A little story first.
“My son. He’s such a geek”, my mother ribbed at me in her familiar Québéçoise accent. She flipped over the jewel case in my hands and looked at the back cover, and shook her head.
I looked up at the cashier, my eyes pleading for some way out of this. She giggled instead, and I blushed. I gave my mother an “Aw mom!” look.
I was 15 years old, and we were standing at the checkout of a London Drugs store in the city. The store carried everything, from diapers and bee-sting kits, to Polaroid cameras and Froot Loops. I was here for the computer games.
The back of the store had a bargain shelf lined with computer games..most of them were crap shareware titles like PKWare Utilities and the occasional decent Crazy Nick’s Software Picks: Robin Hood’s Game of Skill and Chance. Among the rows of CD’s and floppies, a Dynamix logo on a white jewel case caught my eye. It was a game I had never heard of before, and it was on CD-ROM! A talkie adventure game. For $19.99. I rescued The Adventures of Willy Beamish from the shelf and carried it back to the cashier like a sacrificial offering.
At the time, my mother didn’t understand. She probably hoped that my crazy obsession with games would pass.. along with saturday morning cartoons and remote control cars. Or maybe she thought it was just another game that I would play for a couple of hours and lose interest in.
But it was a Sierra game. It had Sierra artwork and Sierra music. I played Willy Beamish for months. I relished the stunning artwork and expressive animation. I had never seen a game before – other than Dragon’s Lair – that had every character hand-animated in each scene (instead of using a repeated walk animation). The rich (256) colour palette rotated with night and day. For a nerdy fifteen year-old living on a farm in the middle of nowhere, Willy Beamish’s little suburban neighbourhood and treehouse was a real place to hide out in. The art, the animation, the music and voices, all conspired to create a place for daydreaming.
Fast-forward 15 years. I get a call from a friend of mine, Eriq Chang, whose artwork I featured in an article some time ago. Apparently – for several years – Sierra enthusiasts Brandon Klassen and Eriq Chang, have been secretly working on an Art Book that tells the graphical history of Sierra On-Line adventure games. Eriq would not tell me any more than “we’ll send you some teasers before launch.”
In this article, Brandon Klassen tells us just what The Art of Sierra is, and what the project means for him personally. Brandon and Eriq have generously sent me two promotional teaser shots of the upcoming book (included, see below), and let me tell you: I can’t fucking wait.
CL: So Brandon, what is The Art of Sierra?
BK: The Art of Sierra has been a dream I’ve been waiting to see realized for the past 6 years, and I’m so excited that we’re finally unveiling the project! It’s a visual history of Sierra’s adventure games – a hardcover, oversized coffee table art book filled with an unprecedented amount of rare Sierra art and a wealth of behind-the-scenes material. This is the journey that every Sierra fan has been waiting to take, and we can’t wait for fans to be able to hold this book and flip through it, to remember the magic that happened every time the Sierra logo and fanfare lit up their computer screens!
CL: Who got the AoS project started, and what got things off the ground in the first place?
BK: The genesis of The Art of Sierra was late in 2003 when I was helping manage Ken Williams’ site, SierraGamers.com. Ken had been posting some low resolution scans of King’s Quest design material on the site, and I knew that there had to be a better way to present this rare material! Ken agreed that it would make sense to have someone scan a lot of his material in high resolutions for posterity and, at the same time, I was able to get in touch with Al Lowe, who also had material he was willing to have scanned.
I actually only met with Ken and Roberta briefly, and was soon busily scanning. I don’t think I’d ever done so much scanning in my life – little did I know how much scanning was ahead!
I had a day of scanning at Al Lowe’s house – the most memorable thing about meeting Al was that he made me a chipotle sandwich and iced tea for lunch! It was winter, and Al has quite a steep driveway, so we started to get a bit worried when it started snowing. Luckily, I wrapped up all the scanning before the weather got too bad. Al has some truly historic Sierra materials, including some top secret stuff he wouldn’t let me scan – I can’t even talk about it, I’ve been sworn to secrecy!
Around the same time, I also met with the other Al, Al Eufrasio. Al, like Al, is an incredibly funny guy. He’s an animator who did a lot of work with Al on Larry 7 and Torin’s Passage, so we have a lot of fantastic stuff from him.
One of the first things I knew I had to do was invite my close friend and collaborator Eriq Chang to join the project. Eriq’s a prominent industry artist who happens to be one of the most devoted Sierra fans you’ll ever meet. He’s also done quite a bit of design work in the adventure community. We share an obsessive love for Sierra and we’ve worked together on a number of game development projects. There was no question that I had to have Eriq design and write the book with me, and he instantly understood my vision for the project and knew how to bring it to life.
