Gwydion and Manannan in the dining room. Input text: "feed guy"

Line On Sierra: King’s Quest III, Part 1

July 3, 2013 - Line On Sierra / Shenanigans

After a diversion into Space Quest, my chronological journey through Sierra’s Quest games returns to the flagship series. King’s Quest III is unusual among the games in this project because I’d actually played a version of it fairly recently. Namely, this elaborate fan remake by Infamous Adventures. The remake was an impressive undertaking, rendering the game in an updated graphical style and with an interface that matches the later, mouse-driven Sierra games. I played it a few years ago; don’t remember how far I got, but far enough that when I started playing the original it felt like I was treading familiar ground. This killed my motivation a bit, contributing to this record-breaking gap between LoS posts.

When I finally got back to it, though, I ended up enjoying it way more than I expected. King’s Quest III picks up on the narrative smoothness of Space Quest I and tries quite a few new things of its own. It’s the first of these games I’d recommend anyone play for anything other than historical reasons.

A small, Gothic-looking blue house on top of a rocky mountain. There's a chicken hutch and some chickens next to it. Gwydion, the main character, stands in between them looking over the landscape.

When we last left this series, King Graham had traveled the purple sea on the back of a giant fish to find a Queen for his tiny kingdom of quaint murderbeasts. This entry starts out on a slightly more mundane note. A young man and his tiny house / giant chicken hutch, gazing longingly at a world map. This guy might look exactly like Graham with a slight palette swap, but no! He’s someone named Gwydion!
Gwydion standing outside the house, facing Manannan, a tall wizard in black and red robes, a large white beard, and a pointed black hat. Game text reads: "Oh, oh! Gwydion rushes to his side, afraid he may be in trouble. 'Why are you not WORKING, boy?' the wizard sneers. Gwydion mumbles a faint reply. 'The kitchen floor is FILTHY!' Manannan grumbles. 'Go sweep it. NOW!!' Turning on his heel, the wizard re-enters the house, slamming the door behind him."

As the game informs us with a gigantic exposition dump! “In this tiny kingdom, it seems the word ‘said’ is forbidden,” I smirk. This might seem a little information-heavy for the pre-tutorial days, but no worries, the manual has PAGES more of this stuff. The gist is: the sexy beardo is Manannan, your standard evil wizard who dominates the pixel landscape down below. Gwydion is the latest in a series of orphan boys he kidnaps to clean his house, because the demon house-cleaners he summoned didn’t work out.

Gwydion’s life is therefore your basic Misunderstood Magic Boy Melodrama. The game sketches this sad business out with some genuinely nice little details.Gwydion stands in a medieval-looking kitchen with a large stone fireplace. A close-up image of a blue bowl is visible in the foreground. Game text reads: "The clay bowl has been your favorite bowl for years."

Poor Gwydion!

At the start of the game, I spent some time wandering around picking up everything in sight, as you do. Then Manannan showed up, declared he was leaving on a trip, and poofed away. This awakened a dim memory from my playthrough of the remake. I figured it was my cue to escape the tiny house and wander around the countryside.

Gwydion walks down a twisting, narrow mountain path.

This brought me to the treacherous mountain path you see here. Against all logic and human kindness, this kind of thing continues to be a staple in Sierra adventures. As an added bonus, this is a path you will traverse like one billion times over the course of this game. People on twitter kept warning me about this one in particular. It seems to have had a traumatizing effect on its young players. That said, my first time through, I made it through this whole screen without a slip, and I was pretty pleased with myself.

Gwydion stands feet away from the base of the mountain path, facing the viewer.

I made it all the way to the end, even! “This is no way as hard as everyone said,” I ruminated. “I bet I can just jump down this last bit here here!”

Same as previous, but Gwydion is falling headfirst into a ravine.

HUBRIS

Gwydion standing in an old-timey tavern, facing the bar. Game text reads: "The barmaid retorts, 'Go on, ya deadbeat. Drinks cost money, ya know!'"

After a couple more ruined savegames, I made it to the world below, where I embraced life as only a sheltered orphan can. Note the barmaid’s adherence to local language regulations. The world outside offered the usual adventures I’ve grown to expect from a King’s Quest title: picking up different-colored lumps on the ground, drowning in an infinite ocean, being eaten. The difference is that I’m on a timer I don’t know the length of. I assume, and vaguely remember, that when Manannan returns from his trip he will completely kill me for being out of the house. But when will he return?

