Space Quest 7: This Time it is Personal

Space Quest 7This article is about the cancelled Space Quest 7 project started by Sierra in early 1997.

Space Quest 7

Prepare yourself for a Space Quest of gargantuan proportions! This thing is going to be so big you couldn't climb over it in a weekend! You'll see Roger like you've never seen him before, or ever want to see him again!

William Shockley (programmer for SQ7) in an interview.

Early 1997
The Space Quest 7 project was started!

In early 1997 Sierra decided to make another Space Quest. The decision was based upon the relatively successful Space Quest 6 (which was released a while back in March 1995) and upon the feedback Sierra was getting from fans all around the planet who demanded to see another Roger Wilco space adventure. Whatever you might have heard about Space Quest 6 sales figures, the game was a success. It sold a lot more copies than Space Quest 5 did. However, it had cost around 5 times more and unfortunately (I'm sure you saw this one coming), it didn't sell 5 times as much. This known fact would later be an argument for the marketing guys to scrap the project.

Leslie BalfourThe design team for Space Quest 7:

  • Scott Murphy: Designer/Writer
  • Leslie Balfour (picture on the right): Designer/Writer
  • Jay Lee: Programming
  • William Shockley: Programming
  • Mark Aro: Graphics
  • Richard Powell: Concept Artist, Character Design, Graphics
  • Tim Loucks: 3D Graphics
  • Lori Lucia: Project Manager
  • Craig Alexander: Project GM

June/July 1997

A Design SketchSierra released some basic information about their upcoming Space Quest 7 game. The team is currently developing a Space Quest 7 prototype (which will be a playable demo) and a rolling SQ7 promo, which will be included in the upcoming Space Quest Collection CD-Rom. Since the project is still so young, not much has been decided regarding story line, interface, etc. The team will be trying to introduce a multiplayer aspect to SQ7, as well as a single-player mode. It remains to be decided whether they want to go for the RPG-style multiplayer, or a hybrid.

According to Scott Murphy Space Quest 7 will contain some 3-D elements. However, these elements will NOT require the use of a 3D accelerator card and the game should retain its standard 2-D scrolling view.

Some working titles were released:

  • This time it's Personal
  • Show me the Buckazoids
  • Return of Roman Numerals

August 1997

The team released some more information about Space Quest 7.

 

Dougie - Design Sketch from the Space Quest 7 Project Around August 1997, the team released this drawing you see here to the left. It was made by the character designer Richard Powell. According to Leslie Balfour, Dougie is a slime monster who likes to hang out with his friends on the streets of Polysorbate LX to hassle passers-by. Maybe this tells us that Roger is returning to Polysorbate (the highly polluted planet from SQ6). More design sketches of the Space Quest 7 project.

October 1997

An interview with Jay Lee reveals more details about the Space Quest 7 project  This is an interview with Jay Lee, a programmer for the Space Quest 7 project. It was conducted by Sterling Jones (webmaster of a popular fansite at that time) and took place on October 10, 1997:

How did you get involved with Sierra?

Way back in the Apple II days, I was into playing various games that guys at college had obtained (ok, they were pirated). Among the games were izard & the Princess (from Sierra of course). Since then, I followed what Sierra was doing in the industry, even though I was a big Commodore 64 and Amiga guy. I thought the Amiga kicked the PC's butt in every way, but corporate America didn't care about that. Since my job required it, I began using PC's and about the same time, Sierra released King's Quest 5 and Space Quest 4 with 256 color art. Once I saw how beautiful the graphics were, I was convinced that the PC was going to be a viable gaming platform, so I started honing my skills in C++, and then Windows, hoping perhaps that one day I could get into the industry. Just over 2 1/2 years ago, I answered an ad in Sierra's Interaction magazine, because I thought there may finally be a match between my skills and what Sierra was looking for. Sierra thought so too, and I left my previous job of 10 years to start all over again in the R&D group in Oakhurst, CA.

What other projects have you worked on at Sierra?

When I first got to Sierra, I worked in R&D, and we were responsible for SCI interpreter that all the adventure games were being done in. Among the more notable games that were released while I was in R&D included Phantasmagoria, Gabriel Knight 2, Rama, Shivers and Lighthouse. I also did some specific engine work that was used in Shivers 2 and Betrayal in Antara. Sierra in Oakhurst made a decision to go away from SCI, and as part of the change, many of the guys in R&D moved on to be lead programmers on various games. I became the lead on the Colliers Encyclopedia product. I really wanted to get on a game though, so about half way through when there was a replacement for me, I moved to do engine work for Swat 2. Once I'm released from Swat 2, I will be full time on SQ7. The good news is that much of the work I'm doing on Swat 2 will be used on Space Quest 7, so it is not as if Space Quest 7 is not making any progress.

How is the SQ7 project going?

