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King's Quest V - ...and a fifth Quest game...

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Postby David Whyld » Thu Feb 22, 2007 12:55 pm

King's Quest V by Steve Lingle


And so to the fifth and final game – Steve Lingle’s King’s Quest V – which I decided to make a more determined effort to get on with than the other games. Why? Well, he’s written two previous games with Quest and they're far and away the best Quest games I've ever played. (Of course, considering the competition he’s up against…)

The introduction was lengthy and a bit flawed in the grammar department what with a fair number of errors showing up (the game lists several testers, though unfortunately none of them seem to know a good proofread when they see one) and some awful colour schemes. Some of the dialogue is in red, some in blue, and with the game’s main text being my preferred choice of white, this makes the whole thing seem more than a little gaudy. But a few changes from the top menu, a restart (Quest apparently can’t change something as basic as the font colour without restarting), and I was away.

The ever unwelcome side panel (grrr!) is better used here than in most games, but the usual flaws are present, too. The first location lists three items that can be examined – a well, a small pond and some chap called Cedric – yet there is also a town and a house that you can look at as well via the old-fashioned idea of typing in commands. I can well imagine this kind of thing being highly problematic in that if you rely on only what is displayed in the side panel (as seems to be the general idea with Quest), you wouldn’t be aware there were other things that could be examined. This could well lead to you missing something vital to completing the game. On the other hand, if you hide the side panel and the item you need to examine is only referred to there and not in the text itself (as has been the case a time or two before in various games) then you're potentially rendering the game unfinishable.

There's an added problem in that not everything mentioned in the side panel can be examined, though it’s often not until you’ve typed in several different things trying to garner a response that you become aware of this. The town location refers to a barrel, a wagon, a silver coin (apparently lying around in the middle of town though only the player has the wherewithal to pick it up) and three shops, yet none of the shops can be examined. Why? Well, according to the panel they're places and not objects and apparently places can’t be examined. Hmmm…

Parser problems abound. Normally I'm not too fussed over the whole parser debate, but Quest’s parser, and its many flaws, seem to affect every game written with it. For example, Cedric, the named NPC in the first location, cannot be referred to as HIM but, strangely enough, as IT. Even more bizarre, the sequence X CEDRIC followed by X HIM produces

I don't know what 'him' you are referring to.
I don't know what 'him' you are referring to.
I can't see that here.

On top of that, we have parser inflexibility. GO WELL isn't an acceptable command apparently, but something like GO TO THE WELL is considered fine. Surely Quest can check a simple command like that, realise it’s the same as GO WELL and process it accordingly? Then there are the usual problems with perfectly ordinary words not being understood, or with commands displaying an error message if not followed by a noun. So TALK on its own will produce the standard Quest error message, yet TALK TO [NPC] will work fine. (The problem here is that if you tried TALK on its own and got an error message, you might well assume the command didn’t work in the game and not try it again.) Oh yes, Quest’s parser leaves a lot to be desired and has the potential to turn even a good game into something almost unplayable. Then there are the downright bizarre problems. When standing outside an inn, I attempted to GO TO THE INN and was told I couldn’t go there.

But enough with the flaws of the system. What about the game itself?

It’s certainly better written than the average Quest game, though suffers from a poor grasp of grammar for the most part. From time to time, the game switches from first person (referring to the player as YOU) to third person (referring to the player as GRAHAM) which is a little jarring to say the least. There doesn’t seem to be any real consistency to this and instead it appears to be down more to simple carelessness than anything else.

Instant deaths abound, never a favourite of mine, and here there are far too many of them. The first game (this is the sequel incidentally) featured this theme as well, and no matter how many times someone can espouse on just why it’s a good idea to have the player killed instantly and without warning, every time it happens to me I find myself wishing they just wouldn’t bother. Why not a simple warning that the player might die? Why not put the player in peril but give them the opportunity to get out in one piece? Why not injure the player or take away score points for mistakes? Killing them every few moves is just a pain. With Quest lacking the vital UNDO feature, dying means clicking on the restore option in the right hand panel in order to go back to your previous saved game position. (Ah, but what if you’ve decided to play the game with the side panel turned off? Well, then you're up a certain creek without a certain implement because the command entry line becomes disabled when you die, thus putting you in a very sticky position indeed.) With the sheer number of instant deaths on show here, this can become very tiring very quickly.

