Sunday, June 26, 2011

Evolutionary Issues of Sierra's SCI Games

When Sierra first released its adventure games using its Sierra Creative Interpreter its hardware support was limited at first.

SCI0 Games:
King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella
Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places)
Police Quest II: The Vengeance
Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon
Hoyle's Official Book of Games: Volume 1
Hero's Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero
Leisure Suit Larry 3: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals
The Colonel's Bequest
Codename: Iceman
Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail
Hoyle's Official Book of Games: Volume 2
Mixed-Up Mother Goose
King's Quest I: Quest for the Crown
Jones in the Fast Lane

In King's Quest IV, Police Quest II and Leisure Suit Larry 2, the first games released using this system, the hardware support was limited.  SCI0 games all use a 320x200 resolution with 16 colors.

The text parsers used in these games generally responded to simple commands such as "open door" "look building" and "talk man".  Sometimes the parsers would expect a more complex command.  One innovation over AGI was that typing paused the action.  The text box did not take up the bottom portion of the screen, leaving more room for graphics.  Drop down menus were standard for these games.

Graphics supported were CGA, EGA/VGA, IBM PS/2 Models 25 & 30 and Tandy 1000.  PCjr. Graphics was not yet supported, nor was the Hercules Graphics Card.

CGA - CGA was supported for a surprisingly long time, all SCI0 and some 16-color SCI1 games have CGA drivers.  CGA was not the ideal choice, and Sierra always used a recoloring algorithm to downsample the native 16-color graphics into 4 or 2 color graphics.  The first 4-color drivers used the Red/Green/Brown palette, but later drivers used the unofficial Cyan/Red/White palette.  2-color drivers frequently used gray as the foreground color, but blue is also available as a choice.  Composite color was never intentionally supported in SCI.

EGA/VGA - Since the VGA offered almost 100% compatibility with the EGA, this is usually the option people chose.  Sierra did not take advantage of the VGA's palette abilities, nor did it use EGA features that would break compatibility with VGA cards.

IBM PS2 Models 25 & 30 - This utilizes the MCGA in these computers to show proper 16-color graphics.  Since MCGA did not have a 320x200x16 mode, it uses the 320x200x256 mode without any extra palette features.  Since this mode is compatible with VGA adapters, there is no harm in selecting this on a VGA system. It does not check the BIOS for the specific model of computer.

Tandy 1000 - By SCI, Sierra had no longer provided any special reason to use a Tandy 1000, except as shown below.  This mode does not require more RAM than other graphics modes.

Sound Support was initially limited to the IBM PC or Compatible Speaker, PCjr./Tandy Programmable Sound Generator, Ad Lib Music Synthesizer Card, Roland MT-32 Sound Module and IBM Music Feature Card.

Ad Lib - I am not sure whether Sierra was the first PC game developer to support the card, but its support really helped support sales of PC sound cards.  Sierra sold it in its Catalogs.

Roland MT-32 - Unlike the previous device, I am sure that Sierra was the first PC game developer to support this device.  It was rather expensive when first supported and required both the module and a Roland MPU-401 ISA interface card.  Although possessed by a minority of game players, this device is what received the best support.

IBM Music Feature Card - I am sure that Sierra was the only PC game developer to support this ISA sound card.  A non-Roland MPU-401 compatible midi interface coupled with the equivalent of a Yamaha FB-01 sound module onboard, Sierra's support for this card was never high its priority list.

Sierra's SCI games supported IBM or Tandy keyboards, a joystick and a mouse.  Before the mouse-driven icon interface, joystick support was important.  Mouse support in SCI0 games merely offered another way to control your avatar and was generally not particularly useful.  Still, mouse support was not ubiquitous in those days and a mouse driver had to be loaded in DOS beforehand.  Sierra was forward thinking enough to allow Tandy TL/SL/RL users to use IBM keyboards, because they did not use the 90-key Keyboard of the older Tandy 1000s.

Now for individual observations for certain games :

King's Quest IV - An absolutely huge PC game when it was released in September, 1988.  Originally came on nine 360K disks, far more than any other PC game of the time.  This game does not use custom patches for the MT-32.  The early releases of this game used slightly different sound drivers than later games.  As such, sound drivers for later games cannot be used with this game.

Leisure Suit Larry 2 - Like King's Quest IV, the early releases of this game used slightly different sound drivers than later games.  As such, sound drivers for later games cannot be used with this game.  Also, the early releases had an Ad Lib driver which played the music at a noticeably higher pitch than later versions.  This game is the first to use custom patches, and all other SCI0-SCI1 games, except for the next one, used custom patches.

