The Space Quest Series

It strikes me as odd that in the six years spent working on two Space Quest fan-games, I haven’t really talked about the SQ series on my blog, let alone played the games in years. I just sort of woke up one day and said “hey – I think I’ll make some Space Quest games.” And what kind of lunatic does that? And what is this Space Quest thing anyway?

In the late 80’s, Sierra Online was enjoying some success with their new King’s Quest series – so naturally, they wanted to capitalize on the “Quest” brand. Two of their programmers (Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe) walk up to the boss and say “Hey, we want to make a space game!” And the boss is all “okay!” because back then it was easy to pitch game ideas. So Scott and Mark (AKA The Two Guys from Andromeda) made a game about a janitor (Roger Wilco) in space who saves the galaxy and stuff.

Because of the Two Guys’ twisted sense of humor, the game was a lot more violent and sadistic than King’s Quest – but in a dark, comical kind of way. Fans loved all the outrageous ways Roger could get killed, from exploding in vacuums to giving birth to alien chest babies. The fans also enjoyed the game’s sarcastic narrator, who would often insult you for making dumb choices. The games later developed into a sci-fi parody series, spoofing Star Trek most frequently.

Anyhow, here’s my reviews of the six games themselves:

Space Quest 1: The Sarien Encounter (1986)
So Roger wakes up in the broomcloset to discover the ship’s been over-run by aliens who’ve stolen the experimental Star Generator. Stuff happens, there’s a desert planet, a robot spider, the Blue Brothers make a cameo, and Roger saves the day by blowing something up. Pretty simple plot. This was the only SQ game to get an official VGA remake five years later. It has very few puzzles, and a very thin plot, so in my opinion, it’s not the funniest or best of the games. Still, for its time, it was pretty awesome.
My Ranking: This one comes in at no. 6 for me. Bottom of the list. Not a bad game – just not their strongest work. But then again, things were just getting started.

Space Quest 2: Vohaul’s Revenge (1987)
This time, Roger gets captured, sent to a jungle planet and has to defeat a mad scientist named Vohaul. It was built in the same game engine as SQ1, so it wasn’t too different in gameplay. Most of the puzzles involved mazes or getting past wild animals, but it was definitely a step up from the sparse puzzles in the original. Sludge Vohaul as a villain became a surprise hit with the fans – what with his evil plot to infest the galaxy with cloned insurance salesmen. I’m not sure how that evil plot would’ve worked, but Vohaul was very serious about his intentions.
My Ranking: 5 on the list. Better puzzles than the first game, but even with the VGA remake, the game is really just Roger wandering through the jungle for a while getting killed by every thing.

Space Quest 3: The Pirates of Pestulon (1989)
Okay, I think THIS is the game where the Two Guys completely lost their minds – mostly because here is where they wrote THEMSELVES into the game. And not just as brief cameos, no – they are the goal of the game. Roger Wilco is on a quest to rescue his creators from being turned into Jell-o at the hands of an evil software company. Along the way, he goes for burgers, fights the Terminator, has a lava planet adventure, and even has a giant Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robot fight. This is also the game where he gets his own ship, the Aluminum Mallard – which also became a hit with the fans in spite of Roger never flying the ship in any other game (besides “Vohaul Strikes Back,” that is.) The graphics were better, the humor was ridiculous, and the puzzles were more active – but I think the best thing about this game: is the music. Because this game’s soundtrack is composed by Supertramp’s drummer. If you don’t know who Supertramp is, just time-travel back to the 70’s and check them out. It’s okay. I’ll wait.
My Ranking: No. 2 out of the six games. The music is always great to listen to, and the adventure is so ridiculous that it’s practically beyond awesome.

Space Quest 4: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers (1992)
Ah, now here’s a milestone in the series. VGA, all mouse support, and the first game on a CD with voices. And to top it off, who else narrates but the legend Gary Owens himself. Who’s Gary Owens? Just time-travel back to the 60’s and check out “Laugh-In.” It’s okay. I’ll wait. This was just another ridiculous fourth-wall-breaking adventure where Roger finds himself trapped in “Space Quest 12” and uses a time pod to travel between various sequels to defeat Vohaul once again. It was that crazy time-travel gimmick that really sold the game because I think this game has the fewest puzzles and is mostly just you running away from the Sequel Police in very buggy arcade sequences.
My Ranking: 3, good premise, great music, Gary Owens rules. And then there’s practically no puzzles – it’s just you wandering around trying to sort out the plot for yourself. My least favorite aspect about the game is the time-travel conundrum caused during the finale of the story in which Roger sees his future. It’s a good cliffhanger, but it’s never followed up on in any game, and has made writing fan-fiction an otherwise total nightmare.

