Kings Quest VI

by Alan Zisman (c) 1992. Originally published in Our Computer Paper, December 18, 1992

The box descibes King's Quest VI--Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, as 'the best selling computer game series of all time', and I'm sure that's true. The King's Quest series has been around almost as long as personal computers, and at least some of the games have run on almost every machine imaginable.

And like personal computers, the games have gotten more colourful and elaborate with each generation, which also means requiring more memory and space. Again like PC's in general, lots of work has gone to make the games more elaborate, but not more complicated for the user. Gee... and you thought you were just getting a game, not a piece of computer history!

The KQ series follows the saga of the royal family of Daventry, a mythical medieval country in a world of gnomes and unicorns, good and bad magic. The saga started out with Graham following an adventure that brought him to the throne. Later episodes followed his son, Alexander, and daughter Rosella (was KQ4 a first for computer gaming in having a female main character?) In KQ5, Graham's family was kidnapped by Mordack, an evil wizard, forcing Graham to rescue them.

KQ6 picks up where KQ5 left off (sort of like ALL MY CHILDREN). Prince Alexander has gone to the Land of the Green Isles, hoping to wed Princess Cassima, who had also been kidnapped by Mordack. He is shipwrecked, and opposed by the Grand Vizier, who also has designs on the Princess.

I'm not going to give away the plot... in fact, this game is designed to have multiple plot possibilities; there are numerous ways to bring it to a happy ending.

Of course, like all games of this type, there are even more ways to bring it to an unhappy ending, sending Prince A. to the underworld. Like all these games, there are only two things to do: gather up everything in sight, and save often! You did remember to take the smelly flower, for example. You'll need it when you get to the Island guarded by the five gnomes to fool the one with the big nose. Two more hints: be sure to get the ancient map from the pawn shop. Trade the ring if necessary. And keep the Guide to the Green Isles handy once you start using the map to explore the islands.

If you get stuck, Sierra has hints available from their BBS or through forums on CompuServe and other on-line services. If you don't have a modem, you can call their 1-900 number for $.75 a minute or so. Or if you're patient, you can write them a letter.

The interface makes it easy to get around. While earlier versions of the game required typing ("Open door". "Enter room". Talk to fisherman"), with KQ5, Sierra offered a completely non-typing interface. Everything can be done with a mouse or joystick. Point to the top of the screen, and a toolbar appears, with icons for the actions: Walk, Look. Talk, Take, etc. You can cycle between the icons by clicking your right mouse button. Sometimes typing might be faster, but this works well, and with a little practice will come naturally.

The graphics are nice... 256 colour MCGA/VGA, (although it will also install in 16 colour EGA) though because it runs in 320x200 screen resolution (required for 256 colours in standard VGA), people's faces look pretty blocky except for the close-up sequences. The backgrounds are pretty, but only in a generic sort of way-- fairy tale castle, forest, mountain... if you've seen one, you've seen them all. Sierra is proud of the "2 hours of original music", though without a sound card, most of this is lost. They've even released the "Girl in the Tower" theme song on CD, and sent it around to radio stations (the package includes a list of stations that you can call to request they play the theme... none in Canada, luckily).

The game requires a fast computer, and a lot of free hard drive space. Sierra defines a 'slow' machine for this game as a 16 mhz 386-SX. Don't try this on your XT, boys and girls. It seemed a bit sluggish on my 386DX-25, taking some time to load or change screnes. The game is not copy protected. A full install is supposed to require 20 megs of free drive space; with less than this, the 6 meg opening cartoon is not loaded. (It can be deleted after viewing, though it would be nice to have an option to do this automatically). Even though I tried to install it on a computer with 34 meg free, I didn't get the cartoon (and still haven't seen it!)... without it, the game ends up taking about 11 megs (I know this doesn't add up-- I assume the installation makes a number of temporary files that it then cleans up). Sierra recently released the previous saga, KQ5, on CD-ROM, complete with digitized speech replacing the written dialogues, and should do the same with this episode... these massive games really need that kind of format.

I field-tested the game by installing it on a 20 mhz 386SX at my work, in a classroom where it could be used freely by grade 11 and 12 students during breaks between classes, lunch, and before and after school. It was immediately popular, with students picking up on the easy-to-use interface with almost no instruction. A number of students quickly made good progress, and have been staying after school to play. No one has completed the game yet-- plan on giving it a lot of time.

If you like the fantasy genre, this is a good one. Written by Sierra's co-founder, Roberta Williams, it is a good, family-oriented game without the excessive gore that some of its competitors display. The no typing interface lets even young children play, though my own kids (8 and 11) prefer arcade-action games, and have never really seen the point of these role-playing games.

For me, though, I wonder if Sierra's grown a bit stale. All these games have used bits from fairy tales, mythology, and even the Bible (David and Goliath back in KQ1); unlike my teenage testing team, it doesn't really grab me. There's not much of a plot, the dialogue is wooden, the characters are stereotyped. And the situations seem recycled from other stories and other games; this episode borrows from Aladdin, and Theseus and the Minotaur, and features fighting chess pieces. I'd have liked more originality... maybe I'm just old and jaded. I DO predict it'll be another best-seller for Sierra.

from Sierra On-Line
P.O. Box 600
Coarsegold, CA
93614-0600 USA

price: $55-69

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1992, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from KQ fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan