“So press enter.”
The screen flashed to reveal a lush green meadow, with a castle peeking out from one side. In the moat below, a pair of alligators gnashed their teeth. And in the middle of the screen, standing static, was a character: blue pants, red shirt, and bright yellow skin.
“So that’s you,” Eleanor said.
Dania tapped one of the arrow keys, and the man began to walk forward. He reached the bridge, and continued towards the moat.
“How do I make him stop?” Dania asked, with sudden panic. She tapped left, and the man turned and walked along the edge of the moat, alligators at his feet.
“You have to double tap to stop,” Eleanor explained.
Dania clicked left again, and the man stopped walking. She tapped down – and he walked into the moat. A text box appeared: “Your struggles and cries have attracted hungry alligators. They do not want to let you go.”
The man thrashed about, churning up pixeled froth, before disappearing from view. Another text box: “We, at Sierra, wish to thank you for playing King’s Quest. We are very sorry that you did not succeed and hope you will fare better next time. Good luck.”
“Well, that’s Game One,” Eleanor said.
“That’s it?” Dania asked. She tapped enter repeatedly, but nothing happened. “Is that just the end of the game? Don’t I have lives or something? A health meter?”
“You have to start over,” Eleanor explained. “Old school games don’t mess around.”
Dania tapped the Enter key, the arrow keys. “How do I restart?”
“Type it into the command box.” Eleanor leaned over and typed: RESTART GAME. The screen flashed, and the man reappeared on the grass.
“So now we’re starting over,” Dania said.
“Try walking to the right.”
Dania navigated her way over the bridge, and towards the edge of the screen. The man approached the opposite side of the castle, where a large wooden door stood at the top of a set of stairs.
“I want to go in there.”
Dania walked up to the door, and stopped.
“Can I…how do I go in?”
“Type it out.”
“It didn’t work.”
“You have to think more specifically than that,” Eleanor advised. “These old adventure games are great, but you have to think on the same level as they do. Be direct.”
GO IN THE DOOR
A text box: “The huge doors swing open slowly.”
“Oh!” Dania gasped. The next screen showed her in a wide entry hall. “I’m in the castle!”
Eleanor watched with excitement as Dania continued down the corridor, discovered the king, typed TALK TO KING in the box.
“Oh, I have to bow first,” Dania said.
BOW TO KING
“See, you’re picking it up.”
“I’m on an adventure!” Dania said. “I’m figuring it out.”
“So there’s three treasures hidden around the map,” Eleanor explained. “And you’ve gotta bring them to the King. Other than that, there’s no other instructions.”
“So I can just get them however I want?” Dania asked, as she exited the castle again.
“Well, no, you have to do whatever Roberta Williams decided made sense,” Eleanor said. “But you figure that out. Type whatever into the command box.”
Dania headed West. The next screen was fairly clear – a pixelated bush, a few trees, and a large boulder.
“I’m gonna look in the bush,” Dania said.
LOOK AT BUSH
You see nothing special, the text box declared.
“Try to find a weapon somewhere,” Eleanor pushed. An experienced player of the entire King’s Quest series, she was trying her hardest not to shepherd Dania. The fun, she recalled, lied in the discovery, the trial and error that a single, fleeting life before restarting helped to foster.
“Okay.” Dania walked west, as Eleanor eyed the boulder again.
“Can I go down?” Dania said, directing the man to walk south. At the sight of a log cabin, Dania gasped.
“Other people!” she cried, before hunching forward. “Maybe they have knives I can use.”
Eleanor bit her tongue.
Inside the cabin, two characters sat around a table. Dania walked around the table, to the wall.
“The cabinet is all but bare.”
TALK TO WOMAN
“I’d like to offer you something, but we do not even have food for ourselves.”
“I gotta get them food,” Dania intuited. As she headed for the door, she turned back to face them. “Not to worry!” she said aloud. “I shall fetch you sustenance!”
“Good, a goal,” Eleanor said. “Try to find food. Keep in mind you have no weapon.”
“Well, their cupboard was empty,” Dania grumbled. “If this was Zelda, every barrel would have money in it.”
Dania walked uninterrupted for a moment, through screens depicting empty vistas of grass meadows. As Dania crossed a bridge, she added, “well, I’m officially lost, but the scenery is pretty.”
“It does look sort of nice, right?” Eleanor said. “When they remade it in the 90s, they updated the graphics to 64bit, and things are detailed and shaded. But the blocky pixels still look fine. It’s honestly impressive how such simple visuals can––”
Dania began frantically hitting the arrow keys. On screen, the man had walked into a muddy ditch, and now thrashed around.
“What do I do, what do I do?”
GET OUT OF DITCH –– SWIM IN MUD –– SWIM –– STAND UP –– STAND –– SWIM –– CLIMB RI-
“Nope, you’re dead,” Eleanor muttered.
The man continued thrashing, but eventually disappeared. “We, at Sierra, wish to thank you for playing King’s Quest…”
“Nooooo!” Dania cried out. “Do I have to start over now?”
“Yes,” Eleanor said. As the man returned to his meadow by the crocodiles, Eleanor leaned on the back of Dania’s chair. “Do you want me to tell you where you get the dagger?”
Several deaths later, Dania reached the Well, dagger in hand. She executed the now-familiar string of commands: CUT ROPE – LOWER ROPE – CLIMB ROPE. As she fell into the water, she quickly typed SWIM, and avoided drowning.
“Okay, now what?” Dania wondered. “Do I swim under?”
