Atmosphere (some may refer to as Tonal Shifts) refers to the pervading tone or mood of a place, situation, or creative work. In King's Quest terms this can be largely 'subjective' and open to many interpretations. Some focus on the more 'comic' or 'whimsical' "Fractured Fairy Tales", or sanitized Disney-style fairy tale cartoon-like elements while others see the series as dark and realistic, cinematic, high fantasy.

Background Edit

Among the fans and developers of the King's Quest series there are generally two schools of thought with very little overlap in between... The first is that King's Quest is generally light hearted family friendly series filled with humor, puns, and jokes.

This first vision can be split into two forms those who see the series as being 'cartoon-like', and the others who view the series as being more storybook like.

On the other extreme end of the spectrum are those who see one or more games in the series as somehow darker or grittier than any previous game in the series. In some cases that the entire series was more 'somber' and 'medieval' than 'comedy'... inspiring developers to create new series intended to go to extreme to make to comedic extremes which turned into the Sci Fi themed, Space Quest.

In reality the truth is more that there is usually a balance between these two themes of both 'serious' elements along with the more comic inspired material, often juxtaposed in ironic moments. Many of the darkest moments are wrapped with humor or even comic slapstick.

Comedy, humor and whimsyEdit


See Cartoon.

KQ5 Review noting the 'humor'

Cartoons ('interactive cartoon', 'animated cartoon', 'Saturday-morning cartoon', 'cartoony') are terms often used to describe many of the games (or elements of the games) in the King's Quest series by developers, critics, competitors, and fans alike. The linked article covers the history of this usage.

From King's Quest 1 sierra approached IBM to promote the idea of creating an 'interactive cartoon' game for IBM's PCjr. This game became known as King's Quest (inspired by the non-animated Wizard and the Princess before it.) Since then King's Quest became known for its three-dimensional cartoon quality overwhelming and delighting its hundreds of thousands of fans. Since then it had been a tradition for Sierra, on up to many of King's Quests, and many of the later VGA Sierra games (until the company dabbled with "full-motion video") that Sierra often categorized their games as 'interactive animated cartoons', with what it called '3-D Animated Adventure Games'. (compare to Sierra's Disney's Black Cauldron for similar influence by Disney on early AGI 3D Animated Adventure style, made in part due to the success of King's Quest on the market)

Keep in mind that cartoon does not always denote 'unrealistic' or 'silly' but may just be a synonym term for 'animation', so in the case of King's Quest there can be a blend of both 'exaggerated' silly or humorous antics of Merry Melodies, Silly Symphonies, or Looney Toons but also include the more serious elements of Don Bluth or Disney Animated Films (just like those films also tend to include silly along with serious subject matter). Just as you can find different styles of cartoons/animation on TV or Movies to this day. however when 'cartoon' is used as an adjective it is almost always has to do with 'humor/satire/caricature' meaning of the term, rather than necessarily the 'animation' definition (and Sierra has used both meanings throughout its history). But not everyone has the same sense of humor or necessarily sees things in the same light. While interpretations of the amount of silly or humor to the amount of seriousness (or what or how people see things as 'funny') is an entirely subjective matter and determined individually (for example the "Two Guys from Andromeda" viewed King's Quest and most other sierra games at the time as somber and medieval, and they wanted to design a series they considered 'silly', which became Space Quest). However, humor has always been a part of the series since the beginning, but has generally been of a slapstick or musical and sight gags and sometimes of situational humor varieties, or simply storybook/fable-style humor, as well as puns particularly after the second game (and in the earliest games sometimes ironic or snarky commentary from the narrator) .

Even games up to KQ5 was sometimes marketed as a cinematic Hollywood-style 'cartoon'... See making of video/advertisement for King's Quest V. While KQ7 used actual cell-based cartoon animation in the traditional style (with mixed-quality but advertised as film quality animation).


See Storybook.

Another style interpretation that appears around the time of the VGA games (but can be traced back to KQ4 and KQ1SCI) is the view that King's Quest, or influenced by the 'box art' and 'manuals' that came with earlier games is that of a fairy tale "storybook". In this case the series representing 'innocent' possibly moral building fairy tales of the players and developers youth that their grandparents or parents may have read to them.

