Ah… Space Quest in the days when you could call your character whatever you liked – before you were always “Roger Wilco”. Space Quest back in the days where the emphasis was on the tricky puzzles and not the humour. Space Quest in the days of the “typical” Sierra RPG. It comes as no surprise that Space Quest is, very much, a typical Sierra RPG of the time.
For those of you who’ve seen Police Quest or Kings Quest, you’ll know what I mean. You walk a character around the platform-style level using the arrow keys (pressing the direction you’re already going in if you want to stop). If you’re not close enough to things, you can’t interact with them. That’s the graphical element of the game. The rest of the game is all conducted in text entries you make in the form of commands to your character (e.g. Pick up rock, kill dwarf, etc.).
Some people like the old-style text-RPGs and I often find them entertaining, except for those irritating moments when there’s something you’re SURE you can do, but you’ve got to find the right way to express it first. Especially when you have a blinkered writer who only puts in the entry “Look at console” rather than “Use console, use computer, use keyboard, type, etc. etc.” assuming that everyone will intimately know the working’s of the programmer’s mind. If they don’t, hey – why are they playing the game?
During Space Quest, I found myself stuck for 10 minutes at one computer screen trying to work out what I was supposed to do. “Push button, press button, use button, look at button”. I tried “press switch, turn knob, use thing” everything that I could think of to describe the action of pushing a button. My friend suggested that since the button is labelled “Open Door”, why not type “Push open door button”. He was right. Then again, he failed dismally at using any of the vital computers because he didn’t think of “look at console”.
Space Quest, I am convinced, was play-tested only by the people who wrote the game. They tested whether it was physically possible to go from start to finish – not whether it was actually possible for someone who’d never seen the game before to complete it. Sierra also love to make their puzzles complicated, which really doesn’t help. Nowhere is there a handy syntax list of available commands, or any indication of what you’re actually supposed to be doing. You just keep on trying until you go insane, get forced to resort to a walkthrough or burst a blood vessel after dying yet again after doing the slightest thing wrong.
Did I mention the start of the game? You’re on a ship invaded by aliens (who walk around randomly and kill you on-sight, your only warning being that you hear footsteps, which doesn’t tell you from which direction) which is about to blow up (you have about 10 minutes to escape)…but you don’t know it’s about to blow up – and the only way you can get out is to wait in a room for at least half a minute for a wounded scientist to appear. You don’t know he’s coming, so what would possess you to wait in a room doing nothing for half a minute if the ship is counting down to explode?
Sadly, Space Quest did actually have all the ingredients for a really great game. Sure, the interface was bad (and they didn’t get that sorted out until Space Quest 5) and it was exceptionally complicated and difficult, but the ideas were there…and once Sierra realised that the humour was what made the game great, not the difficulty of the puzzles, they were onto a winner.
Graphics: 5/10: Typical Sierra RPG graphics of the time. Blocky, expressionless, slow-moving sprites. Difficult sometimes to tell what objects are in a room.
Sound: 3/10: Even though digital sound was around in other games, Space Quest uses the internal sound card. There’s nothing special at all about the sounds, but because it has the Space Quest theme, it gets a 3.
Gameplay: 0/10: Honestly, give me the monkey who wrote the interface and I’ll introduce him to a queue of people who want to shoot him for making the game almost unplayable.
Originality: 9/10: A very original idea, which later went on to the comic mastery which was Roger Wilco – rivalling Monkey Island.
Long-Term Interest: 1/10: After you’ve completed it, you’ll never want to go back. Most likely, unless you’re really determined, you’ll never get past the second (or even the first) section of the game.
Overall: 3/10: Typically difficult Sierra RPG which really ruins a great idea.
Note: This game was originally made in 1986, the VGA version was released in 1990.
- MobyGames: Space Quest 1: The Sarien Encounter
Read all about it on MobyGames.
- Wikipedia: Space Quest 1: The Sarien Encounter
Read all about it on Wikipedia.
Check out Frans' very cool Space Quest website at SpaceQuest.Net for everything you'll ever need for the Space Quest series. A great resource site, and the first place to check if you're having problems with the game.
Space Quest 1: The Sarien Encounter
- Published by: Sierra
- Designed by: Sierra