Police Quest II - This game does not use custom patches for the MT-32.  First game with Hercules Graphics Card support and official IBM PCjr. Graphics support.  Unlike all other graphics modes, PCjr. requires 640KB, which was not officially supported on the PCjr.

Space Quest III - First game to support digitized speech and sound effects.  At the time, the only hardware which was supported on was the Tandy TL/SL/RL PSSJ sound chip.  Also added support for the Casiotone MT-540 and CT-460 sound synthesizers.  Later the CSM-1 sound module was officially supported, but can still use these drivers.  This still required a Roland MPU-401 interface.

Eventually games supported the compatible Roland MT-100, CM-32L, CM-64 modules.  However, unless the driver claims CM-64 support, there will be unwanted sound effects being played on the CM-32P portion of that device because the earlier driver is sending Ad Lib data on channels 11-16.  If you have a CM-64 or CM-500, you can copy a driver from a later game to the earlier game, except if you are playing the early versions of KQ4 or LSL2.

Creative Labs Creative Music System/Game Blaster Card began to be supported.  In the Game Blaster box drivers were available for all games, including KQ4 and LSL2.  You can use a later driver with an earlier game except for the early versions of KQ4 or LSL2.  The Game Blaster, like the Roland devices, supports stereo sound.  Too bad the music sounds pretty weak.  This will work on the Sound Blaster 1.0 or an upgraded Sound Blaster 1.5 or 2.0.

Sierra also officially began supporting the Yamaha FB-01 sound module, attached to a Roland MPU-401 interface card.  This driver will work for earlier games that support the IBM Music Feature Card except the early versions of KQ4 and LSL2.  Eventually, Sierra stopped shipping IBM Music Feature/Yamaha FB-01 drivers with their games, and support could only be found by downloading custom patches on Sierra's BBS.  Some patches may have been lost.

While all SCI0 games have support for the Game Blaster one way or another, they may not have support for the Casio modules, so copying over the driver will not necessarily work.

Hero's Quest - Notable for two reasons.  First, as the name sounded like Milton Bradley's Hero Quest, Sierra changed the name of the series to Quest for Glory in later releases of this game.  Second, this game allowed the use of a mouse click to function as a look [object] command for what was clicked on.  Hotkeys were available for "ask about", which was frequently used.

In SCI0 releases, Sierra almost always included both 5.25" and 3.5" disks in the box.  Later budget releases would nix one or the other, and when Sierra released SCI1 games, it ended this policy.

Sierra was one of the first companies that had a TUI install program.  To install an AGI game, one had to type "installh c:".  To install an SCI game, one had to type "install" and follow the menus and insert the disks.

King's Quest 1 EGA/VGA - Introduced support for the Sound Blaster card, giving a second option to hear digitized sound effects.  This driver could be used for Space Quest III for non-Tandy machine owners.  This game had some real differences from the original AGI version.

Mixed Up Mother Goose - Obviously one of Roberta Williams' favorite games, Sierra released this game quite often.  There was an AGI version, a 16-color SCI0 version, a 256-color SCI1 version, a CD-ROM version of the 256-color version and an SVGA version that had a Windows executable.

Hoyle's Official Book of Games - Showing that the SCI engine was more versatile than text parser adventure games, these were collections of card games (Volumes I, II and Hoyle Classic Card Games).  SCI would be used for puzzle games (Dr. Brain series) and board games (Jones in the Fast Lane, Hoyle's Book of Games Volume III).

SCI1 Games:
Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire
Hoyle's Official Book of Games: Volume 3
King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!
Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards
Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers
Mixed-Up Mother Goose
Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work
EcoQuest: The Search for Cetus
Jones in the Fast Lane (CD-ROM version)
Mixed-up Fairy Tales
Police Quest III: The Kindred
Space Quest I: The Sarien Encounter
Conquests of the Longbow: The Legend of Robin Hood
Castle of Dr. Brain

When Sierra transitioned to the SCI1 system, it began to narrow its horizons.  Separate 16-color and 256-color releases were released, with the former generally coming on double density media and the latter on high density media.  The 16-color versions used graphics converted from the 256-color originals.

Quest for Glory II - Although this looks and functions like an SCI0 game, it uses the SCI1 engine.  Its interpreter is compatible with other 16-color SCI1 games, even though they use point-n-click interfaces instead of the mouse interface.

All games after Quest for Glory II used a mouse point-and-click interface, and the mouse was the ideal method of control.  The second mouse button could be used to cycle through icons.

