GAMING GREATS: Space Quest I (1986)

Johnny Potoky blasts into the cosmos to revisit an old Amiga and Atari favourite. 

Who made it?: Sierra On-Line (Developer/Publisher).

Platform: DOS, Macintosh, Apple II, Apple IIGS, Amiga, Atari ST.

Format: Floppy disc.

Released: October 1986.

If you’re a fan of sci-fi, Star Trek, Star Wars, or hell, any classic space or horror flick, you’ll enjoy the Space Quest games. Space Quest was one of the classic series that made Sierra On-Line a powerhouse in the 80s and early 90s.  The game was created as a parody of Trek and Wars, and to me, it basically took the Red Shirt who usually dies and made him the hero. The series was chock-full of not only sci-fi lore, but had tons of hilarious dialogue and pop-culture references. The games didn’t take themselves seriously, and in some sequels, the characters even reference that they’re in a game. The saga was created by Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy, who referred to themselves as “Two Guys From Andromeda.” They created the story and the somewhat ill-fated Red Shirt, Roger Wilco, who is one of gaming’s most unlikely protagonists.

Released in October, 1986, Space Quest: Chapter I – The Sarien Encounter, to use its full title, was the first instalment of a series that would have surprising longevity. Unlike many other games, the main character is never actually named in the initial story; you are asked to enter one at the start. The default moniker shown is Roger Wilco, but the player can be whoever he or she desires. This was not allowed in the series starting with Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon, as Mr. Wilco became the ironclad face of the franchise.

The game begins as the ship “Roger” is aboard is attacked. We quickly learn that our hero isn’t the Captain or even a security person, he’s the bloody janitor, and at the time of the attack, he was sleeping in a broom closet! It turns out that the ship was targeted by the Sariens who want to get their hands on the “Star Generator”, basically a rip-off of the Genesis device from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. With the help of a keycard you find on a dead body, you’re able to escape the ill-fated vessel and crashland on a nearby planet.

After emerging from the escape pod, you find yourself on a desert planet that is eerily similar to Tatooine from Star Wars. As you are trying to find your way off the barren rock, you meet an alien that offers to help, but only if you slay a massive beast. After vanquishing said beast, you are rewarded with a “Skimmer”, a vehicle that hovers slightly above the sand (Landspeeder?). The alien also points you in the direction of a town that may help your situation. 

You eventually make it to the township, but don’t have enough money for your exodus. Luckily, in the local bar, there is a slot machine to help you win enough money to finally leave. After bagging enough cash, you overhear the coordinates of the Sarien ship. Naturally, wanting some revenge, you head to their vessel to destroy it. But why would I want to spoil anymore than I already have?

The game is fun throughout, and even though the the graphics are nowhere near the quality people are used to these days, the story and character interactions keep you going. Plus, it’s nice to play the underdog who saves the universe, isn’t it? The visuals back in 1986 weren’t considered stellar, after all, which meant that the story had to be great, and Space Quest I lives up to this requirement in 2017. The game was made with Sierra’s own AGI engine, and while not in 3D, it allowed the player’s character to pass behind objects and give the illusion of three-dimensions. The game was in a decent (for the time) 160X200 resolution, displaying an amazing range of sixteen EGA colours! Audio-wise, soundcards hadn’t been invented yet, so all the effects came from the internal PC speaker. If you’re like me and love the soundscape of old games, you will be in heaven. Don’t fret about the presentation, though, because in 1991, the game was re-released using Sierra’s then state-of-the-art SCI language, allowing it to be remade in eye-poppingly lifelike VGA graphics, with soundcard support and even a mouse interface.

Even by today’s standards, I find the first chapter and its sequels extremely fun, but with a qualifier, as you most definitely need to be in the mood for a text/mouse-controlled adventure game. They are witty and creative, and it’s sad that the touted Space Quest 7 was never made to continue the saga even longer. Hopefully someday, the brand will make an official return. I highly recommend the original five games, though, and you can find them for cheap all over the place, from www.gog.com to the Steam client. Sci-fi gaming nerds should give them a look, you won’t be sorry…

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • It quickly became a hit, selling in excess of 100,000 copies. Total sales are believed to be around 200,000 to date, not including the many compilations it has been included in.
  • A precursor of this game is the interactive fiction game Planetfall, created by Infocom, whose player-character is a lowly “Ensign Seventh Class” who does the lowest form of labour aboard a spaceship, and who appears on the cover with a mop. Just as King’s Quest adapted the text-adventure puzzle games set in a medieval world to a visual display, Space Quest did the same for the space puzzle game.
  • As a form of copy protection, coordinates in the VGA version of the game while in the escape pod as well as the rocket purchased at Tiny’s Used Spaceships are only found in the manual. Also, the code for retrieving the cartridge aboard the Arcada can only be found in the manual. The AGI version had key disc protection where the user was required to insert the original game floppy on startup.
  • Along with King’s Quest III, Space Quest was the first Sierra game to feature pull-down menus, be hard disc installable, and not require a specially formatted save disc (except the Apple II version).

Johnny Potoky

Chicago-born podcaster and raconteur. Co-host of SquabbleBox's It Came from Across the Pond and Jedi Funtime. Also co-host of Getting Back to Gotham and Attack of the B-Movie Podcast.

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