Ken's book on Sierra

Nonspecific Sierra games or ones that do not have its own forum.
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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by DeadPoolX » Thu Oct 29, 2020 5:27 am

Tawmis wrote:
Sun Oct 25, 2020 6:40 pm
I read Ken's book. Pretty good. There was only one chapter that went a little off for me, but the rest was an interesting read.

Amazing to also learn (no surprise, really) - but just how strong (mentally) and "stubborn" (for lack of a better word) Roberta was!

Although, it's also made me want to read this other book that gets mentioned quite a few times, called "Hackers" which apparently speaks to Sierra's "Party Days."
I'm in the middle of reading Ken's book, and although I wouldn't exactly say it's well-written, it's easy to read and interesting. I really learned a lot about Ken and Roberta's backgrounds (including how they met) and a lot more about Sierra itself than what's usually written online.

Regarding Roberta... sometimes she crossed the line, going from strong or stubborn to rude, especially in one particular board meeting that revolved around merging with an educational software company. I think she felt a more personal connection to Sierra than Ken did, who generally looked at the business side of things.

I've noticed a few formatting errors, such as font spacing or putting two spaces after a period. The latter was something done with mono-spaced font, but isn't done anymore with dynamic font. Given Ken's age, he likely learned to type using typewriters, so I wouldn't be surprised if he sometimes put two spaces in there without thinking about it. Regardless, an editor should've found these errors and fixed them.

One error that I found has absolutely nothing to do with formatting. I think it was the chapter where Ken was talking about flight simulators and Microsoft, and referred to Red Baron as a "World War II combat flight simulator." Red Baron was obviously a WWI combat flight simulator. This must've been a mistake made due to inattention as Ken knows the difference between the two world wars, and even talked about how much he enjoyed the Red Baron games much earlier in the book. However, an editor once again should've caught it.
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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by Tawmis » Thu Oct 29, 2020 12:09 pm

DeadPoolX wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 5:27 am
I'm in the middle of reading Ken's book, and although I wouldn't exactly say it's well-written, it's easy to read and interesting. I really learned a lot about Ken and Roberta's backgrounds (including how they met) and a lot more about Sierra itself than what's usually written online.
Regarding Roberta... sometimes she crossed the line, going from strong or stubborn to rude, especially in one particular board meeting that revolved around merging with an educational software company. I think she felt a more personal connection to Sierra than Ken did, who generally looked at the business side of things.
Oh, yeah - it's not written as to be "big words" type of book - it's literally just Ken sharing his memories.
And yeah - I definitely feel like Roberta had a stronger connection to Sierra. I feel like Roberta was the heart of Sierra (emotionally involved) while Ken was the brains of Sierra (keep the machine running financially).
I am not sure if you've gotten to where Ken talks about Roberta's lack of interviews about Sierra - but I think this is why. For her, she lost a "child" where as Ken just got side swiped, business wise.

It was interesting what he said about getting along with people - and notes the Coles specifically as an example of something. I found that interesting. In my head, I just assumed, one big, happy family.

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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by DeadPoolX » Thu Oct 29, 2020 3:40 pm

Tawmis wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 12:09 pm
Oh, yeah - it's not written as to be "big words" type of book - it's literally just Ken sharing his memories.
Yeah, and I understand that. It's just different (for lack of a better term) to read a book that's written so informally. Not bad, just different.
Tawmis wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 12:09 pm
And yeah - I definitely feel like Roberta had a stronger connection to Sierra. I feel like Roberta was the heart of Sierra (emotionally involved) while Ken was the brains of Sierra (keep the machine running financially).
Roberta strikes me as very much an "idea person" and when she has a vision for something, she wants that vision to be realized, whereas Ken is more practical in his approach.
Tawmis wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 12:09 pm
I am not sure if you've gotten to where Ken talks about Roberta's lack of interviews about Sierra - but I think this is why. For her, she lost a "child" where as Ken just got side swiped, business wise.
I have and it doesn't surprise me, although Roberta has given interviews in the past, and by that I mean within the last two decades. I think she's just not up for speaking about it over and over, like Ken does.
Tawmis wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 12:09 pm
It was interesting what he said about getting along with people - and notes the Coles specifically as an example of something. I found that interesting. In my head, I just assumed, one big, happy family.
I haven't gotten to the part about the Coles yet, but I'm not surprised there was some conflict there. Based on some of the negative things I've read the Coles write about Ken over the years, plus their complete mismanagement of Hero U, I could easily see them viewing Ken as the "bad guy."

