Warp Drive

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Treasure of the Sierra On-Line (SQ)

Inspired by Al Lowe and Jane Jensen's recent Kickstarters, I have decided to write a blog about Sierra On-Line memories. Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe have also returned!

Today, we venture into the hallowed halls of Sierra On-Line, or should I say, the hollowed halls of Sierra On-Line. Sierra has existed in name only for more than a decade. In the 1980s and 1990s, however, they were arguably the greatest developer of PC adventure games under the sun. Notice, if you will, how I said arguably. These days, fans of the adventure game genre usually stand behind the assertion that LucasArts was better, and there are some very good reasons for that. For one thing, LucasArts' adventure games were typically a lot less buggy. For another, LucasArts did not punish you for dying. In fact, most of their games lacked death altogether. Personally, I still love both companies' games equally, and yes, I know that I will get a lot of flack for saying that.

I believe that Sierra On-Line has just as much merit in gaming history as LucasArts. Sure, their games may have generally been buggier, and they may have punished you for not picking up key items, but in my book, that does not make them a sacrificial lamb (bonus points if you get the game reference). For me, it was all about the beautiful worlds that Sierra crafted, and the stories that they told within them. Oh, and let us not forget about the amazing musical scores. I still get them stuck in my head to this very day! Sure, they made a few mistakes along the way, but you have to remember that computer games were still a very new thing when Sierra first came onto the scene in the early 1980s. LucasArts came later, and that allowed them to have a less rocky start with a more refined system in place.

Sierra Logo

Moving beyond Sierra v. LucasArts, I would like to talk about my own experiences with Sierra. It was in August of 1996 that I had my first encounter with their games. I was browsing a computer game bargain bin at Price Club (now Costco) when I came across something that piqued my interest. Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers (A 3-D Animated Adventure Game). This was written on the back of the case, "Get ready for a trek through time with everybody's favorite inter-galactic sanitation engineer and freelance hero, Roger Wilco. In their latest spaced-out space opera, the Two Guys From Andromeda take on science fiction (and just about everything else!) in a spoofy sendup that will leave you laughing." They had me at time. I just love stories about time travel. I found myself enthralled with the atmosphere and music of the game, and it was also more than likely the first game that I played to feature voice acting. I would not finish Space Quest IV any time soon, but going back to what I said earlier, early Sierra games were often laden with bugs, and Space Quest IV was no exception. I was unable to complete the Galaxy Galleria sequence as a result of timer issues. My PC was a lot faster than the ones used to test the game so many years earlier. I eventually managed to complete the sequence through sheer luck alone. It would be a number of years before fans brought about a working patch to this problem.

A few months later, I discovered Space Quest V: The Next Mutation at K·B Toys (now defunct). I could not afford it at the time, so my parents made me wait until Christmas. Oh joy! Looking back, it is pretty cool, though, because I actually have video of the unwrapping of the game (see below). Space Quest V was an amusing parody of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it was great in part because it brought my brother and I closer together. We would often take turns solving puzzles, and give each other tips along the way. Next to the Super Mario Bros. series, it is one of my fondest video game memories. Space Quest V came with a neat little tabloid entitled Galactic Inquirer. It featured some truly bizarre stories, and was even required to finish the game. Codes were printed inside that had to be input to travel between planets. This was very common of early Sierra games. It was their form of copy protection.

Unwrapping Space Quest V: The Next Mutation

Galactic Inquirer Unfolded

On the back of Space Quest V's Galactic Inquirer was a promo for Space Quest VI: The Spinal Frontier. A true Space Quest fan by that point, I knew that I would have to get this game. Problem was, I could not find it in any store. I had to call Sierra On-Line, and order it directly from them. This was around February of 1997. Space Quest VI arrived in the mail a week or two later. That would not be the last time that I called Sierra On-Line. I found myself impossibly stuck on a puzzle in Space Quest VI. A puzzle that was designed with copy protection in mind. I owned all the paperwork, but still could not figure it out. I am talking, of course, about the notorious homing beacon puzzle. I could have saved money on a technical support call if only I had access to the Internet at the time that I was playing Space Quest VI.

That same month, I discovered Space Quest Collection: Roger Wilco Unclogged at Best Buy. It featured Space Quest I: The Sarien Encounter, Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge, Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon, Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers, and Space Quest V: The Next Mutation. I had never played the first three games in the series, and to this day, I joke about having played them in "George Lucas" order.

Current Inside Copy, Space Quest: Behind Closed Doors

My Space Quest Collection

The Two Guys from Andromeda ARE BACK!

Up next, my adolescent mind is subjected to the warped humor of Leisure Suit Larry!


  1. I always find it cool to read reminiscing on the Sierra series - my dearly departed grandfather bought me the earlier (SQ6 promoting) Space Quest collection with I-V and the games hold a special place in my heart.

    Did you hear about Vohaul Strikes Back, the full-length fan sequel that was released at the end of last year? It's worth checking out.


    1. Whoops, I accidentally deleted my original reply. I've been Vohauling...I mean, overhauling this blog.

      Yes, I have played Vohaul Strikes Back, and I liked it very much. I have also been playing the other two recent fan games, Incinerations and Space Quest II VGA. Fan Game Links: Vohaul Strikes Back, Incinerations, Space Quest II VGA. Also, this is worth checking out. Machinima's All Your History: Adventure Games.