Now generally, I’m not a fan of timers in adventure games. I just had a pretty unpleasant encounter with one in Space Quest I, in fact. Adventure puzzles are all about staring at some crap that makes no sense until it suddenly makes sense. By nature, it’s a process that will take wildly different lengths of time for different players in different contexts. You also can’t gradually improve your speed with practice: once you get it, you can perform it instantly every time in the future. Adding an arbitrary time limit to all that is just punishment for punishment’s sake. But! It kinda worked in King’s Quest III. The difference is that there’s a repeated cycle of Manannan leaving and coming back. Instead of getting everything perfect or instadeath, you’re testing the limits of how much you can get done before running back each time. It’s adding tension, not a hard barrier.

Gwydion stands outside by a waterfall. There are lots of trees and rocks at various depths of field, and a stream runs off into the distance. The waterfall is in the extreme foreground and has a complicated blue-and-white texture. Game text reads: "LOOK WHO GOT FANCY"

Out in the world, I had a chance to check out the latest graphical improvements. When I played Space Quest I noted a marked increase in layered spaces and objects being somewhat in proportion to each other. KQ3 isn’t quite as nice-looking as Space Quest – look no further than the chicken-hutch-sized mansion below – but there are clear attempts to spruce up the visuals of the world. This waterfall, for example, has some nice water animations going on. This whole scene has also gone six kinds of off the wall with the layered space concept. Where is this camera even placed? Listen, maybe we should move on. Manannan could be returning ANY MINUTE.

Gwydion outside the house. He is standing by the chicken yard and feeding the chickens.

In my paranoia, I returned home rather more quickly than I needed to. I nervously fed chickens, expecting my master to come home any minute. His continued absence made me bolder, and I started to explore the house more. This led me to a secret basement room full of secret magic crap. At last, a chance to start some shit! I stole everything I could find and started fiddling with the giant spellbook in the middle of the room. This went poorly.

Gwydion stands in a stone basement. Large stone stairs lead down to it. The walls are lined with shelves containing lots of beakers and jars. There is a red desk in one corner. In the foreground is a wide table with a large book on it and alchemical tools scattered around. Gwydion stands by the table. He has very large ears and looks surprised. Game text reads: "You're all ears now, Gwydion!"

I guess having big ears kills me for some reason? Actually, it kind of looks like my entire face turned into a hideously extended ear-like orifice, so maybe that’s the problem. Anyway, I died. It took me a while to figure out how to even interact with the book. I got as far as opening it to random pages and staring in horror as unsettling comic death approached me. I finally consulted a walkthrough and learned the terrible truth: I was going to have to read the fucking manual.

A yellowish page from the game manual, which shows a spell for "Understanding the Language of Creatures." There is an ingredients list including things like "tuft of fur", "dried reptile skin", and "thimbleful of dew." This is followed by a list of ten directions for combining the ingredients. This is all written in a mock-handwritten font. There are hand-drawn check marks next to two of the ingredients.

Why yes, the era of creative copy protection is upon us! This is one of the things I most associate with Sierra games as a kid. To prevent piracy, they always included some kind of test based on a physical manual or other “feely.” Most were basic “type in the fifth word on the page 12 of the manual” type of things. Some were a bit fancier. My favorite as a kid was from The Colonel’s Bequest,  where you had to match a displayed fingerprint to the right character using a little “magnifying glass” made of paper and transparent red plastic.

But KQ3 is in another league entirely. Not only is there an entire spellbook in the manual whose details are required for every major puzzle in the game, but you have to TYPE ALL THIS SHIT IN VERBATIM. Also note the hard-to-photocopy blue and yellow color scheme. They ain’t foolin around. There are seven spells altogether, all of similar complexity to this one. Each has a list of ingredients that you gather through usual adventure-puzzle means, and a list of directions that you need to type in after activating the spellbook. Unlocking these spells opens up new parts of the game.

There is an interesting consequence to this design choice. Unlike most Sierra adventures, you actually have a list of all the random shit you need to gather, and an in-game reason for your character to gather it. The basic structure of “pick up stuff and bang it together” is still there, but now there’s an explanation for it. You can also intentionally seek things out: like, where would I find a reptile skin? Maybe the desert! This is all so sensible that I dread returning to the classic “inventory fuckaround” model in the next game.

