Line on Sierra: Quest for Glory I, Part 2
March 19, 2018 - Line On Sierra
Last time in Quest for Glory, the brave thief Hamburger Tree arrived in the town of Spielburg and settled into a life of aimless destitution. As we left our hero, he had just discovered that his simple life of selling mushrooms and drawing maps was no longer sustainable. Let’s hope he doesn’t make any super bad decisions in the pursuit of basic survival!
A DESPERATE BARGAIN!
Hamburger Tree’s tenuous existence spiraled into chaos as soon as the bottom fell out of the mushroom market. My future of slow grinding towards competence vanished before my eyes. No money for potions meant no way to restore health, which meant that inevitable misadventure would slowly kill me.
I needed a major cash infusion, which meant I needed to risk doing something plot-relevant. I surveyed my options: bandits who would definitely kill me, a cave troll that would definitely kill me, and Baba Yaga, who would definitely, definitely kill me. I figured Baba Yaga would probably kill me in the most interesting way, so off to the chicken house I went.
To get in, I first had to bribe her skull gatekeeper with some goddamn bauble I can only get by giving a dangerous fey creature fifty goddamn apples. I have no idea how I would have come up with the figure of fifty apples without access to a walkthrough. He just keeps saying he’s hungry and I guess you’re supposed to guess how many apples he needs. But okay, I made it in.
Fortunately, Baba Yaga does not immediately destroy me. In fact, this is a pretty neat scene. I go storming into the lair of the apparent end boss, assuming I’m unprepared to survive the encounter. Instead, she turns me into a frog, lets me sweat for a bit, and gives me a quest. I found this very intimidating! It’s a small thing, but including her as part of the story before the final confrontation makes her less of a symbol of the endgame and more a part of the world I’m bumbling through. She’s like a scaled-down version of Lolotte from King’s Quest IV, another villain who gives you a bunch of quests to perform under duress. I wonder if that bit of design was shared consciously?
Anyhow, Baba Yaga wants a mandrake root, and she wants it before sunrise the next day. The mandrake root can only be found in the graveyard at midnight, so that’s a bit of a tight schedule. Also, as I have previously discovered, being in the graveyard at night means INSTANT GHOST DEATH.
The latter problem, I at least had a solution for: the healer sells an “undead unguent,” which has a very good name, and presumably protects you from instant ghost death. I could just afford it, but it cleaned me out. So this is it: all in on helping out Baba Yaga, who, to be clear, promised me no payment for my services apart from not being murdered. Things are not moving in the direction I want them to, vis a vis my coin pouch.
And here’s where I run into a side effect of the day-night cycle: impatience. I have business at midnight, but it’s like, midmorning. And I’m even more angry and broke than I was before I took this job. So I decided to try my hand at one of the other likely sources of death and/or riches, and raided the troll cave up north.
This, let me tell you, was just a huge goddamned mess start to finish. I don’t think it’s really supposed to be possible to sneak past the troll. Like, the game maybe assumes you can fight at all by the time you get here. So… I ran. I died many, many times in an attempt to find the exact pixel-precise running path that would keep this guy from smashing my head in before I could JUST BARELY reach the cave entrance he’s guarding.
Once inside, there’s some shenanigans with a bear who’s obviously enchanted or some bullshit, and THEN there’s this kobold dude with bombs and oh my lord. I can sneak by this guy and steal his amulet just fine. What I apparently can’t do as sneakily is break into his invisible chest and steal his shit, but I absolutely am going to do that, because I need the money to live. More death, more running.
BUT! I AM REWARDED WITH THIS BLESSED IMAGE:
This sparkly bear turns out to be AN ACTUAL QUEST LINE!!!
Rewards you say??? That sounds fantastic! Let me just check my watch – oh yeah, I got TONS of time before midnight, let’s go get that fuckin reward!
After hours upon hours of failure and incremental improvement of obscure skills, this was the first thing Hamburger Tree ever did right. Maybe the first thing he ever did right in his whole damn life. I’m so excited I haven’t saved in like an hour! Oh well I can do it after I get my SWEET REWARD! Hey, Baron, what’s up??
I’m sorry what
I keep typing “PRESENT ELEGANT CARD EXPRESSING MY REGRETS” but nothing’s happening
You’re not going to, just, cut to the next morning, are you–
RIP Hamburger Tree.
Listen: this is beautiful. I love everything about this sequence of events. The slow realization over the course of a cutscene that I had absolutely fucked myself through greed was so, so good. Yes, this is another case where doing things in a slightly wrong sequence forced me to do a ton of stuff over again. And yes, I died a few more times trying to steal the kobold’s stuff.