The project grew from there as we started connecting with other fellow collectors and began to get in touch with more artists and designers who worked at Sierra, and that’s brought us to where we are today!
CL: How much of the book is devoted to the history of Sierra versus Sierra artwork?
BK: It’s interesting you should ask that, because it’s not an entirely straightforward distinction! From rough sketches, to painted backgrounds, to in-game art, to the game boxes and supplemental material, the “art” of Sierra is completely interwoven with the history of the adventure game and the computer game industry. The artwork will definitely be prominent, but just as exciting for fans will be the interviews and history that the book will include. Sierra was very much about the “art” of not only constantly innovating but also making fans a part of the Sierra family, which is why Sierra’s games were so successful and loved.
CL: Who is involved in the Art of Sierra project?
BK: In terms of writing and designing the book, it’s completely Eriq and myself, as mentioned. We have a very specific vision for the book that we know fans are going to love, so we really want to maintain the integrity of that vision. The way that this project has come together, we know it’s something that’s just meant to be. It’s not just been about making the book – it’s meeting the artists and designers, compiling and archiving material, and making this an “experience” for fans that pays tribute to Sierra, in as memorable a way as Sierra would have done themselves back in the day. Eriq and I are both diehard Sierra fans, and we’re both industry professionals. As a result, we have a very stylized, specific idea of how we want to present the art. I’ve worked as an editor with Babylon 5 Books, which started as a script publication team for J. Michael Straczynski’s science fiction TV series, I’ve done music reviews and interviews for national and international press outlets, and, when I’ve had time, I’ve enjoyed interviewing comic artists from Jeff Smith to Paul Gulacy. My passion for The Art of Sierra really comes from my passion for stories and the joy I find in artwork.
If you’ve seen any of Eriq’s work, it’s really second to none. He’s done game packaging, posters, game illustration and background design. He’s done amazing work over the years with projects for Dreamworks and film collectibles for the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. More recently, he worked with Sierra designer Christy Marx on a gorgeous, hardcover limited edition book for a Slipgate Ironworks MMO project. There’s just way too much other stuff to even begin to list. If there’s one person I trust to bring together the vision for this project, it’s Eriq!
Enough about us though! All the material you’ll see in the book comes from former Sierra staff as well as fans with private collections. I’ll mention a few people, but we have a full contributors list that’s still growing on ArtOfSierra.com, so make sure to check it out. While the book is entering production, we’re still open to contributions – we don’t want to leave anyone out of this once in a lifetime celebration. The contributors have been really fantastic. Some people send us their work to scan, while others scan their work for us. Brad Herbert, a Sierra fan with a truly impressive collection, has been one of our biggest supporters and really a major collaborator. He’s been instrumental in the development of our promotional video work and a lot of the more detailed background artwork acquisition. We have unbelievable art from Sierra legends like Andy Hoyos, Marc Hudgins, Josh Mandel… Christy Marx is providing us with beautiful work from the late Peter Ledger. In particular, Dynamix artists Shawn Sharp and Rhonda Conley have provided us with a lot of material. They were two of the first artists to jump onboard the project, and so I’ve been particularly grateful for their support. I should mention that we’re also including art from Dynamix games.
CL: You’ve been actively involved in the Sierra adventure scene for quite some time. What is your relationship with AGD Interactive [the developers responsible for the excellent remakes of King's Quest I, II and Quest for Glory II]?
BK: Looking back, it’s been very important to me over the years to be involved in various parts of the Sierra fan community, whether that was at SierraGamers.com, AGDI or other projects. In AGDI’s early days, I did some web development for them, and then I went on to do some 3D work with the King’s Quest 2 remake opening cinematic and parts of the AGDI logo movie.
Since then, I’ve been involved with AGDI in various capacities, mostly with team management and design as well as some programming and touch-up art and animation.
CL: Tell me a bit more about yourself. You’re Canadian, eh? (sigh, sorry).
BK: Yes, I’m Canadian! I live near Vancouver, BC, just a few hours north of Seattle. A lot of Sierra artists and designers are in the Seattle area, which really made it the perfect place to base the project out of. And Eriq’s recently moved from San Francisco to Seattle to make it possible for The Art of Sierra to enter production – he actually bought a house up here which serves as our second studio for Fable Foundry Publishing.