The Coles, like most purely creative types, are very good at imagining things and coming up with ideas, but lack the capability to manage themselves well. This is where someone like Ken comes into the picture, as unfortunately creative people usually need someone to "crack the whip" and keep them on task and avoid scope creep.

I think the above is why many game designers have failed at projects starting with Kickstater. They underestimate how difficult it is to manage everything, and either over-extend themselves by venturing into side projects or new ideas or simply can't manage finances well, to the point where they run out of money and need a second Kickstarter to fund their previous mistake. Unfortunately, these people usually don't see what they did wrong in the first place, so they repeat the same process and in the end, usually come up empty.

I won't say I'd necessarily manage a project well (after all, I have no official project management experience) but I'm definitely more on the practical, stay-on-task, management side of things. I can be creative, but it's not particularly easy for me, so I'd rather run things behind the scenes and keep very creative people running efficiently.

In most cases, this would make me the "bad guy" or at best, a "kill joy" but someone like that is needed. Without that person, projects turn into a frat house party and while that can be fun, it doesn't get stuff done and won't pay the bills.

The funny thing is that I'd view this very differently years ago, and in fact, my past-self would probably see my present-self as "the enemy." :lol:
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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by notbobsmith » Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:53 pm

Tawmis wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 12:09 pm
It was interesting what he said about getting along with people - and notes the Coles specifically as an example of something. I found that interesting. In my head, I just assumed, one big, happy family.
I seem to remember that the Coles names the villain Ad Avis in QFG2 after Bill Davis out of spite, so I think there was a little bad blood there. But that's not unsurprising. Personality conflict are bound to arise in almost any situation, especially among creative types. And what DPX said is true. You need someone to say "Get it done" which can rub people the wrong way.

And didn't a number of employees leave to go to Tsunami? Was that mentioned at all?

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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by DeadPoolX » Thu Oct 29, 2020 8:37 pm

notbobsmith wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:53 pm
And didn't a number of employees leave to go to Tsunami? Was that mentioned at all?
I didn't know this until I looked it up just now, but apparently a number of former Sierra On-Line employees (spearheaded by Edmond Heinbockel, Sierra's ex-chief financial officer) actually created the company in 1991. Tsunami was based on Oakhurst, California, which is where Sierra originally operated.

While Ken repeatedly talks about how Oakhurst was a great place to hike or enjoy nature or even raise a family (although he and Roberta weren't overly fond of the schools there), it was in the middle of nowhere as far as any branch of the tech industry was concerned. Sierra was pretty much the sole place to work in tech/gaming out there and since many people (and their families) had moved to Oakhurst to work at Sierra, they'd either have to sell their home and move, or try to make a completely unreasonable commute work if they lost their job.

So it's logical to assume that Tsunami was formed after some layoffs. On the other hand, Tsunami could've also been created as a "middle finger" of sorts to Sierra. I really have no idea.

That said, it seems weird that a former CFO would start a new game company in response to there being no place to work in Oakhurst. Most people have quite a few options available to them when they get to senior management positions, so moving probably wouldn't have been particularly difficult for Heinbockel.

There's obviously a lot more to the story here, and I don't know if Ken talks about it in his book. I'm roughly a little more than half-way through, so there's probably a lot more to read and learn.
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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by notbobsmith » Thu Oct 29, 2020 10:18 pm

DeadPoolX wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 8:37 pm
notbobsmith wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:53 pm
And didn't a number of employees leave to go to Tsunami? Was that mentioned at all?
I didn't know this until I looked it up just now, but apparently a number of former Sierra On-Line employees (spearheaded by Edmond Heinbockel, Sierra's ex-chief financial officer) actually created the company in 1991. Tsunami was based on Oakhurst, California, which is where Sierra originally operated.

