Under 1980-talet var äventyrsspel en populär genre och då framförallt till datorer. Det var främst peka och klicka-formatet och, ännu tidigare, spel där man skrev hela meningar för att lösa problemen som var populära. Sierra var under den tiden det företag som som dominerade genren, bland annat med den långlivade King's Quest-sagan. Skaparen av denna serie var Roberta Williams och hennes make Ken, som även ägde spelföretaget Sierra On-Line.

Äventyrsgenrens storhetstid var över någonstans i mitten av 90-talet. Paret Williams sålde Sierra On-Line och förvann från branschen. Nu har FZ:s Johan Lorentzon spårat upp Roberta Williams för att ställa lite frågor i samband med parets återtåg till spelbranschen i och med remaken av Colossal Cave Adventure.

Looking at the game industry today there is still talk about getting more females into it. Roberta, in that sense you are a pioneer, a trail blazer, kind of like the grandma of adventure games. Being a woman in the industry back in the days, how was that?
– How about saying I'm a "Queen" rather than a grandma! That's so funny – at least you probably can say that I was a sort of trailblazer. However, having said that, the real trailblazers were William Crowther and Don Woods. They actually invented the adventure game category in the mid-1970's, and I was just a fan and follower of their game, Colossal Cave Adventure. Which happens to be the very game that my husband, Ken, and I (with our new development brand, Cygnus Entertainment) have remade and modernized. Our version of Colossal Cave is out there on Steam and on many other platforms now – including VR! You can check it out at colossalcave3d.com.

Roberta och Ken.

– As to being a woman in the industry back then, it was actually fairly easy for me because – not only were there few women in the industry then, but there also weren't many men either! Back in early 1980, the games industry was very small! Meaning, that I was lucky to get in early before the industry was really established, and I was able to make a name for myself – as did Ken, and our company, Sierra On-Line. Not long after, though, things changed – but, by then, I was already pretty well-known and so didn't have to go through the difficulty of getting into and being accepted by the computer/video game industry – as many women since have unfortunately experienced.

I also must ask: what have you and your husband been doing all these years? Obviously, you haven't made games, but have you been doing something else in the industry, or have you just observed from the sideline?
– Ken and I have been observing from the sideline for the most part since the early 2000's. We sold our company, Sierra On-Line, in 1997 and had to sign a non-compete document for 5 years – meaning that we couldn't work in the business for 5 years. So still being young and energetic, we decided to buy a small yacht and sail around the world by ourselves. We crossed oceans – traveling to 27 countries on our boat with our little dogs for 15 years. Returning home to the U.S. we found ourselves needing a project.

– When Covid hit and we were suddenly housebound, we decided to go back to our development roots and work on a game. We chose to remake the historical adventure game of Colossal Cave, and modernize it – adding 3D graphics, a modern interface, designing its look and how the characters appear. We added animation, and sound and music. It was a fun project and we have just completed it. We’re pretty proud of our accomplishment after many years!

Coming back to the industry after so many years it must have been a very different experience. How is it to work on a game today compared to how it was back then?
– Actually, coming back has not been so different as you might think. The development process itself felt almost the same because Ken and I have always been innovators and so innovating again, especially with a project like Colossal Cave, which has been around for more than 40 years, was actually not that difficult. BUT what we have found different was the vast number of games out there; the competition is much greater, and how games are published, marketed and sold today is much different. Essentially the sales and marketing of games is what's really unexpected and surprising for us – and much more difficult. We've had to really scramble in order to figure out how to compete in today's computer/video game market. In other words, for us, we're very comfortable with the development process, but it’s the marketing and selling of the games that we find MUCH more difficult today!

