I've just mentioned how the sounds and graphics added to the games atmosphere. As do little things like the toymaker's son coming in from the back door occasionally or the picky man in the tailor's shop who hates all the clothes he tries on.

The other people who walk around town serve no purpose but add to the atmosphere

If the environment had been more unique this category might have also scored high, but almost every place just screamed 'generic fantasy kingdom' at me. There seemed to be no particular thought to how the world should be put together. It was just – town section, desert section, forest section, icy mountain section, beach and ocean section, evil castle section.

On balance, I'd say this game would be average in this category, but the voice acting adds to the atmosphere as a whole making it seem that much more real.

Rating: 6

Dialogue and Acting

Dialogue in the game is mostly average, with some sections a bit too unrealistic and simplistic – there was none of Monkey Island's witty conversations or none of the good dramatic dialogue we'll start seeing soon in other games. It's all just... there.

The dialogue isn't compelling and the acting isn't great, but it's VOICED!

There are no dialogue options. Any conversations happen without any input from the player so I can't give a particularly high score here.

Acting is, as we've all heard, bad. But I find it hard to poopoo the game's acting when it's the first fully voice acted game we've had. Any acting at all helps the atmosphere as opposed to reading paragraphs of text that take up half the game screen. It's definitely not even close to the worst voice acting I've heard and while this voice acting performance would be laughable today, at the time it was innovative. Mean Streets may have had some voice acting before, but King's Quest went all the way and had every line of dialogue acted. That kind of commitment deserves to be rewarded and I'm giving King's Quest V points for being the first game to do what became a staple requirement for future adventure games.

So, taking into account the average non-interactive dialogue and innovative use of voice acting I'll score this section right in the middle.

Rating: 5


34*100/60 which equals 57. I'll take a point off largely because my biggest dilemma was whether to give Sound and Graphics an 8 or 9. That leaves the final score as 56. This gives the game a slightly above average score, which I think is deserved as despite the annoyances I had more fun than not while playing.

If I'd played the non-voiced version I'd probably have dropped a point in both 'Environment and Atmosphere' and 'Dialogue and Acting' leaving a score of 53

So, did anyone guess 56? Yes, Kenny McCormick. Congratulations, Kenny. And now, on to the CAPs!

CAP Distribution

125 CAPs for Laukku
  • 2 minutes award - 40 CAPs - for knowing I'd not be patient enough to wait for Mordack
  • What drawer? award - 40 CAPs - for knowing I wouldn't trap the elf without help
  • RSPCA award - -10 CAPs - for incorrectly guessing I wouldn't throw a boot at a cat
  • Mould power award - -10 CAPs - for incorrectly guessing I wouldn't loot a mouse hole in the dungeon
  • Quest Studios award - 5 CAPs - for finding out some interesting info about release dates
  • Companion award - 10 CAPs - for playing along and completing the game
  • Collector award - 5 CAPs - for sharing images of his really old floppy version of the game
  • My hour is nigh award - 20 CAPs - for guessing that Carl Denning was the answer to the riddle
  • Let's play award - 5 CAPs - for pointing out an interesting Let's Play of the game with a particularly interesting final video
  • Storyteller award - 10 CAPs - for teaching us something about storytelling
  • Genre Support Award - 5 CAPs - for announcing a new adventure game on GOG
  • Extra animation Award - 5 CAPs - for pointing out an unused death animation for the game
110 CAPs for TBD
  • Blogger award - 100 points - for blogging through this game for our enjoyment
  • Genre Support Award - 5 CAPs - for announcing a new adventure game sale on GOG
  • Save the Owls Award - 5 CAPs - for saving an owl in memory of Cedric
70 CAPs for Corey Cole
  • Insider trading award - 50 CAPs - for regularly giving us fascinating information about the development process for the game
  • Even more insider trading award - 20 CAPs - for also regularly giving us fascinating information about the development process of Quest for Glory II
55 CAPs for Andy_Panthro
  • Companion award - 10 CAPs - for playing along and completing the game
  • Sponsor award - 20 CAPs - for offering a copy of King's Quest Collection
  • Creating a monster award - 5 CAPs - for starting the discussion on linearity and freedom
  • Help! I need somebody award - 20 CAPs - for helping me put Mordack to bed when I was stuck
46 CAPs and Cedric's thanks for Joe Pranevich
  • Hungry like the wolf award - 10 CAPs - for winning the caption contest by invoking an 80s music icon
  • Sanctuary for all award - 30 CAPs - for starting the 'Save the Owls' campaign to make up for his Cedric-punching thoughts
  • It was worth a try award - 1 CAP - for attempting to play along but not really getting around to it
  • Haven't I been here before award - 5 CAPs - for pointing out how similar Serenia is to now to how it was before
Cedric sent me a postcard, which would never have happened without Joe's initiative
35 CAPs for Fry
  • "Graham, watch out!" award - 20 CAPs - for telling me I was dead-ended by throwing the rope on the branch
  • Pika-who? award - 5 CAPs - for making me google a pokemon because I didn't know who Doduo was 
  • Bean counter award - 5 CAPs - for counting pixels
  • Memories award - 5 CAPs - for sharing all his memories of being stuck in dead-ends
20 CAPs for apprentice_fu
  • Help! I need somebody award - 20 CAPs - for helping me get out of the forest when I was stuck
20 CAPs for Kenny McCormick
  • Sanctuary for none award - 5 CAPs - for attempting to save the owls but discovering the owls don't want his help
  • Time for a party award - 5 CAPs - for organising King Graham's family into an RPG party
  • Psychic prediction award - 10 CAPs - for correctly guessing the final PISSED rating
10 CAPs for Ilmari Jauhiainen 
  • Cartographer award - 5 CAPs - for pointing us to some official King's Quest maps
  • Sierra historian award - 5 CAPs - for comparing linearity versus freedom in other Sierra series
6 CAPs for doctorcasino
  • Pattern weaver award - 6 CAPs - for discovering and analyzing a linear versus open world pattern in King's Quest games
5 CAPs for JosephCurwen
  • Success by thirst award - 5 CAPs - for solving the hardest puzzle in the game by going downstairs to get a glass of water
5 CAPs for Laertes
  • His name was Miles award - 5 CAPs - for pointing out that I'd forgotten who runs the transporter on the Enterprise
5 CAPs for Rowan Lipkovits
  • Deja Vu award - 5 CAPs - for reminding us that this game took place in the same place as Wizard and the Princess


