King's Quest IX - Interview with Phoenix Freeware Online

Interview by Rosemary Young (November, 2004)
Written by Roberta Williams and published by Sierra, King's Quest is one of the longest running and best known adventure game series. It's a continuing tale of the trials and tribulations of King Graham and his family set in a fantasy fairytale land complete with witches and wizards and dwarves and fairies.

It all started back in 1984 with the release of King's Quest I: Quest for the Crown, and the last game (# 8) King's Quest: Mask of Eternity, appeared in 1998. This last episode was quite a departure from the previous 7 games being a darker tale and introducing combat to the game. It wasn't generally well received by King's Quest fans and was a sad and abrupt ending to the series.

Or it might have been a sad and abrupt ending, but in October 2000 a small group of people got together and the seeds for a new tale, King's Quest IX: Every Cloak has a Silver Lining, were sown. The project slowed down for a while but picked up again in 2002 when Phoenix Freeware Online was born. The talented and dedicated team have moved along steadily and, hopefully, the release isn't too far away.

King Quest IX: Every Cloak has a Silver Lining has no combat so it returns more to the traditional flavour of the King's Quest series ... more about this later. It's not an 'official' Sierra product and, when completed, will be available as a free download for us all to enjoy. At Quandary we've been watching closely and waiting patiently and it just so happens that I got the opportunity to chat with a couple of the people involved: Saydmell Salazar (Public Relations & Web Director) and Neil Rodrigues (Assistant PR & Web, and Programming Director). They are both also Project Coordinators so they wear many hats :). After we said our "hellos" here is how it went ...

Rosemary: Ok my first question is: Do you have any idea when KQ9 will be released?

Neil: Hehe what a first question!
Say: We do have our timelines, we just can't reveal any confidential info at this moment.

Rosemary: No harm in trying is there?

Say: We do have "an idea" since we do have a game design, a pattern settled in the game development as well as production, and progress on it.
Neil: Yes, that's actually one of the things we're keeping from the public until we decide to reveal it.

Rosemary: OK. KQ9 has been in the making for 4 years and Cesar Bittar, who is now one of the Project Directors, was there at the beginning. Anyone else lasted the distance?

Neil: I believe Rich, our Art Director is the only other person remaining from the original team.
Say: Kq9 has not been in the making for 4 years.

Rosemary: Yep. I've been watching It did slow down for a while, what happened?

Say: It all started in 2000, yes, but it had different staff then. When Cesar Bittar picked up production, the plot was written and actually the real development started. So it would be around 2002, when the KQ9 development team you know nowadays was formed.

Rosemary: So has it been easy finding people to work with you?

Neil: I think it depends on the positions, some are easier to find people for than others, but the problem is finding people reliable and hard working enough and willing to stay long term.
Say: The rest have been quite a charm to find, specially the good staff. Right now we've managed to stick together for over a year with the same core staff, but truth is we're constantly handling HR as in hiring and firing staff, this team works exactly as a serious company. You enter by submitting your resume, then your portfolio, if we're interested we contact you, then there is the interview.

Rosemary: Still looking for people?

Say: We always are. The selection process is sometimes a bit rough because we do keep quality levels when it comes to basic knowledge in specific development areas, so we do hire only professional or qualified staff.
Neil: Yes, we're always looking for talented people to join our team, even if one position is completely filled, we keep the people on hold for later and check in with them if needed later on.

Rosemary: I'm always interested in the number of women working on a development team. I see you have a few which is good. Is it more difficult to find professional women?

Say: Well, I am a female myself. I must say the only female director. And yes, I do find it a bit difficult in some areas, programming, web and some other randoms. We do have many females in the art department though.
Neil: Yeah, art has a lot.

Rosemary: Nothing personal, Neil, but I think we need more women in game development.

Say: Hahaha, that would be a personal statement I guess.
Neil: Sure, our team is very diverse already. We have people from Canada, USA, Europe, Netherlands and South America.
Say: We do have female 3D artists, which is something new for us. We used to have mostly males in the art department, specially the 3D field, now we have a little bit more of everything in there. Programming is still lead by males, and in PR/Web I only have one female, the rest are male.
Neil: Programming is completely male, and it's pretty much like that in industry too.
Say: Nothing personal but all who seem to be interested in this field are males. If I actually received applications from females I would certainly be interested as well. Weirdly enough we haven't so far.
Neil: But something to mention is that our fan community has plenty of females.
Say: Oh yes, the fan community is ruled by females. Like 60% is female. We do have a huge fan base, we get around 6 million hits on our website as well as having a newsletter with over 900 people subscribed, so that's something. I believe adventure gaming as it is, goes unnoticed, but truth is that we do have a wide range of ages and genders in the fan community because we do market our strategies and plan out every move, we advertise, keep contacts, update and such. So the fan base obviously grows. We have plenty of females in our forums, which actually shows.