While Ken repeatedly talks about how Oakhurst was a great place to hike or enjoy nature or even raise a family (although he and Roberta weren't overly fond of the schools there), it was in the middle of nowhere as far as any branch of the tech industry was concerned. Sierra was pretty much the sole place to work in tech/gaming out there and since many people (and their families) had moved to Oakhurst to work at Sierra, they'd either have to sell their home and move, or try to make a completely unreasonable commute work if they lost their job.

So it's logical to assume that Tsunami was formed after some layoffs. On the other hand, Tsunami could've also been created as a "middle finger" of sorts to Sierra. I really have no idea.

That said, it seems weird that a former CFO would start a new game company in response to there being no place to work in Oakhurst. Most people have quite a few options available to them when they get to senior management positions, so moving probably wouldn't have been particularly difficult for Heinbockel.

There's obviously a lot more to the story here, and I don't know if Ken talks about it in his book. I'm roughly a little more than half-way through, so there's probably a lot more to read and learn.
I made the connection was when I played Blue Force and the Ringworld games (this was relatively recently. I never played these "back in the day") and noticed some of the names in the credits. Yes, I am one of "those" people. To begin with, Blue Force was created by Jim Walls of Police Quest fame. But I also noticed some other artists and programmers that worked at Sierra: Chris Hoyt, Jeff Crowe, Robert Heitman.

I'm guessing that Heinbockel left to "explore new opportunities" and poached some talent on his way out.

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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by Tawmis » Fri Oct 30, 2020 2:28 am

The Tsunami stuff is not mentioned in the book - and I've played Blue Force probably fifteen times - and other than the obvious of Jim Walls - I never picked up on Chris Hoyt, or Jeff Crowe - which should have rung a bell, because Crowe (to me) isn't all that common of a name, and had never seen it until Mark Crowe.

This is making rounds on the book of faces, and covers some of what the book covers (primarily the fall of Sierra) -

https://www.vice.com/en/article/z3vem8/ ... dant-fraud

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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by DeadPoolX » Wed Dec 02, 2020 8:34 pm

Having finished the book weeks ago (between real life and work, I forgot about this thread), I have to say that while I enjoyed it, I wish there had been more entries from Roberta. Ken talked about the problems Roberta was having at Sierra after it got sold and he no longer worked there, but I would've liked to have known more and read what Roberta would've written herself.

From what Ken did write, it's amazing KQ8 (which is what Ken himself referred to it as) got finished at all. At the time that game was being made, Roberta had very little pull with the company. To be fair, it sounded like Roberta enjoyed her position, not just as a best-selling game designer or co-creator of Sierra Online, but also as the "CEO's wife" and used Ken's influence to push ahead her projects. Without Ken there, she couldn't do that and had a lot of problems getting people to listen to her.

To be clear, I'm not bashing Roberta here. It makes sense she'd expect some privileges within her own company. Additionally, it's human nature to use whatever tools you've got, which includes personal and familial connections. Unfortunately for her, Sierra wasn't the company she helped create by the time she was trying to get KQ8 made, so at best she was "just another designer" and at worst, she was considered a pest who didn't fit into the new environment.

Going back to Ken... something I found interesting was that he didn't want Sierra to be known as the "adventure game company." He wanted to diversify and have Sierra branch out into other genres.

Apparently, Ken met with John Romero and John Carmack, back when Id Software (I know the "i" in "id" isn't capitalized in the company name, but without capitalizing the "i" it looks like I make a weird typo) was still working on DOOM. If the deal had gone through, Sierra would've ended up publishing DOOM.

