The last any of us saw of the "real" Roger Wilco, he was spinning off into space after strapping a live rocket to his back. That was in the tiny video promo which is all that ever came to light of Sierra's late lamented Space Quest 7. In some ways, it was a fitting conclusion for everybody's favorite hapless space custodian. But many fans of the classic Space Quest series just couldn't accept that was the end.
Yet, the heyday of the graphic adventure, the Nineties, was frenetically drawing to a close. It looked like just about everyone involved was packing up and heading for greener ($) pastures, or the hills. The other great Sierra Quest series also crashed and burned, as did Sierra On-Line itself, about this time, or not long after. The original and most celebrated, the King's Quest series, tapped out on number 8, which had desperately strayed from classic adventuring to attract the brand new legions of Lara Croft fanatics. Actually, a pretty good game, but the zeitgeist had simply moved on. We all know of the travails of the team that has recently, after many years of setbacks, come out with a fan-made King's Quest sequel, The Silver Lining.
No one that I know of ever made a tribute game out of Police Quest, which made it to only four installments. The beloved Leisure Suit Larry managed to reach six (out of seven) official games. You can count the 3D Magna Cum Laude, starring Larry's less charming and even more lascivious nephew, as a further installment, but count me out if you do. Let's not even talk about BOB, shall we?
Over at the other star adventure stable of the era, LucasArts, their series were dying off as well. It's a little hard to track the Indiana Jones games because they include text adventures and old DOS action games, finally winding up with another couple of Lara ripoffs (after, of course, Lara had so saucily ripped off Indy). There is, however, at least one promising fan-made sequel in the works, Indiana Jones and the Fountain of Youth. So far all you get is a very good demo. Looks like they're running into the same troubles that most games of this sort do -- hard to keep everyone working in the digital salt mines for free.
In fact, there seems to have been a very promising fan-made version of Space Quest 7 in the works until Vivendi got wind of it, or at least that's what the game's website claims. Judging by the trailer they did manage to produce, the project looks to have been on a par with the quality of Silver Lining. Which, perhaps, is what did it in, cease-and-desist-wise.
It seems the only way a fan-made game gets made and then actually released is if it is the somewhat modest product of one talented, dedicated individual. For some unknowable reason, Roger Wilco has inspired more of these folks than any other classic game I can think of. There have been four notable fan-made Space Quest tribute games made over the years, all still available as free downloads.
I like the Space Quest series as much as anyone -- well, up until I ran into Stooge Fighter III, at least. But I have no idea why of all the great Sierra series, Roger has the most loyal fans among the technically accomplished. Perhaps SQ is simply the easiest one to deconstruct, to rip out its parts to rebuild new episodes. I say this because it would be great to have other fan-made tribute games of the quality of these four for the other old Sierra classics. Maybe it's just that those two guys from Andromeda, Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, are less litigious. Who knows? I do know that we fans of classic adventures are lucky to have at least these four gems. They differ a bit, but all are well worth playing, and all will transport you back to the rip-roaring Nineties, when Roger and his ilk ruled the gaming shelves.
Space Quest 0: Replicated
If Jeff Stewart had released his game to the general public, say, between Space Quests II and III, I don't think anyone would have realized it wasn't an official Sierra product. I cannot think of any praise higher than that to bestow on this remarkably Roger-like, fun and challenging game. Yes, it does employ the old-time AGI Sierra game engine, with glorious 16-color graphics, versatile text parser and no mouse input, but of course that's half the nostalgic fun to be had in playing it. But this is no slap-dash demo. It is a full-length space quest. And, unless you play it directly from a walkthrough, you will have your hands full getting to the end of it.
The trouble begins when Roger awakens from another of his legendary naps aboard his new space vessel to discover that, once again, something dastardly has taken place while he was out. Some mysterious individual, or entity, is laying waste to everyone aboard, and of course Roger (given absolutely no other option, that is) sets out to find out who. Soon, with the ship only moments away from self-destructing, the still unknown villain manages to take the last escape pod, stranding (almost) our hero on the doomed ship. For the rest of the story, Roger will overcome obstacles aplenty as he tracks his quarry across a nearby planet.