Space Quest I, Quest for Glory I, Police Quest I & Leisure Suit Larry 1 - Although Sierra apparently received negative comments from many fans about disrespecting their classic games by selling remakes, Sierra continued undaunted for each of the first games in their series.  Quest for Glory was the last game in this series, and supported General Midi as the optimal music device instead of the MT-32.

Graphics wise, the SCI0 games supported 256-color VGA and gray scale VGA.  The grayscale driver was better for people who played these games on gray scale VGA monitors, which could display only 64 shades of gray.  Tandy graphics were still supported on the 16-color versions, but those games would play very slowly in most Tandy 1000 machines.

Sound wise, the SCI0 games had full support for the Sound Blaster and soon supported Mediavision's Pro Audio Spectrum.  Many of the SCI0 games would support stereo OPL2 output on the Pro Audio Spectrum, which was unique to that card.  People who owned a Sound Blaster Pro or Pro Audio Spectrum 16 were out of luck.  The Adlib card had one OPL2 chip, which supported 9 FM synthesis instrument channels or 6 instrument channels with 5 percussion channels.  The latter is what Sierra used.  While the two OPL2 chips of the Pro Audio Spectrum offered double the number of channels, Sierra games did not support extra channels, it just sent some existing OPL2 channels to the left chip and some to the right chip.  Games also supported the IBM PS/1 Audio/Joystick Card, which was an upgrade that plugged only into the IBM 286-based PS/1 Models 2011 and 2121.

Joysticks were still supported, but trying to play any of these games without a mouse was foolish.  Tandy keyboards were also still supported.  This series also introduced Expanded, Extended and XMS memory support which could speed up game play.  (Extended Memory and XMS Memory are very similar, and usually XMS Memory would be used.  Extended Memory should be available if an eXtended Memory Manager (HIMEM.SYS) was not loaded in the CONFIG.SYS).

Eventually, Sierra started supplying drivers that would allow the user to use their Sound Blaster or Pro Audio Spectrum for digital sound effects and the MT-32 for music, giving the user the best of both worlds.  The Disney Sound Source began being supported for digitized sound, and Music and Speech would be separated in the install program.

Leisure Suit Larry 5 - The only Sierra game with support for the extra sound effects of the LAPC-1/CM-32L.  Many other Sierra games will occasionally produce the incorrect sound if not played back on a rev 0 MT-32 (no headphone jack).

This was the first time that CD-ROM technology was used.  Jones and King's Quest V use it, and also support natively being run in Windows 3.x.

Kings Quest V - CD version loses its MT-32 soundtrack in the Windows executable and uses an inferior General Midi composition.  Windows 3.x was not particularly well-suited to the MT-32.

SCI1.1 Games:
EcoQuest: The Search for Cetus (disk version 1.1, CD-ROM version)
EcoQuest II: Lost Secret of the Rainforest
Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist
The Island of Dr. Brain
King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow
Laura Bow: The Dagger of Amon Ra
Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out!
Mixed-Up Mother Goose
Pepper's Adventures in Time
Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel
Quest for Glory I: So You Want to Be a Hero
Quest for Glory III: Wages of War
Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers (CD-ROM version)
Space Quest V: The Next Mutation

SCI1.1 introduced more subtle changes.  For these games, General Midi began to supplant the venerable MT-32.  Police Quest I and Lara Bow 2 were the last games with MT-32 optimized sound tracks, other games using this interpreter supply a generic set of patches that remap the MT-32 to the General Midi patch standard.  Except as indicated in the last sentence, the Roland SC-55 and compatibles were the devices upon which the music sounded best.  Tandy Keyboard support is eliminated.

More games would be released on CD-ROM, including King's Quest VI, Lara Bow 2, Freddy Pharkas and Leisure Suit Larry 6.  In almost every case, these releases occurred subsequent to the floppy releases.  Older SCI1 games like Space Quest IV and Mixed Up Mother Goose would have CD-ROM releases with SCI1.1.

King's Quest VI - Displayed in a 640x480 graphics resolution in the CD-ROM version using the Windows executable.  However, this is only noticeable in the character dialog portraits.  The 320x200 graphics for the backgrounds and sprites are kept, stretched in a non-optimal manner.

Leisure Suit Larry 6 had a Low Resolution only CD-ROM release using SCI1.1.  A high resolution release using SCI2 would follow.

