Interviewed by Peter Ellison
Roberta Williams is known to all of her followers and fans as the one who brought graphic adventures into their homes. Back in 1980, before the graphic adventure was born, she conceived the idea that an adventure should have pictures, so she and husband Ken, created "Mystery House" and formed the company Sierra-Online. Her next creation was a science fiction mystery called "Mission Asteroid" and after that she created the first computer adventure game with color, "The Wizard and the Princess".
This changed the industry, with everyone now expecting everything to be in color. The next adventure took a year to complete and is labeled as an epic. "Time Zone" has more than 1300 full-color computer-generated images compacted onto 12 disk sides. Heralded as the first expert-level adventure with graphics, the estimated time for completing "Time Zone" is an incredible six to twelve months.
Her next adventure, "Dark Crystal", was a first, because it was the first to be based on a motion picture. Roberta then set herself to the challenge of producing an adventure game that used the full potential of today's computers. With the release of "King's Quest" she has done it. With 3-D color graphics and animation that rival the best arcade games, the new adventure brings each character to life with a large vocabulary and challenging puzzles. Although this is available only for the IBM PC with 128K, the Atari can play it with the "ATR 8000".
While her husband runs the company as President and Chief Executive Officer, Roberta works as Product Development and Creative Director with input into all the creative areas of the company. In addition, she designs her own games. I was able to talk with her on August 13th and had quite an enjoyable interview which was as follows.
Q. When did you first become interested in the writing of adventure games for the computer?
A. It was in the winter of 1980.
Q. Did you ever expect "Mystery House" to become such a big hit?
A. I knew people would like it in those days because it was really different and new, but I didn't really think it would start a company the way it did.
Q. After writing "Mission Asteroid" and "Wizard and the Princess" you came out with the massive program, "Time Zone". What caused you to write such a huge game?
A. It was because in those days I played a lot of adventure games and I was always disappointed when they ended. I've always been a fan of the epic movie and if I really like something I want it to go on. I really liked adventure games and I wanted them to go on and on, so I thought maybe I wasn't the only one who was like this. I also wanted to leave my mark in this world, so I wanted to write the adventure game that would seemingly go on and on. It does end, of course, but it does go on for quite a long time. Some people like it, but it's not a best seller type because of the time required to complete it. It's for people who want to solve the ultimate adventure, those that are expert players.
Q. How long did it take you to complete "Time Zone"?
A. It took about six months.
Q. What inspired you to write an adventure after the motion picture, "The Dark Crystal"?
A. They called us and said they would like me to do an adventure game based on the movie. I think one of the reasons was because they were kind of venturing into new ground as far as this movie goes. They wanted to do whatever they could to promote it, plus the fellow who seeked us out had played my adventure games before and they called us and that is why we did it.
Q. Did you feel limited in the fact that you were basing it on something fixed, limiting your ability to be creative with it?
A. Yes, and I didn't really like doing it that way because I like doing my own stories.
Q. Your latest adventure "King's Quest" features some great three dimensional animation, do you feel this will become a standard for all adventure games?
A. Its hard to say a standard because look at Infocom, no graphics at all, and they have great games. Not a standard for them but for graphic adventure games, yes. It would have to be, but not immediately, because there are only a few computers that can run it because it takes 128K and so it really isn't cost effective. Plus it takes a long time to program something like that. It took us over a year and a half. We did some inventing and the inventing process takes quite a long time. It will be at least a year to a year and a half before you see something that looks like it from anybody else.
Q. I noticed that every adventure that you write is entirely different from the one before. Why is this?
A. Because it would be boring if they were all on the same topic.
Q. Have you ever thought of writing a sequel to any of your games'?
A. Yes, because this week I'll be starting on the sequel to King's Quest.
Q. Where do you get most of your creative ideas for your games?
A. In the old days I would just sit down and think of a story and it would just go from there. I'd also get a lot of ideas out of books. Nowadays I seem to concentrate more on a certain type of subject, so I will get a book or books on that subject to learn about it and anything that I like I'll take notes, etc.
Q. What game are you working on at this time?
A. I'm just finishing up "Mickey's Space Adventure" as we now have Disney products. It doesn't look like King's Quest, its like the old style adventure game, but it will have some animation in it.
Q. In what direction do you see adventure games going?
A. I would like to think I have some say on how adventure games do go. I'd like to keep ahead of everyone else and if that were true I would kind of set the standard for graphic adventure games. The graphic adventure games are probably going to go more heavily into animation and sound and eventually look like a real cartoonist type of thing.
Q. What type of adventure do you most enjoy writing?
A. Fantasy or fairy tales. I would like to try and write some mystery and suspense, and would really like to write a scary adventure game. Scary, not in the sense of gory, but suspenseful, similar to the Alfred Hitchcock style. I like writing about the subjects that I have already written about. I'd also like to do a western at some time.
Q. How many of you are usually involved in one program`?
A. Its myself as the writer/d esigner and project leader and depending on the size of the project is how many people we have. On King's Quest we had three programmers and three graphic artists, making a total of seven working on the same program.
Q. How long is a program tested before it is shipped?
A. It all depends on the size of the program. We have a department called the "Quality Assurance" department or "QS" that whenever we have a program that is more or less done, the programmer gives it to them and they play with it until they are satisfied. Until they approve it, we can't ship it.
Q. What does Sierra have planned for the future?
A. The disney products will be coming out at Christmas. We have four of those including the one I did, "Mickey's Space Adventure". The other three are "Goofy's Word Factory", "Donald Duck's Playground" and an adventure game called, "Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred Acre Woods". We also have "Grog's Revenge", the sequel to "B.C.'s Quest for Tires".
Q. What do you do in you free time?
A. We live right near Fresno, California and because we live in the mountains, on Saturdays Ken and I go down to Fresno to get away from the company. We go to a lot of movies, seeing almost every movie that has ever been out. We like to eat out and we have a boat that we use a lot in the summer. In the winter we enjoy skiing in the nearby mountains.