This is easily the best and the most faithful recreation of the Space Quest series. I imagine even those two guys from Andromeda would relish this clever tribute. More impressive still, Jeff has managed to pack it into a modern executable. The game exe runs fine, in a window, on my Win7 laptop.
If for general reasons of comparison we say that the Sierra's Space Quest IV rates a full five Golden Mops, I'd have to award SQ0:R a stellar 4 GMs.
Space Quest: The Lost Chapter
While SQTLC is assuredly in the same league as SQ0:R, I can't recommend it quite as highly because the Vonster (aka Vonster D. Monster, or, rumor has it, a fellow by the name of Vaughn Gosine) unfortunately has indulged his inner imp a bit too much in the construction of his tribute game. Like SQ0:R, The Lost Chapter employs the old AGI Sierra interpreter (I don't understand any of this technical stuff, I'm just repeating what I find in the readme files). It too is rendered in lush 4-bit color and has a standard text-parser interface. The problem is that the Vonster is a tad too fond of those classic Roger death scenarios.
Yes, Roger dying fairly frequently and often spectacularly is indeed a genuine part of the SQ experience. Space Quest 0 also has some fun with this device, but SQTLC really goes to town with it. It is no exaggeration to say that you (as Roger) are almost certain to die a thousand deaths before you reach the end of this game. You may die a dozen times on the same screen. Almost everything Roger does, everything he touches, everywhere he goes, results in a sudden and inglorious demise. The Vonster in particular has a penchant for deaths involving tentacles and other alien limbs. Yes, it is funny the first several dozen times Roger buys the farm, but there is a full-length game to be played here and when you finally knuckle down and want to make some real progress it's extremely irritating that Roger is murdered by half the things you try. Not to mention the half dozen or so clicks (or returns) you need to punch to get through the endless line of text boxes describing Roger's death and your ineptitude.
Moreover, SQTLC is one of the most challenging games I have played in awhile. Part of that, to be sure, is the text parser. Interactive fiction games are almost always harder than point-and-click games simply because there is an infinite number of things you might type and an equally infinite additional number of ways you might phrase what you type. This, frankly, is probably what did in the text parser, because otherwise it is a very nimble and rich interface. Like SQ0:R, SQTLC is a full-length adventure, with a rather large playing area. And pay no attention to the points total in the menu bar. You will pass the top score of 255 somewhere about half way through, and then it resets to zero and you begin the long, hard climb anew.
Like SQ0:R, The Lost Chapter of course borrows the Roger sprites from the original Sierra games, as well as some of the backgrounds. But much of the scenery here is original, and the story (again, ditto for SQ0:R), while reminiscent of other Roger escapades, is original, and well-constructed, although at times unforgiving. There are also a couple of mildly excruciating "action" sequences. That too is true to the original Sierra series but it's the one thing I wish the fan games had junked.
There are several versions of the game to be downloaded. I'd recommend you get the latest one with the mouse support and the "stack blown" patch, whatever that is. Also, unlike the Windows-friendly SQ0:R, you're going to need DOSBox or a really old PC to play this one.
Irritations and excesses aside, The Lost Chapter is another excellent full-length tribute to Roger Wilco and Co., and earns three and a half Golden Mops from me.
Cosmos Quest I-III
We leave behind the classic text-parser tributes and return to the world of VGA and the mouse with the three installments (though, as we speak, a fourth installment is under construction) in the Cosmos Quest series. We also leave behind Roger himself, because though his likeness (and his sprites) appear in CQ, he has acquired a new name and identity. The hero of Cosmos Quest is Apo Lanski and while he may get into just as many scrapes in as far-flung a section of the universe as Roger, he's not the hapless janitor we all cherish. One might even argue that, for this reason, the CQ series isn't a direct Space Quest tribute game. It also makes little attempt to mimic either the AGI or SCI Space Quest user interface. However, much of the game play, the environments, the story and the puzzles are reminiscent of the SQ series.
