Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick spoke at DICE 2010 a couple
weeks ago, it was funny how he said, "Now all my life I've seen
myself as flying an X-wing with the Rebellion. Then, one day I woke
up and I'm on the Death Star." That is just so damned appropriate
considering the latest move by Activision in the "dark side" of
gaming. If you haven't been a subscriber to The Silver Lining
may not have seen this one yet.
For those who don't know what The Silver Lining (TSL) is, then
you are missing out on one of my personal favorite bits of gaming
history. If you don't know
King's Quest, then I just feel sad for you.
If you don't feel like reading through a couple Wikipedia articles
(which are some well written bits of gaming glory and history), then
let me explain...
King's Quest came along in the glory days of PC adventure games. It
was one of the backbone franchises of the once mighty Sierra
company. Along with Leisure Suit Larry (a series that was, at one
time, great), Space Quest, Police Quest and Adventure Quest (later
renamed, due to copyright issues, to Quest for Glory), these were
the staple of PC gaming in the pre-Windows age. The games started as
a combination of using the arrow keys (back before the modern WASD
layout) and typing in text to interact with the world. Over time,
they became point-and-click adventure games. The basic layout was to
simply play out a, usually, fun and creative story, with a few
puzzles to make the world feel more interactive. The games were
never much of a challenge, beyond solving some basic simple puzzles.
Once you knew a solution, you were done with a given scene or event.
It was rare that time meant anything (you weren't pressured to hurry
in decision making), and you simply had to use some wits or a sense
of humor to progress a classic fairytale feeling plot.
Eventually, KQ changed. When adventure games started to move away
from puzzles and towards a realm of action and combat, KQ8 came
along. This game went against the previous genre for KQ 1-7 and was
focused on combat and mild action, while forcing use of a 3D
accelerator card (which, in the early 3D days of PC gaming, meant
some horrible 3D visuals and annoying camera issues). The worlds
were pretty devoid of life, and the game felt more akin to a sloppy
and boring Tomb Raider than the classic fantasy-filled adventure
titles that started the franchise. Instead of a world filled with
life and vibrant images (KQ6 still ranks up there as one of my
favorite game settings just for the creativity and contrasts
presented), KQ8 was stale and dull.
After KQ8 came along, and bombed, the series disappeared. Of course,
being a Sierra game, the original studio was folded into one company
after another. No word of a future game was heard, and many of the
loyal fans wanted one final KQ title to not only wrap up the
franchise (to bring closure), but to also return the series to it's
true roots in point-and-click story telling. When no game came
along, Phoenix came along.
These were a group of KQ fans who just wanted to make a game, for
free, that would conclude the series they so loved. Thus, King's
Quest: The Silver Lining, was started as a bit of a homebrew
project. At first they worked under what was assumed, by some, to be
fair use of the KQ universe. There was always an understanding that
these people would quit this project immediately if told to by the
KQ copyright owners. Eventually it was Vivendi who owned the KQ
rights and they told Phoenix to cease and desist. That was fair, and
it was their right to do so. However, by this time, the followers of
Kings Quest: The Silver Lining were feeling emotionally invested.
After some discussions, and probably numerous letters from potential
fans, Vivendi agreed to let the project continue...but without the
"King's Quest" name. So, the project was now The Silver Lining.
Part of the agreement said that the game could not use the KQ name.
That was fine. With the fan support and with the cult following,
those who would feel like they needed another KQ game would still
know where to look. Also, the game could never be sold, only given
away. That was fine since this seemed, to my understanding, to be a
labor of love...not an effort meant to generate income. Lastly, the
game would have to pass a Vivendi review when the game was ready for
release. That also seemed, to me, to be very fair.
From the perspective of a geek, this was amazing. On one hand, a
sequel, and a conclusion, to one of my favorite franchises would
come into being after the copyright owner had abandoned it. Also,
this was the opposite of what I always thought to be true with
capitalism; a company was allowing fan appreciation to rule supreme
instead of just thinking about profit margins. Plus this was a great
example of doing something for the sake of doing something and not
just making something for the sake of money.
Of course, there could be good benefits for Vivendi. I mean if TSL
was well received, it could revive interest in KQ. In other words,
this could test the waters on the question of if KQ should remain
dead and buried. Worst case scenario, Vivendi could always sell an
anthology of KQ games, updated for smoother running on modern PCs,
and make a few quick bucks that way, with little money going into
programming or advertising.
The work went slow on TSL. I mean the people behind this were not
making money on the project, so they obviously had some more
important details to keep them busy (like working jobs to make money
or attending school or whatever they were up to). Still, as time
passed, a few demos of sorts came into being. While not feeling the
most polished, they were interesting and exciting for KQ fans. It
looked like the conclusion to the KQ story would finally be told. It
wasn't too long ago that the final release of the first part of TSL
went off to Vivendi to be reviewed.
Now Vivendi is no longer the same company they once were. Vivendi
has gone through some different business changes as of late. Most
recently, Vivendi became part of the Actision family (technically
Activision Blizzard, but it's Activision at heart). This means TSL
went to Activision for review. Well, like how Kotick said, he now
works on the Death Star. Activision, naturally, fitting the role of
the Evil Empire, didn't just turn down TSL...they revoked the
agreement to let Phoenix make a KQ themed game. So, that ends the
story of TSL, and probably the story of King's Quest. Instead of
going out on a high point, or even going out in a blaze of failure
while trying to wow over nostalgia fans, KQ is just gone.