I screwed around for a bit, but wasn’t able to make any spells with my paltry inventory. Whoops! When Manannan finally came home, he asked me to feed him dinner. I tried my best, but the parser defeated my attempts to SERVE MUTTON until he got mad and turned me into a snail.

A small snail crawls across the floor of the hallway, which has stairs leading up and downstairs. A cat walks by behind it, on the stairs.

Oh shit! Unlike having big ears, being a snail apparently doesn’t kill me. Even though I kept very slowly hassling the cat. After a while I went back to normal and got back to stealing stuff around the house. An important part of this game is that you need to hide all your stuff under your bed periodically, because Manannan will for real kill you if he catches you with it. In a game where your goal is to gather tons of stuff, needing to sneak it away all the time can get pretty frustrating.

Two panel view of Gwydion in his small, bare bedroom, standing next to a spare-looking bed. First panel input text: "put shit under bed". Second panel game text: "Obviously, you were raised by a naughty wizard!"

At this point in the game I was pretty drunk and decided to take a break for like a month.

Gwydion walks down the hall outside his bedroom. Input text reads: 'sigh'

When I came back I settled into the game’s regular routine of hiding shit under my bed, doing chores, stealing things, and waiting for Manannan to leave. It was a slow life. He hangs around for a long time! Sometimes he’d yell at me to do something, and I’d go sweep the kitchen or feed the chickens or whatever. Sometimes he would punish me for following him around.

Manannan stands in his bedroom, which has a large pink rug, a pink four-poster bed, and pink fabric hanging from the ceiling. There are several nice-looking pieces of furniture, including a vanity, a cupboard, and a dresser. Colorful tapestries hang from the walls. Manannan's arms are out in a spellcasting pose. Gwydion is not visible. Game text reads: "Manannan leers, 'Like a bad little boy, you need to spend some time in your room!'"

This was the point where I started to get kind of weird about Manannan.

Gwydion walks through the dining room. Manannan is standing behind him in the doorway. Game text reads: "You feel Manannan's cold gaze is quite unnerving."

I mean, I’m stuck in this static environment for an unknown period of time. I’ve stolen all the stuff I can steal. There’s only one object here that can be interacted with meaningfully, and he keeps doing weird things to me when I get near him. When I avoid him, he sometimes appears behind me in a puff of smoke and just stares. The whole thing started to feel kind of, you know, hot.

Gwydion stands alone in the middle of Manannan's bedroom. Input text reads: "when will manannas-senpai notice me"

Gwydion walks into Mannanan's office, where he is working at his desk. Game text reads: "You aren't to be in this room without my express permission!' Manannan says gruffly. 'Go find something to do.'"

When he wasn’t staring at me, Manannan spent a lot of time in his study, which I was forbidden to enter. So I spent the entire time he was at home entering his study over and over. When I did this he would usually give me some chore, which would kill time and also give me some space to think about what he was up to.

Manannan's bedroom. Gwydion stands by a chamberpot next to the bed. Input text reads: "this isn't sexy at all"

Except when I had to empty his chamberpot. Not my thing, Manannan. We should talk about this stuff ahead of time.

Manannan's bedroom. Gwydion stands by Mannanan's bed as he sleeps. Input text: "watch manannon sleep"

Barging into his study wasn’t getting me enough attention, though. To do that, I soon found, I had to disturb him while he was sleeping. MAYBE I could have spent this time working on my magic, but no, it was too tempting to see what he would do to me when he woke up.

Gwydion hanging upside-down by his feet from the rafters in the kitchen. His face is dark red, his mouth is wide open, and his arms are flailing around.

For example: hang me from the kitchen ceiling in the manner of a bunch of garlic.

Eventually Manannan left again, and I burst out into the world with all the pent-up frustration I could muster. In a few jumps down to the countryside and back to the Secret Magic Basement, I quickly learned how to transform into both a fly and an eagle.

Gwydion as an eagle, flying over an empty desert.

I immediately used this newfound power to fly out across a desert and die. It’s weird to get access to all these hugely powerful spells which you know will only be used for one purpose at a specific point in time.

Four panel view of Gwydion outside near some trees. Over the four panels he turns around and walks towards the desert on the edge of the screen. Panel 1 input text: "YOU ARE SO FULL OF SHIT, PARSER". Panel 2 input text: "I'M GO OUT IN THE DESERT AND DIE". Panel 3 input text: "FOR ALL YOU CARE." Panel 4 game text: "What's a CARE?"

