KING'S QUEST 3: PART 1kjorteo
has been doing a great playthrough of the Dagger of Amon Ra
recently (and also up to three years ago), walking through the game and finding out where it succeeds and (far more often) fails as a mystery and an adventure game. I'd eventually like to do something along the same lines for the game that came before it, The Colonel's Bequest - I once started a video of it, but it consisted of about an hour and a half of wandering around accomplishing nothing at all and then falling into a pond.
Therefore, I'm going to rewind a little further, and as I've been playing a couple of the earliest King's Quest games out of curiosity, I wanted to bring you the experience of King's Quest 3, and my thoughts on its game mechanics, unique touches and unfortunate Sierra-ness. You can bet I'm using a walkthrough, because these games are irritating at best otherwise.
The reason I want to show off King's Quest 3 in particular is that it's a very unusual adventure game even today, bravely displaying a dramatic difference from the mould set by the first two games. No, you can still screw yourself over by eating vital inventory that you'll need later, missing a pixel-high item with no hinting that it's your last chance to get it or die by tripping over a cat and falling down the stairs - what do you think you're playing, a game written by a reasonable person? But the new mechanic is obvious from the moment you start the game:
Up on the status bar there, along with the score that hangs over your head in most Sierra games, is a timer. You need to pay attention to this so that you can prepare to meet certain deadlines in the game - you need to have specific items in certain places at certain times, or you'll die in a Sierra move that will surprise absolutely nobody - but considering their usual degree of helpfulness, I'm surprised they just didn't expect you to work out the schedule for yourself and then keep a million bits of paper to keep track of time across saves.
Here's the reason you need to keep track of time:
Manannan. In King's Quest 3, your character is at the opposite end of the social spectrum from the previous two games - you play not as a knight or king of the realm, but as Gwydion, a slave boy in an evil wizard's house. Evil Mananaan and his evil pointy hat will appear with an evil music cue on his evil Walkman to interrupt your adventuring throughout the game, and our overarching objective is to defeat him - but you have to make preparations for this surreptitiously and not let him catch you in the act. Fortunately this wizard's schedule is inhumanly regular, so as long as you keep it in mind, you'll have time to hide the evidence of your actions.
The beginning of the cycle, which happens just a few seconds after starting the game, is this:
Manannan gives you one of a set of randomly chosen chores. None of these are complicated at all, but you have to get them done within three minutes, and there are certain parts of the house that you can be punished for entering unless it's specifically required for you to be there. In another absolute godsend, you can now alter your walking pace after having spent 99% of the previous games plodding at a snail's pace throughout the large game worlds looking for something to do - the available options are stupidly slow (the default), nonsensically slow, stupidly fast, and just about right (the setting described as "fast"). These speed changes don't affect the timer, it just seems to be the speed of animations and Gwydion's walking pace - so I'm going to be playing on the fast mode for most of the time.
Even without taking advantage of our increased speed, this particular task is easy enough - all we have to do is go outside (down from our current screen) and feed the chickens.
The wizard's house is on top of a cliff that overlooks the lland of Llwedor, an attempt at a Welsh setting this time around by the Williams partners-in-crime. You can't go beyond here just yet - if you leave this screen and try to go down the mountain, Manannan (whose name I think I'm just going to spell by hammering the A and N keys at random from now on for the sake of expediency) will appear and zap you back to the interior of the house.
Mnananan will check up on you occasionally by appearing for a moment in the room during this time, and if you delay beyond three minutes in completing a chore, he'll do something unpleasant to you.
Yes, he's turned Gwydion into a snail and reset his walking pace back to compete with King Graham's record for the slowest speed ever recorded by man. This punishment is also randomly chosen, and they all last for one boring minute or so, after which you pop back to normal. An unusual act of mercy for Sierra, not making the game silently unwinnable or killing you instantly, but having to sit through these punishments takes away precious time that you could be using for other things in the game.
There are two tiers of annoying Maananan - there are small transgressions like this that result in punishments, and large ones for which he'll zap you with magic and turn you to dust. But to avoid them both, we basically don't want to touch, fiddle with, disturb or interfere with anything in the house unless we've been told to.
Until this happens! At about the five-minute mark, Mnanananan will announce he's leaving. From this point until he returns twenty-five minutes later, you're free from supervision - so let's get going and run around the house madly with a cereal box on our head like Kevin in Home Alone.
