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PC Gaming - The Early Years
My first computer was an Apple IIgs. It was the last of the Apple II line and performed more like a Mac than any previous Apple. At the time, there were more different computer types such as Apple, IBM, Commodore, and Atari ST, than we have types of console today. I got my IIgs back in the late 80’s when some people were still playing their Atari 2600 and many more were discovering the Nintendo. The computer gaming industry was already going strong then, and one of the best known computer game companies was Sierra On-Line.
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Sierra is the company behind such well-known hits as the King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, and Leisure Suit Larry series of games. If you had a computer during the mid to late 80's, then you probably had at least one game made by Sierra. When they released a new game, it was akin to a major motion picture event backed by advertising and all kinds of press from gaming magazines, long before it was normal for games to get that kind of attention. Sierra was at the top of their game for a long time, and they produced some of the best-loved computer games of all time.
As with all good things, Sierra eventually went under. A series of mergers and acquisitions saw them putting out more and more games that diverted from their usual style, and quality suffered. I remember being so incredibly disappointed with one of their games called Outpost. The rising popularity of Windows pretty much killed Sierra, but during the glorious MS-DOS days of computing, the release of a new Sierra On-Line game was a really big deal.
I think that the demand for 3D games and interfaces is what ultimately took Sierra out of play. They had built a company on two dimensional adventure games where you used the arrows key to move a little figure around and actually had to type commands like 'talk' and 'open door' in order to control your character. As the mouse got to be more popular, Sierra did OK for a while with some point and click games, but that special something was lost along the way. King's Quest VII attempted to play into the 3D adventure market, but it didn't work so well and it was the last game of the series. The general reaction to the game was that it was King's Quest in name alone. Basically, technology drove consumer demand past the type of games that Sierra offered. It sure was a lot of fun while it lasted.
For a great website with information on the classic Sierra games, check out Vintage-Sierra.com.
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Blizzard Entertainment - The New Sierra
If someone were to ask me what company was the Sierra On-Line of today, I would have to say that it’s Blizzard Entertainment. Although Electronic Arts is a huge game company with lots of sought-after titles, I think the frequency with which Blizzard releases games is what makes them so special. The company has been around for over a decade, yet they’ve only released a handful of games. However, everything they put out is golden. EA publishes many great games, but many we can do without. From the Warcraft series to the two Diablo games, and then of course World of Warcraft, Blizzard has put out one hit after another. Their upcoming Starcraft II is going to be one of the biggest hit games of next year.
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Another reason why I think Blizzard is the new Sierra is that both companies made games that are easy to play. With Sierra's adventures, you could take your time going through the game there was plenty to explore. With many of Blizzard's titles, you played using a very easy to learn and understand interface that made the games fun and involving for minutes or hours. You can't deny the addictive nature of Diablo's insane click-fest or the fun of watching your army of Orcs destroy the human camp in Warcraft.
One thing I have always liked about Blizzard’s games is that they put out quality products. Too many game and software companies rush their product to market with the intention of patching them later, and this often backfires once word gets out that the game is buggy. This is exactly what happened to Flagship Studios with the release of Hellgate London. Instead of waiting to get the game fully functional, they released a half-finished product and got skewered by gamers because of this. Ironically, Flagship Studios was formed by former employees of Blizzard.
Since Blizzard releases games so infrequently, it turns out to be a big deal when they finally put one to market. They are notorious for pushing back release dates because they are still adding features or patching bugs, which is something some of the big game companies might take a lesson from. By making people wait a little longer, it builds up anticipation, and so far Blizzard has delivered the goods with every single game they’ve released. I hope they can keep their successful trend going, because I’m really looking forward to Starcraft II and Diablo III.
To see what Blizzard is currently up to, check out their website at http://www.Blizzard.com.