I can't even describe to you how ecstatic I was to interview Mark Crowe, one-half of the famous Two Guys From Andromeda design team that brought us the immortal Space Quest series. The adventures of Roger Wilco were childhood favorites of mine, and Mark was something of a hero to me. Today, to coincide with the unveiling of Space Quest IV as #13 on the Top 20 Adventure Games countdown, here is the exclusive interview I conducted with the one and only Mark Crowe.
What was the first adventure game you ever played?
Well, I'm almost ashamed to say but it was Sierra's text adventure: SoftPorn. Which later became the inspiration for Leisure Suit Larry. But it was my door to the world of adventure gaming.
How did you first get involved with Sierra On-Line?
I was originally hired on at Sierra as a graphic artist in the Marketing dept—package design, logos, documentation—stuff like that. I even did a few box illustrations which was a lot of fun. From there, I transitioned into creating computer graphics and animation for adventure games like King's Quest.
Where did the idea for Space Quest originate?
While working on a product called The Black Cauldron, it struck me that I could write an adventure game. Scott Murphy was also working on Black Cauldron as a programmer. We both shared an interest in science fiction and warped humor, so I hit him with the idea to team up on a game design. He had similar aspirations of his own so it was not a hard sell. We wanted to make a space farce that lampooned the Sci Fi genre and were confident there was an audience for such a title. We wanted the protagonist in our game to be an unlikely hero so we came up with a space janitor. We both liked the name Roger Wilco because it had a nice, retro-scifi, Buck Rogers feel to it. The whole janitorial angle provided a seemingly endless supply of gag material. We had a lot of fun just brainstorming all the goofy gags and deaths.
So we took the initiative and created a few interactive scenes which we used to sell the concept to Ken Williams. Execs want to see something up and running. There's no better way to sell a concept.
Adventure gaming fans know you as one-half of the Two Guys From Andromeda, co-creator of the timeless Roger Wilco. Tell us about some of your lesser-known contributions to Sierra adventures.
After Space Quest 1, I co-designed the first Leisure Suit Larry game. I created all of the sight gags and the graphics for the entire game.
Other notable credits include the Police Quest series (Director/Art/Animation) and Sierra's first CD-ROM title: Mixed-up Mother Goose (Director/ Art Director/Background Designer/ Animator).
What non-Space Quest Sierra game are you most proud of your contribution to?
That's a toughie! I would have to say the EarthSeige series I did with Dynamix.
What do you feel is the strongest Space Quest game? The weakest?
I've always considered Space Quest 4 to be our (Scott and I) masterpiece. From the wild *time-travel tru sequels* concept to the first-ever (for Sierra) VGA graphics.
The weakest, I'm ashamed to say, would have to be SQ5 (the last one I was involved with). We were just out of original ideas and I relied too heavily on Star Trek:The Next Generation spoofs. I never played SQ6.
How did Gary Owens get involved with Space Quest?
When it came time to pick the voice talent for the announcer, there was only one choice in my head. No other would do. When I pushed to get Gary Owens, I expected to get the big "NO" because of the cost. But, fortunately everyone agreed Gary was the perfect fit for our brand of humor. We were all overjoyed when his agent got back in touch with us to say Gary was very interested in being involved in our project.
I went to LA to supervise the recording and have to admit it was very humbling to work with such a showbiz legend. The man is a consummate pro. Here was Gary Owens in a Hollywood recording studio reading dialog for our little adventure game—and busting up at the script....PRICELESS!
What circumstances led to you leaving Sierra?
I was ready for a life change. Oakhurst was an extremely dry, hot place in the summer and the threat of wild fires always loomed— particularly where my house was located. When Sierra aquired Dynamix in Eugene, Oregon, the opportunity presented itself to move there and work on other types of games. Feeling a little burned out on SQ and adventure games in general, it seemed like a great opportunity for a change. Oregon is a beautiful place—I've never regreted the move.
If you could go back and change something about the way the Space Quest games turned out, what would that be?
