Finding the Way Home

A Sierra Junkie’s Journey Back to the Good Old Days

 

It's a school night in 1988. I am ten years old. I come out of my bedroom to find my dad sitting at our Apple IIgs computer. Over his shoulder I see a little man walking toward the front door of Lefty's bar. He walks with his arms bent like a robot's and is wearing what my father tells me is a leisure suit. My father types "open door" and the man goes into the bar. Before long I've pulled up a chair. I'm calling out commands faster than my father can type them.

I know from conversations with other gamers that my introduction to Sierra is not all that unique. Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards was like contraband in the 80s, traveling from one computer to the next on pirated 5.25" floppies. I had played Zork and Scott Adams' text adventures before this, but LSL was my first exposure to the stuff adventure game legends are made of. Little did I know these games would become a huge part of my life.

My father and I finished Leisure Suit Larry in a few evenings. He covered my eyes during certain scenes, and very carefully explained others. ("What's a rubber, Dad? What's Spanish Fly? Why did that lady tie Larry to the bed?") When we finished that first game my father took me down to Egghead Software, where I bought a copy of King’s Quest 1 with my birthday money. I was hooked.

Sierra games were then, and still are, my absolute favorites. Somehow I completely missed the boat on Monkey Island. I liked Myst and 7th Guest, but neither could compare to those graphic quests I'd become so fond of. I cried the day my mom took me to Egghead to buy a Space Quest game and the store manager told us they were no longer selling Apple IIgs software. Soon after that we got a Mac, then an external CD-ROM, then a better Mac—all to support my Sierra habit.

It wasn't just the games that I liked. It was Sierra. Ken and Roberta Williams were like the parents of this big family I belonged to. Even before the Internet, they had managed to create a community among their customers. Every quarter when InterAction magazine arrived in the mail, I got to see what new treasures Sierra would bring me next. The first time I ventured online it was to seek out Sierra's website. I, like so many others, dreamed of graduating from college and moving to Oakhurst to become a part of the Sierra team.

The last adventure game I played before starting college was Phantasmagoria. I finished it my first night in the dorm, before my roommate arrived, wondering how I would be able to feed this addiction once I was sharing the room. Something funny happened while I was in college, though. I suddenly didn't have any spare time for gaming. Again, from talking to others who share my passion, I know I'm not the only one who had this problem. I played a few games here and there—finished Police Quest: Open Season, which hadn't run on our computer at home due to a bug, and treated myself to Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within after a particularly stressful semester. But my connection to Sierra was broken. I lost track of which sequels would be coming out when. My subscription to InterAction lapsed. That's okay, I told myself, when I get out of school I'll get a newer, faster computer, and I'll have time to play as many games as I want. I graduated from college in 2000, acquired a laptop, and went to Best Buy with money to burn.

You all know how this story ends. There was nothing there. Nada. Tumbleweed rolling through the aisles. Of course by that I mean there were plenty of games on the shelves, boxes and boxes and more boxes, but none of them were adventures. The store didn't even have an adventure section. After some hard searching I finally found Gabriel Knight 3. It was the only adventure game in the entire store. Soon after this, I visited Sierra's website and found that it, too, had changed. No more welcoming cartoon art and folksy web copy. Sierra, it seemed, had been taken over by some corporate entity. The company I'd grown to know and love all those years no longer existed.

I was lucky. After much hunting and surfing, I found my way home. I read an article that said adventure games were dead, but that didn't stop me. I found a few websites dedicated to the games I'd once played. Then I discovered abandonware. And then, much to my relief, I found this little band of people just like me who claimed there were still games I'd enjoy. Adventure games were not dead—just the company that had made them great.

I've accepted that no matter how many times the adventure genre rises from the ashes, the old Sierra is gone. When Ken and Roberta Williams sold Sierra and retired, the spirit of the company they'd created went with them. But the fans are still around. Not only that, thanks to the Internet the fans have taken over where Ken and Roberta left off. Some are preserving Sierra's legacy by making box art, promotional materials, and game soundtracks available to the public. Others are building new games from Sierra's technology. The nine sites featured in this article are only a handful in what is still a very active community.

Recently, while playing the newly-released fan game Peasant's Quest, I found that guiding an AGI sprite across the screen holds the same excitement that it did back in 1988. What is it about those old Sierra games? Tom Lewandowski, founder of Quest Studios, states it very well: "Sierra had something special back in the 1980s and early 1990s that hasn't been duplicated well in today's adventures. That combination of talent and desire was like magic."

That something special may not be present in all of today's new releases, but it's not gone for good. Are you ready to relive the magic? These sites will take you there.

Continued on the next page...



About the Author
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Emily Morganti
Staff Writer
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