In this sense some developers and players interpreted the game not as a Hollywood style adaptation animated TV series or film, but rather more as interactive storybook come alive, with more serious artwork and ageless realism.

For those who see the games in this style KQ8 feels out of place to them, and KQ8 seems like a mood whiplash going in the opposite direction into dark high fantasy.

This view was largely solidified by the new more realistic artwork and sprites introduced in King's Quest 5 and the live action animation capture used in KQ6 (the latter was painted over to return it more to hand drawn story book appearance of the previous game). Although the EGA SCI games also looked slightly more detailed and realistic than their early AGI counterparts as well (but can be seen as intermediate state between old and new graphics).

While most people would be turned off by truly live action FMV style King's Quest (in particular as it might be seen as even 'too realistic', or 'dark' for a children's series seen as storybook). There is generally been no issues the style and sprites presented in KQ5 and KQ6 which can look like hand-painted illustrations within a storybook. This style would likely be much harder to replicate in HD spiriting however due it being much harder to animate sprites that have too much detail, as the various animated elements generally would not match up perfectly (hence the going in the direction of cell style animation found in KQ7).

That being said despite having a more realistic animations and use of motion capture and some FMV techniques in KQ6 this generation of KQ still maintained its slapstick elements and comedy... Some viewers and even developers still saw the series as 'cartoony' compared to other games at the time.

The Reboot series artwork is kind of a mix between King's Quest 5 and KQ1SCI inspired artwork (with use of watercolors) and some of KQ7 style animation. So it lies somewhat in between 'cartoon-style and 'story-book' style. While it is in 3D characters are not just 'cell-shaded models (like Tell Tale uses in many of its comic inspired series), but look more like hand painted animated characters. The detail on the characters is greater than you often seen in animated films (with fully defined textures and shading and even down to minor details like wear and tear on Graham's hat) which add to the 'painting'/illustration feel to the game. But at the same time the animation style and artwork has an almost Don Bluth or Disney feature length animated film style to it as well.

Fairy tales as storybooks is a major theme that also appears in the Reboot Canon, and is touched on most heavily in Chapter 2.

Realism and serious dramaEdit

Cinematic Live-Action Film and TelevisionEdit

King's Quest 4 (1988) - Promotional Video

King's Quest 4 (1988) - Promotional Video

See KQ4 commercial
KingsQuest8 beginning 1920x1200

In the beginning, there was the end.

KingsQuest8 countdown 1920x1200

Five months, one weeks, six days, four hours.

KingsQuest8 mirror 1920x1200

Relinguish your soul.

At the time of King's Quest IV's release they were not only advertising the game as 'cartoon', or 'storybook' in some cases, but also advertising it as a cinematic movie experience with its animations being akin to full motion video (assuming that players only had to use their imaginations) promoting its music which had been composed by TV and Film composer William Goldstein. Sierra Magazine and InterAction would both progressively compare the company to the film industry "quality" over the years and much of this was spearheaded later by Bill Davis.

To go along with this advertising method Sierra produced a couple of commercials one which focused on the cinematic musical score and 'improved hires graphics' that was TV and film quality, as well as advertising a contest to win a trip to visit actual castles in England.

The second and more interesting of the commercials is a live action sequence with Rosella exploring a cave and then being attacked by the Troll in a violent manner (it includes Rosella's blood curdling scream as well as the troll making creepy insane laughs). It was included with several other 'live-action' commercials for other games by Sierra (including Gold Rush and Police Quest II), which also advertised SIerra's games as essentially being akin to feature length TV or film industry.

Perhaps other attempts by marketing to put a more 'realistic' live action cinematic spin on the series for advertising purposes was the original Tandy/IBM box art for KQ1, which showed the Three Treasures of Daventry as an actual photograph of treasures (which was in extreme contrast to the advertising and artwork that was included with the PCJR version of the game and its manual).

Finally the KQ8 advertising campaign had a live-action photograph of someone's face (possibly Connor) in a pose that looks like a scream, another with a photograph of a shirtless barbarian's back sporting a pony tail with a sword on his back, a third showing a man/warriors glaring eyes, and another advertisement which had very realistic photographic portrayal of rotting steps and a gate. Again attempting to focus the game at aa more 'mature' market at the time, with a potential interest in dark fantasy films.

Many modern fans would be against an actual full motion video King's Quest game, movie or tv show.