“How would you phrase that?”
SWIM LOWER got nowhere. DIVE DEEP didn’t either.
“Should I just…”
A new screen, with the man swimming, appeared.
“I’m underwater!” Dania said.
“Head for the cave entrance!” Eleanor squealed.
“There’s a cave on the left! I know you don’t want hints, but there’s a time limit underwater, so––”
“No, yep, let’s go, to the cave!”
Struggling with the controls, Dania navigated over to the cave. Suddenly, she was face to face with a dragon, stalking the room and spitting orange flames.
“Dragon!” Dania said. “I can stab it!”
“You have to get closer to it to stab it,” Eleanor warned.
“Oh, it’s gonna get me with it’s fire breath!” Dania inched around the side of the cave, trying to sneak behind the dragon.
“Careful, easy, easy…”
That was as much as Dania could type before the man was reduced to a black pile of ash. “We, at Sierra, wish to thank you…”
Dania screamed, clenching her fists tight. She leaned over the armrest of her chair, despairing over the loss.
“I had the egg and everything!” she moaned.
“It’s okay, Dania,” Eleanor said, awkwardly patting her friend’s shoulder.
The door to the room opened. Gwen stood, an expression of pained concern spread across her face.
“Is Dania alright?” Gwen took a tentative step into the room. “Should I be here?”
“It’s a game,” Eleanor explained. “We’re playing the original King’s Quest and it’s super hard.”
“I finally found the dragon and it burned me!”
The man appeared in his meadow.
“Oh, it’s a classic game,” Gwen observed.
“Yes, this practically invented the Adventure Game,” Eleanor said. “All the hallmarks of the genre are there. you walk around, type commands, generally spend your entire first hour or so dying a lot and figuring out what you’re supposed to do.”
“Although I’m starting to lose patience,” Dania said, with a sting.
“Video games from the 1980s are notable for a steep difficulty curve,” Gwen noted. “When the industry shifted from experiences towards story-based games, the gameplay grew simpler over time. This kind of game – balancing text work with travel with combat…I assume there’s combat?”
“There’s about to be, when I get back to that Dragon!” Dania scowled, rediscovering the dagger.
“This kind of experience is emblematic of the industry as a whole,” Gwen finished.
“You should try going somewhere else, too,” Eleanor suggested. But Dania stared back with contempt.
“I’m gonna beat this dragon,” she vowed. “It will not get the better of me.”
“How do you kill it?” Dania asked. “Do you know? All right, fine, I’m accepting hints now. Do you know how to beat the dragon?”
“You throw the bucket of water at it.”
“The bucket of water?” Dania repeated, with immeasurable scorn.
“Yeah, after you dive in the water, the bucket you’re carrying from the well fills with water. Go into the cave and type THROW WATER.”
“Oh, forget that,” Dania said, as the man reappeared on the starting screen. “I’m adventuring somewhere else.”
“No, not after you’ve worked your way up to the dragon!” Gwen said.
“I’ve gotta get out,” Dania said. “I’m supposed to be exploring the land, not doing the same thing over and over because I keep dying!”
“Well, that’s the trade-off, isn’t it?” Eleanor asked, as Dania began walking north, consulting the hand-drawn map they had made. “There’s a lot of joy to be had in exploring the world, eventually stumbling onto somewhere totally new. But once you’re on a roll with one specific task, you have to log time into trying out every possible pathway towards winning it. Which takes time, and isn’t as fun.”
“It’s ironic,” Gwen added. “A game that requires you to play it enough times so that you can have fun playing it.”
“Almost,” Eleanor said. “I think there’s still enough fun to be found anyway, if you don’t take it so seriously.”
“Maybe if I go to the goat again…” Dania wondered, pointing to the garden just west of the goat’s pen.
“It’s one of the reasons find the original version, the pixely version, more endearing than the modern, well-animated ones,” Eleanor shared. “Because it’s so simple, it doesn’t take itself as seriously. So you can disassociate from the stakes a little more, and forgive the restarting. If you’re more invested, having to restart might lead to more rage-quitting.”
“No––NO no no no no,” Dania interjected, dodging south to avoid a wolf attack. “Not today, Bitchell Musso.”
“I’d say Dania’s solidly invested,” Gwen noted. “Besides, I’m not sure better graphics can ever be seen as a negative. Besides, even if it looks better, it’s the same gameplay in the remakes, right?”
“Generally, yeah,” Eleanor said.
TAKE CARROT – OPEN PEN – SHOW CARROT – “When you tempt the old goat with the carrot, he starts to follow you.”
“Perhaps it’s nostalgia,” Eleanor added, as Dania led the goat to the bridge. “But we’ve been playing for two hours. It clearly holds up.”
“Certainly,” Gwen said.
“I’m taking the key,” Dania said, before her eyes suddenly opened wider. “OH. I know where the key goes now!”
“Do you?” Eleanor asked, genuinely.
“Watch this MLG pro-gaming,” Dania said, racing towards the north.
Eleanor and Gwen watched as Dania traversed the landscape, categorically skipping certain chunks of the map to avoid trolls and wolves, before finally coming to a door, set into the trunk of the tree.
“It’s locked!” Gwen recalled.
“Not for long.”
“Oh, I forgot about this,” Eleanor gasped. “I totally forget what’s in there.”
“Well, here––” Dania began. UNLOCK DOOR. “––We––.” OPEN DOOR. “––Go!”
Although the original King’s Quest is now out of print, you can play an emulated version here.
Image Source: Kotaku