That would've been weird (especially considering how derisive the "adventure gaming community" was of first-person shooters back in the 90s), but probably good for the company's bank account. I think this was one of the reasons why Ken didn't pass on publishing Half-Life, back when Valve was an unknown company.
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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by Tawmis » Wed Dec 02, 2020 11:01 pm

DeadPoolX wrote:
Wed Dec 02, 2020 8:34 pm
Having finished the book weeks ago (between real life and work, I forgot about this thread), I have to say that while I enjoyed it, I wish there had been more entries from Roberta.
Ken talked about the problems Roberta was having at Sierra after it got sold and he no longer worked there, but I would've liked to have known more and read what Roberta would've written herself.
To be fair, it sounded like Roberta enjoyed her position, not just as a best-selling game designer or co-creator of Sierra Online, but also as the "CEO's wife" and used Ken's influence to push ahead her projects.
Without Ken there, she couldn't do that and had a lot of problems getting people to listen to her.
To be clear, I'm not bashing Roberta here. It makes sense she'd expect some privileges within her own company.
Additionally, it's human nature to use whatever tools you've got, which includes personal and familial connections. Unfortunately for her, Sierra wasn't the company she helped create by the time she was trying to get KQ8 made, so at best she was "just another designer" and at worst, she was considered a pest who didn't fit into the new environment.
Yeah. I mean, I would totally see why she was entitled - and totally accept it. She was the one in the beginning who pushed Ken, repeatedly, to do what PCs couldn't do - and the reason Sierra became a thing.

But yes, the new age was there - and just like everything (comic books for me, these days) - the new generation wants something different.
DeadPoolX wrote:
Wed Dec 02, 2020 8:34 pm
Apparently, Ken met with John Romero and John Carmack, back when Id Software (I know the "i" in "id" isn't capitalized in the company name, but without capitalizing the "i" it looks like I make a weird typo) was still working on DOOM. If the deal had gone through, Sierra would've ended up publishing DOOM.
Can you imagine if they had pulled that off?

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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by Rath Darkblade » Thu Dec 03, 2020 3:11 am

DeadPoolX wrote:
Wed Dec 02, 2020 8:34 pm
Having finished the book weeks ago (between real life and work, I forgot about this thread), I have to say that while I enjoyed it, I wish there had been more entries from Roberta. Ken talked about the problems Roberta was having at Sierra after it got sold and he no longer worked there, but I would've liked to have known more and read what Roberta would've written herself.

From what Ken did write, it's amazing KQ8 (which is what Ken himself referred to it as) got finished at all. At the time that game was being made, Roberta had very little pull with the company. To be fair, it sounded like Roberta enjoyed her position, not just as a best-selling game designer or co-creator of Sierra Online, but also as the "CEO's wife" and used Ken's influence to push ahead her projects. Without Ken there, she couldn't do that and had a lot of problems getting people to listen to her.
It would be interesting to read Roberta's perspective on it all, yes.

It's fair enough that Roberta would want to push her own projects and use her influence. After all, without her Sierra wouldn't exist. No Roberta-bashing detected! :)
Tawmis wrote:
Wed Dec 02, 2020 11:01 pm
DeadPoolX wrote:
Wed Dec 02, 2020 8:34 pm
Apparently, Ken met with John Romero and John Carmack, back when Id Software (I know the "i" in "id" isn't capitalized in the company name, but without capitalizing the "i" it looks like I make a weird typo) was still working on DOOM. If the deal had gone through, Sierra would've ended up publishing DOOM.
Can you imagine if they had pulled that off?
Maybe. Can you imagine if Romero or Carmack insisted on some weird Doom/Quest game crossover, though?

The Prince of Shapeir finds a basket for cat-people AND USES HIS SHOTGUN TO SLAY THE DRAGON FOR FUN AND PROFIT! :roll:

Leisure Suit Larry goes to Lost Wages and paints the town red WITH A BIG F***ING ROCKET LAUNCHER!! :twisted:

Prince Alexander needs to rescue Cassima from the castle in King's Quest 6. SO HE PRESSES THE BIG RED BUTTON AND NUKES THE FREAKIN' PLACE! :P Then he grabs an electric guitar and plays a riff. 'Cos that makes sense, too.

Granted, I doubt anyone would have made a game like that. But I'm sure some fans of Id Software would've loved it.

