Written by Joe Pranevich
Five years ago (can you believe that?), I wanted to blog about Space Quest IV. While it wasn’t the first game that I played here, it was the first that I really wanted to play and the game that got me excited to write about adventure games. 65 main-line games later and we’ve finally made it to the sequel: Roger Wilco: The Next Mutation. But while this might look like a straight sequel, behind the scenes drama ensured that this would be a very different game from its predecessors. Instead of “Two Guys from Andromeda”, we were left with only one. Can one guy recapture the lighting and create a great sequel all on his own? That’s what I am looking forward to finding out.
I say “finding out” although I played this game and its sequel when they first came out. I remember very little about either of them and there is a good chance that plot elements I half-recall could be from the other game. If I had to stretch my brain, I’d say that I think I remember that Roger Wilco became a captain at the end of this game and I was annoyed that he was demoted back to janitor again at the beginning of the next, but I could be off-base. Let’s find out together!
How many titles does one game need?
Space Quest IV was both the beginning and the end of an era. It was among the first games to receive the new “point and click'' graphical upgrades (first seen in King's Quest V) and subsequently was re-released as one of the first fully-voiced games of the CD-ROM era. Space Quest IV was a commercial and critical success, the beginning of a new paradigm for Sierra which would propel them into the next stage of adventure gaming. And yet, Space Quest IV also marked the final collaboration for two design powerhouses: the “Two Guys from Andromeda”, Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy.
The years from 1990 to 1993 were challenging for Sierra and its designers. Long since removed from its plucky roots, the need to stay ahead of a rapidly changing gaming market dominated everything. VGA graphics, then “Super VGA”, not only increased the resolution and number of colors that could be on the screen, but also required new talented designers to take advantage of the system’s quirks. More advanced sound cards allowed for a true symphonic sound. Players were increasingly accustomed to working with a mouse and expected software to be mouse-driven. Perhaps most challenging, a single CD-ROM matched the storage of nearly 450 floppy disks and consumers expected software that took advantage of those advances in storage. All this meant heavy and near-constant investment to keep ahead of the curve; if a game slipped for too long, it would very quickly no longer appear “modern” on the shelf.
Sierra tried during these years to diversify. “The Sierra Network” launched in 1990, a first of its kind online gaming platform. The internet did not exist yet and Sierra had to build modem farms across the country to provide toll-free access; the cost of operating their own infrastructure was not outweighed by their expanding user base. A sale and re-branding (“ImagiNation Network”) did not save a technology released just a little too soon. A merger with Broderbund was announced but fell through, to the embarrassment of all. With development costs skyrocketing, employees were asked to work 12-hour days and weekends to close on projects on time. Famously, games like Quest for Glory IV would be released long before they were ready. There was a brief attempt to unionize, but management successfully quashed it. For all their difficulties with their software engineers, the executive wing equally suffered from a lack of talent willing to move to rural California. Even with growing sales, the company was losing money.
Re-releases like Space Quest I aimed to increase sales with less investment.
It was against this backdrop that Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy had their falling out. Space Quest IV had been exhausting. Begun using the AGI text parser, it was switched to become an early point-and-click game during the design process, against Crowe and Murphy’s wishes. Towards the end of development, Crowe suffered from a stress-related illness that landed him in the hospital for two weeks. As the project wrapped up, Crowe sought an out from the stress and management control of Oakhurst and negotiated a transfer to Dynamix, a recently purchased subsidiary, in Eugene, Oregon. This move followed the birth of his second son and would give him and his growing family a better place to lay down roots. He announced his intention to “break up the band” in January 1991, just prior to the Winter CES in Las Vegas. Sierra released SQ4 two months later and Crowe migrated north. The secrecy around the move and other aspects hit Murphy hard and he resolved not to work with Crowe again; fortunately this relationship has since been patched up.
Crowe was excited to work for the studio that brought us Willy Beamish.