The three Cosmos Quest games were built by Ilia (from Bulgaria) Kinanev with Chris Jones' versatile Adventure Game Studio. And while each game is a direct continuation of the previous one, the graphic style of each makes a rather dramatic leap forward as, I assume, the creator advanced in game-making skills. Moreover, the third installment, which only recently was made freeware like the first two, has a completely different hero, Sgt. Henry Getz. Same story, different lead. (We have since learned this was done so that the game might be marketed without legal entanglements.)
In CQI, you begin the game stranded on a rather barren planet. Once you manage to power up your space shuttle you will visit a space station and end up on the desert planet that serves as the base for your enemy, the Ayatolians. I've played all three games and I'm still a little in the dark about who my enemy is. As best I can figure it, we've got a Star Wars kind of dilemma here. The good guys from Earth who have colonized space are under attack from some evil alien race, or something. The villains must be stopped or civilization, as they know it, comes to an end.
Don't worry too much about the back story. It's the immediate game play that matters, and all three CQs offer the same kind of adventure-game puzzles that made SQ so much fun. It is true that CQI sports the weakest graphics but the best puzzles, and that trend reverses somewhat over the next two games. In CQII, our hero is back at his colony's giant space station, grappling with its bureaucracy as much as with the bad guys. But once again, he gets his hands on a shuttle and zooms off into further adventure and trouble amid the stars (including, alas, one extremely annoying asteroid-field action sequence).
In CQIII, the new hero Sgt. Getz is on the same team as Apo, as he must rescue some fellow citizens imprisoned on an enemy planet. This is the shortest of the three games, and the easiest as well as the most technically and graphically advanced.
The author clearly has a fairly large space opera in mind that he's unveiling step by step. I have no idea how many more Cosmos Quest installments there will be, but the first three are well worth downloading. They may be, especially the first, somewhat crude compared to your average commercial adventure, but the story is good, the puzzles are clever and the prospects are promising.
The three Cosmos Quests we have now do all differ noticeably in style, but overall the project is another winner and earns a conglomerate three Golden Mops from me.
Space Quest IV.5
Finally, we have another admirable AGS effort in Space Quest IV.5. This time Roger is back at the helm and the game tries its best to recreate the mid-series SQ experience. Unfortunately, the Roger Wilco of SQIV.5 isn't really Roger. He's a much more competent, far less buffoonish character. Not unappealing, just not our Roger. The story begins at that bar and used-space-vehicle lot from SQIV, where once again Roger must tax his brain to get his ship space-worthy. Eventually, he ends up in SQV territory, battling it out aboard a large space cruiser. Hence, of course, the IV.5 of the title, as the story ostensibly occurs "between" SQs IV and V.
Though the shortest of the four games (counting, that is, all three CQs as one), SQIV.5 is technically competent, the puzzles are SQ-worthy and the story is more than acceptable. It also is the one that best recreates the later VGA SQ experience and the Sierra action icons. Like Cosmos Quest, it will in all probability run fine, full-screen, on your recent version of Windows. It, too, rates three Golden Mops.
So, there you have it, Roger fans. Start your downloads! And when you're in the middle of SQ0:R and having the time of your extraterrestrial life, reflect on the rather remarkable fact that all that fun has been packed into a folder that takes up less than two megabytes on your hard drive. Which to me is the last word in the argument of whether it's story and puzzles which make an adventure great or cutting-edge graphics and game engines.
SQ0:R homepage and download
SQTLC: Stack blown patch page (and home page)
Cosmos Quest I-IV homepage (IV demo 60 percent done)
SQIV.5 AGS page (download and info)
SQ7 fan game (on indefinite hold; thanks again, Vivendi!)