Even game designer Roberta Williams agrees that the King's Quest thing, as gamers have come to understand it, has been done - perhaps done to death. It's time for a change, and her new foray into the chronicles of Daventry, King's Quest: The Mask of Eternity, is definitely gonna be different. Gone is the cutesy, Disney-esque animation, gone is the heavy plot-driven story line - we won't even be meeting King Graham and his kin ("It was just time to unload them," Williams told us in her office last month, unknowingly expressing the secret sentiments of the entire press entourage therein). The biggest change, however, is in the essential mechanics: Williams wants to get back to her pure game-playing roots, and The Mask of Eternity features a number of radical departures from the King's Quest formula...starting with a fully navigable 3-D world.
The backstory: Twenty years before the time of the game, a magic mask analogous to the Holy Grail exploded into seven pieces which - surprise - were scattered hither and yon on the cosmic winds. In this newest King's Quest installment, we meet Conner, the son of a poor fisherman, born at the instant of the momentous explosion and marked, figuratively and literally, by a piece of the enchanted shrapnel.
In the present-day of Conner's 20th year, a horrible chaotic spell sweeps across the land - never mind why, it just does - turning all mortals to stone except the auspicious Conner. His only hope to restore the pebbled populace of Daventry is to locate the seven fragments of the mask, and, verily, thou can see where this one is going from a league away. But the big news here is that The Mask of Eternity brings much edgier, action-oriented, navigable-environment gameplay to Williams' high-fantasy universe, and promises to appeal to an even wider range of gamers.
Populated by polygonal characters, the 3-D world of King's Quest allows the player complete freedom of movement (in, behind, around buildings) and exploration in a game experience almost completely devoid of plot-driven limitations. The world here, even at this stage of development, is big - really big, staggeringly huge in fact - in its detail, interconnectedness, and sheer physical size. Williams waves off comparison to the environments of Doom, Duke Nukem, and Mario 64. "We need to change the approach of adventure games. We need a revolution here," proclaims Williams, her slight form looking even smaller next to the 3-foot-wide sheet of engineering paper spread before her, crammed from end to end with gameflow charts and blocks of cryptic, four-point, handwritten notes of neutron-star density.
In The Mask of Eternity, players can travel everywhere in an open-ended world, entering rooms within rooms, interacting and fighting with polygonal friends and foes in a third-person perspective (with the option of a first-person toggle) featuring camera motion a la Mario 64. "I want the world," jokes Williams, about the raw amounts of enhancements planned for this newest King's Quest - and after seeing the basic navigation engine and puzzle elements, I don't think she's joking even a little bit.