Shortly after release, Josh Mandel began an official Space Quest V project out of the Oakhurst office. He produced three sequel pitches, but none of them were accepted. (This work was not in vain; one of the three would later be adapted into Space Quest 6.) Meanwhile, Crowe was up in Eugene working on designs for a superhero-based adventure game. With that game not taking off, Ken Williams made the decision to transfer development of SQ5 to Dynamix, but using Sierra’s SCI game engine. With Crowe in Oregon, this would not only put a familiar designer on the project but also cross-train a new team on Sierra’s design tools. Work officially began on the sequel in December 1991. Emblematic of their failing out, Murphy did not learn that his former partner was working on a sequel to the series that they created together until an early beta arrived at Oakhurst after development began.
Mark Crowe and David Selle doing “research” for the game for a publicity photo.
Designer Shawn Sharp updated Roger’s looks. This design may have been a bit too sexy for the actual game...
Surrounded by a new team, Crowe’s sequel took on a different tone and form than its predecessors. Perhaps taking the derisive “Roger Beamish” nickname that the project received to heart, he made the game less dark than its predecessors. Dave Selle, Crowe’s assistant designer, pushed the game into becoming a more direct pastiche of Star Trek: The Next Generation, then at the height of its popularity. Crowe also introduced a change to the art style:
I think the other major departure was the look. I really wanted Roger Wilco to have a more polished, stylized look than we were capable of achieving in the previous games. I felt pretty strongly that if the Space Quest series was to have any legs we would have to step up production quality to match the likes of LucasArts products. That was what we tried to do with it--good or bad. The old days of drawing and painting the backgrounds myself were clearly behind me, and I had to give up a certain amount of control over the art to more talented individuals. Personally, I loved the new look.
Sometime prior to publication, Sierra inked a deal with Sprint that included paid promotions in Leisure Suit Larry V as well as the soon-to-be released Space Quest. I do not recall how obnoxious this was in practice; I will be experiencing the ads first-hand soon enough. The game was completed in time for a February 1993 release. Unlike its predecessor, SQ5 was never given a CD-ROM version or any other update. I am playing the MS-DOS version of the game as it was originally released on floppy disks.
I will never unsee the Ken Williams baby.
As Sierra feelies go, the Space Quest V manual is quite a fun one. Following up on the previous entry’s “Space Piston Magazine”, we are given an issue of the “Galactic Inquirer”, modeled after a cheap checkout line tabloid. In form and style, it reminds me of a number of the Infocom feelies that I’ve been covering recently (both Bureaucracy and Hollywood Hijinx had their own pitch-perfect magazine parodies), but I must remind myself that this is six years later and there is likely no connection. I haven’t paid enough attention to the Sierra manuals in this period to know whether this was a particularly creative manual for the company or just a regular “feelie”. Perhaps notably, Josh Mandel contributed some of the manual text. He was the only member of the Oakhurst team to do so; all other manual credits are Dynamix team members. While I’m sure it was “just” a job, it’s clear that Mandel was passionate about Space Quest and I am excited to see what that passion brings out next time.
Unfortunately, with gag manuals like these, it can be difficult to pick out what is pertinent to the plot and what is just color text. There are some lovely parodies of the Jetsons, Lost in Space, and Star Wars. A quick read through reveals the following:
- “Lunatic Litterbugs Trash Planets” - Mysterious ships have left tons of garbage in orbit around unsuspecting planets. Ambassador Wankmeister (named in SQ4 as Roger’s future wife) will be testifying at a StarCon judiciary subcommittee.
- “Spaced-Out Quest Co-Creator Comes Out of the Closet” - Unfortunate reference to homosexuality aside, we learn Mark Crowe’s deep dark secret… that he’s not from Andromeda after all, but from Earth! Who knew? Better if he would have been from Guildford, but you can’t have everything.
|Same as it ever was.|
- “Whatever Happened to Roger Wilco?” - A fun article recaps our hero’s first adventure, talks about him interfering with the film adaptation of said adventure, and then disappears into obscurity.
- “Scandal Rocks Star Confederacy” - Captain Quirk’s womanizing ways lead to the destruction of a perfectly innocent moon.
- “Your Universal Horoscope by Gir Draxon” - A humorous take on horoscopes but with oddly specific planetary coordinates in the background. I have a vague recollection that this is the copy protection.
