King's Quest: Mask of Eternity

Making of



Early game concept

King's Quest designer Roberta Williams decided around late 1994, while she was still working on Phantasmagoria, that the next King's Quest game would be in 3-D. 3-D games were gaining a lot of popularity with games like Doom and, with it being the 8th in the series, Roberta wanted it to be bigger and better. Her mind was set on going 3-D early on and she was determined to be the lead designer herself. She also played around with the idea to add multiplayer. Some of the early ideas for internet capability or multiplayer were to allow players to be able to swap magical items in the game. However she and co-designer Mark Seibert decided that the 3-D concept by itself would already be challenging enough, so they decided to leave multiplayer out of it. They basically had to build the technology from scratch. The game was primarily going to be in first-person, and switch to 3rd person for cut scenes, and certain puzzle areas.


Character development

When Roberta Williams and Mark Seibert started working on the game, Roberta wanted a new character. There were several discussions on making the character Alexander, but in the end a new character won out as Roberta felt she had already extensively told the stories of the royal family. Connor was to be a marble statue of a knight that was brought to life at the moment of the cataclysm that turned everyone living into stone, reversing a spell on the statue itself. By saving the kingdom and royal family, Connor would then have the chance to become a real man by the end of the game (in the style of Pinocchio). There were even hints that Rosella might fall in love with him. This was the idea until early 1996.

An article in Gamespot in May 1996 however changed the story and introduced Connor mac Lyrr, the son of a fisherman. This was confirmed by an article in InterAction in Fall 1996:

"The Mask of Eternity is no mere sword and sorcery adventure. You enter the Kingdom of Daventry as Connor mac Lyrr (the son of a fisherman), who alone has been passed over by an evil spell that turned every mortal inhabitant to stone. Connor must find a way to restore them to flesh and blood. At the heart of the dilemma is the The Mask of Eternity, which was broken into seven pieces and scattered by the Cosmic Winds to seven different lands at the moment of Connor's birth. A piece of the Mask touched Connor as he was born, leaving a vivid scar on his cheek. He carries this scar as an adult - a sign that he has been marked for greatness. The quest to find the seven pieces of the Mask and restore them to the Island Temple is his destiny. Only by accomplishing this can he end the chaos that now rules the land."

According to this story, the curse would actually take place on Connor's 20th birthday, 20 years after the Mask was shattered. Notice also that they speak about 7 mask pieces, rather than 5 in the final release of the game.

In the end Connor mac Lyrr would simply become Connor of Daventry, a tanner living in the outskirts of Daventry. His full name still being mentioned in InterAction in early 1998 when the game was nearly completed. The final version of Connor would save him from the apocalypse by holding a piece of the Mask in his hands as the curse would strike, no longer by the facial scar he endured during his birth 20 years earlier.

Connor in the Barren region, InterAction Fall 1996


Three game designs

The design of the game was not an easy matter and ran into multiple setbacks and consequent delays. There were in fact three different complete game designs, the first two of which got tossed out for various reasons. In several cases it was Roberta's excessive design - there were apparently some technology limitation issues limiting Roberta's vision, as some things were deemed too impossible by her staff. Later in development she was much more aware of those things that could and could not be done in 3-D and how to build puzzles around the physical actions. The lack of a proper game engine did not help either.

They had originally planned to have one big world but this was replaced by a linear set of worlds because of two main reasons: the first reason was that each world had its own color palette (for example the Barren region was mostly orange and the Frozen Reaches mostly white and blue) so that made it very hard to make a fluent transition from one area to another if they were directly connected. The other reason is that the outdated 3Space level editor, which was used at Sierra and in the process of an upgrade at Dynamix, couldn't handle it.