Hmmm. I've been called a perfectionist because I don't know when to leave things alone. But if I could only change one thing, it would have to be the insanely cruel Sequel Police puzzle in the Skate-O-Rama [from SQ4]. The one where it's seemingly impossible to get by the S.P. without being shot near the escalator. That was a foul-up that haunts me to this day.
Really tough, there are lots of things I'd like to go back and change but... kay sara, sara. If I were to redo Space Quest today, I would go for a total retro-scifi feel. Totally Buck Rogers.
How did you get involved with Pipeworks, and what exactly do you do there?
Pipeworks is a small development house started up by a few ex-Dynamix people. About three years ago, they contacted me to see if I was interested in working on a project they were shopping around. The concept appealed to me so I signed on with them as a designer. Unfortunately, that project didn't get off the ground. This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we then picked up the "Godzilla:Destroy All Monsters" project. Guy from Andromeda meets "B" movie monsters... JOY! I was the lead designer/creative director for G:DAMM. This was a very exciting project for me because it was my first console game. I'm quite proud of it. Any Space Questers out there who have played it will pick up on a few Guy from Andromeda touchs.
What projects are you currently involved with?
Unfortunately I can't divulge what we are currently working on. We're under NDA with the publisher. Sorry!
Do you know anything about the development of an official Space Quest 7 game?
Just the rumors that everyone else is hearing.
Would you be disappointed if Space Quest 7 is not a pure adventure game?
Not really. I mean Scott and I always tried to mix arcade elements into the adventure puzzles to add variety to the game play. Albeit sometimes with unfavorable results
Do you believe there can still be a resurgence in commercial adventure games?
Depends. If you are talking about a resurgence on the PC, I don't think publishers see much of an upside to developing big-budget adventure titles for the PC.
Consoles are where it's at. Look at Resident Evil, ICO, Star Fox Adventures, and the like? They're adventure games. Yea, some are still *shooters* trying to grow up. But we're in the middle a big convergence. Arcade games have to provide more than twitch action. Players want more story and puzzle elements in their console games. We are seeing these types of console games evolve full circle back to their roots—the PC adventure.
What can adventure fans do to help promote a resurgence in adventure popularity?
***GLIB RESPONSE WARNING*** Buy multiple copies of your favorite games. Make them profitable for publishers to create. But seriously, making a lot of noise to publishers and showing them there is demand for such titles is really the key. The publishers are only willing to gamble so much $$ on a title if they know there's a guaranteed return of $$$$. It's all so calculated now.
Do you play graphic adventure games today?
Not really—I take a look at everything that comes along. But I just can't seem to devote the time to finish a single game these days. I'm always in *evaluation* mode—I play a game for awhile and then it's "Ok... I get it!" then I move on to something else.
Josh Mandel is currently involved with an unofficial fan-made Space Quest 7. How do you feel about fan-made sequels to commercial series?
I think it's great! Anything that keeps people's interest up in SQ or adventure games in general is a good thing in my mind. This also is a great way to send a message to publishers—people want an SQ title so bad their willing to create one themselves. I take it as a wonderful compliment. Josh is a great guy and I completely trust whatever he does to be true to the Spirit of Space Quest.
LucasArts shut down a couple Monkey Island fangames because of concerns regarding diluting an existing franchise. If there really is an official Space Quest 7, and the amateur version of SQ7 takes the story in a completely different direction, would Sierra have the right (and possibly even the obligation) to take action?
Yes, I believe they do have the right and they WILL exercise it if they come out with an SQ7 title. But as long as the fan-made game is not being sold for profit, Sierra would simply ask for a cease and desist. I want to clarify that this is only my opinion—I'm not a representative of Sierra and cannot speak for them as to how they would react to a fan-based SQ title.
(The decision to include SQ4 on the countdown was made independently of Mark's answers, and Mark was not informed of this decision prior to the interview. Thanks so much to Mark for taking the time to answer these questions!)