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The King's Quest reboot embraces everything that made old-school adventure games so wonderful

Hayden Dingman | June 23, 2015
Scripted zaniness galore. An unreliable narrator. King's Quest looks to be shaping up into something special.

In King's Quest, Graham is the unreliable narrator. He's telling his granddaughter Gwendolyn a story, and his narration is a constant source of humor--for instance, saying he "rappelled gracefully down a cliff" as we watch a cutscene where he tumbles haphazardly down a slope and hits every tree on the way to the bottom.

Got it? Good. So, to return to Graham heading the wrong direction:

Graham is supposed to head east. We're told this by Graham himself after he "gracefully" reaches the foot of the cliff. Of course, this being a game and we being ornery and rebellious, we head west instead. This forces Graham to come up with an excuse for why the player headed the wrong direction. We head back east, and Graham backtracks again. We meander west again, and Graham comes up with another excuse. And so on and so forth.

I don't know how many different pieces of dialogue were written for this one interaction, but it seemed like a lot. And that's just one really silly example. There were a ton of others demoed along the way, with a similar range of unique lines attached.

Again, it's about scale. It's not like other adventure games want to cut it down to a bare minimum of dialogue, but dialogue is costly both to write and to perform. King's Quest is impressive because it builds in what's basically superfluous dialogue that only a handful of players will ever experience--similar to the superb Stanley Parable.

Choose your adventure

This same approach seems to influence puzzle design, too. If there's one way King's Quest seems to differ from its predecessors, it's that we weren't killed off two dozen times in our half-hour demo. The classic Sierra games are notorious for being grueling, but King's Quest...well, it looks more modern. Friendlier.

Part of that is a dedication to multiple puzzle solutions. I don't know whether that'll be the case for every puzzle, but in our demo we were shown a lengthy, circuitous solution for the problem of "Crossing the River"--one that took multiple item interactions, and was very "adventure game-y" in its execution. And then we were told about a much easier, obvious solution later that's just as valid.

It's interesting--a very different approach from the classics, where the obvious solution was oftentimes treated as a chance to ensnare or kill off the unwary player. This King's Quest takes the opposite tack, encouraging experimentation rather than punishing you for it.

The Odd Gentlemen seem to be lifting from modern influences too, with a greater focus on branching storylines and choice/consequence interactions. Our demo centered on Graham's giving Gwendolyn advice--advice which will then play into Gwendolyn's modern-day story. I'm curious to see whether, with the implied size and scope of King's Quest, we get more defined branches than what we see with Telltale's "illusion-of-choice" fare.

 

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