Roberta Williams on the New King's Quest

Reprinted by permission of Questbusters TM Copyright 1988 Questbusters


QuestBusters: What does the term "interactive fiction" mean to you?
Roberta Williams: Well, if you take fiction in its literal terms, a story that's not true, and interactive means you can control it, communicate with it, alter it, you can get feedback from it-solve-it, that's interactive fiction, that's an adventure. And that's the thing I like to do, tell stories. I just love that I like to come up with stories and characters, and I'm really trying to do more to develop the characters' personalities, like you would in a traditional story. Before a few years ago, characters in a game were so flat, you know: "Here's a troll," or whatever. So, I'm trying to improve my storytelling style to give the characters and story more dimension, hopefully in a way that will draw people into it.

QuestBusters: How are you doing that in King's Quest IV?
Roberta Williams: A lot of it comes from how the characters are represented on-screen. In the past, many of our characters have been very flat, not just in what they say, but in how they are represented in terms of walking around… you know, they just kind of walk. But in King's Quest IV, there will be a lot more movement, more animation and, as our animator likes to say, "body language" — more realistic movement that has to do with their personalities. We can almost get facial expressions using the new resolution… maybe not complete facial expressions, but at least enough so you'll know how the character feels. That's one way. Another way is in the use of sound effects and music to get certain feelings.

I think in a way that what we're doing is still being invented, and each time we do one of these, it progresses and we learn new things. I'm sure that what we'll see five years from now will be much more balanced, because we're still trying to learn how to develop characters and give them personality and make the story more interesting so it will draw the reader or viewer or whatever you want to call them into it, so they feel they're really part of the story.

That's what I'm trying to do.

QuestBusters: What do you see for adventures five years from now?
Roberta Williams: A lot depends on the hardware, and a lot depends on our storytelling skills and the software tools we have available that, with the hardware, gives these characters life. But the thing that kind of gets in the way here is CDI, because we don't quite know what that's going to do. I know somewhere down the line, I'll do something for CDI, but I consider it seperate from this (computer adventure games)… I don't know if they'll try to integrate them, or one will fizzle out and the other succeed.

QuestBusters: What's the main difference?
Roberta Williams: With CDI, the game would be on a compact disc. You wouldn't use a computer at all. It would be a compact disc player attached to your TV set.

QuestBusters: Would you type in commands and so on?
Roberta Williams: There is supposed to be a keyboard you could get, but it will be very expensive and most people probably won't get one, the whole concept behind CDI is that it's for the average non-computer type person — there are still a lot of people who don't understand computers and don't want to have anything to do with them. But they can set their VCRs and run a camcorder. They can do that. So CDI is supposed to be for them.

You put in the compact disc and up on the screen, you'll see… well it can be anything from motion pictures, digitized graphics and animation, whatever you want. And you'll hear computer sounds, or music just like what you'd hear on a Phil Collins album. When people talk, it would sound just like what you hear in movies or TV shows.

But it is interactive — sort of. You can do things to it, but it's real limited. The keyboard isn't really thought of as part of it. They're thinking in terms of a joystick or a pointer that you would use to point and click to say where you want to go, and then the characters would walk around, and that would look just like a movie. Kinga like The Black Cauldron, where you click buttons. But you can use real pictures, we can even use real people if we want to. Or Disney-style animation, or anything you want.

QuestBusters: How far away is this?
Roberta Williams: It's happening now. We haven't actually decided anything yet. But, I know that down the line, it will occur. I'm just not sure how that fits in and how — or even if — it's going to work. So it will be more like movie-making at that point, with well orchestrated music and people really talking — there will probably be no text at all. Instead of a message window popping up saying "You are in a forest," we'll have a narrator say it. WHen you talk to characters, they'll actually speak, and each will have his or her own voice. So when you ask me what's down the line five years from now, I don't really know.

QuestBusters: But we know what's down the line…
Roberta Williams: One year, maybe. (laughs)

QuestBusters: Like the subtitle of King's Quest IV, maybe?
Roberta Williams: The Perils of Rosella, for lack of anything better. It was sort of based on The Perils of Pauline. King's Quest IV has a heroine, and that's semi-experimental. I know it will be just fine with the women and girls who play the game, but how it will go over with some of the men, I don't know.