I grew up fascinated with special effects, and I loved art books and “Making of” movie books. I must have asked for that heavy ILM book, “The Art of Special Effects,” for Christmas when I was 10. I always wished that such books would be written about computer games, but the most in-depth “Making of” that computer games ever got were small sections in strategy guides.
I have a modest art book collection – Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Miyazaki, Drew Struzan, Charles Vess, the list goes on and on – all film and comic book stuff, but computer games just don’t get recognized as art. There are so many game companies that must have amazing archives of artwork, and hardly any of it is ever seen, with only occasional exceptions. The World of Warcraft art books, for example, and independent studio Dreams and Visions Press recently did an amazing job with The Art of Tomb Raider – I actually did a very high resolution photo mockup of those books for them to use in their promotions, before the books were printed. But these are the exceptions, and in the case of a company like Sierra, a company that no longer exists, it seemed like no such book could ever be written. Fans know the horror story of Sierra’s demise, years of archived artwork – and not just artwork, but the very history of the computer game industry – being thrown away when the company closed its Oakhurst facility.
How can anything ever make up for that lost history? Adventure games went out of fashion, but Sierra fans have continued to love the adventures that inspired them and their families, and the magic has never died. Now, against all odds, we’ve been given the chance to preserve and celebrate the history of a company that created the graphic adventure genre, a company that grew from a story at a kitchen table to a household name for family friendly entertainment. I can’t even express how exciting that is!
CL: Eriq and I have spent hours talking about how important our early experiences with graphical adventure games were to forming our childhoods. Tell me about your first Sierra adventure experience. I’d like to know why you’re so devoted to a major project like this.
BK: Oh wow, where to start? Growing up, my family didn’t have a TV and we didn’t have a Nintendo, or any other game console. But we had a computer. My love for computers became synonomous with my love for Sierra, and computers have played a large part in my life since then. I had so many important experiences playing Sierra adventures growing up that I actually can’t remember my first Sierra experience! Ask any Sierra fan for a pivotal adventure experience, and you might want to get comfortable! One of the things that always stands out about Sierra’s games for me is that they were constantly innovating and they were always leading the industry – Space Quest III’s incredible soundtrack and King’s Quest V’s gorgeous VGA graphics come to mind. Pretty much all of Sierra’s games were meant to be experienced with your family and friends – I remember countless hours spent with my brother, puzzling our way through adventures together. I remember taking my Dad’s saved game disks and looking at his saved games, because he would play late at night when my brother and I were asleep, and he would get further than we would!
Quest for Glory was the one series I didn’t play more or less as they were being released, so one summer I played through the whole collection – 1 to 4 at the time – what an experience! Most fans had to wait years for the Hero’s story to unfold, and I enjoyed it one game after the other. I remember seeing the Space Quest comic books advertised in InterAction – I HAD to have those comics! I think it was some ridiculous mail order thing that I convinced my parents to go through for me, and it took the comics forever to arrive! I remember playing Police Quest endlessly! I took hundreds of screenshots because I wanted to make a comic book version of the game using screenshots in Dr. Halo, a paint program we had at the time.
CL: Now for some nerd love: I can’t wait for the book to be released! Can you give us any other exclusive details about the book?
BK: We can’t wait for the book to be released either. We have two editions of the book planned – both will be deluxe hardcover printings, but one will be a special commemorative edition that will include collectible lithographs by some of your favourite Sierra and adventure game artists. We actually can’t say too much about the release or the artwork just yet, and we still have surprises to come. You’ll definitely want to follow us on Facebook and register on ArtOfSierra.com to stay up to date with everything. We have lots of stuff coming that you won’t want to miss, including more details on the book, previews, giveaways and more.
Thanks Brandon for taking the time to share with us your joy and passion for this project.
“In this photo, we see some of the most well-known, Saturday morning cartoon styled screenshots from Willy Beamish. Dynamix Art Director Shawn Sharp was responsible for the rich and vibrant world of Willy Beamish, and he contributed a lot of art to the project – you can see here a glimpse of one of Shawn’s original background sketches. Willy Beamish fans are in for some real surprises with The Art of Sierra!”
“Shown here is an original concept sketch of a Barrow Wraith from Quest for Glory 4, drawn by Sierra Art Director Marc Hudgins. When an artist puts so much care into just a concept piece that it’s worthy of framing, you can tell that they were truly inspired!”
Eriq Chang and Brandon Klassen are the creative minds behind Fable Foundry Publishing, an independent studio founded in 2009.