Behind The Scenes: The Silver Lining
10 July 2010 will finally mark the release of the hotly anticipated King’s Quest fan-sequel, The Silver Lining, after eight years in development. To celebrate, here’s the full story of how development of this epic project began and how it overcame so many obstacles on its way to completion and eventual release.
More than any other medium, the videogames industry places a strong emphasis on sequels and the gradual development of a successful IP, and, as gamers, we have an inherent passion for following a series we love through the thick and the thin. Indeed, those of us who grew up with the Mega Drive look back at the original Sonic games with a rose-tinted reverence, and although the hedgehog with attitude seems destined to forever drown in a torrent of lacklustre mediocrity, many still hope for a return to former glory. But what about the gaming series that burned brightly only to unexpectedly disappear?
Born in 1984 on the humble IBM PCjr, the original King’s Quest was the first animated adventure game and a precursor to the likes of Maniac Mansion. The game was set in the fantasy Kingdom of Daventry, where Sir Graham had to tackle pixelated giants and dragons, on his quest to retrieve three magical artefacts for a dying king. The series would go on to garner a devoted fan base as it spanned seven sequels, with 1998’s King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity being the last official release. But after the events of ‘Black Monday’ (see End of a Sierra) – which led to Vivendi acquiring Sierra in February 1999 – the series fell silent.
However, there are hardcore fans that see publisher apathy as a hurdle to overcome, and so, in 2000, a group of talented gamers began work on a fan-developed follow-up to King’s Quest. Originally titled King’s Quest IX: Every Cloak Has A Silver Lining, but then shortened to just The Silver Lining, this fan-game managed to overcome a cease-and-desist action by Vivendi Universal in 2005 thanks to its highly professional design. But here in 2010, after nearly ten years of development, the near-complete project now faces closure from Activision Blizzard, the new owner of the King’s Quest IP.
As Director, Designer and Producer, Cesar Bittar, who worked on the recent Tales Of Monkey Island as an Assistant Producer, describes his early involvement with The Silver Lining. “The original project was founded by Jonathan Haling and Luke Jensen [no relation to Jane] in October 2000, with Richard Flores and I joining the art and the writing team respectively. The team didn’t make much progress for about a year and a half, except for some initial concepts and ideas for a story, but in 2002 Richard and I became Directors and the project started to take shape. I brought structure to the team and started developing the story and design, and Richard made huge strides in the art department, also pushing for the technology to get in place. Then, in time, all the rest of the players fell in place.”
Further affirming the initial lack of direction, Art Director Richard Flores, whose portfolio as a 3D Computer Animator includes filmic work for 300 and John Woo’s Red Cliff, joined the project in 2001. “The best way to describe the team at that point was that everybody wanted to make a game but without any idea on how to actually proceed. There were ideas for using simplistic 3D renders, but nothing to really turn all that into a game. Unfortunately, without some actual progress on the product itself, the team lingered in limbo, and most of us thought it was going to end there. I had pretty much left the project when Cesar contacted me about taking it in a new direction. I was not afraid to voice my opinion if I thought something could be done better, and I guess Cesar saw that as an asset.”
In 2004, the team took the name of Phoenix Online Studios and began to build momentum, with Cesar developing a story that would tie into the rich history of King’s Quest. “I’d seen the transition of gaming during the Nineties, and it seemed that the industry took a great turn with games in general becoming more involving. Even Sierra had become more involved during that era, but King’s Quest for some reason failed to make that transition completely. I once read in an interview with Roberta Williams, the original creator of the series, that King’s Quest needed to evolve, and if you notice, the game was the flagship of Sierra and the one game that spearheaded [its] line of products. I’d just played The Longest Journey and we were starting to see things like Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings. I felt that King’s Quest could make that transition and ‘grow up’ alongside the fans. So I dared to tell a darker and more mature story, and, though I always felt insecure, people seemed to love the story, and we managed to tell a tale that still had the essence of King’s Quest in spirit.”