Sierra Founders Tried To Make A Game With Stephen King ‘Many Times’ Before Creating Phantasmagoria

Sierra On-Line founders Roberta and Ken Williams are back in the world of PC gaming for the first time in over 20 years with a 3D remake Colossal Cave Adventure text adventure game. The original, released in 1976, was the inspiration for Roberta Williams’ first game, Mystery House. A decade later, Sierra was a PC gaming giant and the publisher of dozens of graphic adventures own. Despite Sierra’s success and influence, however, there were still several “games that got away” for the Williams to look back on now.

“I always wanted to do The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The guys at Infocom managed to do that. I really wanted to work with Douglas Adams, but I never could,” Ken Williams told me in an interview on this year’s Game Developers. Conference, where the duo is showing off the new Colossal Cave Adventure.

The even bigger fish they tried to land during the Sierra’s heyday was Stephen King, the biggest name in horror fiction in the ’80s and ’90s. The Williamses took turns sharing bits and pieces of memories from Sierra’s game projects that never came to fruition.

Roberta Williams: We tried to work with Stephen King because I wanted to make a horror game.

Ken Williams: Many, many times. Probably he now regrets not working with us because of Phantasmagoria.

RW: He didn’t know who we were, what we were, so I went ahead and made my own [horror game], Phantasmagoria. Which really went well.

KW: Vincent Bugliosi wrote the Helter Skelter book and I wanted to do something with it. He was a famous lawyer and I was sort of a wannabe lawyer.

RW: He liked courtroom dramas, things like that.

KW: So we signed a contract with him and then we got back to all the creative people. And we were trying to figure out how to make a courtroom drama type game. It just never came along. It came undone.

RW: You know, that doesn’t sound like much fun, when you think about it. A court game.

KW: I know, and I was so proud to get it. Oh well!

The Williams also talked about how, in hindsight, they made a mistake for not buying id Software when a young John Romero came to release Sierra Wolfenstein 3D. They weren’t crazy about the violence of first-person shooters at the time, but the missed opportunity and Doom’s success stayed with them.

KW: I realized we missed the boat and I shouldn’t have been stupid. As a publisher, you are not creating games for yourself. You have an obligation to give people what they want. So when Half-Life came along, it was an easy decision. I wasn’t going to let it go a second time, so I picked up Half-Life. And that turned out to be a huge success for us.

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