The titular house in Mystery House

Mystery House and Sierra On-Line - Getting Graphic

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Sierra On-Line 1980

Greetings From Andromeda

In 1986, early Sierra employees Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, aka The Two Guys from Andromeda, are coming off a rough assignment, working on Sierra’s adventure game adaptation of the Disney film The Black Cauldron. Crowe had started years previous in the Sierra art department; Murphy worked his way up through support, finally get his chance to code with Cauldron. After finishing up the Disney adaptation, they combine their mutual offbeat humour and interest in science-fiction into an idea for a space-based adventure. They approach Ken Williams with the idea of creating a humorous science-fiction adventure game titled Star Quest, but he is unconvinced of the commercial viability of the project and says no. But they go ahead and develop a four-room demo around the premise during their spare time, with Crowe doing the graphics and Murphy coding. When the duo present Williams with the demo, he gives the two guys the okay to proceed.

Retitled as Space Quest, it is packed full of SF references on everything from Douglas Adams’ book series The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy to Roswellian alien crash sites.  As the “hero” of the piece, the Space Quest series follows the exploits of space janitor Roger Wilco. This cosmic custodial engineer has an uncanny ability to stumble into, and then unravel, the galaxy domination plans of arch-villain Sludge Vohaul (who makes his first physical appearance in the second installment). The first two games, Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter, and Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge, are written using Sierra’s  proprietary game creation language AGI or Adventure Game Interpreter. 


Released in 1986, the first installment of Space Quest is another huge hit for Sierra, and it spawns five follow-ups. Starting with Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon, the language SCI or Sierra Creative Interpreter is used for programming the games. It is an object-oriented language that allows for various classes of things in the game that can be created and used by the programmer, with varying attributes depending usually on their interactivity with user actions. The switch in engines from AGI to SCI causes a delay in the release of the game, from 1988 to March of 1989. This incarnation also features music from Supertramp drummer Bob Siebenberg, who lands the job by literally answering a Sierra want ad in the local Sierra Star newspaper. Siebenberg composes the soundtrack in his home studio while viewing videotaped scenes of the computer game in a process similar to film scoring. Roger also teleports into pulp paper media with The Adventures of Roger Wilcoa 3-part comic book series from Adventure Comics, an imprint of Malibu Graphics.

As Scott Murphy tells it, things steadily go sour between the creators and Sierra management as the Space Quest series progresses, culminating in the difficult development of 5 and 6, the former of which Murphy isn’t much involved in. Less and less money is being paid to the creators for each installment, even in the face of greater and greater success. The killing blow is when Crowe leaves Oakhurst for the Dynamix division, leaving his former partner in the lurch.   In spite of the difficulties, Space Quest 7 is announced, complete with a trailer, for 1998, but it is eventually canceled by Sierra. Incensed by Sierra’s abandonment of one of computer gaming’s most beloved characters, fans create the Save Space Quest 7 webpage in a vain attempt to gain Wilco a reprieve.


Cover for Softporn Adventure, a computer game by On-Line systems

They’re soaking in it, on the cover of Softporn Adventure: L to R: Diane Siegal, On-Line production manager, Susan Davis, bookkeeper, Roberta Williams, author of Mystery House, 1981


Shady Characters

1987 sees the release of the controversial Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, by Al Lowe. Based on a 1982 text-only adventure game called Softporn by Chuck Benson (Gary Thompson later develops his own improved version of the program), the goal of the game is to get the sleazy title character into bed with three different women. The game is a particular hit with bored male office workers, and it introduces the “Boss” key, which instantly clears the screen of any evidence of the game in case the manager walks by. Unauthorized copies of the  game are responsible for their own blanking of data… a virus added to bootleg copies of the software deposits a ticking time bomb onto office computers, which after a certain number of plays or within a certain timeframe will delete all the data it finds on any hard-drives connected. Attacks by this virus on the systems of bored bank employees or financial trading houses create headlines around the world.

Sierra also has to contend with magazines refusing to accept advertising for Leisure Suit Larry while letters of outrage poured into the offices and some resistance from stores in the Southern U.S. to selling it. Despite the notoriety, many Larry sequels naturally ensue, including Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work, where horndog gamers get a look at things from the other side as they flip back and forth between the two titular characters. Heh heh heh. I said “tit”. Larry gets his suit refurbished during Sierra’s mass updating of their original adventures in 1991 with a remake of the original game, with updated 256 colour graphics, expanded interactivity, point & click interface and a musical score from in-house composer Chris Braymen.

Poster for Leisure Suit Larry, a computer video game by Sierra

Oh, the puns, the puns! Please leave me Al Lowe-n!



On a more straight and narrow path of law and order is Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel, created by Jim Walls. After 15 years as a “Chippie” on the California Highway Patrol, in January of 1986 Walls finds himself staring down the bore of a .357 magnum after a high-speed chase with a driver of a stolen vehicle, and while walking away from the incident, lingering complications from the case and post traumatic stress disorder lead him to retire early from the force . When Ken Williams reaches out to ask Walls if he’d like to relate his experiences as a cop in a police procedural for Sierra, he jumps in to the computer adventure game market.  While Walls designs the game, he is completely clueless about the vagaries of computer game development, so Larry creator Al Lowe helps sheppard the product from concept to finished game. Also helping out is Sierra programmer and graphics artist Greg Rowland, who had worked on The Dark Crystal and King’s Quest. Art is also provided by Jerry Moore, a prolific artist at Sierra. The game is a reality-based departure for Sierra, but so popular that it spawns another long string of sequels for the company. The verisimilitude of the police procedural work is of such a calibre in Police Quest that the program is used by various forces as supplemental training, including the Allegan Police Department of Allegan, Michigan.

When Police Quest gets its VGA makeover in 1992, digitized footage of real actors is added, along with a VGA graphic update, SCI point & click interface, three times as much dialog and a stereo soundtrack with moody music to accompany the various scenes.

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