Between the first design and the second design everything changed: the story, the puzzles, the worlds, and the characters. Between the second and third design, the story and the worlds were pretty much set, but they still had some major changes and additions to puzzles and characters. In fact, they still were changing and adding puzzles and characters right up to the very end. Material was being scrapped, and ideas were switching around. For example one character switched from being a red cap goblin, into a leprechaun, and back to the red cap goblin before the character became the Spriggan leader in the finalized game. Quite a bit was scrapped during the first design of this phase, moving onto the second design, and quite a bit more would be scrapped before moving onto the third and final design, the 'Connor of Daventry' phase.

Among the things that were cut were at least two worlds: a seaside world and an underwater world with mermaids, the hydra and other characters. Also Daventry would have been larger and included the swamp, as well as a seaport. Also the Realm of the Sun, Paradise Lost and Dimension of Death would have been entirely different and larger. The Realm of the sun for example was planned to be an island in the sea, not a building in the sky. However, if everything would have been implemented as originally planned, and following the delays during development, Mask of Eternity would have taken four instead of 3 years to be completed.

Roberta afterwards stated that never before in her career did she make so many changes in a single game design. All together it took around 3 years to build the game with a budget of 3 million dollars.


Combat

Early on, there was no combat, or ideas for combat. Early 1996 Mark Seibert suggested to add combat to the game, as much of the areas explored between puzzles were empty. The limitations of the engine they used may have contributed to that idea. Roberta had initially argued against the inclusion of combat, but ultimately she agreed it was a good idea, but it would be one of the issues she would soon bat heads with the Davidsons over. Among the first creatures designed in the game were the Frost Demons and red-cap goblin. Also the Swamp Witch appeared to have been among the early creatures and hardly changed from its original concept.





The Davidsons

Around September 1996, shortly after CUC's acquisition of Sierra On-Line, Bob Davidson became CEO of CUC Software. Bob and Jan Davidson of the parent company Davidson and Associates took offense of Roberta's work (primarily based on their conservative view of Phantasmagoria), and attempted to make there own 'sanitized' non-violent and possibly non-religious version of KQ8. They put a group of managers in charge that made demands of Roberta's team, wrote their own script and puzzles, even going as far to try to tell the development team to ignore Roberta's ideas. Roberta Williams began to feel as if she was losing much of her creative vision and control over the project, but she continued to work with her team on her own version, resisting the Davidsons' version. During this point Roberta even felt like leaving her name off the final product.

However, the Davidsons left the company in January 1997, and Roberta had reasserted her control over the project and was finally willing to include her name with the project. However the damage by the Davidsons had been done both to time and resources.


The third stage

The design started picking up speed, initiating the playable phase, when things were beginning to be finalized and the game not only included locations but also puzzles. The earliest screenshots of it appear around spring of 1997. The concept box art at this time added King's Quest into the title, calling it King's Quest: Mask of Eternity, but the focus was put on "Mask" in large letters. 'King's Quest' was in much smaller letters.

Early 1997 Mask of Eternity box art.



Game engine

The development of the first and second game design was mostly done mostly in 3Space 3-d level/model editor by Dynamix. Sierra used the less-advanced version of the engine which was used for EarthSiege 2. While it did allow limited playable exploration, the engine could not handle the puzzles and other elements. While Sierra waited for an upgraded version of the 3Space Dynamix flight simulator engine, which was being developed for Red Baron II and other Dynamix flight sims, they worked on the models and prototype levels. However, due to Dynamix extended engine development period, Sierra switched to building their own in-house engine, which retained only a few features from the original 3Space that they had started development with. They started building this new engine for the 3rd and final development phase of the game. According to Mark Seibert, they started with the engine from Red Baron, but pretty much left only the rendering portion of it for the software engine, pretty much everything else was rewritten at Sierra. Once again this pushed the release of the game further backwards and further increased the budget.