First of all, here's the top of the tower, up the stairs from the previous screen. There's a large telescope here, not for looking at the skies but for spying on Llwedor's inhabitants - also of note is the dead fly on the floor. When you pick this up, Gwydion acts disgusted and opts only to keep the wings, as if that's any better.
Here's the wizard's bedroom on the middle floor. He doesn't normally like you snooping around, possibly embarrassed by his flamboyant Barbie Dream House magenta bed. In a nice touch, the mirror in this room works when you walk past it.
I think this is an unusual example of Sierra's picky and unhelpful attitude towards the player - if you try to OPEN DRAWER when you're right up against it, you get this message. You have to be standing not too close, but not too far away, to be able to open it.
You can also open the wardrobe (without being mocked for your lack of spatial awareness) and find a piece of parchment inside. Rather cruelly, you won't find this if you "search wardrobe" - it will tell you there are some clothes, shoes, and nothing else interesting. It's only when you LOOK BEHIND CLOTHES that you suddenly find this item.
As you can see, it isn't much use yet, but we'll come back to this later.
You can get a key by searching the top of the wardrobe, too, but you don't need to put in any effort to climb up to reach it despite Gwydion clearly being half the height necessary to have a hope of finding anything up there.
Overall, our haul from this room is the key, the parchment, a hand mirror from the vanity table, a bottle of rose petal essence from the drawer, and the knowledge that Maaanaan has terrible taste in modern art from the giant striped painting hanging on the wall.
Our own accommodations are at the other end of the floor and a bit more motel-level than the grand bedroom, with some drawers, half a mirror and a bed that's basically a plank with some sheets on it. We can't do anything here yet, but it will become an important location later.
As I make my way downstairs, I just want to take a moment to complain about the controls - there are a lot of screens around where you have to walk diagonally, and you have the ability to do this with the Home, Page Up/Down and End keys, but the angle that you walk at doesn't quite match up to the angle of the stairs - so to traverse them, you'll be spasming madly at the arrow keys while Gwydion continually crashes into the sides after making an inch of progress. At least you can't fall off anywhere... yet.
Here's the dining room, to the right of the downstairs room. We can get a cup from the table, but that's about it for now.
In comparison, we can absolutely ransack the kitchen. There's a loaf of bread, some fruit and mutton on the table (which in a nice touch you can scoop up all in one go by typing GET FOOD), and we can also pick up a spoon, knife and bowl from near the fireplace.
After looting the house, our inventory is getting to be a busy place. The starred items are special - in another uncharacteristically helpful move from Sierra, they denote the items that are dangerous to have in your inventory when the wizard is around. Honestly, this is most of them, with the exception of food and utensils. So let's move on quickly.
The last room in the house is MMAanananana's study. This is another room that you'll be punished for entering unless you have good reason to be there - which means it's got to have some really good stuff.
And here's a great example! The wand is our ticket out of here, but is also an incredibly dangerous item - most of the starred objects just have to be hidden by the time Mananaan gets back, but the wand absolutely has to be back in this cabinet with the door locked or you're going to be a very dead servant.
With that in mind, let's fiddle with some more things. Is that a copy of Bob's Big Book of Cliches that I see on the bookshelf over there?
Yes, it was. Let's take a look down here...
I think it's safe to say that we've found the wizard's secret lab! (Although we already knew we must have had one somewhere. There are limits as to how much evil you can conjure up just in your study with a pen and paper, unless you write for Breitbart of course.)
The shelves at the back hold all manner of hideous and foul ingredients, including the ghastly SAFFRON! Just between the Awful Apple Juice and the Horrifying Curry Powder.
In a spectacular return to form from the generous moment in the kitchen, there's no catch-all command to grab everything at once here - you have to memorize all the names from the list in that window and type them in individually. If you attempt to shorten them (such as using "GET NIGHTSHADE"), the game will sometimes - but not always - fail to recognize the item and say "You don't need it", which can be misleading.
There's one other very big interesting item in this room - let's take a look at this!
Or maybe let's not. If there's one thing that I'll give to Sierra games, they're usually pretty good at taking synonyms into account - for example, the wardrobe upstairs can be referred to as a CUPBOARD, CLOSET, WARDROBE and probably some other things as well, so I'm surprised that this term didn't make it in. LOOK BOOK gives us the following description.
