Author Topic: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)  (Read 2667 times)

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Offline lance.ewing

40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« on: January 14, 2024, 04:22:11 PM »
I thought I would start a thread in relation to the 40th anniversary of King's Quest, for covering off certain events that happened during 1984, as and when the same days occur this year. There were a few events that happened over the past week, going back 40 years ago, that are worth mentioning already:

  • 7th-10th January 1984: The 1984 International Winter Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held in Las Vegas, at the Hilton, Riviera and Sahara Hotels, from Saturday the 7th to Tuesday the 10th January. Other than it being the event at which the Amiga computer was first demoed by Commodore, it was also where the original King's Quest game was first publicly shown off. Several magazines covered the Winter CES show in the months following, a number of which included screenshots of King's Quest.
  • 13th January 1984: This is the date that is given on the King's Quest trade mark registration as the first use of the King's Quest name in commerce. The trade mark registration was filed on the the 23rd January 1984.

Leaping forward 40 years to 2024: Something relevant to KQ1, GAL and AGI happened over the past week. On Monday the 8th January 2024, a rocket launched from Cape Canaveral carrying a moon lander. It is called the Astrobotics Peregrine Mission One lander. It has been in the news a bit this week, as things have not gone to plan and its not going to end up on the Moon after all. But how is this related to KQ1, GAL and AGI?

Well, it turns out that it contains either the ashes or DNA (whichever was chosen by the family) of Arthur Mark Abraham, the lead programmer of the GAL interpreter used for KQ1. I'm calling it GAL, given its many differences to the AGI interpreter that was used in all the later games, but, in reality, it was the beginnings of the AGI interpreter.
I found the above web pages in late 2022, so was already aware that Arthur had died in 2017. I hadn't heard about Celestis Memorial Spaceflights before. I didn't realise that such a thing existed!

I thought people might be interested that, exactly 40 years after King's Quest was first publicly demoed (at the 1984 Winter CES), the ashes (or DNA) of one of its primary coders was blasting off into space.

Offline lskovlun

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2024, 07:06:12 PM »
I continue to be amazed at the things you dig up.

Offline lance.ewing

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2024, 02:58:39 AM »
I haven't been keeping up with this thread. I was intending to add an entry on the 23rd and 24th Jan. Better late then never I guess.

I have attached two images to this post. The first is the trademark registration that I already mentioned in my earlier post, and the second is a page from a magazine article. It is page 143 from "PC Magazine" dated 24th January 1984, which is page 2 in an article about games that will be available for the yet to be released IBM PC JR. It is interesting that the trademark was registered on the day before the magazine article.

As you can see in the article text, it mentions that Roberta Williams has just finished working on King's Quest. I suspect that the article author spoke to Ken and Roberta several weeks before the article was published, perhaps even at the Winter CES event already mentioned. Who knows. But it does appear to be the first mention, at least that I can find, of King's Quest within magazine text.

Edit: I keep looking at that "first use in commerce" part of the trademark and can't help wondering if perhaps that is when the first copies of the PC JR version were released, maybe in limited numbers. From what I've been able to dig up, the PC JR itself was not available to be sold in January 1984, but some retailers did already have unsellable demonstration models in Jan 1984, so perhaps King's Quest was on these demonstration machines. Retailers didn't get machines to sell until Feb 1984, and then only 25 per retailer. Production of the PC JR didn't properly ramp up until mid-March 1984 and sales almost immediately looked bad. The copyright registration for King's Quest states that the game was first sold from the 10th May 1984, so that doesn't quite tie up with the "first use in commerce" date, and I've seen a newspaper article from mid April 1984 that states KQ is "yet to be released". So if it was installed on any demonstration models of the PC JR, the game itself doesn't appear to have been available to purchase until May 1984.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2024, 03:12:38 AM by lance.ewing »

Offline lance.ewing

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2024, 11:40:53 AM »
Although this thread is focusing on the 40th anniversary of the release of King's Quest and GAL/AGI, I think it might be relevant to also mention what was going on with the Sierra/Disney contract with regards to the Disney Educational games (i.e. Donald Duck's Playground, Mickey's Space Adventure, Winnie the Pooh..., and Goofy's Word Factory). There are two reasons that they are relevant: One is obviously that the Donald Duck's Playground game was ported over to an AGI game in later years, but perhaps more relevant within the context of 1984 and the success of King's Quest and AGI as a whole is that the Disney contracts were one of maybe three different ingredients that helped keep Sierra On-Line afloat long enough for King's Quest to become a success.

Ken had put all his eggs in the IBM PC JR basket and had all his hopes in IBM's new machine being a success. This isn't quite true though, because at the same 1984 Winter CES show that King's Quest was first demoed at, Sierra had reached an agreement with Disney to take over a contract that Texas Instruments had had to create educational games based on Disney characters. Here are a few references to support his:

"Texas Instruments had an agreement with Walt Disney Products to create educational software for the TI/99 over a two-year period. When it became obvious that the Texas Instruments system was dying in the market, Texas Instruments helped Disney search for a well known software company that would "assume" their obligation and produce Disney-quality material. Our company fit that bill. The actual contract was signed at the 1984 Winter CES Show in Las Vegas." - (John Williams - Commodore Magazine - March 1987- Page 73)

And the Fortworth Star Telegram, in their 18th January 1984 edition, mentions that Texas Instruments had reached agreements with Walt Disney and Sierra On-Line to assume TI's market responsibilities. This date is only a week after the Winter CES and therefore confirms John Williams' 1987 comment.

