Emily Morganti: How fun has it been to work on a new, official King’s Quest game?Matt Korba: It’s been the most fun game I’ve ever worked on. We’ve been a studio now for almost seven years and in that amount of time we’ve shipped around seven games; puzzle and story’s always been our focus. I really hope [King’s Quest] works—not only for us because I want to continue making games like this, but also for everybody else who’s working on games that are narrative focused or humor’s a selling point. We’re lucky that Telltale has had the success with The Walking Dead and that there’s been all that interest in Double Fine Adventure [Broken Age], because that allowed us to do a game like this. It allowed Sierra to reach out and us to be like, “Yes!”
Emily Morganti: How did that happen?Matt Korba: Before [the Sierra label] was back, we met with Activision a few times. They mainly did licensed content and we mainly did original content, but they really liked our creative stuff. We actually worked on an adventure game that got cancelled a couple of years ago… it was before The Walking Dead and it had similar sort of choice things in it, and when we went to shop it around people were like, “No, these games don’t work anymore, sorry.” That was before the success of The Walking Dead, so in our pitch meetings we could show off that side of it, so when this came across [Activision] reached out to us and said, “What would you guys do with it?” [We said] “It’s going to be hard to make a King’s Quest IX because everyone’s so attached. The directive was to do a reimagining anyway. So we came up with the basic idea of Graham telling stories. I think one of the things Roberta and Ken really appreciated was that it was always about the family. With [Mask of Eternity’s protagonist] Connor they attempted to move King’s Quest to a new generation, and I think they were really pleased with how we figured out a way that Gwendolyn could be the new addition.
Emily Morganti: You showed an early build to Roberta and Ken Williams. How did that go?Matt Korba: It was awesome. I should mention that being the big fan of the series that I am, growing up playing it with my uncle, I wasn’t really interested in doing [this game] unless I could have the blessing of Roberta and Ken Williams. I was super nervous going into it, trying to imagine how [I would feel] if years later someone was remaking my first game. But they were amazing, they were super pleasant people. They loved the game and they gave me a lot of good feedback, not only on the game but also on the company, because we really want to create family friendly entertainment. That doesn’t exist that much anymore; there’s not a lot of games you can play with your kids. I don’t have kids yet but I plan to, and as they’re getting older I want to have shared experiences. I solved the Cliffs of Logic with my uncle and I want to be able to do that with future generations. [Ken and Roberta] had some great advice about that, and we talked about story gameplay and art. They used to have this pyramid that was those three things—can’t be too much story, the interactive novel type of thing, it all needs to work together. And Roberta was just giddy, like ‘Oh I never play games, but this is a game I would play,’ and every scene she was like, ‘Are you actually controlling him here?’ and she’d be like, ‘Can you die here? Can you die here? Can you fall off that bridge?’ We checked with them to make sure the references we were pulling from were the same things they were inspired by, and luckily we were correct on that, which was a huge relief.
Emily Morganti: Who do you see as the audience for this game? Mainly old KQ fans? People who like The Walking Dead?Matt Korba: The hope is everybody. King’s Quest fans hopefully, but hopefully also people who play all the modern adventure games will play this. It’s not like we’re singlehandedly bringing back adventure games—they haven’t gone anywhere—but it’s been a while since there’s been this much backing behind it, with a big company like Activision/Sierra, and the resources that we’re able to pull in to the art, to the character controller, to the [voice] cast we have. So because we have something that has such broad appeal, and it’s funny, and it’s family friendly, the hope is that that we can get a larger audience back into the system. That’s really the goal, to be able to do these games again on a bigger scale and to have a wider audience. If we don’t get the King’s Quest fans or The Walking Dead fans or the adventure game fans, then we’re not going to be able to get that larger audience—that mom who looks at the cover of this and thinks, ‘I can play this with my family.’
Emily Morganti: With Activision and the Sierra brand, do you have a sense that they want to see how this game does, and then they’ll decide if they’ll do things with other IP?Matt Korba: I can’t speak on behalf of them, but even just on behalf of us, if this game does well it’s going to open up the possibilities a lot, and they have an awesome catalog. We get asked, “Are you guys going to do Space Quest?” and Quest for Glory is the other one that everybody keeps asking about. I’m not privy to all of their plans, but I think it’s one of those things where if this does well it opens up a lot of possibilities. Not just for Activision and Sierra, but for other companies as well, to create new games or use their catalogs from that time when story and fun and charm was at the forefront.
Emily Morganti: And Disney has shown that they’re willing to do it with the LucasArts stuff, too.Matt Korba: Right, that’s been really exciting to have Grim Fandango come back and actually sell really well.
Emily Morganti: Recent favorite games?Matt Korba: I liked The Walking Dead. It’s not necessarily the tone that I attach myself to, but I liked the gameplay and how they worked the story and the choices in with it. I liked Brothers, which people might not think about as a traditional point-and-click adventure game, but to me it’s a story game and the way that they incorporated the story into the gameplay was awesome, and the whole layout of it. I appreciated Gone Home. There’s always that debate, is this a game or an interactive narrative? I don’t really care about any of that stuff. I just care about if it’s fun and engaging, I don’t care if it’s a traditional game.
Emily Morganti: What’s your favorite KQ game?Matt Korba: I’ll pick a couple of favorites. I like KQI because, not only was it the first one I played, but it has a structure that I think we’re hitting later on in the [new] game. It sort of felt like an open world adventure game. It’s not Grand Theft Auto open world, but it’s like you can sort of go anywhere and try anything. It’s like the first [Legend of] Zelda; it was all about exploration and trying different things and there wasn’t a lot of handholding. I like KQIII because they have that scheduling system with the time. And then I like KQV and VI because they are when the charm really kicked in, and they have the [voice] acting, everything started to fire on all cylinders. Even when I go back and play particularly V and VI today, they hold up really well; they’re still funny and they still have all that charm and humor.
Emily Morganti: Have you played any of the fan games?Matt Korba: Yeah, I played The Silver Lining, and I’ve played the [first two] AGDI remakes.
Emily Morganti: I really liked what AGDI did with KQII, the way they took a bare-bones story with a lot of things that didn’t make sense and they made them make sense.Matt Korba: Right, and that’s a little bit how we think about what we’re doing as well, just with the reimagining of it. King’s Quest started in ’83 and it went until ’98, and with every game they reinvented it. The story was fleshed out more. It was still about these central characters but the mechanics changed, and that’s what we’re trying to hit. Similar to those fan remakes where they took a little idea and expanded on that, we’re doing the same thing with ours, we’re taking details that were in the original idea and giving context.