Games industry icons: Roberta Williams

Games industry icons: Roberta Williams

Games industry icons

Roberta Williams, who grew up in southern California, almost 30 kilometers east of Los Angeles, was born on February 16, 1953, initially with the family name Heuer. Her mother Nova Heuer is a housewife and has a very good knack for oil painting. Her father John, however, a trained horticulturalist, earns his bread as a landscape inspector for the Los Angeles district. When Roberta is around one and a half years old, her brother John is also born. Even as a child, Roberta had a great enthusiasm for inventing stories that she would like to tell the whole family. By the way, she herself doesn't like to use the word stories, but instead speaks of "films".

Table of contents

Page 1 Icons of the games industry: Roberta Williams - Page 1 1.1 The first adventure is taking shape 1.2 The dawn of fabulous worlds 1.3 The first media giants are knocking 1.4 King's Quest is born Page 2 Icons of the game industry: Roberta Williams - page 2 2.1 Roberta's hit continues for the first time 2.2 Heroines to the front 2.3 Detour into new realms 2.4 The dawn of the point'n'click era in Sierra Page 3 Icons of the game industry: Roberta Williams - page 3 3.1 Help out by Jane Jensen 3.2 Does Roberta have a knack for horror? 3.3 King's Quest VIII: Roberta's Last Big Game 3.4 Farewell and Planned Comeback Page 4 Picture Gallery for "Icons of the Games Industry: Roberta Williams" Expand While on a date with a friend, at the age of 17, she met a certain Ken Williams by chance. Williams is not her type at first, but contacts her some time later to go out with her. Although Roberta initially classifies him as insecure and shy, the two quickly get closer. Roberta soon believes in her clever Ken, who in turn strives for a stable relationship. Almost two years later, on November 4, 1972, to be precise, Ken and Roberta say yes. The following year she gave birth to D.J., their first child together. Six years later her second son Chris follows.

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The first adventure is taking shape

Mission Asteroid lets itself go play through in a few hours and was conceived as the opening game of the Hi-Res Adventure series due to its simple puzzles.

Source: Moby Games While Roberta is making up the story, characters and scenario, she asks Ken to do the programming - in this case on the Apple II home computer, which was very popular at the time. Ken loves Roberta's enthusiasm, but is of the opinion that a purely text-based adventure game won't leave a lasting impression on the market. This is precisely why he suggests adding pictures to the story. Said and done. The increasingly game-loving duo buys a so-called VersaWriter, a kind of forerunner of today's drawing tablets. Equipped in this way, it is now easy for Roberta to create over 70 different graphics for her project called Mystery House.

The only problem: Because not all of these drawings have to fit on a 5.25-inch floppy disk Trick Ken and write a program routine. Each scene is drawn on the basis of coordinates and no longer has to be stored as a single file on the data carrier. On May 5, 1980 the time had finally come: Mystery House, the first product of the On-Line Systems company founded in 1979, was completed and customers could order it by post for $ 24.95. The Williams place the right advertisement in the magazine Micro.

With more than 80,000 copies sold later, Mystery House is one of the most successful games of the 80s. In 1988 it was even referenced in the film Big with Tom Hanks in the lead role.

Source: Moby Games The two do not have too high expectations. But the game about a Victorian villa, in which the player is locked in with seven other people, hits a narrative point and goes away like hot cakes. In the initial phase alone, the couple sold over 10,000 games. This in turn enables the Williams to tackle further games projects, which they from now on assign to the so-called Hi-Res Adventure series for better recognition. Thanks to the sudden windfall, the couple is also able to move to another location that has been planned for a long time. They say goodbye to Los Angeles and move about 410 kilometers further north to Coarsegold, an idyllic location with a great view of the Sierra Nevada and not far from the world-famous Yosemite National Park and their parents' apple orchard. Williams, on the other hand, are setting up their offices in neighboring, no less contemplative Oakhurst.

Departure into fabulous worlds

Wizard and the Princess from 1980 is considered to be the spiritual pioneer of the King’s Quest series. If you want to play in, it is best to use the browser-based version of Internet Archive, which can be found at

Source: Moby Games After moving, Robert designed her second Hi -Res adventure. In contrast to Mystery House, Wizard and the Princess already has colored graphics and tells the story of a courageous wanderer who sets off to free King George's daughter from the mountain castle of the dark magician Harlin. This time, the basis for the well-written plot is not a thriller, but rather Roberta's penchant for fairy tales. Wizard and the Princess was also released in 1980 and, with more than 60,000 copies sold, is becoming the next hit from On-Line Systems.

