Many of my childhood memories are virtual. I spent my days exploring the kingdom of Daventry, playing Astro Chicken at Monolith Burger and trying not to buy any “fine leather jackets.” Once a year I would upwrap something special from Sierra and then spend my weekends at Incredible Connection (I didn’t even have dial-up back then) studying gaming forums and HTML walkthroughs, trying to figure out how to finally get rid of Sludge Vohaul, free Cassima from the clutches of Mordack and ultimately unite my VGA families with their happy endings.
I idolised the two guys from Andromeda. I wanted to be Roberta Williams (or at least be married to Ken). Adventure games taught me how to type. How to spell. And patience… from inserting floppy disc 11 of 12 only to come across a file error. I used to dream of scenarios and situations outside of the game world and how I would have expanded each section if I wrote the script myself. I knew what I wanted in every sequel.
Roger Wilco, Space Quest’s bumbling hero, was my ideal protagonist. He was a gentleman and a hero. A flawed character that managed to overcome some seriously bizarre scenarios and fit just about anything in his pants. When he cross-dressed, he looked like the best-dressed latex babe of Estros.
When the Space Quest series came to an end in 1995, I felt like I had lost a friend. My best friend. I too had been abandoned on Polysorbate LX to fend for myself. I mourned the end of an era, and have been longing for the same point-and-click fulfilment and story dynamics you just don’t see in today’s video games ever since.
The level of engagement was undeniable, and very different to how it is today – you would spend months, if not years, figuring out the tiny details, going back to complete score, clicking every pixel on the screen, and discussing the adventure amongst like-minded friends in real life since there wasn’t really an internet over which to do it.
(I’ll always remember the afternoon I figured that you could jump off the pier and swim to an island in King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella. I had been playing the game for a couple of years by that point, trying just about everything I could think of but still getting chomped by a whale or drowning in exhaustion. And then this guy showed me what he had done. It was a watershed moment that changed everything, and I’ll never forget it.)
And it wasn’t just the story that would hook you; even the manuals became meticulously crafted and treasured keepsakes. You would know all the names in the game credits. It was truly a different generation of gaming.
They say you should never “meet” your heroes.
When Marc Crowe and Scott Murphy Kickstarted SpaceVenture, a modern point and click adventure game in a similar vein to my beloved Space Quest, I felt like a door had been opened. Not only to my unsatiated Sierra obsession but also to the people I felt like I “knew” as a youngster. I immediately followed them and the development team on Twitter. I backed the project. I blew the dust off my CD-ROM collection.
I wish I hadn’t.
The truth is that I expected Al Lowe, of Leisure Suit Larry fame, to be a dirty old man (even though he looks like the jolly Santa type) but I didn’t expect my Andromedian heroes to be real people as well. I’m not sure if it’s okay to judge others by what they post on Twitter, but the updates populating my stream seemed to chip away, pixel-by-pixel, at the love I once had for Sierra.
In real life, they were not like Roger Wilco at all… maybe a bit more like Deadpool, that foul-mouthed, overconfident idiot from the comic world who seems to embody everything that’s wrong with modern games. I wanted to jump in a timepod and warp right back to the virtual broom closet, back to a day when I didn’t know as much about my childhood heroes. And now, to be blatantly honest, I don’t even want to even play Space Venture. The characters and storyline, despite being inspired by my heroes and favourite gaming moments, do not appeal to me and largely, I’ve lost faith in the people making the game.
Can I please have my buckazoids back?
I dare not imagine what a game like Space Quest (or any other Sierra or LucasArts adventure) would be like in the age of social media. Spoilers would be inevitable. The hashtags? Unnecessary. And let’s not forget today’s credible batch of “everything but Call of Duty sucks” gaming types who seem to actively discourage developers from experimenting with their games. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a new release only to be surprised by how low it scored online. That said, I loved every minute of Hitman: Absolution and am truly sorry you didn’t, serious gaming journalists.
(And yes, that’s why games like Goat Simulator give me a little bit of hope – it’s more than a little risky and it doesn’t take itself very seriously, and that’s something I just don’t see in modern games.)
It’s easy to romanticise the end of an era but at the same time, I’m quite happy to look back at what’s in my memory bank from those days with great fondness. I don’t want to play Tom Clancy’s Call of Space Quest. I’m not prepared to buy Halo meets Laura Bow meets Battlefield. I may miss Roger Wilco dearly, but I don’t regret the time we spent together wearing thermal underwear and trying not to melt on Ortega.