So Sierra was already preparing for the Disney Educational games in early 1984, before King's Quest was released. I'll pick up on the Disney contract later in the year, when we reach the 40th anniversary of certain events. The point to highlight now is that it helped Sierra to stay afloat to a certain degree, since by mid 1984 (after the PC JR market flop), they were struggling big time and focusing mainly on AGI games and the Disney contract, in the belief that these were most likely to succeed in the future. Almost everything else had been shut down, with big lay offs happening roughly around June of that year. The Radio Shack agreement to sell the Tandy versions of the AGI games helped them start to grow again in 1985, but they had to get through 1984 first.

Offline lance.ewing

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2024, 07:10:56 AM »
Now that March has begun, there are a couple more items to mention.

The first of these is the first magazine article that I can find that covers the Winter CES that was held in Jan 1984 and includes screenshots of King's Quest. I am guessing that these screenshots are from a standard set of images that Sierra On-Line provided to the media, since the game itself hadn't yet been released. I'm also basing this on the fact that several magazine articles from different publishers included the same screenshots. Attached is the page, from "Personal Computer World" magazine, March 1984, Page 26.

It is a little humorous/sad what it says with regards to Sierra having nothing to show off at the Winter CES, but then goes on to say that that isn't quite true and then mentions King's Quest at the end. I'm not sure that the writer had any idea quite what they were seeing with King's Quest, i.e. the beginning of a whole new gaming genre and the basis of Sierra's future from that point on. It was clearly a Pioneering moment again, and for the writer to imply that their pioneering days were in the past is obviously untrue. This was probably one of the biggest pioneering moments in computer gaming history!

Offline Charles

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2024, 09:35:17 PM »
This was probably one of the biggest pioneering moments in computer gaming history!

I agree completely.  Like, it's obvious to all of us, but it's really hard to overstate just how important/influential Sierra was to computer games in its infancy. But the most incredible thing to me is how far it's fallen out of the popular eye... like it feels like Sierra games and their franchises are little more than footnotes in most people's consciousnesses, that is if they've even heard of them at all.  King Graham is no Mario or Master Chief or heck even Pac-Man to the collective conscienceness, and is a precursor (or at least contemporary) to all of them.  So obscure that in the Wreck-It Ralph movie, there was nary an easter egg for anything Sierra. But they had a Qbert cameo. Arguably far more obscure.  Of course granted Wreck-It Ralph was a send-up of arcade games, not PC games... but they had a Sonic cameo and he's more console than arcade... so if it was more popular, it probably would have had some representation.  Sorry to hijack your thread for a sec for a rant, Lance. This history of AGI and Kings' Quest stuff is fascinating.

Offline lance.ewing

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2024, 08:17:09 AM »
Sorry to hijack your thread for a sec for a rant, Lance. This history of AGI and Kings' Quest stuff is fascinating.

No worries at all. Everyone can feel free to comment on anything I post in this thread. Online Systems / Sierra On-Line / Sierra, etc. were certainly big in the home computer gaming market, especially in the early days. When you read about the first few years, Ken had his fingers in many things that were emerging in the industry. They became big initially through text adventure games that happened to have pictures as well, thus the "Hi-res Adventure" name. They were the first to do that. But Ken didn't want the company to be known only for those types of game, and so early on he was already diversifying into other types of games, such as arcade games like Frogger that became one of their biggest hits in those early days. Then it all came crashing down and they were lucky to survive during a time when many of the other industry players didn't. They emerged again with the 3D animated adventure games and King's Quest was obviously the first of those. Like you, I find the history of the King's Quest project fascinating.

Offline lance.ewing

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2024, 08:24:43 AM »
Now that March has begun, there are a couple more items to mention.

Time to mention the second of these, which is a magazine article containing an interview with Roberta Williams from March 1984. The content covers a bit of the early history of Sierra, focusing on the games that Roberta Williams designed, such as Mystery House, The Wizard and the Princess, Timezone, and The Dark Crystal. The whole of the final page's text covers King's Quest.

The article is attached. It is from the "Electronic Fun" magazine, March 1984, pages 30-33. It includes a small screenshot of King's Quest, and several screen shots from the earlier "Hires" ADL games.