But [gestures frantically] IT FITS THE NARRATIVE! This is completely solid folk tale logic! Hamburger Tree took out a contract with a witch and failed to prioritize it, leading to his downfall. A lot of failure in Sierra games in this era is a lot more like the GET GADGET fiasco: you fail as a player because you didn’t notice something, or went to an area before the game intended you to, or were insufficiently familiar with police procedure. That’s the kind of failure that has come to be associated with Sierra games, looking back. It can be funny, or frustrating, but it always reinforces the game as a finicky maze you need to navigate.
This is such a different thing. Some of it comes from the light simulation elements. This particular version, where I get owned as soon as I set foot outside the castle in the morning, is clearly the most narratively satisfying. But the same thing would presumably happen if I just forgot and was wandering around or sleeping when the sun rose. The failure isn’t that I did things in the wrong order, it’s that I didn’t stay focused on the contract when I got it. That could have happened at any time.
The whole reason I ended up in this situation, too, is because I genuinely needed money to keep my character alive. Because of the interacting health/money systems, I made a decision in alignment with his in-character motivations. That’s very simple roleplaying logic, but it’s neat to see it implemented in a game like this.
The way these systems and parallel quest threads interact leads to a bit of dramatic irony that’s probably my favorite single game moment I’ve encountered in this project so far. Because the disaster followed logically from character-motivated actions, it felt like a moment of storytelling that I participated in as a player. I dig moments like that, and I was not expecting to find one in a 80’s Sierra game.
ONE LAST HEIST
As delightful as my detour with Baba Yaga was, I still had a lot of work to do to move forward in the game. My unexpected resolution of the missing son plot left me considerably enriched, which let me do things like “buy real armor” and “health potions” and “a fuckton of knives.” It felt like I suddenly had a lot more options, but there was one problem: I had no idea what to do next.
And okay, listen, I have no idea how I would have figured this out without checking a walkthrough. The problem is, I know I need to assault the bandit base, but I am a small thief and there’s no way my optimal path goes through the large pile of dudes with spears. There has to be some kind of sneaky way in. So I searched the adjacent map areas, with no luck, and finally gave up and walkthroughed it. It turns out I need to do quite a bit of rigmarole to get there, starting with searching under a barstool in the town bar.
Well, that’s what I get for not thoroughly searching every random object in an adventure game. You realize that 90% of the time, when you search a random object, the game will actively make fun of you for doing so. I don’t know why they think that won’t train sensitive souls like myself that this is the wrong thing to do. Anyway.
This bar is an interesting location. The bald guy is sitting on an obvious trapdoor, but he ignores you unless you have a password. If you stand next to the two card players in front, you overhear them saying weird stuff with numbers to each other, which sounds like it might be a code. It’s just a red herring, though. As I learned while consulting the walkthrough, you learn the password from some thieves in the alley if you a) intentionally try to get mugged and b) “make a thief sign.”
Which is how you get in the Thieves’ Guild! I have no idea what this MAKE A THIEF SIGN business is all about. Maybe knowing about this would have been my reward for reading any of the manual. But it’s fine, I expect one or two of these situations per game. Hamburger Tree is a legit member of the local crime community now! I figured I could put off my bandit quest for a bit while I made some extra cash, because I’m relentlessly in-character at this point. Let’s go steal some shit!
Unfortunately, the burglary system is kind of a weird mess in an otherwise tightly designed game. The idea is you break into houses at night, grab everything that you can pick up, and avoid various dangers. You can then sell the stuff you steal at the Guild. I had tried breaking into houses, but most houses in town are locked, and the only one I made it into killed me so many times I gave up. I tried again with my newfound knowledge, but it turns out Hamburger Tree is not actually a very good thief.
Even when I managed to escape without disaster, I didn’t end up with much. I checked the walkthrough and it listed all types of stuff I was supposed to take but didn’t. I guess I was supposed to be more aggressive with how I identified objects in the environment as stuff I can grab? I kept thinking I needed to sneak past the people in the house so I could find like, a stash or chest or something. I was approaching this like it was burglary in Skyrim, when it’s a different style entirely.
Not that there’s much chance to learn from my mistakes. The weird thing about the burglary game is that once you successfully break into any house once, the following night ALL locks in town become permanently unbreakable. So you get one night to go on a crime spree, and that’s it. This is not what I expected! I also don’t see the reason for it from a design point of view. It makes sense to block a house you’ve already been into, but what does limiting my thieving activities to one night do? For a game that’s been so pleasingly designed for the most part, it’s a jarring choice.
So, okay, whatever, given everything we know about our pal Burg so far it’s pretty in-character for him to be incompetent at his actual job. But who cares! He gets invited to parties at the castle now! Time to leave his criminal past behind! Time to do hero stuff, like eavesdrop on some lowlifes at the archery range.
Now eavesdropping I’m good at. I’ve been sneaking literally everywhere for several in-game weeks now so that small goblins and animals don’t kill me. As long as I lurk here behind these bushes, these dudes stand no chance of seeing me.