Rosemary: That was my next question.

Say: What exactly?
Neil: hehe

Rosemary: Who do you think will play KQ9 ... Males? Females? And what ages? This should show in your forums.

Say: Plenty of everything! That's the beauty of the KQ9 community. On our forum we have 13 year old fans and 60 year old fans too. Girls, boys, parents, friends, everyone seems to get along.

Rosemary: I can tell you about King's Quest fans in their 70s and 80s too.

Neil: Since the game is slightly more mature, I think the people would be 12+.
Say: So, we certainly have created a lot of expectation. We are very optimistic about 2005 but I don't want to spoil it. At this moment coordination has been keeping us really tied up with web development but it's all great because we've been helping out to hire new talented staff as well as to settle some guidelines in the production that will pay off soon enough. Anything we have to say we say it officially in the newsletter, which is released monthly.

Rosemary: Here is a question you don't have to answer if you don't want to tempt fate. Have you heard at all from Sierra?

Neil: We haven't heard anything yet from them.
Say: The thing is, Roberta and Ken do know about our KQ9 project. So far both seem to be really supportive although they don't want to be involved in the development due to legal matters. We may have not heard from Sierra but we do know the ones we should know. It's quite amazing that they seem to be glad of what they know of KQ9 as well as give us good thoughts about the whole development as it is.
Neil: Yes, it's nice to have their support, since they were the real creators of the series.

Rosemary: Here's a question about the game. After the action packed KQ: Mast of Eternity (MoE) we all wondered if there would be action in KQ9. There isn't. Has that decision generally been welcome?

Neil: Well, there's no violence/combat like there was in MoE. There are some "arcade" sequences but the vast majority of this game is strictly adventure game.
Say: The plot has been already written so the idea of it is pretty solid, the concept of KQ9 is supposed to be a fresh concept of the series, as in giving it more depth and trying to adapt the true term of what "action" is to the adventure genre without, as Neil said, "the violence or combat" scene.
Neil: But if you mean have the fans responded to the fact that our game is lacking action, then I believe 99% of them fully support the direction we took, since most KQ fans didn't enjoy MoE whatsoever due to the action elements.
Say: King Graham won't be shooting zombies or anything!
Neil: Hahaha, yes, no machine guns in KQ9.
Say: The truth is we did keep in mind the events in Mask of Eternity but it certainly won't be MoE II.

Rosemary: Good. MoE didn't sell as well as the other Kings Quests. Do you think it was because they changed it so much?

Say: Yes, it was really unattached to the other games which made it a bit strange to KQ fans.
Neil: In my opinion, I think it's because they used a brand new character (Connor), new action/fighting elements and the plot itself lacked a lot of substance. It was almost like a completely separate game altogether.

Rosemary: Exactly. So KQ9 is going back to the traditional way. Lots of characters, lots of inventory and lots of fun?

Say: KQ9 will bring back the KQ feeling as well as having new interesting elements on board.
Neil: Well, yes and no, we do base a lot of it on previous KQ games, but KQ9 also adds a whole new cinematic experience to the series, plus the fact that it's 3D and screen-to-screen, and we use voice actors that auditioned both live and online for character voices.

Rosemary: But it's still a fairytale drawing on myths and legends?

Say: It still is somewhat related to that, but it is not entirely about that. It has a deeper concept.
Neil: Yeah, there are still some fairytales, myths and legends in the game, but yes the game goes to more deeper themes with the characters and storyline. And explains a lot of things that didn't quite make sense from previous games.
Say: Specially the characters, they do seem to be brought to life.

Rosemary: Sounds interesting.

Say: It really is, the whole plot was a huge thick document.
Neil: 2000+ pages I think.
Say: But it was really interesting, and a good thing is that it is good for the KQ fans and appealing to a new crowd as well.

Rosemary: What about the humour that was missing in MoE?

Neil: There's plenty of humour in the game too.

Rosemary: Ok I know there are heaps of mature KQ players who play along with their kids. Will KQ9 be good for this?

