Author Topic: Ken and Roberta's old Oakhurst house available to book on booking.com  (Read 687 times)

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Offline lance.ewing

I'm feeling a bit "Can this possibly be true?" at the moment, but seems that it is. I discovered through searching a bit online today that the house that Ken and Roberta Williams built in 1982/3 (construction is shown in the 1982 video on their Colossal Cave youtube channel), and where they lived at during the golden years of AGI and SCI game development, is currently available to book on booking.com, for those who can afford the nightly rate:

https://www.booking.com/hotel/us/new-goldside-mansion-wsleeping-for-29-and-tons-of-fun.html#tab-main

It sleeps 20. Makes it a lot more affordable for a bigger group then.

I'm not sure I'm going to be in California any time soon, but it is on my TODO list to visit Oakhurst and see all the old Sierra office buildings at some point over the next decade. I just hope that it will still be available to book at that time, as it would be an amazing experience to stay there whilst visiting Oakhurst.

Anyone up for a 40th anniversary party based there on the 10th May 2024 (KQ1 anniversary)?  :D

Only half kidding, but in complete seriousness, it seems like an opportunity for some kind of AGI/SCI/Sierra fan convention, tied in to a relevant anniversary. Who knows how long it is going to be available for. I had seen a few years ago that the house was sold for $1000000 (which honestly seems less than I thought it would go for), but being able to book a few nights for a much smaller fraction of that seems like an opportunity not to miss.

I love the "Dark Crystal" stained glass windows either side of the front door. There could be all kinds of Sierra related references in various parts of the property. I only just started studying some of the photos I've been finding online, from some of the websites that had the house advertised for sale back in 2019/20, and this booking.com page has even more photos to look at. Seems like I'll be distracted from AGILE for a while...



Offline lance.ewing

Re: Ken and Roberta's old Oakhurst house available to book on booking.com
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2024, 11:06:34 AM »
Lots of interesting comments in the following reddit from Ken Williams himself, specifically about the house:

https://www.reddit.com/r/Sierra/comments/k0rn19/take_a_3d_tour_of_the_ken_and_roberta_williams/

...and an interesting memory of Scott Murphy nearly drowning in the river behind the house.

I thought I'd pick out a few of the relevant comments from Ken and paste them below:

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We had another couple living at the house to take care of the kids and animals. Both Roberta and I were working virtually nonstop at the time.

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It has been a VERY long time, so I don't remember as much as I should. It was on 5 acres of land with a river behind it. There are some fun memories from the house. We had a housewarming party and 800 people showed up! It was everyone in the industry I think. One very scary memory. Scott Murphy (one of the two guys from Andromeda) and I decided to try white water rafting the river behind the house one day. It ran all the way to the town of Oakhurst, about six miles. In some places the river was almost dry and in some places it was really ripping. We weren't very bright and used plain old swimming pool plastic rafts. At one point the river suddenly went underground, entering between big boulders. Somehow Scott didn't see it coming and got caught between his raft and the rocks with the water pressure pushing him under. I thought for sure he would drown, and it really was close.

Anyway .. the house really is nicer now than when we lived there. Whoever owns it now invested heavily in fixing it up. It looks beautiful!

I have a digital scan of the invite for the house warming party that Ken refers to. I'll attach that in a later post, together with some recollections of the event that I found from various sources. Given "everyone in the industry" was at the party, a few shared their experience in various publications.

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(Q: Did you build the old west-themed 'town' on the property?)

Nope -- the most recent owners added that.

Another strange story... When we sold the house, it was bought by a family who (according to rumor) had won money on a game show. The new owners were addicted to television and put a television in every room. We heard they couldn't afford the place and wound up letting it get completely run down. It was apparently a disaster when the current owners bought it.

Anyway .. the current owners obviously loved the place and invested a huge amount of time and money. I'm sure they must be losing a fortune on it.

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Agreed! We moved away from that house LONG ago... It has gone through a couple of other owners since we lived there. We built a much more practical house (MUCH smaller) on the water at Bass Lake. (check out page 67 in my book to see the Bass Lake house...)

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Grin -- I loved the house and Roberta hated it. We had several company parties in the big game room/bar/dance floor upstairs. I played a lot of wallyball and racquetball in the court. And, we had lots of videogame machines, and a very nice hot tub. But .. it was too big, and very impractical. We were happy when it sold...

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(Q: Was that the infamous hot tub? You know the one I'm talking about...)

No - "that" hot tub was at our house on Mudge Ranch Road (in Coarsegold). It was the first house we moved to when we moved from LA to Oakhurst. We bought it (didn't build it) and only lived there a year or two before it burnt to the ground. After that we rented a house for a year (or two) while building the big house on the river.

