King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!
King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! is a graphical adventure game developed and published by Sierra On-Line and released for MS-DOS in 1990-11-09 and later ported to several other platforms including the NES. It is the fifth title in the King's Quest series and pioneers Sierra's upgraded SCI1 engine which uses 256 colors, a 16-color version was also made for those stuck with an EGA card. In the game, King Graham returns from a stroll to find that his castle and his family have disappeared! A friendly owl named Cedric saw the whole thing and takes Graham far away to the land of Serenia to meet with his master, a wizard named Crispin. Graham learns that his castle was magicked away by the evil wizard Mordack who Graham must vanquish.
I first played this game shortly after it was released at my cousin's house. Each weekend, I would come over, and we would get a little further in the game. My cousin eventually beat the game during the week, and he showed me the ending when I came over the following weekend. After buying the King's Quest Collection on Steam, I decided to play through the game again. It was then that I realized that there was a small portion of the game that I hadn't seen at all. So, having very little memory of it, I played the game through to completion and beat it completely by myself on 2018-10-07.
I own the CD-ROM version of King's Quest V in the King's Quest Collection on Steam. I have beaten it.
- Overall: 6/10
- Best Version: DOS (CD-ROM version)
— This section contains spoilers! —
- The background graphics are phenomenal for the time, and still impressive decades later.
- Many actions that other games would simply describe are fully animated, and animated well.
- The graphic icon menu and cursor system, though it dumbs-down the game, is well-designed. The icons and cursors are intuitive and well-drawn.
- The music of Ken Allen and Mark Seibert is quite lovely and well-suited for the game, and there is a lot of continuity throughout the soundtrack.
- The updated features of the SCI1 engine (256 colors, more audio devices, graphic cursors, etc.) are fantastic.
- The CD-ROM version of the game has full speech. The voice acting of the Narrator and King Graham are both great. Also, new portrait boxes were drawn with mouth animation that has been synced to the voice-acting fairly well.
- The game has some pretty great puns.
- To help with immersion, I think adventure games should be designed in such a way that a very careful and observant player should be able to beat the game on their first play-though without dying. However, a large percentage of the puzzles in KQ5 effectively require you to first die in order to have information available to solve a later puzzle.
- There aren't any alternate ways to solve puzzles that also have a path to victory, and only a handful of optional puzzles. This makes the point system... well... pointless.
- The sprite graphics look artificial due to the poor color choice on the static palette (see the Technical section below).
- The mouse cursor flickers so much it's distracting.
- There are effectively only four puzzle types to the game: finding a hidden item, mapping a maze, figuring out which items can be used on an object, and the occasional movement puzzle. The designers probably could have come up with more diverse puzzles.
- I don't care for the slapstick comedy in the game or the stupid magic words used by Crispin in the ending.
- Though he's supposed to be a hero, Graham never fails to take advantage of someone else's misfortune. Oh, this golden needle is yours? I'll take that cloak you spent hours making to get it back! Want your magic spinning wheel? Surrender your child's favorite toy as payment!
- The revolving perspective of the labyrinth under Mordack's castle seems to have been designed just to be hard to map, which is rather annoying.
- Mordack's castle in general is both dull and frustrating. Most of the rooms are empty except for some random encounters that force you to watch a long death animation before being allowed to restore, only one of which can be stopped permanently. Waiting for Mordack to fall asleep is especially unreasonable.
- The design of Dink and the blue beast don't really fit in the fantasy world. They look more like aliens.
- The CD-ROM voice acting for the bulk of the secondary characters is pretty bad. Sierra used their own workers who are clearly not trained voice actors.
- The CD-ROM version randomly crashes with an "Out of handles!" error message. Not a crazy amount, but enough to be annoying.
- For some reason, several of the graphics, the CD-ROM portraits especially, have small sections of repeated pixels indicating that they weren't originally drawn to the correct size, and were poorly copy-pasted to be larger.
- There are far too many ways to put the game into an unwinnable state. Although a large portion of them are fairly obvious, a few are unpredictable.
- Some of the puzzles have extremely abstract ridiculous moon-logic solutions (honey comb, custard pie, moldy cheese). These are solved, not by logic, but simply by using items randomly until something works.
- youtube.com/watch?v=Z442oM87tLo - PushingUpRoses review.
- youtube.com/watch?v=tw8qDmevBM8 - PushingUpRoses - Is Cedric Evil?
- youtube.com/watch?v=CoUALyYo97g - DOS longplay (CD-ROM version).
- youtube.com/watch?v=PfBHRNBDsYw - DOS longplay (floppy version).
- youtube.com/watch?v=dYGGIMJzO1Y - DOS longplay (16-color version).
- youtube.com/watch?v=PxuFAw7Sp4g - NES longplay.
Unlike its predecessors, King's Quest V uses VGA graphics, however, many other games of the era used VGA graphics, but still didn't look nearly as impressive, so how did Sierra accomplish this feat?
First, the background images were painted using traditional brush and canvas methods. From there, they were digitally scanned into a computer. However, since VGA only supports 256 colors on the screen at a time, the graphics had to undergo color-reduction to use no more than 256 distinct colors. Many games of the time use a single palette of the same 256 colors for an entire game, but Sierra wisely used a different palette for each background. This made the art look better because the palette could be adjusted to best fit each background. For example, in the diagram to the right, the top image of Crispin's house has a creek in front of it, so the palette has a lot of blue, but the bottom image below is a forest path, so the palette is mostly green and brown with only a little cyan for the sky.
But there is a problem with using a unique palette for each screen. The sprites, like Graham and Cedric, and the menu bar, must look the same on every screen, but if all of the colors in palette changed each screen, so too would the colors in the sprites. So, the designers made the first 64 colors of the palette constant throughout the game. All the game's animated objects, menu system, and dialog boxes are made from these colors, while the background is made up of the remaining 192 colors, and can also use the first 64 since they never change.
With over three times as many colors to work with, the backgrounds look much nicer than the sprites. And, with only shades of gray, red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, blue, and magenta with which to draw the sprites, all the animations must be made from the same eight colors. This is why the sprites of KQ5 stand out so much from the background and aren't as nicely shaded. King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow uses a similar system, but the 64 colors used for sprites have are more natural colors resulting in more realistic sprites.
One other thing to note is how the colors used for the background images are all jumbled up, while the sprite colors are highly ordered; this clues us into another aspect of the development process. The backgrounds were painted using traditional methods and then scanned and reduced down to 192 distinct colors using a computer algorithm. This results in an optimal color palette which looks messy to humans, but works just fine for computers. In the case of the sprites, the color palette was made first, and then the sprites were drawn from it, completely digitally on a computer.
- midimusicadventures.com/queststudios/digital-soundtracks/kq5/ - Soundtrack recording.