At this point I became hugely confused, because the walkthrough I was using instructed me to open the book to page IV and to cast the spell on it. I had no idea how I was meant to know to use Roman numerals, other than by process of elimination after you realize you can't enter numbers on the command line (they're interpreted as directions as if you were using the numeric keypad). And I didn't know how I was supposed to work out I was meant to use page 4, either - but I took a look anyway:
So it looks like I've turned myself into a humanoid fly by accident. It turns out that everything to do with the spellbook is part of the game's copy protection, a more creative (but also more annoying) spin on the "Look up word 4 of paragraph 2 of page 7.png" approach that many games used at the time to make sure you had a physical copy of the manual. Like all instances of what we now know as DRM, this just made it impossible to play the game unless you had the manual on hand at all times and didn't lose it - fortunately, in this day and age, we have PDFs and ReplacementDocs, and you can follow what's going on by getting the King's Quest 3 manual from here: http://www.replacementdocs.com/download.php?view.595
Now that I have the spell in front of me, it looks like I do indeed have the ingredients required to turn into a fly - it's not exactly an ambitious start, but we all have to begin somewhere. Spells really do have to be entered very precisely with no room for mistakes. so they thoughtfully provided most of them in appalling handwriting that you have to squint to read. Nevertheless, let's see if we can work some magic.
Hold on, "a pinch" isn't very precise. What if you've got really big or small hands? And do you have to adjust depending on how much essence you're using? I don't think you've really thought this through.
After doing that first step, you're given this unusual prompt and you have to painstakingly copy the verse out of the book like some kind of typing tutor. At least it's more interesting than the reams of "a dad had a sad lad" that I had to plod through on the BBC Micro at school.
Wave the magic wand for the moment of truth, and we're going to... live!
We now have an inventory that I think is larger than the most items you could ever get in any previous King's Quest, most of it incredibly incriminating. And thanks to our newly found spellcasting skills, among our wheelbarrow of stuff is the Magic Rose Essence, our first magic item. I would show you what it does, but the walkthrough tells me that Sierra gave us only three chances to use the spell and we need them all. Wankers!
I'm going to wrap up this part when we make our way out of the house, but before we do that, we have a bit of cruelty to animals to perform first. (Don't worry, it's justified.) Let's go back upstairs...
OH, OH!! You might have noticed the cat skulking around in some of the screenshots before - he moves around the house at random, and if he appears on these stairs, he will cause you to fall and die if you get anywhere near him. The only way to get around this is to leave the screen the way you came, come back and hope he isn't there the next time. I will call him Wolf Heimlich.
Wolf Heimlich has another vital item that we're going to need later, and this is a good time to do it - it will also show off one of the more hateful moments of the game so far. You see, you can attempt to pick up the cat, which will usually result in this:
You get a few scratches for your trouble, and the cat runs off to another part of the room. There's no indication that you're on the right track, or that the same action will eventually work - faced with this in the absence of a walkthrough, I would have assumed that I need to build some sort of elaborate cat trap, perhaps with a tuna sandwich, a stick and a laundry basket. The real solution, though, is to just keep trying in the face of no progress. I've recreated the experience as best I can through screenshots alone:
Got it! That was terrible. There doesn't seem to be any pattern to this, it doesn't matter if you approach the cat from behind, the front, to the side, and it doesn't work better in particular parts of the room than others... there just seems to be an extremely small random chance that you'll be able to pick the cat up, and if the numbers aren't on your side, you get a message that might as well tell you to go away and try something else. Thanks, Sierra!
I didn't take screenshots of the first two windows at first, but I found to my delight that you can pick the cat up a second time as well (Gwydion has accumulated more scar tissue on his arms than actual arm at this point). With a nasty laugh, you pull a bit of Wolf Heimlich's fur out and he runs off in a ball of fury and hate.
By way of experiment, I found you could also "kick cat", with the same "SCREEEEECH (heh, heh, heh)" response.
There's one more thing I want to bring up before I forget - this is the first King's Quest game where saving and loading was bound to the function keys (F5 and F7) respectively, but not
also to commands that you could type in. So when I habitually type SAVE:
You get a message which I frankly find a bit condescending.
Anyway. It's time to leave the house - let's take one more souvenir with us before we go down the mountain.
Chickens, being less intelligent and a lot less evil than cats, are much more happy to be picked up and to have their feathers plucked from them. Although I'm surprised there weren't any feathers just lying around - these hens keep a very neat coop.
And that's all for this time! We're leaving Gwydion with his temporary freedom and a bathtubload of incriminating evidence - in the next update, hopefully we'll have time to explore the wider game and not get killed.