Darker and EdgierEdit

KingsQuest8 courage 1920x1200

How do you measure courage? By the pint or by the gallon?

This subtitle borrows from a trope referenced on TV Tropes refering to some players interpretations of the series more dramatic elements, rather than focusing on more whimsical/fairy tale elements.

As stated at TV tropes (with additional expansions):

Darker and Edgier The first three games were relatively bright, cheery, and full of in-jokes and humor. But this didn't stop later games from being accused of becoming darker, edgier, or more 'evil' with each game's release.

  • The "Two Guys from Andromeda" (who worked on KQ1 and KQ2) viewed King's Quest and most other sierra games at the time dark and serious, it was to them somber and medieval, and they wanted to design a series they considered 'silly', which became Space Quest.[1] They began development around the time of the development of KQ3 (with both games being released around the same time).
  • KQ1 artwork is fairly bright, but the game and its manuals touches on a couple of mature themes including the fall of a kingdom, and its ailing monarch. The manual discusses how the king's queen was possibly poisoned and murdered, three times Edward tricked and betrayed by people he thought he could trust. The manuals also discuss how kingdom has been destroyed by war, famine, plague and pestilence, that populous whoever hasn't been killed by invaders is starving, the countryside has become remote, and taken over by invaders, and monsters, and the kingdom is about to fall. Even Graham's mission is thought to be foolish or impossible by some. While Graham is successful in the lonely and largely abandoned landscape, he returns for his king to die... stepping over the dead body of his former liege he crowns himself the new king...
  • Though KQ2 can be seen as largely a continuation of KQ1 in style of puzzles and design, it's often noted that the world it takes place in is a darker and lonelier land, ruled by vampires, ghouls, ghosts, and a witch. The 'former?' The princess of the land was kidnapped by the Witch, and locked away in a tower in another land. Even the name Kolyma is a reference to a bleak region of Siberia. Perhaps, though, it is best described as a land of contrasts in that it's a sunny place during the day, and turns into a very dark place at night (this is represented by the third key sequence to confront Dracula in his castle, though there is not really any day and night mechanic in the game). Graham even begins the story with a prophecy by the ghost of the former king, stating that if he doesn't find a queen soon, he will end up cursed like the former king (shades of Hamlet, without the murder) to die without an heir and the kingdom to fall into ruin. The Companion noted this addition of darker and more isolated feelings and ideas, and expanded upon the role of the monks as the only protectors in the land, trying to keep evil at bay.
  • KQ3 was accused of being satanic due to an evil wizard and use of magic spells. Some fans considered the concept of kidnapping children and slavery to be darker and edgier than previous games. However, KQ3 still maintains the high level of humorous narrative commentary of the previous two games, and almost all the punishments are done in a tongue-in-cheek manner, and often accompanied with a 'bad pun' (such as Alexander subjugated to 1980's aerobics, down to the 1980's pop music). According to Roberta Williams (in comparing KQ3 to KQ8): "KQ3 was very dark, and it utilized lots of magic and magic spells with the basic idea of finding ingredients for "black magic" spells and then casting those spells. (Certain religious groups were upset with me over that one!)"-Roberta Williams, 1997
  • KQ4 changed the artwork to something more realistic and less cartoony. One anecdote mentioned that fans, upon seeing the intro, left the theatre crying. Some consider the game to be darker than previous games because of its topic of 'death and dying' of a major character, and some of the creepy regions that Rosella has to pass through to save her father and Genesta. The King's Quest Companion pointed out this 'change in tone' (as it saw it), and even tried to tie Tamir into the H.P. Lovecraft Mythos (with ideas of zombies, mummies, dholes, fishmen, Innsmouth, and night gaunts/goons). A fishman (righout of Creature of the Black Lagoon, and likely inspiring the Innsmouth fishmen references in the Companion) actually can be encountered in the swamp. When day turns to night the land becomes a lot more dark and sinister especially around the old manor house and graveyards, and tomb.
  • The SCI remake of KQ1 changed the artwork from the bright cheery appearance of the original to a more diseased and decaying Daventry, with darker regions and a more mature script. Even the topic of Edward's death is taken more seriously. It's no surprise that many fans consider this the darker version of the game.