  1. I haven't updated the actual CAP leaderboard yet, but I'll do that tomorrow.

    1. Lot of CAPs flying around! One correction: Fry's Bean Counter Award seems to have no amount of CAPs.

    2. Leaderboard updated (including the missing Bean Counter Award)

      Ilmari is now equal leader with Lars-Erik, I've moved up two places by playing this game and Corey Cole has taken Joe Pranevich's spot in the top ten.

    3. Whoohoo, I have 1000+ CAPs! Now I only need 371 more.

  2. In my defense, I didn't get around to it because I was playing some awesome... er... some games for the blog!

    In honor of Kenny's attempt to save the owls, I have donated $10 Singapore dollars to the "Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund". Did you know that Singapore has ten species of owls? I sure as heck didn't!

    1. Thanks, mate! I would have done it but it wasn't specific that that there were any owls being conserved in the first place.

      If there were so many owls here, why are there still so many damned mices?! Don't they eat freaking mices?!

  3. I am amazed that glass of water has paid dividends 25ish years later... not the keenest psychic could have foretold that!

    1. It's Karma, dude. You beat the game because you went to get water. You get CAPs for beating the game. You ascend into a higher plane after battling victoriously against 24 Demon Lords of Ak'zhar's Domain because you have CAPs. Who knows?

  4. >Mean Streets may have had some voice acting before

    Rise of the Dragon BTW had some too in the intro, if you setup the game correctly.

  5. Kinda feel like it was a little harsh to give the story a 4! After all, it's a continuation of the KQ story, directly links back to KQ3 and it even shares a setting with the missed classic The Wizard and the Princess (and even includes both wizards and princesses!).

    Also I'd give it a bonus point for being able to put Manannan into a bag, since he's possibly the most evil cat in the world.

    Kenny: How do you want your KQ collection? via Steam? Or if you already have it, you can award it to another person (or perhaps ask for something of equivalent value).

    1. I've got to say - I've always felt that of all of the Sierra 'Quest' line that KQ has the weakest storyline. It's something without real complexity - it's a fairytale world that evokes all of the sentiment and notions of the fairytales that it uses, but in the end can you really say that King Graham of Daventry is an interesting, deep character? If I read King's Quest: The Novel, it'd be a linear series of puzzles, not an in-depth line of dialogues and a rich, multi-layered story. "And now, he's fighting a DRAGON! And now, A BEAN STALK! HE'S CLIMBING IT! (And reloading about fifteen times!)"

    2. I know some of the scores I gave are debatable. I'll try to better explain my reasoning behind the score.

      The 4 I gave it there is partly due to games that have recently just done story and setting better - we've had Loom and Monkey Island, which both had interesting settings and a much more cohesive story. Even some of our bad games like B.A.T. had a unique setting.

      King's Quest III and IV both got a 6 in this category, but they got points for having a plot twist and the first game with a female protagonist respectively and they came at a simpler time when other games weren't much better.

      I agree that the story and setting are not much worse than King's Quest IV, but to give it a 5 which King's Quest IV would have gotten had it been a guy as the main character seemed to me like it would be saying games shouldn't have gotten better in the last two years when other games have already proven otherwise.

      So in the end, I settled on 4 because it came out 2 years after the last game and didn't improve it at all and came out in the same year as some original settings with good stories.

      Perhaps if Mordack had some kind of impact on Serenia apart from his own island the story might have worked on me better. I don't think the townsfolk are even aware there's an evil wizard in their realm.

    3. Yeah, I already have KQ collection. I'd ask for Loom since I don't have it yet but I'd rather just pass on the Goodness instead. It shall be given to the next person to submit her/his/its "What's Your Story?".

  6. Aperama, it's funny you say that -- there was a short-lived King's Quest line of novels. They're not terribly well-regarded... http://www.richardcobbett.com/codex/therichardperspective/book-week-kings-quest-the-floating-castle/

    1. But of course. The way the problems were solved in the game was haphazard enough. I'll be damned if I'm gonna read up on a bunch of royalty who have no idea how to use their unlimited gold but have to pilfer stuff from their bloody subjects.

      And what are they going to do with those stuff? They either have to display otherwordly powers of clairvoyance or hand-wave it away as a convenient coincidence that they have the solution to any problems in their pockets, brought forth by blue-blooded kleptomania and the power to Macgyver the shit out of any mess.

  7. The rope broke because you tied it to a branch which was a red herring? Of course it will!

    Don't you know that herrings are so sharp that you could cut down the mightiest trees in forests with it?

  8. I'm pretty sure that the CD talkie version of KQ5 was released in 1992, so you can't really give points for the speech if you consider it a 1990 game. IIRC the sound effects you mentioned weren't present in the original floppy version either, at least not the digitized versions (it may have used some midi samples and of course FM sounds with SB/AdLib).