Another weird thing about the structure of this game: while I appreciated having clear goals in my quest for random crap, it also led to a lot of frustration when things appeared that logically should provide said random crap, but didn’t. I chased these damn birds around for ages looking for a feather, but none of them panned out. The parser even started being kind of a dick about it. Turns out I was supposed to pluck the feather off one of the chickens. Why not just specify “chicken feather”? Dicks. Anyway, the chicken feather gave me a spell that lets me hear what animals are saying. For example: Manannan’s cat plotting my murder.

Gwydion falling down the basement stairs while the cat stands nearby. Game text reads: "'You look might funny falling down those stairs, Gwydion,' he snickers."

(“Even the mewlings of cats must not be sullied by the foul word ‘says’,” I thunder.)

Gwydion outside by a waterfall. There are two squirrels in the foreground. Game text reads: "'He's really a prince. His parents are King Graham and Queen Valanice of Daventry,' supplies the first."

But all the other animals in the kingdom just talk about my backstory.

Gwydion outside by a waterfall. Two blue birds are in the foreground. Game text reads: "You listen with great interest as one little bird chirps to the other, 'Notice that boy down there? He's got a sister he doesn't even know. A TWIN sister.'"

MY RIDICULOUS BACKSTORY. WHICH IS VERY RELEVANT TO THE LIVES OF SQUIRRELS.

Yeah, so, spoiler alert, I’m a SECRET PRINCE! As are all mistreated orphans! I’m also related to those scattered pixels from the earlier games! And my mom’s name is Valanice? I’m not sure we even learned her name in the last game. I guess transitioning from Damsel in Tower to Mother of Stolen Baby comes with some perks.

Also: I love the embellishment of her being, not a mere sister, but a TWIN sister. So fancy! I’m starting to feel a little suspicious of the animals of Llewdor, to be honest. Every time I enter a room they start talking real loud about how I’m some kid who’s been missing since he was an infant? Who’s heir to a large fortune? I bet they ate the real prince.

Being lied to by birds wasn’t actually useful to my quest, it turns out. But it provided some irritating color as I wandered around gathering ingredients for other spells. The most significant of those was a spell to turn someone into a cat. It was pretty clear from the incredible silliness of the other spells that this was my only way to defeat Manannan for good. It also made me wonder who Murder Cat was in a past life. Maybe a lover Manannan grew tired of, now consumed by jealousy watching my incessant flirtation? I kept expecting to learn something about the cat’s history, but no luck. I think Roberta Williams maybe just doesn’t like cats.

Close-up of a yellowed spell book. Input text reads: "Mandrake root and hair of cat, Oil of fish and give a pat, A feline from the one who eats, This appetizing magic treat"

In addition to the list of ingredients, all the spells in the game require you to type in a terrible incantation. Not only is this deeply embarrassing, it also provides one last level of difficulty. Even so much as missing a comma can lead to hideous death…

Gwydion sitting on the floor of the basement. He has cat ears and a tail. He's adorable!

WAIT NO, I’M A KITTY! Why does this kill me?! Fuck that, I will totally live life as a little kitty-orphan hybrid! Look how cute I am! I wanna go find Manannan and rub up against his leg until he kicks me!

But no, that life is not to be. For I am fated to destroy that which I love most. To seek out my destiny that some squirrels made up, I must symbolically kill the father figure that ties me to this house where I grew up. By feeding him with the knowledge he tried to keep from me all these years, I will render him harmless. All I need to do is just.. give him this cookie…

Gwydion and Manannan in the dining room. Game text: "What's a mannanon?"

It is a particularly cruel thing to give everyone lousy fantasy names in a game based on typing words exactly. Let’s try that again.

Gwydion and Manannan in the dining room. Input text: "feed guy"

Gwydion and a black cat in the dining room. Game text reads: "Congratulations! Manannan will never again enslave you or the people of Llewdor! At last, you are free!"

And with that, it is done. But not really! I kind of expected the game to be over now, or close to it, but no. There’s a whole second act to come. Like Space Quest, this game does more than previous installments to divide up the time into meaningful subquests. I’ll talk a bit more about that structure in Part II. For now, enjoy this bittersweet moment between Gwydion the Fake Prince and Manannan the Adorable Kitty.

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Comments

  1. muteKi says:

    A collection of magical spells
    In a gamebook that subtly foretells
    That a mage with black hat
    Shall be turned to a cat
    Well, assuming that you don’t misspell…

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