Graphics wise, separate 16-color versions were no longer available, so a dithering EGA driver was provided instead.  New speech support included the Mediavision Thunderboard, the Pro Audio Spectrum 16 and the Windows Sound System.  The Sound Blaster Pro and 16 were eventually supported for higher quality digitized sound, but there was no separate option in the install program.  The game would detect the card using the SET BLASTER variable in the autoexec.bat.

At this stage, Sierra was heavily promoting CD-ROM versions of its titles, but they would be released after the disk versions.  The key addition of the CD-ROM was the inclusion of voice acting in games which had previously been text-only for lack of space.  However, like early motion picture talkies, Sierra's initial efforts were not always impressive.  In KQ5, SQ4, LB2, EQ1, Jones, and Mother Goose, Sierra's staffers provided the voices and the results are often cringe-inducing.  In KQ6 and LSL6, they used professional voice actors.

I have occasionally come across a game with Gravis Ultrasound driver for music and speech.  I do not believe that the work involved in getting the GUS to work is worth it.

16-bit digitized sound is supported using the Media Vision Pro Audio Spectrum 16 or Windows Sound System drivers in DOS, but for a Sound Blaster, even a 16, the sound would be 8-bit only unless you used the AUDBLAST.DRV driver from the Freddy Pharkas or Leisure Suit Larry 6 CD.

SCI2 Games:
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers
The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery
King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride
Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out! (hi-res CD-ROM version)
Mixed-Up Mother Goose Deluxe
Police Quest: Open Season
Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness
Space Quest 6: The Spinal Frontier
Torin's Passage

SCI2 drastically reduces the available options.  Gone is support for EGA or joysticks.  These games require Extended Memory.  They use a DPMI extender to access it.  All were released on CD-ROM, and only Gabriel Knight, Police Quest IV and Quest for Glory IV had floppy releases.  At this point, there was little reason to use the floppies.

Police Quest IV - Supports 640x480 VESA graphics with the floppy install, all the other SCI2 games support high resolution graphics with their CD-ROM version only.  The floppy version allows the player to choose VGA or VESA, the CD-ROM auto-detects whether the video card supports VESA and selects that mode if it does.  Leisure Suit Larry 6 works in the same way.

Gabriel Knight 1 - The first Sierra CD game with actual "name & face" voice actors.  Previous Sierra efforts had the production team voice the characters, (KQ5, SQ4, LB2) or had professional voice actors (KQ6, QG4), but this was the first game where actors known (Tim Curry, Mark Hamill, Michael Dorn, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) or would become known (Leah Remini, Rocky Carroll) by face and name to the general public were used.  Never again would a Sierra SCI game feature so prominent a cast.

Quest for Glory IV is the only game using the SCI2 interpreter that does not support high-resolution graphics.

Gabriel Knight 2 and Phantasmagoria were the only SCI2 games to use FMV, coming on a whopping 6 and 7 CD-ROMs, respectively.  The former and Torin's Passage has digitized music, no more Adlib or MIDI support.

All CD-ROM only games support 640x480x256 graphics only.  This meant that they required SVGA/VESA capabilities, since straight VGA cannot support this.

King's Quest VII was originally only released for Windows 3.x.  It also could take the greatest hard drive space of any DOS SCI game, 100MB, if installed with the full options.  Version 2.0 added DOS and Windows 95 compatibility.  Mixed Up Mother Goose Deluxe and Shivers were the first SCI games never released for DOS.

Support for the Sound Blaster AWE32 for music was added.

Two observations about the gameplay of many of SCI2-3 games is that they no longer had that "death on every screen" aspect of earlier games.  While you could die in most of these games, there was an option to replay the sequence and hopefully avoid death.  This spared the player from the failure to save the game every minute.  In addition to lethal nature of earlier games, dead-end situations abounded.  These tended to be reduced in these titles.

The second observation is the elimination of icons.  Games began using just a cursor, which would function as a look, use, walk, talk and get command depending on the context.  Sometimes a command menu would be displayed.  The cursor would often highlight on an object on the screen that could be interacted with.

SCI3 Games:
Leisure Suit Larry: Love for Sail!
Lighthouse: The Dark Being
Phantasmagoria II: A Puzzle of Flesh

The final version of SCI, SCI3, required a VESA compatible graphics card and were all released on CD and do not support Midi.

Phantasmagoria only supported Windows out of the box, Sierra released a patch so it could be used in DOS.  DOS only supports 256 colors, Windows supports 16-bit (65535) color.  

I originally included Shivers 2 on the list, but it apparently is not a true SCI game and it has no DOS support.

Lists of all known SCI games are available here :