The Evolution of Computer Gaming in a Box...
"You are in the front yard of a large abandoned Victorian house. Stone steps lead up to a wide porch. Enter command."
Thus begins Mystery House, the first hi-res adventure game ever. Released for the Apple II in 1980, this gem marked the beginning of an entire genre of gaming. Text-only adventure games had already invaded the home computer, and while games such as Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork were enjoying much success, game players were growing antsy for some graphics to compliment the beautifully complex stories (check out some old text masterpieces here). With the prospect of giving the computer game industry a shot in the arm, Roberta Williams and her husband Ken began creating software that far eclipsed even the wildest of dreams.
Mystery House made some waves, as well as Wizard and the Princess (hit snake with rock, remember?), yet there was still something missing. There were graphics, there were words, but there was no movement. In 1984, husband and wife put their heads together and let their communal imagination flow into what has become the most popular adventure game series of all time: King's Quest. Over the course of one decade, King's Quest has produced more sequels than Rocky (7 to 5).
And finally, kiddies, you can be the proud owner of the most entertaining adventure titles ever to grace the surface of the holy monitor.
To be blunt, The Roberta Williams Anthology is chock full of adventure. There are in fact 16 full games on this four CD extravaganza (and a one chapter demo of the fairly recent Phantasmagoria). The entire King's Quest series is here, as well as the two Laura Bow games. Perhaps the most surprising and simply awesome additions are 5 true classics, a collection of those ancient Apple II beauties that marked the beginning of a new age of computer games.
The 5 Apple II titles (Mystery House, Wizard and the Princess, Mission: Asteroid, Time Zone, and The Dark Crystal) are recreated with stunning accuracy. Using an "Apple II Emulator," the games retain perfect form. We're talking CGA graphics; 16 colors at the most. I must admit, playing Mission: Asteroid took me back to a time when gaming was a mere speck on the fabric of popular culture. Most people thought computer games were for creepy, pasty skinned Trekkies with bad complexions and no prom dates (not meant to offend - some of my best friends are pasty). Little did the nay-sayers realize that gaming was to become a legitimate and lucrative business, one that pushes the envelope of cutting edge of technology. These old titles are more than games. They're moments of history.
Of course, the interface is just as you'd expect: "Go door," "Open closet," "Look thing." Admittedly, this can be a HUGE pain in the wazoo. The earliest games require incredibly simple commands, and often it can be extremely frustrating trying to figure out the right word for "house." In the contemporary realm of beefy graphics and 3D engines, the Anthology definitely seems a step or two behind. But this isn't 'fresh off the press' programming. It's nostalgia.
The more recognizable Sierra titles are chronicled nicely, and you can choose which games to install. The type of control evolves with the games; while the first few KQ titles use only text commands and keyboard movement, the later titles utilize a mouse driven point and click interface. It is important to note that all the games require 256 color mode; 16 or 32 bit color is too much overkill and will screw up the color pallette. But you aren't going to get this Anthology for the sheer graphics power, right? (please nod in agreement.)
One interesting addition to the Anthology is an attempt to fix bugs that existed in the original versions of the games. In KQ 5, for instance, the game would freeze up right before the final confrontation. Sierra admits not being able to reliably smooth out this glitch, and has indeed added a saved game right past the bug. You can play up to where the game freezes, simply restore this special saved game, and continue as if nothing happened. The Anthology also comes with extensive troubleshooting info, easily the most I've seen for a PC game in a while. Kudos to Sierra for doing their damndest to make your life a bit easier.
Simply put, the Roberta Williams Anthology is not for everyone. Computer gaming is about progress, and this collection obviously does nothing new. But if you happened to miss these classic games the first time around, here's a golden opportunity to relive the past. I could blather on forever about how cool these games are, about why any self-respecting gamer should take the time to check out this impressive leap into the history of gaming. Instead, just spend the $50 you earned selling lemonade last week on what may well be best value out there right now. Trust me - history never tasted so good.