Say: Yes indeed, we were even careful with the language while writing the plot. It is a strong story but still it is available for everyone.
Neil: Someone actually e-mailed us a question about that a few months ago. They were asking if their kids would be able to play the game. Since there isn't nudity, sexual content, foul language, etc it should be fine for everyone really. When we say mature we just mean that the themes are something that older people would understand more as opposed to little kids.

Rosemary: Great. What about the 'darker' bits?

Say: The "dark" part I would explain as... it does have some dramatic and serious moments, it is somehow real, that's what the depth is mostly about, to bring the fairytale to a different level. Still being that same KQ story we all know. That's what life is all about, going though darkness to see the light.
Neil: Yeah, the game is very dramatic, almost like you're watching a movie, but you're controlling it.
Say: KQ9 has certainly a bit of everything, serious moments, hilarious moments, as well as very dark and unexpected too. It does balance out.
Neil: Yup, one of the major themes is "duality", meaning there is both darkness and light to everything. Physically, mentally, emotionally.

Rosemary: Ah, so it's not plain black or white :). The mean characters will have some saving grace?

Neil: Well, you actually get to learn why they act the way they do because the plot talks about a time way before Daventry as well.

Rosemary: Ok. Sounds good. I'm also wondering. You say it's going to be a 'closure' of the series and many of the old characters are coming back. What about players who haven't played a KQ. Will they follow it?

Say: It may actually give them a better understanding of what the KQ world is about, it somewhat did for me. I wasn't a big fan of the series before I joined the team actually, but I am a fan of KQ9 as it is.
Neil: Definitely! The nice thing about this game is you don't necessarily need to play any previous games to know what's going on, but the people who have played them will have a slightly better understanding. KQ9 does go into the characters' past and history, so people who haven't played KQ before will be able to keep up.

Rosemary: The protagonists are going to be Graham, Alexander and Rosella, anyone else?

Neil: Well those three are the playable characters. There are more main characters.

Rosemary: Ok I'm interested in Rosella. Is she going to scream as much as she did in KQ7? I thought she lost a bit of spirit!

Neil: Hahaha, I actually can't remember, you'll have to play and find out!
Say: Hahaha nice one Neil.

Rosemary: Ok, patience is a virtue! So when this is over, will the team get together (physically). Or is this impossible since it's not going to make you millionaires.

Say: The team has met before in real life, at least part of it.
Neil: Yes, when we had the live voice auditions in New York some of our team members met up.
Say: We did a meeting once in NYC around the end of 2002, then another in 2004.

Rosemary: Were the auditions as much fun as they sound?

Say: We had people coming from all over, it was amazing, from Canada, Europe, all over USA and so on. I can't believe people actually made it from that far just for the auditions and to meet each other and such. It was a nice experience, we do have some photos of it in our website.
Neil: I still haven't heard the audition tapes yet but I know everyone had a lot of fun since it was team members, fans and other auditioners all coming out for them.
Say: We may do another meeting. Nothing official yet of course, but we wouldn't say no to something like that.

Rosemary: Any Australians on the team?

Neil: Yes. I think there's one in programming, one in PR dept, at least one in art.
Say: And people from Netherlands too, Brazil, Canada. And many other places I do seem to forget a lot lol. We literally are from all over the world.

Rosemary: So have you any idea yet how big the download will be?

Say: Big enough alright!. We've already considered alternative ways to download it. As in crop it by chapters and such, make it more friendly to get it for everyone.
Neil: We know it'll be huge, but still don't have an exact number. Some people even mentioned trying to distribute via CD's in magazines, or put it on file-sharing networks, etc.
Say: Nothing official, but we are considering options.

Rosemary: Good. Because I think there are still some players with dial-up connections.

Neil: Yeah, we're not forgetting them either.

Rosemary: And if KQ is going to be a 'closure', there's no more to come?

Say: There is always an opportunity to pick up and go on. Even though we may give it a different ending to what MoE was about, there are always tons of possibilities to do another creative idea.
Neil: Correct, I remember back when I was new to the team I asked Cesar that question too: "Is it really the end?" but there's always a way to continue something, especially in the KQ universe.


We all said thank you and goodbye after this as it was the wee small hours of the morning for Neil and Say. For me it was mid afternoon so after a coffee break it was time to get back to work!

Visit the King's Quest IX: Every Cloak has a Silver Lining site and see more of what it's all about! Watch the progress, sign up for the newsletter, join the forum and have fun.

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2004. All rights reserved.