For computer game makers, as for some of their most popular multimedia characters, danger is all around. While sales of entertainment software continue to rise, the landscape has become so competitive, analysts say, that slow-footed publishers may perish. The bloat in the market is deadly.
Enter Sierra On-Line, the 15-year-old Seattle company that has slipped from industry champion to aging contender. Sensing the threat, Sierra is attempting to revamp its image by acquiring promising companies like Pixellite Group, the developer of such graphics programs as Print Artist, distributed by Maxis, and developing a spate of new games to be released this year.
The company is now hoping to whip up some enthusiasm for the new collection, which includes titles for adults and younger players. It recently kicked off a national preview press tour at the Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville. The result: a new and improved line of games including a horror title so intricate it requires seven compact discs.
A look at some of the titles
Among those displaying their work at the Woodinville reception last month was Seattle-based game designer Jane Jensen, who demonstrated The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery. The sequel to last year's Gabriel Knight: The Sins of the Fathers, this game follows the adventures of a New Orleans bookstore owner turned Schattenjager, a German word for "a detective-like investigator of the supernatural."
Technologically, The Beast Within appears to be far more advanced than the first Gabriel Knight game. While the original had attractive animated graphics, The Beast Within uses live action and features real actors filmed on location in Germany. Jensen has also created an elegant interface that appears far simpler to use than the multi-icon configuration of the original Gabriel Knight.
Jensen says her game will incorporate many supernatural elements but will be more a mystery than a horror story. It will be available on both Macintosh and Windows CD-ROM before Christmas.
A twist for Al Lowe
An unexpected switch in Sierra's new lineup involves Al Lowe, best known for his adult games with bawdy humor. Lowe, a resident of Bellevue, has temporarily shelved his software alter ego, the ineptly on-the-make Leisure Suit Larry, to create a game for the whole family - Torin's Passage.
In the familiar Lowe style, Torin's Passage combines slapstick comedy, a twisted story line and a touch of sophistication. It is the story of a 16-year-old's search for missing parents who have been spirited away by an evil sorceress, Lycentia. It will be available on CD-ROM for both Mac and Windows systems in November.
And in an ironic twist, Roberta Williams, whose King's Quest series has earned her a reputation for innovative family games, is releasing an adult horror game. Phantasmagoria, which requires seven CDs, is a live-action game Williams says was written with Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King in mind.
Surprisingly, although Sierra has been hyping it as "the game to watch for" since last year, Phantasmagoria was not demonstrated at the party. Though her product is scheduled for release this month on CD-ROM for both Mac and Windows, Williams said it was not yet ready for viewing; she did not attend the party.
Steven L. Kent, a Kirkland writer, reviews computer games for the Seattle Times and other publications.