Given that this is the anniversary of the Virtual Broomcloset, I thought this would be a great opportunity to reflect for awhile on my navel. I mean, on the Two Guys from Andromeda, and what they've meant to me.
Why? Because the SPACE QUEST series is largely responsible for getting me interested in computer gaming, as a career, in the first place. For that, I owe them a debt of gratitude that they better hope I never repay.
As a working comic and advertising writer, I had been into playing computer games for years, even back in the '70s when there were no monitors, and the computer's every response had to be printed out – on deafeningly loud impact printers -- before you could read it and react. Playing TETRIS was a bitch.
I finally happened upon Sierra games (I think BLACK CAULDRON was the first). When I played KING'S QUEST, I thought, "Ooh, nice way to tell stories." I played LEISURE SUIT LARRY and thought, "Ooh, it tells jokes, too." But it wasn't 'til I saw Roger Wilco spat out of the side of a junk freighter like a watermelon seed that I thought, "Ooh, these are my people, I want to go and live among them."
Larry Laffer proved to me that games could be funny, sophomoric, and tasteless, but Roger proved that they could be all that and so much more: gross, gory, disgusting, putrid – and sci-fi savvy. Every once in awhile, I'd come across a joke that made me feel like I was one of a very privileged few who might actually get it, a feeling of personal connection with the designers that I found intoxicating (and which has, to this day, remained a major part of my philosophy of game design).
What's more, the Space Quest series eschewed sexual innuendo as a way to get laughs (the Latex Babes and other occasional lapses notwithstanding). I appreciated this. As a comic, I'd learned that sex jokes are the easiest, least challenging kind of comedy to perform, and if the laughs are often from shock or discomfort (or a desire not to appear ignorant), at least they're laughs. Almost all the computer-based comedy I'd played, from LARRY to LEATHER GODDESSES OF PHOBOS, relied on locker-room stuff, Well, SQ took a slightly higher road. It was a brave move – almost, dare I say it, classy – to stick to sci-fi satire. Fortunately, that heapin' helpin' of over-the-top gross-out humor kept it from being too hoidy-toidy.
Another manner in which SQ bucked the trend: deaths. For me, SQ was proof that, contrary to the assertions of some designers, death in games was an anathema to the satisfying game experience. While other designers sought to find ways to eliminate deaths entirely, SQ stood steadfastly devoted to making Roger's many deaths at least as entertaining as his life. Even now, years after the last official SQ chapter, people are replaying 1-6 and deliberately getting Roger squashed, eviscerated, charred, disintegrated, melted, exploded, desiccated, and turned inside-out…and they're loving every minute of it and decidedly not finding that it removes them from the story. Rather, it is part of the story.
Finally arriving at the hallowed gates of the old Sierra On-Line, I was astonished to see the way the Two Guys worked together. Granted they were already knee-deep in their fourth collaboration, so I don't know what transpired before, but the roles were certainly well-defined by the time I got there. Mark Crowe was yin to Scott Murphy's yang. (I hope Scott doesn't mind my talking about his yang in public. Oops, innuendo there!) Mark was quiet, studious, disciplined, incredibly detail-oriented. Scott was volatile, undisciplined, brooding, free-spirited.
This is why their games were so good. At their best, they were tight, clever designs, yet with a sense of freewheeling looseness that made them feel open and meandering. And the Guys apparently got better at this as they went along.
Was it pretty? Frequently not. Striking a balance between the necessity of getting things done and the desire to rework and improve is a constant struggle in game-making. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, and indeed lives and livelihoods, are on the line when deadlines approach. The stress is enormous and tempers flare. Otto von Bismark said, "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made." Well, Otto never worked for a computer game company.
But as tense as it sometimes was, it was also constructive, exciting, and downright educational. It was a vibrant creative atmosphere. There was a lot to learn from the collaboration of the Two Guys. And an amazing quantity of great humor in the product of that collaboration.
Thank you, Guys.
And to the Virtual Broomcloset, its creator and contributors and members: I think of the Broomcloset as the place where Roger is kept alive and cared for until he is taken out of suspended animation. Thank you for keeping him not just alive, but so very well-tended.
In fact, it's almost time to prune his roots.