Sierra founders tried to make a game with Stephen King ‘many times’ before creating Phantasmagoria

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

“I always wanted to do Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The guys at Infocom got to do that. I badly wanted to work with Douglas Adams, but never could pull it together,” Ken Williams told me in an interview at this year’s Game Developers Conference, where the pair are showing off the new Colossal Cave Adventure.

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

Roberta Williams: We tried to work with Stephen King because I wanted to do 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 just went ahead and made my own [horror game], Phantasmagoria. Which actually went well.

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

RW: He liked courtroom dramas, things like that.

KW: So we signed him to a contract and then went back to all the creative people. And we were trying to figure out how to do a courtroom drama type game. It just never came together. That fell apart.

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

KW: I know, and I was so proud of getting it. Oh well!

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

KW: I realized we missed the boat and I shouldn’t have been dumb. As a publisher, you’re not building games for you. You have an obligation to give people what they want. So when Half-Life came around, that was an easy decision. I wasn’t going to let it go for a second time, so I grabbed Half-Life. And that went on to be a big hit for us. 

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