King’s Quest would like to tell you a story. It would like you to pull up a chair and listen to a tale of brave knights and loyal friends. It would like to enrapture you with a fairy tale so magical, you might actually believe it to be true.
Of the many games I have seen in action at E3 2015, King’s Quest is the one that planted a smile on my face and kept it there. How could it not? As Creative Director Matt Korba led a live demo of the upcoming episodic adventure game, I was drawn in by the beautiful environments, which are quite literally painted by hand and scanned into the game, lending it a special bedtime-story quality. I was drawn in by the incredible soundtrack–a soundtrack that would have made legendary Looney Tunes composer Carl Stalling happy in the way every onscreen action was accompanied by musical onomatopoeia in the form of colorful staccato woodwind phrases and trombone glissandos. I was drawn in by the indelible voice cast, which includes Wallace Shawn (Vizzini in The Princess Bride), Richard White (Gaston from Disney’s animated film Beauty and the Beast), and the inimitable Christopher Lloyd, who should need no introduction.
“It’s a long story, but I shall tell it briefly,” says the aging King Graham to his granddaughter Gwendolyn, with just enough of a wink to prepare you for the charms to come. King’s Quest is structured as a story of old anew, the kind that the storyteller might embellish upon as the years pass. Indeed, this structure is exemplified in the way you can tell Gwendolyn it’s a story of bravery, or a tale of friendship, regardless of how you play the fable out. (“Do as I say and not as I do,” adults told me as a child, and it seems that philosophy is alive and well.) Once the story begins, however, grandparenting philosophies are temporarily forgotten: a younger Graham, seeking the location of a knightly competition in Daventry, alights from his trusty (and bizarre-looking) steed Triumph and proceeds to fall down a surprisingly lengthy incline, with musical cues emphasizing every bump and roll.
According to Korba, the first chapter’s script alone is about 600 pages long–about the entire length of Grim Fandango’s. Much of that writing and voiceover is committed to flavor narration that occurs when Graham tries to combine inventory objects that can’t be used together, or continues to use environmental objects over and over again. Consider these lines that the older Graham might intone if you try to go west when the game is clearly prodding you to go east.
“After all that graceful rappelling, I was certainly not headed back that way!”
“As I was saying, I followed the road to the east, and headed to the knight tournament.”
“Suddenly, a gust of wind pushed me down the road, and I headed east!”
That same gust of wind also pushes a fallen log into the way, blocking Graham’s attempts to go the wrong way. What a small detail–and yet, what I saw during the demo proved that King’s Quest thrives on these details. And when every line is so cleverly written and so charmingly performed, how can you not be taken in?
Later comes a moment when Graham blows into what appears to be a summoning horn. What might the gangly, good-natured knight-in-training say if you continually interact with it?
“That large horn seemed to be missing some sort of mouthpiece.”
“The horn was broken, but that didn’t stop me from blowing on it.”
“Realizing a lot of people probably put their mouths on that horn, I was disgusted. I slowly backed away and never blew that horn again.”
The sequence next shown off in the demo , but even so, I was enchanted by details I had either missed or forgotten. The group of guards barring the way to the tournament entrance, for instance, squabbled over how one of them might be mistaken for another–in spite of each guard looking like a clone of the others. I also fell in love with the way the mirror that figured so prominently in the original King’s Quest is used as your inventory interface. The sequence ended when Graham, having successfully built a raft and crossed the nearby river, befriended a squat knight named Manny, who is voiced by the ever-personable Wallace Shawn. Graham is so excited to have found an ally that he bounces around Manny, excitedly saying, “What’s your favorite color?! Do you like popcorn-flavored jellybeans?! What’s your availability for sleepovers?! Are we in a secret club?!” And wouldn’t you know, Manny actually answers Graham’s questions.
Korba says there are a lot of story branches in the game, but that King’s Quest keeps its signaling of the various paths subtle. (I took this to mean that this is not a Telltale Game, and thus, the decisions you make will not be pointed out and dramatized at every turn.) The final section of the demo showed us such a decision being made when Graham attempted to cross a bridge, only to discover that the bridge was actually the back of a gruesome giant troll. “Hasn’t anyone told you it’s not polite to go stomping around on people’s backs,” says the troll, prompting Graham to consider a number of ways he could respond.
You can threaten the troll. You can try playing nice. Or, you can try tricking him, which leads to yet another delightful scene, which follows when you tell the troll that you, too, are a bridge troll. “You’re pretty ugly for a troll,” says the beast, after giving you a good sniff, at which point he invites you to participate in the secret dance of the bridge troll guild. The dance is quite something to behold, and you must keep pace by pressing buttons in the proper order. (I suppose if King’s Quest is to have quick-time events, that a crazy troll dance is at least a good use of them.) The troll is impressed by your moves, and as well he should be: Graham has all the awkward grace of any proper troll.
The demo was then over, and I was left feeling saddened, because, well, the demo was over. I was ready to see more. I was ready to be part of this world, and hear these stories. I was ready to blow more broken horns and dance with more trolls. I’m happy to say that the first installment of King’s Quest, A Knight to Remember, is due out in late July. Perhaps if I gaze into my magic mirror, however, I might find some kind of spell that brings this vibrant game to us even earlier. If magic truly exists, surely that would be a good use of it.