Resignations and staff changes

The setbacks by the Davidsons and game engine were not the end of it yet. Early 1997 lead artist John Shroades resigned from Sierra as he became disheartened with the 3D technology. He moved on to Microsoft and later stated:

"I was the art director on Mask when it started. Mask had a big influence on why I and others left Sierra. It was obvious Sierra had, unfortunately, lost touch with the direction of the game industry in the mid 90's... The disappointing decision to force Mask into a 3d engine before 3d was ready for that kind of experience couldn't deliver the visuals needed... in the mid 90's the game audience started demanding a deeper or more fast paced experience and the slow story experience was a smaller audience that was difficult for game companies to justify production for... I know it was a forced project trying to use a technology that wasn't ready to deliver that kind of experience."

Roberta filled the void with Jason Piel. Under Jason some of the character ideas and concepts were changed, along with some of the art direction. Around this time Roberta was also toying with changing the game engine to something more powerful, and this required upgrading or replacing many of the assets so that they would push new technology further, pushing the deadline even further back.

The game would lose several other staff members between 1997 and the release of the game, including Adam Szofran, one of the game programmers, who was responsible for sound, UI, and some physics development for King's Quest 8. He stopped working on Mask of Eternity in 1997, but continued to work for Sierra until February 1998, before moving over to Dynamix where he worked until October 1999. Layne Gifford, who was responsible for creating textures, 3D objects and levels, continued to work for Sierra up into 1998. Al Eufrasio, one of the game's animators, also worked for Sierra up into 1998 but in other capacities.


Game release

Finally, after 3 years of rewriting, redesigning, lots of cuts, engine problems, changes in the development team, delays and a budget far beyond original projections, the game was ready to be shipped.

On June 22 1998, shortly before the release, Mark Seibert, who also produced the game stated in his final update to the community:

It's been awhile since my last progress report. The game is really starting to look good, and we're heading into the home stretch as far as development goes. That's why this will probably be my last progress report. The design is complete, the technical issues have been mostly resolved, we're down to just doing it, and I don't want to take my attention off of the most important thing... Making a great game!

So what have we done, and what can you expect? Most of the engine issues are resolved, or are very close to being resolved. Here's what we have been adding and tweaking:

Real shadows - Not just some blob of color below the character, this is a shadow that is generated on the fly from the actual character moving. These shadows can be turned on separately for Connor, the characters, the monsters, and the objects (Depending on your machine speed).
Dynamic Lighting - Lights in the world effect the characters, the objects, the terrain, and the buildings around them. This has created a lot of great moodiness in the worlds. In addition, these lights can move around, flicker, and can effect distant objects causing light pooling effects.
Translucency - We added this effect to water, magical items and effects, spirits, glass, etc. All of these translucent objects can have their opacity set to optimize their appearance in the world.
Monster AI - Yes, it's been controversial. King's Quest: Mask of Eternity will be the first King's Quest that has an element of real-time combat. Remember King's Quest VI? Wouldn't it have been fun if you could have participated more in the final sword fight ? Well now you will! Don't worry though, this is not a combat game, it's just one of the many parts of the game that make it fun. We have included 3 difficulty levels for combat: Easy (For those who might have difficulty with fighting), Normal (The way we think it should be) , and Hard (For those who are gluttons for punishment).
3D - It's a whole New World out there. You're no longer stuck moving from picture to picture. You move Connor and the camera where you want, when you want. There's never been a more open explorative game.
Adventure - Yes, this is what it's all about! King's Quest has always been an adventure, and King's Quest: Mask of Eternity will be the biggest and longest King's Quest to date. The seven worlds are huge. Exploration is a major factor. A map for each world uncovers as you explore every road, house, cave, and structure. As you explore, you'll meet over 50 characters to talk to, dozens of creatures to fight, and a plethora of puzzles to solve.

Story, Story, Story! - Roberta has always been a great storyteller, and she won't disappoint with this new episode in the King's Quest saga. As in all King's Quest's you will discover a story steeped in myth and lore, ancient civilizations, and characters from legends of old.

Well, as you can tell, we're all very excited about this game. It feels very new and fresh. We can't wait to get this done and out for you to play. So, with no further ado, I'm going to get back to work and try to get this thing done!

Mark Seibert, Mask of Eternity Producer

Mask of Eternity shipped on November 30 1998.