Offline lance.ewing

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2024, 11:31:01 AM »
As it is now April, it is time to share the first April 1984 reference to King's Quest. This one is a little strange actually (see attached). I'm not sure what they are getting at with regards to the UK not "seeing" the game. The text mentions the game being available for the Apple IIe, which isn't true at this point, as it wasn't until October 1984 that King's Quest was available on the Apple II machines. I'm not sure what the author of this article was thinking off with regards to it not being seen in the UK. Obviously the IBM PC would have been available in the UK, and I assume that the Apple machines were available. The comment in the text that mentions it is only available for the NTSC TV system is really making me scratch my head. What could they possibly mean by that? There is nothing in the game itself or the interpreter that ties it to NTSC. A "UK version" doesn't seem to make any sense. Anyway, whatever the reason for these comments, this "TV Gamer" magazine does cover the release of King's Quest, a month before it was released, and as you can see, it has a couple of screenshots. I think that these would have been from the set of screenshots that Sierra On-Line made available to the media.

Offline lskovlun

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2024, 01:28:10 PM »
I'm not sure what they are getting at with regards to the UK not "seeing" the game.
They could be referring to the composite color mode only working on NTSC devices. I've only seen it now after procuring the booter image and having DosBox emulate it. Back in the day I wondered what it was even for.
And indeed, the initial version did not support plain CGA. That came in the August 1984 release (see )
« Last Edit: April 01, 2024, 01:47:45 PM by lskovlun »

Offline lance.ewing

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #10 on: April 02, 2024, 01:08:37 PM »
Yeah, I think you're right. I'd forgotten about the composite mode. The only computer I connected to a TV in the 1980s was the VIC 20, which came in NTSC and PAL versions. The first IBM PC I had already came with its own monitor. So I hadn't really thought about how the CGA's composite mode worked, but now that I've actually stopped to think it through, it obviously must be tied to the TV system.

Reading up on this a bit, it seems that the CGA composite output did indeed only support NTSC:

Now that I'm reading this April 1984 magazine article again with the above in mind, the author might be referring to two different versions of the game, i.e. the IBM PC CGA composite mode version, and the Apple IIe version. I wonder where they got their info from? At the start of April 1984, I believe Sierra On-line were still focused on the IBM PC JR, although Ken would have been panicking already with the low sales of the PC JR. I'm not sure how common knowledge it would have been at that point that they were going to quickly follow with the IBM PC CGA composite mode version, or the Apple IIe version later in the year.

You raise a very good point. The lack of the CGA RGB version, not released until August 1984, would have meant it wasn't available in the UK (or other PAL TV countries like Australia and New Zealand) until that date. Since I grew up in New Zealand, and now live in the UK, maybe I'm targeting the wrong release date!  ;D ;D ;D  (joking, obviously)

It would be interesting to know when King's Quest did eventually become widely available in places like the UK. I'll have to see what I can dig up.

Offline lskovlun

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #11 on: April 02, 2024, 03:49:27 PM »
Well, the Apple II connected to a TV as well and used the same composite color mode for that reason. The colors are even the same (but the order seems different?). Compare and contrast: (PC, second column) (Apple)

Both of those are from Nerdly Pleasures. The full articles are at:

And one more thing: That garish orange color was deliberately left out of the GAL color tables. You can't ask for it, at least not on the PC.
« Last Edit: April 02, 2024, 04:23:46 PM by lskovlun »

Offline lance.ewing

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2024, 02:32:14 AM »
Well, the Apple II connected to a TV as well and used the same composite color mode for that reason. The colors are even the same (but the order seems different?).

Would the Apple II version of King's Quest released in 1984 (I think it was around October) have supported PAL TV systems? I know that there were PAL TV versions of the Apple II machines. I also know that some games for those old 8-bit computers only worked on NTSC or PAL, I'm thinking primarily of the ones that used raster effects in the CBM machines. I would have thought though that the colours themselves would have worked on both systems. I know very little about how the Apple II works, so I'm curious about whether the initial release of KQ for the Apple II worked on the PAL version. My assumption had been yes.
« Last Edit: April 03, 2024, 03:36:23 AM by lance.ewing »

Offline lance.ewing

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #13 on: April 03, 2024, 04:05:09 AM »
I have attached another article, this time from the PCjr Magazine's April 1984 edition (volume 1, number 3). The article is specifically about Sierra On-line and their involvement with developing software for the IBM PCjr. King's Quest obviously features quite prominently in that story, but for whatever reason, they don't seem to have directly mentioned it, even though the release of KQ was only a month away and it had already been mentioned by magazines. That strikes me as a little strange. The article text implies that Ken Williams was interviewed when he still thought that the PCjr was going to be a big success. Take this quote for example:

The cost of developing software for IBM "about took us under," Ken says. But the PCjr is here, and sales of Sierra's programs figure to soar as the public buys IBM's newest baby.

There are other bits in the article where Ken expresses a similar optimism. Interesting that the above quote claims that the "PCjr is here", which would mean that Ken was interviewed for this after it had hit the shelves (Feb/March), and yet he didn't take the opportunity to promote King's Quest. It focuses on pretty much all the other IBM PCjr software that they worked on.

Offline lskovlun

Re: 40 years ago (KQ1/GAL/AGI)
« Reply #14 on: April 03, 2024, 01:39:14 PM »
I don't know about the Apple II and PAL. The one I saw used a monitor, not a TV.

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