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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by DeadPoolX » Fri Dec 04, 2020 3:26 pm

Rath Darkblade wrote:
Thu Dec 03, 2020 3:11 am
Maybe. Can you imagine if Romero or Carmack insisted on some weird Doom/Quest game crossover, though?
You joke, but Romero was a fan of adventure games, including those created by Sierra, and had even worked on some Infocom titles.

Originally, he wanted Wolfenstein 3D to be far more complex and involved, including a lot of RPG and stealth elements. They eventually went with the pure action model because of technological limitations around the engine they had created and wanting to use a smooth-moving first-person perspective (as opposed to first-person screen-by-screen movement in many RPGs at the time).

By the time DOOM came around, Id Software was already known for a specific type of game and had a dedicated audience who looked forward to it, so attempting to switch gears would've been awkward and probably hurt the company overall. They also wanted to cement their status as the premier FPS developer as producing Wolf3D had inspired a ton of imitators, so they needed to create an even better game in that genre.

Because Id Software wasn't Romero's company (rather it belonged to him and at least two other people) he couldn't have even made a more RPG-like/adventure-like game if he had wanted to because he would've been outvoted. I think this is why Romero later left Id and formed Ion Storm, which unfortunately failed due to internal management problems. Ion Storm also had a rocky development record, which created the now-classic mega-hit Deus Ex (which was very much an FPS/Stealth/RPG/Adventure hybrid), but also produced Daikatana, a game that had infamously promised a lot but delivered very little.
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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by Collector » Fri Dec 04, 2020 11:01 pm

On a side note, Romero is a member of the Big Box PC Game Collectors FB group and his wife Brenda is a mod. It has afforded some insight to his gaming history.
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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by Rath Darkblade » Fri Dec 04, 2020 11:05 pm

Fair enough. *nods* This is probably coloured by my impressions of the original Wolf3D and DOOM. Basically, I sometimes had no time to even think or aim my rifle properly before being beset with all kinds of enemies, some of which I couldn't even see. Result? Panic. ;) I don't mind a game being hard, but if my character's being hurt and can't see enough to fight back, that's not hard; that's unfair.

I remember Daikatana and how disappointing it was.

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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by DeadPoolX » Sat Dec 05, 2020 3:56 am

Collector wrote:
Fri Dec 04, 2020 11:01 pm
On a side note, Romero is a member of the Big Box PC Game Collectors FB group and his wife Brenda is a mod. It has afforded some insight to his gaming history.
Huh. That's pretty cool. :D
Rath Darkblade wrote:
Fri Dec 04, 2020 11:05 pm
Basically, I sometimes had no time to even think or aim my rifle properly before being beset with all kinds of enemies, some of which I couldn't even see. Result? Panic. ;) I don't mind a game being hard, but if my character's being hurt and can't see enough to fight back, that's not hard; that's unfair.
The complete lack of peripheral vision is a major detriment in FPS games. Some people suggest to increase your field-of-view (FOV) to compensate, but I experience a "fish bowl" effect if I bump up my FOV too high.

I'm surprised you never used cheat codes in games like Wold3D and DOOM. Those cheat codes were widely known shortly after those games were released and back then people didn't verbally assault you for playing a single player game the way you want, unlike today where far too many asshats attempt to dictate how "real gamers" play. :roll:
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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by Rath Darkblade » Sat Dec 05, 2020 7:08 am

Well, Wolfenstein 3D came out in 1992, and Doom 1 in 1993. I didn't have access to the internet until 1995, and I'd given up on Wolf3D and Doom long before then. ;) Is it worthwhile to play them (even in god mode), just to find out what happen at the end?

***EDIT*** Apparently not. I just looked up some gameplay for this game on YouTube, and ... yikes. :shock: Each level is maze-like, so you don't know where you've explored and where you haven't. It consists of running around to avoid being shot (and being shot anyway), shooting randomly (and hitting some soldiers accidentally), and basically not having a clue where you are or where you need to get to. :shock: No wonder I gave up on this game.

As for "real gamers don't cheat!!!11oneone" and similar asshattery -- life's too short to pay attention to fools. :roll: It's your game, so play it however you like to play it. If some online schmuck doesn't like it, too bad! *nods*

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