In junior high, the world of computers ceased to be a teaching novelty and became a standard institution in our school. Computer class was the highlight of every day, mostly because our teacher would let us fart around as long as we were “learning” something. That was when he showed us the wonders of CompuServe, where we could — gasp! — learn the skiing conditions in Colorado in real time through modems.
Computer class was also where my friends and I traded games, and some of our favorites were the adventure games that were omnipresent in the 80s. King’s Quest, Police Quest, the Infocom games, and even the forbidden fruit of Leisure Suit Larry. However, when I first booted up Space Quest I in that class, I knew I found my one true love.
Similar to how King’s Quest lampooned the fantasy/fable genre, Space Quest set out to snark on scifi in all its incarnations — but mostly Star Wars and Star Trek. Instead of a bold, muscular hero, you stepped into the slightly damp shoes of Roger Wilco, space janitor. Wilco would’ve lived his life free of adventures if destiny was not thrust upon him. In the events of the first game, he becomes the sole survivor of an alien attack on his ship (because he was napping in a closet), and has to escape and escape and escape some more.
Unlike other adventure games — such as a bulk of LucasArt’s titles — you could and would die frequently in Space Quest. Horrible deaths around every corner was a fact of life, and only by trial and error and a very small amount of wits could you live long enough to see the next plot twist.
Adventure games relied on their stories as the reward that propelled you forward — in order to get the next slice of the tale, you’d have to solve a puzzle, figure out a tricky conversation, or accomplish a task with an obscure arrangement of random tools. Space Quest was better than its contemporaries in giving you a good reason to keep progressing, because the story was flat-out hilarious, and crazy easter eggs were hidden everywhere. As a die hard Trekkie in the late 80s (and a considerable Star Wars fan as well), I found all of the obvious references hilarious, although I’m sure they wouldn’t stack up as well today.
I only played the first three titles all the way through — Space Quest III was a particular favorite — and for a solo game, it was a surprisingly social experience. Back before the internet, there was no easy source of help when you got stuck in these games (and you WOULD get stuck), which meant that teams of friends playing the same game would become the main resource for each other. We’d collaborate on tricky spots, and race against each other to see how far we could progress that night (or during class) to boast about it the next day.
I heard the main guys behind Space Quest left the series (or were booted) mid-way through, which caused the later installments to be a little less dependable in quality and laughs. I wouldn’t know, as I moved on, but I’ll always remember my tour of duty on the Arcada with fondness.