I sense that the younger generation play games very differently than us "old" people did back in the days. They're not used to slower games and if they get stuck for too long, they stop playing. (I've observed my children). Getting stuck, however, is at the core of adventure games. What are your thoughts on this while making adventure games for the new generation?
– Now that Colossal Cave is out there and selling, we are finding that the younger generation seem to be a bit stumped on how to approach it. You're right that today's players seem to play faster and want more "excitement" or constant action than many older games and traditional adventure games can give them. Adventure games are more exploratory and thought-provoking, and there are puzzles to solve, obstacles to get around, and strategies to use in order to play through it. There's much to learn in adventure games and it's also kind of usual to have to map them and maybe also to take some notes.

– Younger people today don't seem to want to do that much – they seem to want to get in there and just start playing an exciting game! Having said that, though, we are finding that younger players are starting to play Colossal Cave and, surprise – they are really liking it! I won't go so far as to say "loving" it – but they are warming up to a game like Colossal Cave and I think that many of them will eventually fall in love with it as much as my generation did!

I remember Sierra from my childhood, your adventure games are classics in so many ways.
Which one of the old series are you the most proud of?

– I would say that King's Quest is the series that I'm most proud of – there were eight King's Quests in the series, and I think that I could have gone on further with it. And probably I would have, had we not sold our company in 1997! But, I also am very proud of the many games that Sierra developed and published. Great care was taken for each and every product, and I think that our sense of perfection and shipping great games was the key to Sierra's success in the games industry. It's sad that after we sold Sierra, it didn't end well. In Ken's book, "Not all Fairytales have Happy Endings", he writes about the end of Sierra... which ultimately was so sad.

Första King's Quest.

The King's Quest series is my all-time favorite adventure games series. Did you get the chance to play the episodical reboot the The Odd Gentlemen did a few years ago? What did you think about it?
– You and I think alike! It's mine, too. To answer your question: Yes! I not only got the chance to play The Odd Gentlemen's reboot, but I thought they did a great job! Granted, I only played the first installment, but I loved the concept of King's Quest as an episodic series, and enjoyed the first one.

– Unfortunately, not long after, Ken and I set out on our boat for more world cruising, and I wasn't able to play anymore. Upon returning home, I forgot about it and went on to other things. But I heard that the Odd Gentlemen's episodes of King’s Quest did pretty well – and good for them!

Ron Gilbert has finally made his follow-up on the Monkey Island series. I wonder, are there any of the old game series (or games) you would like to go back to if you get the chance?
– I think that you mean – any old games from Sierra? The reason I question this is because I did just finish work on an "old game": Colossal Cave! Check it out! But in answer to your real question – Ken and I don't have the rights to our old Sierra games; Activision owns them. I would bring back the Laura Bow mystery series, the first having been The Colonel's Bequest, and the second The Dagger of Amon Ra. I loved working on that series and have often said that I'd do another murder mystery game like the Laura Bow mystery series if I could. We'll see if that happens!

Enough about history, let's talk Colossal Cave. Please tell readers who aren't familiar with this adventure game – what is it about?
– Thank you – yes, I'm very excited by our remaster of the old game, Colossal Cave Adventure! This was a game developed in the early 1970's by William Crowther, an avid spelunker (cave explorer) and also a software engineer. He was one of the principal developers of the Arpanet which was the precursor to the internet that we all enjoy today! He also had an early curiosity about artificial intelligence (AI), and he used that interest when developing this cave exploration game. It was a text-adventure game – the first one ever! – and it used a parser to play the game. That means that you would type to the game using one- or two-word commands, like "go north", "open door", "fight dragon", "talk" or "fight" – and a myriad of other phrases that you'd try to type. The game would then return text telling you where you were in the game, what you saw, what was around you, telling you about a character there, an object for you to take, something in your way, a magic word there – and many other things! The whole game in text.

– There was also a point system, meaning that as you went through the game, you could gain points – up to a maximum of 350 points – but you could also lose points too! A year or two later, another creative software guy by the name of Don Woods joined William Crowther in adding more to the game: more puzzles, more places to explore, more fantasy, but more importantly a points-system that wasn’t there before Don Woods came on the scene.

