Roberta and Ken Williams are back. After 25 years of absence from the gaming industry, the legendary founders of Sierra On-Line are working on a new project with an old twist – they’re rebuilding the classic text-based game. Adventure in a colossal cave like a 3D experience with a VR component.
It might be an old project with a new twist, but whatever, 3D adventure in the colossal cave is a complete reimagining of the original title and it’s slated for release this fall for PC and Quest 2 VR headsets. Not only will this new rendition add graphics to the text-based adventure, but it will be in first-person 3D, with detail filled in by the spirits that brought us King’s Quest and Phantasmagoria.
In traditional Williams fashion, Ken is responsible for the code as chief engineer, while Roberta is creative director, building the narrative and working on all aspects of the project. There are 16 people in their team at Cygnus Entertainment and they have all been working together remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had our stressful moments,” Roberta said. “There were times when Ken and I were like, what are we doing? Why did we do this? And other moments are really exhilarating and exciting. I learned a lot, Ken learned a lot. We have a great team and I’m so excited to have met them – not in person – but they are very experienced in graphics and 3D programming.
That last bit is especially important, given that 3D development is a new arena for Roberta and Ken, who are best known for ’80s and ’90s narrative adventures and full-screen video titles. It’s been a quarter of a century since they entered the world of game development, and they’re jumping straight into virtual reality and Unity, a 3D development platform.
By her own admission, Roberta hasn’t even played games in 25 years. She and Ken have been keeping tabs on the industry, but more importantly, they’ve been vetted.
“It felt like if we overthink it, we could be brought back inside,” Roberta said.
Instead of staring at computer screens and dreaming of digital worlds, Roberta and Ken spent 15 years traveling the planet on a 60-foot boat. They landed where they wanted and spent a few months, six months, in the same place before getting back on the trawler and sailing to a new place. Ken wrote four books about their travels during this time, plus another on Sierra On-Line; Roberta has written a historical novel about the Great Famine in Ireland.
“Which didn’t sell as well as her book,” Roberta laughs. “But anyway, after that we were looking for something to do and I noticed Ken was doing a lot of YouTube tutorials on some kind of 3D engine, some kind of 3D programming language.”
She didn’t think much about it at first. Ken described a game idea he was toying with, where players would learn programming as they go, creating simple experiences within his digital ecosystem. A little like Robloxbut with more emphasis on learning real-world programming skills.
“He was telling me that and he had ideas of how to do it and make it fun,” Roberta said. “And I said, well, will it’s funny ? »
Ken assured her that would be the case, but she was unconvinced. That night, while she was in bed, brooding over the boring idea of her husband, Adventure in a colossal cave popped into his head.
“I remember laying there and thinking, why did he do that?” she says. “You know, it’s like, is that a sign?” In the morning, Roberta brought her late-night revelation to Ken.
“I didn’t really want to come back to the industry, but I suddenly felt this need, almost a bit like when I sat down and did Mystery House“, Roberta said. “And I don’t know why, and I told him about it and I saw his eyes light up.”
Mystery House was Sierra On-Line’s first game and when it landed in 1980 it was the very first graphical adventure. Roberta mapped Mystery House in a quiet frenzy after playing the original Adventure in a colossal cave, a text-based game, in the late 1970s – as an avid reader, she was inspired by its interactivity and narrative weight, and her imagination went to work. She acquired a giant sheet of paper from a local stationery store and began drawing pieces, connecting them, and finding creative ways to move from place to place. This ended up being the flowchart for Mystery Houseand Ken, an avid programmer, brought it to digital life.
“colossal cave is the game that launched Sierra On-Line,” Roberta said. “It launched my career.”
Adventure in a colossal cave creators Don Woods and Will Crowther have never copyrighted their work, which means anyone can do whatever they want with the intellectual property, including the Williams. Still, they phoned Woods himself to ask for permission, and the original developer had one request: never try to copyright it. Keep the Colossal Cave franchise open, ownerless, and free for everyone to play.
Roberta and Ken agreed and got to work. In June 2021, they revealed that there was a new secret game in development at their studio, Cygnus Entertainment. 3D adventure in the colossal cave is set to release this fall, ready to capture the imagination of a new generation of gamers.
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