The game compensates for this to some degree by including a feature that is every bit as annoying here as it was in the first game: namely a message flashing up on screen from time to time warning you to save your game. As with the first game, this seems like a sound idea in theory but when it happens every single time you go a certain way, it quickly becomes a pain.

In style, King’s Quest V is a very retro game. There are no long, flowery descriptions of locations, no details beyond the very basics, the aforementioned instant deaths and, sigh, several timers that don’t really add anything to the game but a fervent wish that the author hadn’t felt the need to include them. Wandering around the desert (a remarkably empty set of locations all virtually identical to each other), I died every four to five moves unless I could find an oasis and drink from it. For some reason, I couldn’t seem to find a way to take any of the water with me (the player apparently lives in a world where glasses, bottles and the like do not exist) so this made exploring the desert an arduous and frustrating task. I’d find an oasis then walk around it for a bit until I got a message telling me the heat was getting to me, then run back to the oasis, have a drink, and explore a bit further. Sometimes I’d make it back in one piece. Often I wouldn’t. By the time I had the desert sufficiently explored, I think I’d died half a dozen times and spent more time than I care to mention wondering just why the author had included such an ultimately annoying puzzle in his game.

Alarmingly few commands seem to be covered and sometimes you need to try something else entirely just to get the game to accept the command you want. For example, I can’t BUY SLED (buy is another word Quest still doesn’t have in its vocabulary), yet talking to the toy shop owner begins a conversation where I try to buy the sled.

I spent quite a bit longer on King’s Quest V than I normally do with Quest games, hoping that despite its flaws there was a decent game here, but in the end the sheer number of bugs, the frequent problems with the perspective switching from first to third person, the poor standard of testing and, yes, the usual hassles of playing any kind of game with Quest, made me decide I’d be better off playing something else instead. Overall, it’s probably a better game than the first one, but it ends up with a lesser score because whereas I once felt Quest had potential as a text adventure system, I now suspect it doesn’t; as a result I find myself disliking each subsequent game written with it a bit more than the one before. Maybe it is possible to write a genuinely decent game with Quest, but it’s not something I’d bet money on and I’ve pretty much given up any kind of hope of it happening within my lifetime.

While not the unplayable mess that most Quest games are, King’s Quest V is far too flawed for me to ever recommend it to anyone and while it’s probably the most accomplished Quest game written to date, by the standards of any other system it would be ranked as poor indeed. (3 out of 10)




Edited By David Whyld on 1172149044
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Postby dswxyz » Sun Mar 18, 2007 1:03 am

Your review amuses me. Especially the bit about "some chap called Cedric". In the original King's Quest V by Sierra, Cedric is an OWL. Which makes me think that Steve Lingle somehow didn't get that vital fact across in his version. I guess you're just supposed to know Cedric is a talking owl by telepathy.

(by the way, it is possible to find money in the streets if you look and you're lucky. I've found money a few times. Sometimes food. Once, a half box of Kleenex, amazingly unbesmirched by rain or insects. It happens.)
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Postby David Whyld » Mon Mar 19, 2007 1:20 pm

I think I became aware later on that Cedric was an owl but I don't think this was made clear at the time. Maybe it's one of those things that seems incredibly obvious to the writer but doesn't to the player, and as I'd never played any of the original King's Quest games, I wasn't familiar with the setting.
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Postby ralphmerridew » Mon Mar 19, 2007 1:52 pm

According to the source, this text is supposed to be displayed on startup:

After a lengthy discussion with the great wizard, Crispinopher (Crispin for short), Graham learns more about the evil wizard, Mordack. |nCrispin is unable to answer the obvious question, "Why?" but is almost as determined as Graham to find out.|n|nAnd so...Graham sets off on his quest to find his family. Accompanying him is Cedric, the wise-cracking owl, who will guide you occasionally. Graham was given only two items by Crispin, a worn out magic wand and a bite of magical white snake (that he's already eaten) which helps him to understand the language of nature and animals.|n|n|cl"Good luck, King Graham!"|cb says Crispin and shuts the front door behind Graham as he steps outside...
(bold added by me)
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Postby David Whyld » Mon Mar 19, 2007 2:05 pm

Ah. So it does.

Actually Cedric is listed as an owl in the side panel but as I always disable that when starting a Quest game I didn't notice until now.
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Postby ralphmerridew » Mon Mar 19, 2007 2:56 pm

Disabling the Quest side panel is generally not a good idea; games seem to be written under the assumption that the player will be likely to try "USE A ON B", where A and B are objects listed in the side panel.
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