In addition to the plot-stuff, there’s also an amazingly funny “making of” featurette for the game, parodying the model work and sets that would have been used if this were a film, plus other assorted wackiness. I especially love that all of the background art was painted directly on monitor screens! A “Retro Game Review” acts as a guide to the UI and a walkthrough for the first segment of the game, although I avoid reading the latter to prevent spoilers.
So much Star Trek in one screen shot.
We open to a “captain’s log” segment. Somehow, since our previous adventure, Roger Wilco is now an admiral and in command of the SCS Excalibur. The narration-- even including a stardate!-- is right out of Star Trek. Ships have gone missing in the Menudo Triangle and it is up to resolve it. And yet… Roger speaks of himself as a “military leader” and “matchless diplomat”? Unless fleeing the time patrol counts, I’m fairly certain Roger has no leadership or diplomatic skills whatsoever.
The log reminds us that we learned about our future wife at the end of Space Quest IV. This seems to be haunting Roger, perhaps because he’s never really been good with women or anyone else for that matter. Roger ends his log trying to quote the “Supreme Guideline” (nearly going to “boldly go” before abandoning it) before giving up when he can’t remember the words. Yeah, that’s the Roger that we know.
Moments later, we are attacked! Roger barks orders at his crew to fire “neutron beams” and “proton torpedoes”... until suddenly a strange face appears on the viewscreen!
As we no doubt could have guessed, Roger isn’t an admiral… he’s just a cadet playing on the bridge simulator. Captain Quirk scolds Roger and sends him back to class. The simulation ends and we learn that Roger recently enrolled in the Star Confederacy’s Space Academy to reach his lifelong (really?) goal of becoming a starship captain.
It’s like looking up someone’s nose in IMAX.
|Sometimes, I tell myself, "This is not my beautiful starship!"|
We find ourselves in a hallway in a space station with some very familiar-looking ships just outside the window. We can see the Willy Beamish inspirations immediately. The graphics are vaguely cartoonish and the very limited animation plays more like a comic book than a movie. It’s a fun opening and sets the stage by explaining what we are doing as a cadet while reminding players about the ending of the previous game. It’s serviceable. It’s less animated than the opening to SQ4 which comes as a bit of a surprise, but we’ll see how that plays out over the course of the game.
It’s time to play!
The adventure begins!
With Ecoquest II coming to a close, we decided to push out the intro for Space Quest V a bit early. While I am still writing up the end of Bureaucracy, that gives you some time to put in your score guesses and gives me something more interesting to play while I write. Thanks to COVID, we remain challenged to keep posts on a regular schedule. Our volunteer writers (including myself) are doing the best we can over a challenging time frame and hope you will bear with us as we close out a few more games.
I always go overboard with research posts; the above research has been cobbled together from several interviews as well as other sources, including: two interviews by Mark Crowe for “Roger Wilco’s Virtual Broomcloset” (in 1996 and 2000), a 2006 interview with Scott Murphy for “Adventure Classic Gaming”, a 2012 follow-up to that interview with both Crowe and Murphy, a 2012 commentary track recorded by the pair, as well as a 2015 interview by some low-rent rag called “The Adventure Gamer”. Other sources include “The Making of Space Quest V” in the Space Quest V Hint Book, Not All Fairytales Have Happy Endings by Ken Williams, and the “Space Quest FAQ” (1997 edition). Design sketches were provided by Shawn Sharp to SpaceQuest.net in 2003. I am also indebted to Josh Mandel, Corey Cole, and Jimmy Maher for answering random clarifying emails from me over the last couple of weeks. I hope that you enjoyed this peek into an important moment in Sierra history.
Now, it is time for you to guess the score! Although best known for Space Quest, Mark Crowe was also credited as a designer or co-designer on Leisure Suit Larry and Police Quest 3. He’s a writer with some range! At this point, Sierra is averaging 51 points across all of their games, Dynamix is averaging 58, and Crowe’s games are averaging 56. What will this game be like with only One Person from Andromeda? I cannot wait to find out.
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 introductory 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 20 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.