Back in the mid-1980s, computer games were created by their fans. It so happened that two guys, Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy decided that they would like to play King's Quest in a science fiction setting. After being initially rejected by Ken Williams who ran Sierra at the time, they created a small demo to show him they could pull it off. They got the job...
The result was one of the funniest adventure series up to date. The Guys from Andromeda, as they called themselves, created the virtual character of Roger Wilco, a space janitor who always stumbles into trouble and while trying really hard to stay alive saves a world or two. The series poked fun of all the popular science fiction movies and TV shows at that time like with Star Trek and Star Wars, but not sparing Lost in Space, Mystery Science Theater 3000 and some non-sci-fi entertainment icons, like ZZ Top, the Blues Brothers and stores like Toys'R'Us.
Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter was basically a retelling of Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. The Sariens, bad guys in this game, have stolen a powerful device that could create whole planets (or make them explode, for that matter). They killed everybody on board, but lucky for you, they overlooked a janitorial closet where you were taking a nap dutifully working. Your first instinct is to run away, and that's exactly what you'll be trying to do throughout the game. Unfortunately, your strategy completely baffles the Sariens who'd expect you to chase them, and who for that reason decided to flee pretty much in the same direction as you are fleeing. Needless to say, you are up for a whole lot of trouble.
Space Quest was written using the AGI engine. That means that you could move your character using the cursor keys, but for everything else, you had to use written commands. At the time of titles like Police Quest and King's Quest, this was a pretty standard practice, and those of us who grew up with text adventures found this approach pretty normal. Unfortunately, the writers didn't follow the established dictionary and coded in lots of less common words. This has caused a problem, as we had to try to figure out what exactly the authors had in mind, and often got stuck. This was only one of many problems with the game, though.
Space Quest was known as probably the most brutal game out there. There seem to be hundreds of different ways to die, often even if you do nothing, just stand around (if anything, you tend to die more often). Until the VGA version came around, which “enhanced” your death by short cut scenes where two sports commentators are explaining your death in a play-by-play fashion, dying was extremely annoying and frustrating. It also forced you to save the game often.
Saving the game didn't solve another huge problem – dead ends. While all contemporary Sierra games had this problem, Space Quest was the worst culprit. Some tasks had to be solved without any hints, and they could be overlooked until you were halfway through the game and realized that you needed an item that you'd get if you solved the original task. For example, at the beginning you have the chance of randomly encountering a dying scientist who tells you how to remove a cartridge. Without him, I wouldn't know about the cartridge at all, but I found that it's necessary in a much later puzzle. Without that random encounter, you'll end up restarting the game when you are halfway through.
The last problem was extremely irritating. There's an arcade sequence, which requires you to fly a speeder over a rocky landscape, dodging these rocks. It took me over an hour to get across this relatively short sequence. One of the reasons I like adventure games is that I can take my time in thinking about various tasks, which is why I absolutely loathe arcade sequences.
Despite these shortcomings, Space Quest was, and still remains, the game to play. If you didn't run into any dead ends, you could spend up to twenty hours solving the puzzles the first time, and even replay the game the second time (which takes less than four hours once you know what to do) in order to get all the inside jokes. You'd run into characters from many different movies, TV shows and books, and you'll be able to talk to them about lots of weird topics. For example, most characters seem to really like the King's Quest series. Most parodied outlets either ignored the game or took it with good humor, with the exception of Toys'R'Us, which sued Sierra for including a store named Droids'B'Us. Considering the extremely Star Wars-like ending, I'm surprised that LucasArts didn't sue them as well.
In my personal charts, the Space Quest series ranks higher than any other adventure series by Sierra. It is funny, but not over the top like the Leisure Suit Larry series. It's got some great puzzles, but not as tough and illogical as in the King's Quest series. True, you die very often, but your deaths are never as boring as in Police Quest. And while you do have some arcade sequences and plenty of dead ends in the game, they are comparable to the same problems encountered in all other Sierra games, so put into perspective, this game is not too bad. You can still get copies of the game off eBay, but be aware that many people think as I do, which is why they sell for more than other titles. Even so, the game is fully worth its price.