Space Quest 5: The Next Mutation (1993)
At some point, the Two Guys broke up. So Mark Crowe helmed this game on his own, turning Space Quest into an all-out Star Trek parody. Surprisingly, it’s actually my favorite of the bunch. Unlike the past four games, this one’s very heavy on plot, dialogue and characters. There’s a love interest (Beatrice), lots of sidekicks, plenty of villains, and there’s plenty of character development. I compare this one to “Quest for Glory 4,” as it’s one of those games where you earn respect from the side-characters as you complete various missions. And there’s so many puzzles to solve and planets to visit – it’s sadly a very under-rated game of the series. It’s like playing a movie.
My Ranking: 1, of course. The game’s chock-loaded with creativity, excitement, and humor. And to feel yourself bonding with the characters was a very rare trait in adventures, so this one’s got my vote.

Space Quest 6: The Spinal Frontier (1995)
Ooohhh, where to start with this one? This was not a fan-favorite at all. Even the plot is so vague, I can’t begin to explain it. Roger just wanders from one area to another, solving filler puzzles until about the last half of the game when his best friend gets kidnapped and he goes to rescue her (and at some point ends up miniaturized inside her body.) This game pissed off a lot of fans by throwing out Beatrice and bringing in a new love interest (Stellar Santiago) – thus starting a love triangle that once again ruined fan-fiction for the next fifteen years. But on the plus, it made nice use of the Super-VGA graphics with lots of 3D animation thrown in. And it is arguably the funniest game in the series – and the only one to establish the narrator (Gary Owens, again) as an actual character whom Roger hears in his head and talks to.
My Ranking: 4, just because I didn’t care for the filler puzzles or lack of plot. Mind you, I didn’t mind Stellar as a character. I just didn’t see her as a love interest. And I think a lot of fans hated her design (really weird forehead ridges, hence why I redesigned her as a normal-looking person for “Incinerations”).

Anyway, that’s that. Them’s the six games. I should really replay them at some point, but I think I’ve had enough Space Quest for one life-time.

Enjoy “Incinerations” tomorrow.

January 10 2012 06:00 am | Video Games

4 Responses to “The Space Quest Series”

  1. Frederik Olsen on 11 Jan 2012 at 8:04 am #

    Sweet article! One minor correction, though – because I like those. That’s the Mallard in the SQ4 intro, so VSB is technically the third game to feature it.

  2. Sslaxx on 11 Jan 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    Surprised 6 ever got finished considering all its problems.

  3. jolly_old_saint on 11 Jan 2012 at 6:15 pm #

    I want your summary of #2 to be the sequel to Roger Rabbit.

    I’ve only played a bit of SQ4 and a larger bit of the infamous adventures version of 2 (and VSB, congrats again on making that hell of a spiffy thing). The series seemed fun, but when I tried to get into them I found myself distracted by all those crazy awesome kings quest remakes. Having gone through that series, though, I guess I’m obligated to head back to space one day….

    ….So, since you’ve had enough space quest, maybe your next project will be an adventure game starring the cat and mouse from incredible toon machine?

  4. Jared on 17 Jan 2012 at 8:24 pm #

    I actually found out from an interview why the puzzle design for SQIV is so damned weird – Scott Murphy designed the entire thing as a text parser game. And, when you think about it, suddenly the game is a lot harder. You don’t just click the finger button on the SQP ship, you’d need to think what you wanted to do and type in “HIDE UNDER WING” or something like that… the game would instantly become 3 times as long to solve.

    I think the puzzle design in SQ4 is a real shame because the rest of the production in that game (Well, save for the programmers doing the voices, I guess) is amazing even by today’s standards.

    And my thoughts on why Stellar is so unpopular – Roger meets her offscreen. That’s always bad for a character, and suicide for a love interest. She shows up, out of nowhere, and the two of them are all flirty. The audience is like “Who the hell is this?” and the characters are acting like it makes perfect sense and it’s a slap in the face for anyone who was invested in the previous romantic subplot.

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