I know I'm posting this for Sierra fans, so most of you will know what hot tub is being referred to, but for those who don't, it is from the magazine advert that Sierra ran for their Softporn Adventure game that Chuck Benton wrote, and that Leisure Suit Larry took inspiration from. The advert had a photo of Roberta and two other Sierra ladies in a hot tub.

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(Q: It is the infamous basketball court with the apple logo on it) - We called it the "Wallyball" court. We used to have people over a few nights a week to play indoor volleyball.

I think those are all the bits relevant to the house itself. Amazing to have such great comments from Ken regarding it. I'd heard of the "Wallyball" court previously, from a couple of other references to the house, which I might post on this thread a bit later on (once I did them up again).

Offline Collector

Re: Ken and Roberta's old Oakhurst house available to book on booking.com
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2024, 05:30:06 PM »
There does seem to be a couple of different reunions people are trying to setup. One in the Oakhurst area for former Sierra employees and one in Tacoma, Wa. more for the fans. Supposedly the Tacoma one will have Ken & Roberta, Al Lowe, Jane Jensen & Robert Holmes, Lorelei Shannon, Lori & Corey Cole and Ken Allen. No idea if both will happen or not. I don't see myself making it to the other side of the country for this, much as I might like to go.
KQII Remake Pic

Offline lance.ewing

Re: Ken and Roberta's old Oakhurst house available to book on booking.com
« Reply #3 on: February 29, 2024, 06:49:14 AM »
That's interesting. Who is trying to set up the one in Oakhurst for former employees? Is it a former employee? I assume that fans probably wouldn't be included in that one.

Offline lance.ewing

Re: Ken and Roberta's old Oakhurst house available to book on booking.com
« Reply #4 on: February 29, 2024, 07:11:29 AM »
For those with a time machine, or who might build one in the future, attached is a scan of the original invite for Ken & Roberta's house warming party on the 3rd September 1983, i.e. the one that Ken mentioned as having about 800 people attending. It should get you through the gate, and with the crowd size, it should be easy enough to blend in.

I've been thinking that a fan made game based on that plot and this event might be quite interesting. The photos available online provide enough detail to get the outside and inside layout, and guesses could be made as to how it might have looked in those days. The rooms and outside scenes would need to be populated with crowds of people, to cover the 800 who apparently attended. Not sure what the puzzles would look like though. Hmmm, maybe to secretly obtain a copy of the top secret King's Quest PC JR game, an early buggy version of which might be held in a safe within one of the rooms. At the time of this party, the KQ project was apparently well behind schedule (according to the Hackers book published in 1984), so it wouldn't be the complete game. The KQ developers were probably all at this party, even Arthur Abraham, as he didn't leave Sierra until a couple of months after that.

Edit: Or perhaps the goal would be to somehow obtain a keycard or whatever they used from a KQ dev whilst at the party, so that you can then sneak out to the secure KQ office location whilst everyone else is otherwise distracted by attendance at the party, gain entry, and once inside, fix some historical known KQ bug that existed in the original release.
« Last Edit: February 29, 2024, 07:43:01 AM by lance.ewing »

Offline Collector

Re: Ken and Roberta's old Oakhurst house available to book on booking.com
« Reply #5 on: February 29, 2024, 08:12:36 AM »
That's interesting. Who is trying to set up the one in Oakhurst for former employees? Is it a former employee? I assume that fans probably wouldn't be included in that one.

Mainly Steve Conrad and William Shockley.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/54741862568/posts/10160127287297569/

And the other one at the Tacoma Adventure Game Fan Fair, which has caught the attention of a few Dynamix people.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/54741862568?multi_permalinks=10160384899987569/

KQII Remake Pic

Offline lance.ewing

Re: Ken and Roberta's old Oakhurst house available to book on booking.com
« Reply #6 on: February 29, 2024, 12:05:05 PM »
It seems that Ken Williams' memory is a little rusty with regards to the number of people who attended the house warming, but that isn't surprising with it being such a long time ago. Ken said 800 on reddit, but the following account of the house warming, published in the 1984 Steven Levy "Hackers" book, puts the number at around 200, so is more likely to be closer to the real number:

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Ken and Roberta Williams held the housewarming party on Labor Day weekend, 1983. Over two hundred people wandered through the ten-thousand-square-foot cedarwood house, admired the stained-glass pictures, marveled at the fireplace of river rock, participated in a tournament on the racquetball court (which had a full color Apple Computer logo embedded in the gleaming wood), sweated in the sauna, relaxed in the hot tub, played tug-of-war in the backyard Fresno River, spiked volleyballs on the court, watched video piped in from the satellite dish outside, laughed at the comedy troupe flown in from San Francisco, and played the six coin-op arcade games in the giant game room with the full-length wet bar. It was a bittersweet occasion. Between the competition from big-money newcomers, the slump in the economy, the huge capital outlay for ROM cartridges fitting low-end machines like the VIC-20 (outlays which would never be recouped), and Sierra On-Line's lack of a new, innovative, Third Generation hacker-coded hit, the company was headed for a year with revenues lower than the previous year. Ken had been forced to seek more venture capital, three million dollars of it. A half million had gone directly to him, considerably less than the cost of the new house.

