Sierra Online Collection Donated to International Center for the History of Electronic Games

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Who here has never played a Sierra game? Put your hands down, you probably have. They published so many games back in the 1980s and 90s that pretty much everyone has played either a game they worked on or a franchise that came out of that company. Leisure Suit Larry, Gabriel Knight, King’s Quest, we thought so.

Ken and Roberta Williams, who founded the Sierra On-Line computer game company in 1979 and developed it into one of the leading and most influential video game producers of the next two decades, have made a major donation of historic materials to the International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) at The Strong. The wide-ranging collection provides a window into the 20-year history of Sierra On-Line and a detailed look into how its most sierra online collection goes to museumsuccessful games were produced. 

The Ken and Roberta Williams Collection contains hundreds of items, including approximately 140 games, plus game design documents, artwork, newspaper articles, memorabilia, photographs, copies of Sierra’s company magazine Interaction, business records, press releases, catalogs, annual reports, and other materials, which ultimately will be made available to game historians and researchers. 

 “ICHEG is grateful to have been selected as the recipient of this highly significant collection,” says Jon-Paul Dyson, director of ICHEG. “Sierra On-Line was not only one of the largest computer game companies in the 1980s and 1990s, but a particularly influential game developer, creating the first graphical computer adventure, Mystery House; the first third-person graphical adventure game, King’s Quest (plus its many sequels); and dozens of other noted titles, such as The Black Cauldron, Mixed-Up Mother Goose, Leisure Suit Larry, Gabriel Knight, and Phantasmagoria. Through these and other games, Ken and Roberta Williams pioneered the use of animation, video, and humor in computer games.”

According to Ken Williams, “Many of the items in our donation to ICHEG were never intended to be seen. For instance, Roberta has always kept secret her design documents for the King’s Quest series. These thick documents, with all of her hand-written notes, have sat on her desk for nearly twenty years. Giving them up was not an easy decision, but it seemed the right time, and I’m sure her fans will enjoy this ‘behind the scenes’ peek at her creativity. I would encourage anyone who is curious about the history of gaming, the history of Sierra, or the creativity behind our games, to visit the museum.”

The Sierra story began in 1979 at the Williams’s kitchen table. Roberta was at home caring for their new baby when husband Ken (who had started a small company called On-Line Systems), brought home his computer with a link to a mainframe. On it, Roberta became enthralled with a game called Colossal Cave Adventure; and after completing it, she searched for others like it, but found few. So, she set out to create an original game of her own. Combining Roberta’s creativity as a designer with Ken’s technical know-how as a programmer, they produced Mystery House, the first computer adventure game with real graphics. Dubbed by Roberta as “our miracle from the kitchen,” the game ultimately sold tens of thousands of copies and launched their careers producing some of the most innovative and famous adventures of all time. Sierra became an international leader in PC software development with more than 1,000 employees worldwide.

Says Ken, “Roberta and I were very fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time; to have front-row seats, as we watched the birth of interactive entertainment. In those days, everything was new. No matter what we did, we were pioneering, because there was no roadmap and nothing to copy. At one time, we used to keep a list of Sierra’s ‘firsts,’ which included things like: the first game to use a professional soundtrack, or first online game network. One letter in the collection is from Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak, commenting that he thought it was very cool when he saw one of our games, Sabotage, because it hadn’t occurred to him that his computer could be used to do animation. After a few years, we stopped tracking ‘firsts’ because the list got too long. Sierra’s history, and the industry’s history, is buried in the ‘stuff’ that we hoarded over the years.”

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