QuestBusters: I understand Infocom got a good response to Plundered Hearts, which has a female character. Our reviewer (William Carte) said that after he got into the game, he forgot all about it and it didn't matter that his character was a woman.
Roberta Williams: That's what I figured. It bothered me when I first started designing this one. We call our main character "Ego". In every game, it's Ego, and that refers to the character we're writing around; we just say "Ego does this, Ego does that." So we've always called Ego "he" or him. But all of a sudden, I've got a girl "Ego", and it was real strange at first. I had a real hard time calling Ego a "her" (laughs). "Her? She? She does this? She does that?" I've been working with this for a long time, about eight months (this interview took place in January), and now it's just fine. It's even natural. The only thing that's kinda strange is that I have a lot of deaths in my games; my characters always die from falling or being thrown into a cauldron or something. And I always like to have them die in a funny way. It didn't seem right. I don't know why. I guess it's because she's a girl, and you don't think a girl should be treated that way (laughs). But I got used to that too, until there was one death I had to deal with last week that I was real uncomfortable with. Was it throwing her into the cauldron? I'm not sure, but it was some death that seemed particularly unfeminine, not right.

QuestBusters: Trampled by stampeding ogres?
Roberta Williams: Oh, she gets dragged off by her braids, lots of deaths. And girls die differently. I discovered a lot of these things like the way she falls, which has to be different from the way a guy falls. It's been an experience. And I think that men will find it fun and different, because it's from a different point of view.

QuestBusters: Are any of the puzzles based on the character's sex?
Roberta Williams: No, not really. Because that would be going too far. And personally, I think basically people are people and (laughs) there are only a couple of things that only men or women can do, when you come right down to it. So I think that whether you can solve this or that has nothing to do with being a man or woman. Except well, I'll take that back a little bit. I have gone aay from… my characters don't really use weapons.

When I first started writing adventures, my characters just used weapons a little. More and more, it has moved away from that, toward using your brain to solve the problem, using your wits or logic or whatever. And Rosella absolutely does not use weapons. So in that way, she's very non-violent.

QuestBusters: No killing trolls in this one?
Roberta Williams: I take that back. You do kill something, but you do it in a very nice way. Unintentional, really. You accidentally kill somebody.


QuestBusters: And what's the story all about?
Roberta Williams: Since so much of the fun is in the act of discovery, I'd rather not go into the story other than what's in the catalog (as Rosella, you must solve multiple qeusts, the long-range goal being to find an enchanted fruit that will save your father, the King). But I can tell you about some of the new features. The resolution of the graphics will be doubled to 320 x 200. We never had this before because we try to make our games available for as many different computers as possible.

For something to run on both an Apple and an Amiga, we've had to use graphics that were really stretching the Apple but not the Amiga. We're moving away from that. We're doing two versions of King's Quest IV, one in the old style of graphics for the Apple, PCjr, and maybe the Tandy 1000, I'm not sure. And we're doing another one for the higher resolution computers. So we'll be upgrading our graphics and making them a little more computer-specific than in the past.

With double the resolution, you won't have so much of that chopiness you see in the lower resolution. Like the staircase effect in the diagonal lines. You still have a little bit of that in the double resolution, but it's much, much smoother. And the pixels are smaller, so we can get more detail in the face.

I went out and got two very good computer artists to work on this game. One is concentrating just on the backgrounds, and the other is concentrating on animation. Before, we used the same artists. And it kind of bothered me at first to use two different ones, because I felt the animation was so much a part of the background, that how could two seperate artists make sure it was all integrated? But it's worked out, since the person doing the animation thinks only about that so the animation is fantastic, and we've got a lot of it. The same with the guy doing the background. He doesn't have to worry about the animation, so he can spend a lot more time on detail in the background. I act as intermediary between them, making sure that the art is integrated properly.


QuestBusters: Did either one work on previous King's Quests?
Roberta Williams: No. In fact, they're brand new to our company.
I did endeavor to make the artistic style as similar as possible, because it has to look and feel like a King's Quest. Using different artists concerns me a lot, but when we actually started doing it, working with the artists, it was strange. I saw how much I affect how the pictures turn out, how the graphics are so much a representation of how I feel and how I think it should look, as opposed to the artist. So they came out remarkably similar. And it's hard to explain, but it just turned out that way. The feeling of the game, it's theme, how it plays, is the game.

QuestBusters: How big is the game?
Roberta Williams: A little bigger, but not much. I go by rooms, and a room to me is a screen, where you're at. We just started calling them rooms. I don't know why. King's Quest I had about 80 rooms. The second one had about 92. King's Quest III had about 104, and King's Quest IV has about 95. But it actually has more because we have night scenes in the game. It's a timed game that takes place over a 24-hour period, so you roam around during the day and eventually it turns to night. So the graphics for each room were redrawn for the night scenes, and you'll come across different characters at night. It's spookier.

In fact, I want to do a ghost story next. I'm not doing King's Quest V next. I have to let people know I can do something else, expand my horizons. You get yourself stuck in a niche. It's been a year-and-a-half since King's Quest III, and I deliberately held back from putting one out this past Christmas because then… it's like "here's another one, and another one." You've got to give it time in between, otherwise you hurt it.


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