The problem is, one of them has the key to the bandits’ lair. I learn the password from their conversation, but the bandits follow good security practices: to get in, you need something you know and something you have. That means I have to get the key off the guy who hangs around. And there’s no getting around it this time: I gotta fight this dude.
TIME FOR A TRAINING MONTAGE
Let’s back up. I can’t fight a dude. Here’s me getting wailed on by a small goblin.
In my defense, note how he has a mace and a shield, while I have a dinky little dagger and my face. I’m not built for this life.
There’s only one way to get around this problem, and it’s the same way Hamburger Tree gets around any problem: egregious amounts of grinding. After hanging around this town for like a month, I gotta learn how to fight stuff. On the upside, I now have a substantial, if not infinite, amount of health potions, so I can handle a little failure. I spent a while attempting to fight things, failing, running away, trying again, etc., until at long last I brought down one of those dinosaur things.
Behold the conqueror!! This was the first thing I ever killed in this game. I was very proud of myself and very bummed when it turned out to be carrying, like, two silver coins. Here I was thinking this would be a new revenue stream. But! The important thing is I proved I could do it! I’m a real hero now! I can defeat monsters!
Fuck you, old man! Let me have this!
While it is admirable that I learned how to fight literally anything, and I no longer needed to run away from (some) animals and small goblins, I got doused with cold water when I tried to fight the actual bandit dude. Turns out this minor boss character packs quite the punch. The old man’s words echoed in my ears. I don’t actually know how to fight shit! I need to come up with the Thief-y solution to this problem.
So, I picked up a fuckton of knives. I familiarized myself with the game’s “repeat previous command” function. I returned to the archery range at a time when nothing plot-important was happening. And I threw knives at a target for four or five days straight.
There’s no getting around it: this was so much grinding. I guess if I had been learning how to throw knives at stuff this whole time, I wouldn’t be in this predicament. But that’s easier said than done. Knives are a consumable resource, and money was a problem for me until I started doing main quest stuff. Maybe if I’d figured out how to be a thief way earlier I’d be set up better for this, and maybe if I knew to do all my crime in one night. There’s a lot of maybes there, though!
One thing I wasn’t prepared for in this game is just how high your skill numbers need to be to get through endgame stuff. There’s never any indication of where the upper limits on stats and skills are. Nor is there any feedback from the game about how high your stats need to be for a task. Not that I’m expecting to see numbers, but there are other ways to give feedback or hint at this. For example, the game could tell me something like, “this tree is pretty hard to climb” vs. “this wall would be VERY hard to climb.” Instead it’s just:
Which is real unhelpful, especially when I have to sneak past a minotaur every time just to find out that no, I haven’t finished grinding yet.
But we’ll get to that later. For now, I’m dealing with the knife throwing problem. Here it’s not exactly a case of crossing a skill threshold, but it works out to much the same thing. After a sober assessment of Hamburger Tree’s skillset, my plan is to jump up from behind the bush after the second guy leaves and just fling knives at the guy with the key until he dies.
Just like throwing at the target. The big advantage is that he can’t get to me while I’m in my bush fort, although he has knives of his own. This is a nice little example of the ways the game adapts quests to the different classes. The Fighter can just run over and wail on the guy, but the Thief and Mage are given an opportunity to do ranged attacks. Of course, the Fighter can also just fight his way through the brigand front door and avoid all this rigmarole.
So we’re just standing here, slowly chipping away at each other, waiting to see who knocks slightly more health off the other guy each time. It’s not the most exciting thing, but after enough grinding it eventually works. At which point nothing stands between me and the bandit base, except for that wall I can’t climb.
HAMBURGER TREE SAVES THE DAY
Onward to the bandit base! The cool, sneaky way!
Good god was sneaking past this minotaur difficult. It’s standard stealth mission stuff; you watch his movement patterns, then dart across when he’s looking away. It’s a pretty short window, though, and I found I had to be pixel-perfect or risk getting spotted. I also had no way of knowing which portion of wall is climbable until I tested them all. It kinda looks like that slope on the left is the way to go, right? Nope, it’s the bit behind the rock on the right. Not the slope, just the wall itself. It would have been kind to provide some visual hint that this was the case, but okay, visual anything isn’t the Quest for Glory team’s strong suit so we’ll let it slide.
Once I made it through, I was in the bandit stronghold proper. While in theory you can do the main quests in any order, this one is clearly designed to be the dramatic endgame mission. It’s a series of puzzle box rooms, each of which you have to toy around with until you figure out the right path through. The first is the simplest: get through the stables while avoiding a series of traps.