  • KQ5 saw yet another change to the art style. The concept of family being kidnapped and Graham witnessing his son being tortured, made this game's plot the darkest yet, and the darker regions explored (and some cases downright demonic imagery) gave the series a darker and more realistic feel.
  • Some reviewers of KQ6 saw it as a huge departure from previous games. According to Donald Trivette, in the Official Book of King's Quest, 3rd Edition. "KQ6 can be seen as a sharp departure from the previous quests, in large part because it was the first quest in which creator/designer Roberta Williams had a collaborator. There is a darkness to the scenes not found in earlier quests. Overall the sixth has an ominous tone." (The Official Book of King's Quest, 3rd Edition, pg 10). In an interview in the book: Trivette comments; "This quest seems to have a darker, more ominous tone than the other King’s Quests; it is also more wordy. Is there a reason?", to which Roberta Williams replied: "I was thinking that same thing the other day, but I don’t believe we made it intentionally ominous. It just turned out that way."
  • In some ways, it might be seen that KQ8, after the atmosphere of KQ7, returned to a darker, more realistic style. This game took the series in a direction that embarrassed some of Sierra's designers. Among them were Jane Jensen, who wrote: "Me and my poor befuddled brain, trying to fathom a Sierra where... the most recent King's Quest involves killing things? Whatever happened to saving the cute little bee queen? HAS THE WORLD GONE MAD?" (Ironically, Jane Jensen's own King's Quest 6 was also noted for being darker and more ominous itself.) Some might argue that it went past "Dark and Edgier' and went Bloodier and Gorier due to certain enemy and character death animations.
    • Note: KQ8 actually does have 'cute' bee-like wisps, among its more zany characters. Quite a few of the characters are nods back to similar characters in previous games (including ice queens, crystal dragons, evil dwarves, etc). The 'encounters' can be seen as a nod back to the "Bad Guys" 'encounters' in the earliest King's Quest games, such as KQ1, that were included as a kind of 'arcade' moment to hinder, block, or annoy the player, and add something to do in largely desolate and unused screens, but at the time could not be 'fought' due to limitations in the game mechanics.
    • The advertising for KQ8 is especially dark and gothic showing rotting dungeon steps/gate, and in some photographs of a gritty and dirty possibly bloodied warrior.
  • The Reboot Series as a whole zigzags relative to the original seven games, too. The original games can be seen as more serious but light-hearted, whereas this new series has a darker and more somber plot, but also takes things in more silly and comical directions (neurotic characters, gags and punning). Graham is strong, determined, emotionally stable and stoic in the original series, where this Graham is known to geek out over his choco-chip pancakes or popcorn-flavored jellybeans even in old age.
    • Chapter 2 was more serious than any of the other chapters (with the exception of perhaps Chapter 4 and Chapter 5), with all the citizens captured and potentially starving to death.
    • The darkness and more somber nature of the new series relates more to how it handles death as a concept. With the whole series leading up to Graham's very real and actual death, and the processes that he undergoes before he reaches that state... One can see the five stages of death and grief in his character, and many of those who interact around him: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Each of his stories starting with Chapter 1 touch on this (Gart and Gwen's discussion about Graham's condition and Gart's denial that Graham only has a short time to live, and his later anger when confronted with the reality of Graham's condition when he reads the letter), to the concept of loss of friends who either pass away or are murdered starting with Achaka, the Hobblepots ultimately pass away, as does Valanice's childhood friend (the other Valanice) is murdered, and Larry the guard is murdered, and ultimately every one of his friends in the town die as well, leaving Graham the last one alive contemplating his own finite existence. The game finally ends with his own death, and what Gwen and her family go through in the process.
    • In relation to that the game also touches on affects of dementia on a person and how that affects people around them. Graham goes through both bouts of memory loss, loss of motor control, irritability, sleep deprivation, depression, hallucinations, and fear.[2][3][4][5]
    • There is at least one line in the script which may have been cut which refers to NightmareFuel another dark and edgy trope form TV Tropes.

Behind the scenes Edit

According to TV Tropes concerning the fan games:

Darker and Edgier

  • The KQ2 reimagining by AGDI is much darker than the original and introduces even more villains to the story.
  • The KQ3 remakes and reimaginings by AGDI and Infamous Quests are darker than the original.
  • The Silver Lining is often seen to be darker and more melancholic than most King's Quest games.

References Edit