Since the death of the Xbox (curse thy name in hell), I have been enjoying the extragalactic shit out of my quickly growing DOS collection. My decision to purchase a new Macbook, I must admit, was highly motivated by my desire to play Sierra games all over the place. Is that insane? Oh, you didn’t think I was serious about that “system of the year” shit, did you? Well, let me tell you that DOS games fucking rule, I will be raising my son on them, and they were designed by some of the greatest game makers that ever lived.
In the last month, I have played through King’s Quests I-VI (the only ones that matter), Quests For Glory 1, 3, and 4, and Space Quest 1 (EGA version, bitch!). All but this last one were staples of my childhood, and games that I can complete with the greatest of ease, knee deep in a box of wine, with my eyes looking in the directions of London and Paris at the same time.
Space Quest somehow never made it into my home or the homes of my homies who also played PC games back in the day. We were all aware of the series, but we were all King’s / Hero Quest players. But it’s a fantastic and celebrated series that evolved on the exact same lines — 3D exploration with parser commands, so that if you wanted to examine a book on the ground, you would have to type in commands like “look ground” (You see a book lying discarded on the ground next to the dead body.), “get book” (Ok.), “read book” (You scan the pages of the ancient tome, but the writing eludes your knowledge of any written tongue. Indeed, the characters seem to squiggle before you on the page, rendering them completely unreadable.). The middle games of the series were made with fancy-ass VGA graphics (256 colors? Get the fuck out of town!) with a point and click interface and command bar with actions such as foot, hand, eye, and mouth. Eventually, the games were rendered in beautiful 16-bit graphics and featured full spoken dialogue as well as a killer MIDI-orchestrated soundtrack.
I tell you, these games were designed from a completely different paradigm in regard to the way they perceived their customers and their gaming styles. While they are similar to the narratives of tabletop role playing games, they actually encourage a shit load of trial and error and you will have to die many, many times learning what kills you and experimenting with ways to either avoid or confront these hazards. One thing that was not around when these games were released was the god damn Internet, and there were only three ways to get solutions to puzzles. One was to figure it out yourself, the second was to ask somebody who knew (later there would be hint hotlines staffed by just these kinds of people), and the third was to buy a hint book from Sierra. They must have made quite a killing selling hint books, because it would take Copernican ingenuity to figure out some of these solutions on your own. And why, yes! I did own a few of those hint books, myself. The first ones were little staple-bound booklets containing only text (with maps made of boxes and lines), and had the solutions written in an “invisible ink” that could only be revealed with a special highlighter pen, making you unable to blame your insatiably curious eyes for “accidentally” peeking at the solution. Later ones featured a card with a thin piece of red, translucent plastic that would show the solutions when placed over the red boxes printed below the questions in the book. Finally, around the time of King’s Quest V, they were printed with art and had the solutions printed upside down or something, and we were back to blaming our sneaky Pete wandering eyes.
Shit. I actually remember going with my friends to the mall by bus when I was about 13 and buying the KQVI hintbook at Babbage’s. I knew I shouldn’t have, because I was actually doing a pretty good job of playing through the game by my own wits. But there was this weird setup where I could only play the game at my grandparents’ house because they had it there, and I wasn’t allowed bring it home to install on our computer at home. And since we only visited my grandparents once every couple of months, I decided I wanted to get through as much as I could in the short time it was available, and the hint book would save a lot of time. Of course, I ended up reading the whole fucking thing and spoiling the game, but that never stopped me from loving the hell out of it. I declare King’s Quest VI the Crown Jewel of all DOS games, and encourage you now to go get it now and free from here to play on your own computers. Play it. Love it. Cheat if you have to.
God damn, I could really use a hint book for Space Quest 2. Fuck it.