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Space Quest

Entry updated 23 October 2023. Tagged: Game.

Videogame series (from 1986). Sierra On-Line (SOL).

Space Quest is a series of linearly plotted graphical Adventures in which the player adopts the role of Roger Wilco, a janitor in a Space Opera universe who strongly resembles the protagonist of the text-based Planetfall (1983). The games' parodic style of humour and comic puzzles are alternately amusing and juvenile, similar in tone to a less frenetic version of Mel Brooks's film Spaceballs (1987). As in the animated series Futurama (1999-2003; 2010-2013; 2023-current), there are frequent references to popular sf films and television shows. The first game to appear was Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter (1986 SOL, AppleII, AtariST, DOS; 1987 Amiga; 1991 rev vt Space Quest I: Roger Wilco in the Sarien Encounter, Amiga, DOS; 1992 Mac) designed by Mark Crowe, Scott Murphy, in which the then unnamed protagonist begins the game asleep in a broom closet, on a research ship containing an experimental device capable of destroying suns. The player character wakes up to find their ship has been taken over by hostile aliens who plan to use the device against the character's homeworld; the player must survive, escape, and defeat the enemy. Comic deaths while failing to solve the (sometimes frustrating) puzzles are frequent. The first version of the game uses text-based input with a graphical display; the revision was altered to use a point and click interface.

The original game was followed by Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge (1987 SOL, AppleII, AtariST, DOS; 1988 Amiga, Mac) designed by Mark Crowe, Scott Murphy, which also combines text-based input with a graphical display. The player is abducted by Sludge Vohaul, whose plans they foiled in Space Quest I. They must escape from Vohaul and frustrate his plan to launch millions of cloned insurance salesmen at their home planet. The game ends with the player floating in space in an escape pod; at the beginning of Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon (1989 SOL, Amiga, AtariST, DOS; 1991 Mac), designed by Mark Crowe, Scott Murphy, Roger Wilco is picked up by an automated garbage freighter. After escaping, the player discovers that "ScumSoft" have kidnapped the designers of their favourite video game and is forcing them to design the worst products imaginable. The designers are of course Crowe and Murphy, and the titular pirates are actually software pirates, the owners of ScumSoft, which itself is a reference to Microsoft. The player can rescue the designers by following a plot which involves fighting a giant Robot version of Bill Gates. Space Quest III featured improved graphics, better puzzles, and a partially point and click interface. It was also the first game in which the player character's name was explicitly Roger Wilco, as opposed to that being the default if nothing was entered when the game asked for a player name.

Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers (1991 SOL, DOS, Mac; 1992 Amiga, Win) designed by Mark Crowe, Scott Murphy is perhaps the most accomplished of the series. It is also the game in which the strand of metafictional humour first seen in Space Quest III is most prominent. Sludge Vohaul appears from the never to be made Space Quest XII: Vohaul's Revenge II and pursues Roger through time, as represented by a return to Space Quest I and an excursion into the also nonexistent Space Quest X: Latex Babes of Estros. In the Space Quest I sequences, tough bikers mock the player for the graphics used to display their character, which are considered pretentious compared to the simpler colours used in the original. From Space Quest IV onwards, the games used entirely point and click interfaces. The next instalment was Space Quest V: The Next Mutation (1993 Dynamix, DOS) designed by Mark Crowe. This game, to which only one of the two original designers contributed, has a rather gentler tone than its predecessors. Wilco is presented as less of a hapless loser who constantly saves the universe by accident and more of a hero, while the parody is focused almost entirely on Star Trek. The player becomes captain of their own spaceship, and must prevent the spread of a virulent disease while completing various side missions. The sixth game was the first not to use Roman numerals for its title, and also the one which is generally thought to represent a steep decline in the quality of the series. Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in The Spinal Frontier (1995 SOL, DOS, Win; 1996 Mac) designed by Josh Mandel, Scott Murphy begins with Wilco broken back to janitor after his successes in Space Quest V. The game's storyline lacks direction, and many puzzles are unnecessarily difficult due to poor implementation. The plot involves an attempt to steal Roger's body; in the end, the Miniaturized player must enter the body of their character's love interest.

Related works: The Adventures of Roger Wilco (1992) is a three-issue Comic based on the first game, published by Adventure Comics. Space Quest 0: Replicated (2003, DOS) designed by Jeff Stewart is a prequel to Space Quest I, while the much inferior Space Quest: The Lost Chapter (2001, DOS) is set between Space Quest II and Space Quest III. Both of these games are amateur tributes to the original series. [NT]


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