– What Ken and I have done – along with a team of up to 40 very talented people – we have recreated this very fun and exploratory game with detailed 3D graphics, sound effects, animation, special effects, and music. BUT – more importantly we were very careful to make sure that we didn’t change the game at all! It's still the same game, just with modern graphics and a point-and-click interface. It's easy to get started playing, but as you progress in it, you will start to see the intricate layers of game play that still exist in this game and how much strategy there is to it! It's exciting when you start to see the depth of play – and the immersive quality of exploring this vast cave.

The game is also released for VR which excites many of us. This medium is kind of new in a sense and is still evolving. How is it to work with VR and develop a game for virtual reality? I imagine it must be very different from what you are used to?
– Yes, Colossal Cave is available on VR – in fact, it will eventually be released on just about every VR platform out there! And it's so much fun to develop a game in total 3D! When you put on your headset and start walking through our Colossal Cave game, it is an AMAZING experience! You simply feel totally surrounded by this world and you quickly forget that you're not really there! And when something jumps out at you – like a snake! Or some bats! – you can get quite surprised and maybe utter a little shriek!


– Unlike working with 2D graphics, you literally have to think about every little detail in the world around you as you design the world, and it can get quite overwhelming sometimes. But when you're working with very talented 3D artists as I was, it's an amazing experience! And, yes – in a way, working on the 3D remake of Colossal Cave was different than most of the games that I had worked on in the past, although not as different as you might think. I had worked extensively with 3D graphics on my last two games before we sold Sierra in 1997: Phantasmagoria and King’s Quest 8: Mask of Eternity. Although those games were done in total 3D graphics, they weren’t as immersive as today's 3D games in that the "world" did not MOVE with you as you traveled through it. Instead, we just changed camera angles as you or your character moved around. And that's because the computers of those days were not powerful enough to move all of the 3D pixels at the same time as you were moving.

Many developers today have you two as inspirations. But what developers have inspired your work through the years?
– Well, one reason that Ken and I wanted to remaster Colossal Cave is because we admired Will Crowther and Don Woods so much. THEY had been our inspiration! Without them, we would never have gone into the games industry and Sierra On-Line wouldn't have existed. That is one reason that we’re bringing back this old game – although the bigger reason that we’re doing it is because it’s a great game!

– I also was inspired by my fellow adventure game designers at Sierra as they always had great ideas too! And I always studied LucasArts games and even Infocom's games in the early years. Besides that, I used inspiration from books, old stories, movies... but most especially from Walt Disney, believe it or not!

Colossal Cave-remaken.

Representing a gaming website, I always say that it would be a crime to not ask about your favorite game or games. So, Ken and Roberta, tell the readers what you like playing when you get the time, old or new?
– That is a tricky question to ask Ken or me: We always hesitate to answer this question as we are not really big game players (we used to love it... long ago!), but there is an old adage that says once your fun hobby or passion turns into a job, you lose the fun of it! Because the hobby becomes work. Nice work but work nevertheless! So, you stop playing games unless you're studying your competitors’ games in order to compete with them. And though that's fun to do, it's still work! But I will say, that when I do think about actually "playing" a game, I always prefer adventure games!

As a last question, do you have anything you want to say to your Swedish fans? I know there are many old gamers here in Sweden who grew up with Sierra and are excited to see that you're back!
– Well, thank you so much for saying that. It's wonderful to know that you develop these games so that people will be entertained and can forget about the world around them and just be totally immersed in a game. I love to hear that always! Knowing that people are enjoying the games that I "think up" is so very satisfying... it's the one thing that I always want to know once a game ships: Are people having fun? Are they really enjoying it? If they are... I'm so happy! And I hope that they play and enjoy our new, modernized, and invigorated Colossal Cave as they did our old Sierra games. That would make it so wonderful to "be back"!!

Thank you so much!