Reply to comment

The Beginnings of Sierra Part 2

In the first installment, we looked at the initial crop of Sierra text-adventure titles, received a good deal of response thanks to Kotaku, and garnered a good deal of positive feedback.  This post continues with discussion of the further early success of the company, and reveals some more rather obscure games that helped them putter along until they developed the first modern graphical adventure game. Hope you'll take a look-see.

After their success with the Hi-Res titles, including non-adventure offerings like Hi-Res Football and the hard to find Hi-Res Soccer, On-Line Systems, like any good company, immediately began to diversify.  Most of their early work was specifically for the Apple II platform, but increased revenue allowed them to expand and open up as both a developer and a publisher. With this expansion, I guess On-Line Systems decided to reconsider a lot of things, including their name.  The company was renamed Sierra On-Line in 1982, and adopted a new logo which would eventually transform into one of computer gaming's most famous icons.

Aside from their adventure game line-up, which steadily grew during the period, Sierra also released a number of cleverly renamed and re-skinned arcade clones.  Well, I don't know if "cleverly" can quite cover it, I mean there had to be some potential for copyright issues, right?  Regardless, these titles signify the shift to On-Line Systems new logo for Sierra On-Line and all the arcade ports/clones were released under the SierraVision moniker (except for a port of Frogger which they officially licensed from Sega). My favorite of the bunch is a little title called "Cannonball Blitz", I took the picture in tandem with "Lunar Leeper", another title in the SierrraVision line.

Cannonball Blitz y Lunar Leeper: Darn stickersCannonball Blitz y Lunar Leeper: Darn stickers

Blitz and Lunar Leeper Back: Note the Sierra
LogoCannonball Blitz and Lunar Leeper Back: Note the Sierra Logo

The new logo on the backs of the boxes is the first usage of the now famous Sierra mountain logo, though it wouldn't be finalized until later in the 1980s.  The best part about Cannonball Blitz is the game it's imitating. I'll give you one guess with this next screenshot closeup.

Cannonball Close Up: Where's the Monkey?Cannonball Close Up: Where's the Monkey?

So yes, apparently the new residents of Cannonball Castle ousted the previous simian occupant, destroyed his barrels and paved the way for a cannonball oriented rule; the fancy hats are just a plus.  Can't say it's a bad idea, just a little odd.  Anyway, if you ever thought, "Gee, there's something missing from this Donkey Kong game. I know, it needs a revolutionary war theme and tons of redcoats!" Well think no longer, it exists and may represent one of the most absurd commercial copies of any popular video game.

The last stop on this brief visit to Sierra's past is probably the most important. After meeting with great success in 1982, Sierra entered into a retrospectively abortive venture developing cartridge-based games for some other popular PCs, notably the Commodore VIC-20.  The games didn't sell as expected and Sierra dumped the idea, nearly folding in the process. Although they swore off anything to do with cartridges in the future, being too expensive and risky, the company still had very good working relationships with the computer industry at large.  So when IBM asked Sierra to create a flagship title for its upcoming IBM PCjr. and offered to cover all development costs, the game company readily jumped on the idea.

The resulting title, King's Quest, aside from being the first third person adventure game and a technical marvel for the platform, represented a major evolution for adventure games. Having the protagonist waddle about the screen in full pixelated glory struck a chord with the gaming public and launched Sierra to a whole new level. I do not have access right now to one of our many versions of the title, but thanks to Andy Linnenkohl at the Sierra Vault have been provided the box art for that very first installment. (The SierraVault hosts a near complete collection of everything Sierra, so its definitely worth a look, and everything is scanned).

King's Quest Box: Mundane-yKing's Quest Box: Mundane-y

King's Quest Box Back: Shockingly GrayKing's Quest Box Back: Shockingly Gray

Most striking is the banality of the presentation, for such a significant achievement there is nothing here that screens "Buy Me", unless of course you like things that are boring and gray. Sierra continued the run with a plethora of "Quest" titles, establishing itself as a premier developer of adventure titles for the rest of the decade. Not too shabby. I'm posting a couple more SierraVision titles below in the thumbnails, since more box art is always good. Enjoy the flying skull, giant robot and bus-shaped spaceships.


  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options