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Two classic video game pioneers plan a comeback

Making a comeback: Roberta Williams, whose pioneering design work helped popularize adventure games like King’s Quest in the 1980s through a company she co-founded with husband Ken.

Driving the news: Roberta and Ken are working with a team of more than a dozen developers to remake a 1970s classic that inspired them, Colossal Cave Adventure.

  • The new Colossal Cave 3D is designed for careful, cerebral play as the player explores caves, meets colorful characters, searches for treasure and solves puzzles.
  • It will be playable in virtual reality, with a non-VR version in development as well.

What they’re saying: “It’s been interesting to see if we could do it, if after 25 years just jump right back in again,” Roberta told Axios during an in-person interview at the Game Developers Conference last month.

Details: The new project emerged over the past year, as Ken sought projects to alleviate boredom during the pandemic.

  • He wrote a book about the early days of Sierra, the influential studio he co-founded with Roberta.
  • That led to learning the game creation toolset Unity, a partnership on a small project with developer Marcus Mera, and eventually a successful effort to woo Roberta into the fold.

Between the lines: The Williamses have been on a long break from the gaming industry.

  • They were gaming superstars three decades ago — Roberta for leading the design of hit games and Ken for steering publisher Sierra On-Line.
  • They quit the industry after selling the company in 1996. “I was kind of depressed for a year, trying to figure out who I was,” Roberta said and added that she missed making games.

The couple spent much of the next decade on a different journey: circumnavigating the world in a boat, starting in Seattle, sailing up to Alaska, crossing the Bering Sea to Siberia and then traveling down to Japan.

  • Roberta said they “cheated” and avoided going around India and Africa, out of concerns over pirates. Instead, they had their boat shipped to Turkey and then spent five years crossing the Mediterranean.
  • They didn’t circle the planet in one go, docking their boat at marinas and returning to it when they were ready to continue.
  • All the while, they got calls to return to gaming, but Roberta said they were happy to be on their new voyage.

What’s next: The boat is docked and development is moving along, with Ken predicting summer release and Roberta expecting fall.

  • Ken confessed initial nervousness about people’s expectations for a new Williams game.
  • “For a while, I thought maybe we have to release under a pseudonym,” he said.
  • But they’re putting their names on it — and their money behind it — fully funding the project under the banner Cygnus Entertainment.

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Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson