Roberta and Ken Williams open their first video game in 25 years

Roberta Williams and Ken Williams at the 2022 Game Developers Conference.
Zoom / Roberta Williams and Ken Williams at the 2022 Game Developers Conference.

Sam Machkovech

SAN FRANCISCO – Legendary game programmer Ken Williams only needed a moment to chew on my question. He and famed game designer Roberta Williams set themselves up for inquiry by recounting a principle from their time at Sierra On-Line, the video game company they founded that revolutionized PC gaming in the ’80s and ’90s.

They said that Sierra Games stood out because they were built with “covers” from the rest of the gaming industry. Nobody worked for competing companies. None of the competitors’ games have played. And after each Sierra game release, its individual sales record will determine the budget and scope of the lead designer’s next game.

I asked how this math works for their new ad, Out of the Game in March 2022, Giant Cave 3D. Reimagining this first text adventure, the one that Roberta eventually adapts into her classic 1980 game mysterious house, is on the verge of breaking away from its heyday Sierra designs as much as possible, mostly due to its switch to (optional) hand-controlled virtual reality adventures. Would Sierra’s founding principle of budgets and production scale still apply if a leading designer’s “last game” was launched more than 20 years ago?

Kane paused for a moment, then made a completely different point. And he doesn’t necessarily wear blinders about the modern game industry’s view of classic game makers.

“I’ve seen where Sierra alumni and others have come back and done a less than perfect game,” Kane said. “And we don’t want to do that. We’d rather throw it in the trash than do something that doesn’t-“

Roberta interrupted here, as it was appropriate in our conversation, by saying, “It should be good.”

“It should be good,” Kane agreed.

“We are both very type A”

Kane noted that this project is a long way from the days of Sierra running a huge game sales business, and was blunt: “For us, it’s not really about the money. If the game sank or swam, it wouldn’t change lives at all. So it’s really about, you know honoring the legacy of the original designers.

Before choosing a classic game to recreate, Williams wasn’t necessarily aiming for a return to commercial game design, even when the COVID-19 pandemic has left so many fallen creators and artists looking for things to do. Both Kane and Roberta Pandemic began working on their books – his book, The History of Sierra Online; Her, a historical fictional voyage into mid-nineteenth-century Ireland – only to realize that lockdowns around the world haven’t necessarily lifted by the time their projects have been completed. “We are both very type A,” said Roberta. “We have to be busy with challenges and a job. “

Kane finished his book while Roberta was wrapping up her book, and during this overlap, Roberta noticed Kane filling the home theater screen with game programming interfaces and instructional videos. “I finally questioned him,” said Roberta, after seeing this trend repeat in a few days.

After talking about Ken’s decision to learn the Unity programming language, she pointed to Ken. “Explain your game design,” she said.

Kane paused, then paused, “Nah.”

Rather than repeat Roberta’s brief explanation (“He wanted to preserve his old programming skills”), Keane said his return to programming began with tutorials. “If you’re a kid now and don’t know how to code when you get older, you’re going to be in deep trouble,” Kane said. “We’re moving away from factory work. So I like the idea of ​​teaching kids to code because I’m a programmer. I think everyone should code.”

So work began on a possible revival of the Sierra series Dr. Bren-“And [Roberta] He said sarcastically that this was a stupid idea.

“No, I didn’t say that!”

“Well, you gave me that impression!”

Then Ken confronted me, saying, “It all fell in the pranks.” Roberta made sure to re-establish eye contact, she looked at me and said, ‘No, I just said, ‘Is this fun?’ “