Of course this doesn't make much sense to me. Then again, many
decisions by "big business" doesn't make sense to me. I mean if
Activision allowed this to be made, they could always see if the
world would welcome another KQ game and use this as free market
research. They could release a new anthology of KQ for a low price
and make almost 100% profit from each sale (not counting the price
of DVD copying, boxes and manuals, and a quick dose of code to even
out some issues with processor speed that exists in old pre-Windows
95 games). If Activision didn't want to try to make a profit from
the "market research" Phoenix would have been providing, then they
could even sell the KQ franchise to another company that would be
willing to take this possible risk. I mean "Activision" and "risk"
are two words that haven't gotten along too well in the last few
years. If Activision let this project go to completion, the worst
case for Activision would have been neither gaining nor losing any
real money, beyond the amount spent on pay for the people in house
who tested TSL.
I just find this situation sad. It's not like I'm personally losing
anything, but the loss of the hyped up excitement I was going
through is definitely not a great feeling. It's also like the world
lost a bit of the fantasy that made these games so fun when I was
much younger...the fantasy that said that a game could be made for
free, not sold or used to make a profit, and just given out to bring
satisfaction to a small audience of gamers who just wanted one more
round in one of their classic game settings.
If Microsoft learns
anything from this generation of consoles, to implement into the
next generation (whenever that happens), I hope it's to copy the PS3
style of hard drive system. While I like the thought of the
360 now having 250GB HDDs, I can't help but feel like Microsoft
should be the company that allows actual PC HDDs in their console.
I bought a 120GB
HDD for my 360 only a few months ago. I just couldn't get anymore
DLC thanks to my Rock Band addiction. So, I had to shell out way too
much money for too small of a new drive. On the other hand, if my
PS3 HDD (which is filled with downloaded video files) ever was
over-stuffed, I know I could easily go out and buy a reasonably
priced larger drive and not feel like I was ripped off in the
Anyway, I don't
have much to talk about right now. I've been playing a lot of
Gyromancer. I love this game. It's not enough to get me to trust
Square Enix for a major release. I'm not going to buy FFXIII unless
I hear enough to change my mind on Square Enix. However, I now have
some trust in the company that I once, long ago, worshipped as the
RPG gods that they once were. It's also not enough to get me to
Dragon Quest IX when it launches. Although that game has a
better chance of wowing me, since DQ games have been more reliably
fun and the cost of a DS game is a bit easier to swallow when/if a
game ends up being crap.
My life, beyond
Gyromancer, has become like living out a Harvest Moon game. I've
become addicted to making the best garden setup possible. I don't
know if this is me just acting out on my fantasies of summer being
here already, or if it's a sign of the obvious; gaming is a bit
lackluster right now. Probably a bit of both.
Rock Band is drawing me back in a bit next week. I mean when you
add in some more good old White Stripes (including Seven Nation Army
and Fell In Love With A Girl) you have a good thing on your hands.
My one question is
how authentic will Seven Nation Army be. I mean the song has no bass
in it, despite the heavy constant bass riff (it's done with the
all-so-fun Digitech Whammy Pedal on a guitar). Will this be the
first non-album DLC to feature no part for one of the non-vocal
parts? Otherwise, if the "bass" is charted to the bass in game, then
this will be one hell of a lame guitar track. Anyway, this will be
an interesting problem for Harmonix to tackle. Hopefully the don't
drop the ball like they did with some past charting (piano to guitar
or no full band playability for non-vocal songs).
I'm now done with
Gyromancer. I finished the main game and the three DLC dungeons last
night. All that's left is a few awards on the Challenge Room part of
the DLC. Since the remaining awards are a pain in the ass (beat a
level with less than 1% of your HP left or beat a level starting
with 20% HP, for example), I am calling it quits here. I got every
other award and all of the gyro codes (monsters to purchase). It's
sad for the game to end, but it was one hell of a great game while
it lasted...well worth the $15 for the game and ~$2.50 for the DLC.
Next week sees the
release of FFXIII...which will be another Square Enix game I pass by
for now. Assuming what I've read in some preliminary reviews is
accurate, I'll never pick up the game. I mean the negatives are
pretty damned obvious, and the more I read the more I'm reminded of
Xenosaga Episode 2 (which was a game with a mediocre plot that never
was fleshed out enough and a very annoying battle system...just like
The main problem
I'm reading is that the game is basically a tutorial for the first
half of the game. At this part, you cannot change or select party
members or party leaders, you have a very linear path (with some
ultra-linear dungeons), and the game just drags on. The second half
is supposed to be better, but I've had enough with games that drag
on for 15 hours before getting good.
To make it worse,
for me, the battle system sound less than fun (I like to control my
entire party and not rely on AI), and the leveling system sounds
like a nerfed form of the FFX sphere grid, which was my least
favorite FF leveling system (even more than the FF8 draw/junction
The only part of
the game that I can honestly say intrigues me is the setting.
Unfortunately, that is not enough. You need a solid plot, good
characters, and a fun game engine/system. Maybe I'm old and too
damned nostalgic, but I want a return to the glory days of FF...when
levels were levels, side quests and mini-games were present, and the
game didn't rely on one dimensional character designs.
At least the more
I read about it, the more I'm being attracted to Dragon Quest
IX...even if it feels like a bastardization of the series when
compared to how great DQ8 was.