This would have built the bridge to Mission Asteroid, which was released in 1981 . The game - in which an astronaut has to save the earth from an asteroid impact - is the third adventure game penned by Roberta, but due to its higher level of beginner-friendliness, shallower puzzles and the significantly shorter playing time on the packaging as a hi-res game Adventure # 0. The idea behind it: If genre fans start the game series with Mission Asteroid, it would later be easier for them to be able to solve Mystery House and Wizard and the Princess as well.

In The Dark Crystal from 1983, players also interact still via a text parser with the game world. The title has no music, sound effects are limited to two different beeps.

Source: Moby Games While Mission Asteroid is a rather manageable game, Roberta's next endeavor - Time Zone, published in 1982 - turns out to be a real mammoth project. Together with ten other people, Robert worked for almost a year on the completion of a time travel odyssey with 39 different scenarios and almost 1400 (!) Screens in which players included historical personalities such as Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Christopher Columbus, Robin Hood and Benjamin Meet Franklin. The game is truly gigantic by the standards of the day. So gigantic that it takes six 5.25-inch floppy disks and is priced at $ 99. If you were to convert the latter to today's conditions and take inflation into account, then this would correspond to a price of about $ 274! In addition, the Williams decided to advertise the game with an elaborately designed movie-style poster.

The first media giants are knocking

This photo shows Ken and Roberta Williams during their founding years. In 2014, the two were honored with the Industry Icon Award for their services. In 2020 they were presented with the coveted Pioneer Award.

Source: The Game Awards The production effort for Time Zone is impressive and, in combination with the respectable sales figures for the hi-res adventure games, means that more and more Decision-makers from the technology and media industries become aware of the duo - which has meanwhile renamed their company to Sierra On-Line. One of these decision-makers: Muppet inventor Jim Henson, who released his movie The Dark Crystal in 1982. He has commissioned the game for this from Sierra On-Line, which markets it under the new label SierraVenture and at the same time positions it as the sixth and last game in the Hi-Res Adventure series.

Just like the film plays The Dark Cystal in Thra, a place with three suns that form a unit every 1000 years. In the role of Jen - the last survivor of the mole-like people of the Gelfings - players now have the task of finding and repairing a dark crystal and thus ending the rule of an unscrupulous tyrant. In contrast to Time Zone, Roberta only invests a month of work in development and leaves the rest to her team. The result is okay, but cannot completely convince real adventure lovers.

The birth of King's Quest

A pixel knight saves the Kingdom of Daventry: King's Quest consists of more than 75 detailed images Screens and is the adventure eye-catcher of 1984 due to its superb animations.

Source: Moby Games In addition to Jim Henson, many other big names later knock on Sierra On-Line, including the computer manufacturer IBM. He wants to bring his next home computer PCjr (PC Junior) onto the market in March 1983 and is looking for suitable launch titles for it. The budget available for this? A whopping $ 850,000! This request comes in handy for Williams, because the great video game crash of 1983 did not leave their company unaffected. After the first brainstorming session, two concepts come up: a word processing program tailored for children called Homeword and Roberta's next adventure called King's Quest. IBM likes the latter better, but - in order to emphasize the advantages of the PCjr hardware - it should be equipped with a world that appears as complex as possible, which in the best case scenario offers several solutions for individual puzzles.

King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! (1990) is not only the first adventure with voice output, but also the first to be delivered on CD-ROM and with hand-drawn backgrounds.

Source: Moby Games Coordinates while Roberta works on the details of the story she is also a team of six full-time programmers and developers who are designing a new game engine called Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI) - the future basis for all upcoming adventures from Sierra On-Line. Advantage of the AGI: Instead of still images, the engine can display complex animations and bring a scene to life in this way. In addition, there is a much improved text parser and the ability to play sophisticated music and sound effects.

Using this technology as a basic framework, Roberta's team built a truly impressive game over a period of 18 months. A particularly important design trick: the hero himself does not look at the individual scenes from a distance - as in the past - but is integrated directly into them as an animated figure. Walking from A to B, opening doors, picking up things, interacting with people - for all of this and more, special animations are designed. In order to make the presentation as believable as possible, one also ensures perspective depth and ensures that figures actually disappear when they are behind objects or, conversely, cover objects when they are in front of them.

One of the technical innovations In King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow (1992) there is lip-synchronicity within the dialogues. The Amiga implementation is carried out by Revolution Software, who later create their own adventure hits like Baphomet's Escape.

Source: Moby Games The thematic hook for King's Quest is a fairy tale, this time with one, as with the immensely successful Wizard and the Princess Knight in the lead role: Sir Graham. In order to get the numerous problems of the Kingdom of Daventry under control, King Edward assigns the brave knight to find three fabled treasures. If this succeeds, so the hope, many things in the country would change for the better. In addition to fame and honor, Edward Graham also promises to become his rightful successor.

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