The next room is my favorite. You get inside and get enemies start pouring in. “Oh dang,” I think, “it’s the fighting part and I can’t fight.” But no, it turns out that this just a timed puzzle in which you have to find ways to avoid and disable the enemies through slapstick comedy.
This is cool stuff. I’ve always been a big fan of games that push you to do adventure-style environmental puzzling under time pressure (for an extreme example, see Sos Sosowski’s McPixel). This has a bit of that feel, as you race around the room looking for furniture that can be knocked over or repurposed to stay one step ahead of your pursuers. Also, that passed-out drunk brigand is probably the best character art in this game.
Finally, there’s a room that’s a more literal puzzle box. This is where I met Yorick, the bandit wizard, and finally got to use that information the gossipy magicians told me, like, two months ago in game time. There’s a kind of crude conversation system in Quest for Glory that I haven’t really addressed, because it’s not that relevant. It mostly consists of “ask [CHARACTER] about [TOPIC]” actions, where knowing certain topics to ask about can sometimes unlock things or reveal hints.
In the case of Yorick, if you tell him all the gossip you’ve learned about him and Elsa, the Baron’s daughter, he’s so impressed that he up and leaves. Apparently, this prevented me from being hit by random projectiles while trying to navigate his chamber, which is just an enormous pain in the ass on its own.
The game here is that you’re trying to get out of the room, but every few feet one of these platforms or doors or widgets turns out to either be a trap or to behave in a manner hilariously contrary to expectation. There’s a lot of trial and error to figure out the exact path to get out without kicking off a Rube Goldberg device in which Hamburger Tree gets knocked around and/or murdered. This starts out pretty delightful but I found it wore its its welcome before I was done with it. I think I probably would have loved it as a kid, if I’d ever made it that far in this game.
Once I made it out, I had one final task: to rescue the Baron’s daughter from the bandits. It turns out that the twist is that she IS the bandit leader!! She was cursed to turn into a cool outlaw with a great outfit!
It’s not clear to me that I’ve improved either her or her brother’s life by turning them from cool bears/outlaws into nobility, but she seems grateful anyway.
Interesting evasion of moral responsibility you got there, Elsa! You didn’t have to be a brigand just because you were raised by them. Are you implying that the only way to live a virtuous life is to be born into wealth and privilege?
She then immediately advises me to steal some shit from her office before leaving. I guess old habits die hard.
THE END… OR IS IT?
Having saved Elsa, I can technically just head to the castle and end the game. This is indeed what I did the first time through, not realizing that it would immediately trigger the ending.
But guess what? Hamburger Tree’s desire for REWARDS and GLORY once again screwed him over in regards to one Baba Yaga. Although the game can end at this point, you get a message that you left something unfinished if you don’t take care of the witch who started all this trouble. I’m not going to make that mistake again! Back to the chicken hut!
But how to defeat Baba Yaga, who can absolutely murder me in her sleep? Well, this again goes all the way back to the wizard gossip I picked up at the beginning of the game. All the other wizards were mildly impressed that Yorick the bandit wizard had a magic mirror that reflects spells. They seemed kinda jealous, in a pretending-not-to-be-jealous way. The way they framed it, I expected the mirror to be the trick to defeating Yorick, at least for the version of me that knows how to use spells. But its fate is different: it’s one of the items Hamburger Tree stole from Elsa’s office, so obviously I gotta use it against Baba Yaga.
Who’s a froggy now?! God she’s adorable. Even as a frog, she has enough of her wits about her to dump me out of her house and fly the whole thing away to who knows where. See you in one of the sequels, Babs!
Speaking of sequels, I never introduced you to the merchant staying at the local inn and his catgirl pals. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time at this inn, because Hamburger Tree was always too broke to sleep indoors. But if you hang out there the merchant will chat with you about how the bandits stole all his stuff and stranded him in this shitty town.
As good as his word, when the game ends, he picks you up on his flying carpet and whisks you off to the sequel. I am apprehensive about the Aladdin vibe this guy is giving off and the associated danger that Quest for Glory II is some kind of Orientalist disaster. At least there’ll be furries there.
Next time on Line on Sierra: Get ready to have your FACE BLOWN OFF by the NEXT GEN GRAPHICS of King’s Quest V!
THINGS THAT KILLED ME IN QUEST FOR GLORY: THE POWER RANKING
- Small goblins: 27 times
- Minotaur: 20
- Saurons: 13
- Troll: 8
- Knife fighting with lowlifes: 6
- Kobold: 6
- Ghosts: 5
- Cunning bandit traps: 5
- UNCLEAR WHERE THE DOOR IS IN ELSA’S OFFICE: 3
- Incompetent thievery: 4
- Cheetaurs: 3
- Rube Goldberg doors: 2
- Fell from a great height: 2
- Fairies partying too hard: 1
- Baba Yaga: 1
- Baba Yaga’s house: 1