...

Ken Williams was still having programmer problems, too. There was the hacker who was running the IBM project, far behind schedule. There were some of the "professional" programmers who, not familiar with the pleasures of immersion into a computer-game universe, were unable to synthesize those pleasures themselves. There was even a dispute with Bob and Carolyn Box: the two gold panners-tumed-programmers had rejected Ken's criticisms of the game they showed him, and had left the company to be independent software authors.

And then there was John Harris. Lately, he and Ken had been feuding over a royalty disagreement on Frogger, still On-Line's bestselling program. Parker Brothers wanted to buy the program to convert to cartridge, and Ken offered John 20 percent of the two-hundred-thousand-dollar buy-out. To John that was not enough. They discussed it in Ken's office. It had ended with Ken Williams looking at his former software superstar and saying, "Get out of my office, John Harris. You're wasting my time."

That was the last time they had spoken before the housewarming, to which Ken had not invited John. Nonetheless, Harris had showed up with his girlfriend, who was wearing a large diamond engagement ring he had given her. Ken greeted the hacker cordially. It was not a day for animosity, it was a day for celebration. Ken and Roberta Williams had their new, eight-hundred-thousand-dollar house, and no dark clouds hung over the Sierras, at least. The computer had delivered them all to riches and fame they had never dared dream of, and as dusk peeked over Mount Dead-wood, Ken Williams, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, danced happily to the tunes of a bluegrass band he had shipped in from Southern California. Later on, just as he always dreamed, he sat in the hot tub with friends, a millionaire in his twenties with a hot tub in the mountains. As the friends sat in the hot tub, their arms ringing the side, they could hear the faint electronic sounds of the arcade games in the nearby game room, mingling incongruously with the rustling Sierra forest.

Photos of the Dark Crystal stained glass windows, and the Apple logo in the racquetball court, are attached.

Offline lance.ewing

Re: Ken and Roberta's old Oakhurst house available to book on booking.com
« Reply #7 on: March 01, 2024, 12:21:05 PM »
Or perhaps the goal would be to somehow obtain a keycard or whatever they used from a KQ dev whilst at the party, so that you can then sneak out to the secure KQ office location whilst everyone else is otherwise distracted by attendance at the party, gain entry, and once inside, fix some historical known KQ bug that existed in the original release.

In another thread, I was reminded of that infamous reverse alphabet puzzle in the original KQ release. Perhaps the "bug" to fix could be to make the puzzle easier  :)

Offline lance.ewing

Re: Ken and Roberta's old Oakhurst house available to book on booking.com
« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2024, 02:08:16 AM »
Here is another description of Ken and Roberta's house from the occasion of Sierra On-Line's 4th year anniversary party, which was held at their house in May 1984. This text comes from the book "Software People: Inside the Computer Business" by Douglas G. Carlston (President Broderbund Software), published in 1985:

https://archive.org/details/SoftwarePeopleDougCarlston/page/n179/mode/2up

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No longer living in a cabin, they now own an enormous new home, and when I visited them in May 1984, on the occasion of On-Line's fourth anniversary, I found out that their home is as much a living fantasy as is their business empire.

The house is a 10,000-square-foot palatial country estate, situated on five and a half acres in a crook of the Fresno River, about a half hour's drive from the southern entrance to Yosemite. The house is built around a huge central room, an oversize racquetball court. Outside, acres of lush green lawn are watered twice a day by an automatic sprinkler system. An automatic security camera guards the gate, and the driveway is always filled with their favorite toys-cars, jeeps, pickups, snowmobiles, boats on trailers.

In many ways, the house is still an embodiment of Ken and Roberta's old fantasy of running a software empire in the countryside. Flanking the carved front door are stained-glass images of the fantastic characters from The Dark Crystal. The kitchen is filled with automatic devices-toasters that pop out of the wall, food processors that emerge from the counter. A mammoth playroom above the racquetball court sports a huge wetbar across one end of the room and arcade video game machines lining two entire walls. Most of the rooms are beautifully rustic, with rough-cut beams, spiral staircases, and large stone fireplaces all over the place.

Ken and Roberta want it all, and they want at least some of it right now. They are able to live the style they live because they were able to persuade their investors to buy more than half a million dollars' worth of "old stock" in On-Line, which means that part of the invested funds went straight to Ken and Roberta rather than into the company. It's not likely that having the house of their dreams will dull their competitive urges, however. Ken and Roberta have always wanted more, and I imagine that they always will.

That's another interesting point to pick up on: Sierra On-Line's anniversary date was also in May. King's Quest would have therefore been released around the same time as the company's 4th year anniversary.


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