Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Kings Quest is dead

No two words are more likely to cause you to abandon something you hold dear than fan and fic. There's nothing wrong with indulging in creative writing, in fact we definitely encourage it here at S&N, and writing about an existing piece of fiction can help as it saves having to do pesky tasks such as inventing characters. Unfortunately the problem tends to be that most fan fiction tends to be plain bad, disturbing, or both, and this can blemish the source material. For every piece of star trek fiction about a dramatic war with the Klingons there are going to be seven about Kirk and Picard exploring their sexualities, usually with each other. The sad part of the whole situation is that there are some really fantastic writers out there who find themselves resting on the crutch of fan fiction while the insatiable desire to of some to pervert beloved franchises, musicians and Saturday morning cartoons makes the creators of these subjects (or the subjects themselves) understandably nervous and protective over their intellectual rights, although at what cost?

In the world of gaming there is another level beyond that of simple fan fic; the fan game. These projects tend to avoid the smuttier trappings of fan fic, probably due in no small part to the sheer amount of time and effort that is needed to create them. One such project was The Silver Lining, a game based on the once genre defining Kings Quest series. Back in 1983 Kings Quest was revolutionising adventure games, by throwing out the static images that usually sat above the text in favour of animated scenes with an on screen representation of the player in the form of King Graham, combined with the illusion of depth by obscuring objects when Graham stood in front of them or having items in the foreground pass over him the game was truly different from any other adventure game of the time. The series was hugely popular and featured eight titles in total as well as many remakes and adaptations for various platforms, and despite the final two games not being as well received as those that preceded them the fans remained extremely loyal.

The final game, Mask of Eternity, was a complete departure from the series' adventure game roots and tried to reinvent its self as a 3D action game with more focus of violence than exploration and even changed the lead character to someone completely unrelated to the previous heroes. These decisions left many fans feeling as if their beloved Kings Quest had been stolen from them and had been transformed into a generic creation related in name only. The fact that this was the final game in the series only made matters worse.
In 2002 some like minded fans banded together to give the series a proper send off, true to the originals, in the form of a fan game entitled Kings Quest IX: Every Cloak Has A Silver Lining. Their vision was particularly ambitious, with an extensive story, 3D graphics and full voice acting, as well as a story so comprehensive that it would need to be told in the form of a trilogy. Things seemed to be going well, and in 2005 a trailer for the game was released online, much to the excitement of many people who had been following the project. Not everyone was excited however, especially the owners of the Kings Quest license; Vivendi, who sent an immediate cease and desist order upon the trailers release. The team creating the game had been working on the assumption they were protected by the US fair use copyright law, which was a rather ambiguous position to be in, but had always said that they would immediately stop production of the game should they be contacted by Vivendi. After some negotiating Vivendi granted the Phoenix Online Studios (the name the fan collective had assumed) a non commercial fan license, meaning they could continue producing the game as long as Kings Quest was removed from the title, all over elements of the game could remain the same. POS resumed their work on the title.

Five years later and episode 1 of the game was nearing completion, with a planned release date of spring. Unfortunately for Pheonix Online Studios Vivendi merged with Activison in 2008 creating Activision Blizzard, and as such the Kings Quest intellectual property now fell under their control. After months of negotiations the decision came down from Activision that POS were to cease and desist all production of their project once and for all. Eight years of hard work came to an abrupt stop, all for the sake of a license that hadn't been used in over a decade. Just ten days before the news came of the desmise of The Silver Lining project Activision CEO Bobby Kotick took to the stand at DICE 2010 to present his keynote speech entitled: "How creative talent drives the video game industry" in which he assured the assembled journalists and developers that Activison cared about the smaller developers and announced an indie development competition featuring $500,000 of prizes. Apparently you're fine to "be so inspired that [you'll] working until 4AM" as Kotick put it, just as long as you do it on your own dime and with your own ideas.

A petition to save The Silver Lining is available online now.

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