Behind The Scenes: Quest For Glory
Quest for Glory was conceived in 1988 when Lori Ann Cole’s husband, Corey, was hired to help bring Sierra’s catalogue to Atari ST. “We had been self-employed for a couple of years while working on a word processor for the Atari ST and raising our son,” Lori recalls. “Sierra had published the first version of the Ultima game series by Lord British. They wanted something similar and were looking for someone who played role-playing games. A friend mentioned this to us, and Corey applied for the job.” Lori’s involvement soon followed, when she pitched her idea for a new series with a unique RPG spin.
Though she hadn’t designed videogames before, Lori was an avid fan of tabletop RPGs – in fact, she and Corey met at a science fiction convention where he was running a Dungeons & Dragons game he wrote. The Coles preferred games where they defined their characters’ personalities and participated in a story. As RPGs started appearing on computers, Lori found that they lacked the elements she enjoyed most: “Early RPGs were pretty primitive. They were mostly ‘kill and loot the body’ while running through a series of mazes. The other aspect you didn’t see a lot was a sense of whimsy. I wanted to [create] memorable characters and an inspiring story. More than that, I wanted the player to feel as if he was the character on the screen, the choices he made affected what happened.”
Lori’s idea was to infuse Sierra’s proven storytelling format with role-playing elements: “I took the fun parts of the RPG – the character improvements as the game progressed, the exploration, the monster-killing – and added them to the storytelling advantages of the graphic adventure game.” Sierra’s president, Ken Williams, signed off on the idea, and Lori was turned loose with a team of artists and programmers. She served as writer, art director, and project manager. “My prior occupation had been [as a] preschool teacher, so I didn’t exactly have the resume to demonstrate I could do such monumental tasks,” she notes. “Talk about on-the-job training! Corey was assigned as the lead programmer on the project. Together, we created a fun game unlike any other on the market.”
That game was Hero’s Quest: So You Want To Be A Hero, the first of a proposed four game series modelled after the narrative tradition of the Hero’s Journey. Hero’s Quest would take a player character from newbie hero to king by virtue of his skill and wits, with each instalment bringing him to a new land with different customs to learn and challenges to overcome, until he proved he was worthy to rule.
The Coles wanted Hero’s Quest to be more open-ended than Sierra’s typically linear adventure games. They achieved this by giving players three character classes to choose from – Fighter, Thief, and Magic User – each with qualities that could be customized by the player and built up during gameplay. Fighters could use brute force solutions such as throwing rocks or engaging in combat. Thieves were stealthy, with the ability to pick locks and steal. Magic users could learn a variety of spells. These diverse skills provided opportunities for side quests and alternate puzzle solutions within the overarching storyline, making Hero’s Quest replayable in a way that traditional adventure games weren’t.
The game opened with a blond-haired wannabe hero, a recent graduate of the Famous Adventurer’s Correspondence School, arriving in the medieval hamlet of Spielburg. The Baron’s son and daughter were missing, and the player character had to find them and restore order to earn the title of Hero. The premise may sound serious, but Lori’s writing was firmly tongue-in-cheek, with abundant puns, pop-culture references, and Easter eggs that made Hero’s Quest stand out as much for its humour as it did for its hybrid gameplay. Technically, it was on par with other Sierra games of the time, with 16-color EGA graphics and a text parser interface.
After about a year in development, Hero’s Quest released in 1989 to enormous success. It caught the attention of Milton Bradley, who had trademarked the title ‘HeroQuest’ for a board game, and Sierra was forced to rebrand the series Quest for Glory. “We had just released the first game and it was doing better than anyone expected,” Lori says. “Now, as we were creating the second game, we couldn’t use the same name. But it was just a name change – the games remained true to the heroic theme. The rename was a bit ironic because the games were not about gaining glory so much as about doing the right thing when it most counts. Sometimes, the player character even walked away from glory.”