Not as fast as we'd like on the programming side since my current project, Swat 2, has yet to ship. We are trying to get our approval prototype up and ready for early December. The design and artwork is proceeding however, and our art staff is set to ramp up next week.

How much of the programming is done on SQ7?

Our biggest focus at this time on Space Quest 7 is getting it through prototype approval. This means that we will build a small playable portion of the game for Ken Williams and the other executives to approve. Our current push is to ship SWAT 2 and Quest for Glory 5, and every resource has been focused on those two products. In the short run that postpones Space Quest 7 development, but in the long run we will have the same advantage as Quest for Glory and SWAT, because we'll be able to demand resources when we're at the critical point in Space Quest's development.

Around October 1997

An interview with Scott Murphy reveals more details about the Space Quest 7 project. It was conducted by Neil Schuh (webmaster of a popular fansite at that time):

Can you tell us anything about how the production of Space Quest 7?

How the production of Space Quest 7 is what? Come on now, Neil. Only I can type that way. You're the serious journalist. I'm the eccentric artist-type and I can get away with more. Space Quest 7 is coming along. We're in the very early stages of development. We're just getting some artists. We hope to have a programmer or two in the not too distant future. We've been involved lately in producing an AVI for the new Space Quest Collection, which will include Space Quest 1-6 as well as some other little ditties for your amusement.

What first inspired you to be a game programmer?

The mere joy of making things happen on the screen. My first programming was in AppleSoft Basic. About a year or two later I got exposed to the programming part of the business. I got my first real taste doing The Black Cauldron for Disney. I loved it! (The fifteen hour days sucked but you've got to do these things in this business. I was learning a lot from Ken Williams. It came so easy to Ken and he understood it so well that for me, learning from him was like drinking from a fire hose. Al Lowe was there to, now that I think of it, but he just spent a lot of time pitifully shaking parts of his anatomy while smiling, and peeling the paint off the walls in his own special way. (Hi, Al.)

What first inspired you to create Space Quest?

Well, since I'd gotten well into the company I wanted to do a space game. While working on The Black Cauldron, I got hooked up working with Mark Crowe who was doing graphics. We spent a lot of late nights working at Ken's house. We found out we had very similiar senses of humor and interests in sci-fi. We also liked to laugh. We talked off and on about how a space game could be approached and how to get approval to make it. We decided people needed to laugh. All the "heroes" in games then were all way too noble prince types. Very boring! We wanted a hero for the rest of the world. Thus was born Roger Wilco, a normal (or less) person in extraordinary circumstances. A path of least resistance kind of guy.

Have you ever had an encounter with an UFO from space?

I'm not sure. Around here I've seen some UWO's, unidentified walking objects, and some USO's, unidentified sitting objects. They seem to be spread equally between artists, programmers, and especially management.

About how much does a programmer like you get payed a year?

Get payed? They told me this was a priviledge and that I have to pay. I think I need to have a talk with somebody!

How is "multiplayer" going to be used in Space Quest 7?

It will be used so that more than one person can play in a Space Quest game session. Actually, I can't tell you that at this time because it's a story secret. Trust me, it'll be interesting.

What nemisis will Roger be encountering in this game?

There will be at least one old nemesis. Remember how we left Roger in Space Quest 6? He also has female problems to deal with. He also has some personal demons to deal with. Boy, does he.

How challenging are you trying to make Space Quest 7?

Well, harder than a three year old finishing it off in 90 minutes and easier than a 25 year not being able to finish it within 500 hours. Actually we try to appeal to everyone, which is difficult. We want players to see all we've dreamed up for them, but not inside a few hours. We want the vast majority to feel the toughness of play is just right.

What is your average day at Sierra like? 

I am invoking the fifth amendment of the constitution of the United States so that I may not incriminate myself. I spend a lot of time contemplating creative methods of suicide. Between those thoughts, I try to work on the design of the game while listening to haughty whining co-designers (Leslie Balfour), and prissy artists (Rich Powell), as well as Project Managers who act like they own you. (Maybe that's why she was checking my teeth the other day?)

When will the Space Quest 7 website at sierra.com be up?

A Raygun It was supposed to be up in September but higher priority issues presented themselves. The first, and somewhat raw, version of it should be up before the end of October, or so I'm praying.

Do you have any parting words for your fans?

Yeah, don't believe what anybody (Leslie Balfour) says about me being unstable, egocentric, or difficult to work with. That's such crap and these pea brains should be smart enough to understand that. Oh, and bye to all you fans. Thanks for your support and interest. That has been truly gratifying and we look forward to giving you more fun at the expense of Roger Wilco. Until then...

August 1997

The Space Quest CollectionAround August 1997 Sierra released yet another Space Quest Collection which featured a promo movie for the new Space Quest 7.

Unfortunately, the new Space Quest Collection flopped. It was soon to be found in software store's bargain bins for a buck or two. The guys at Sierra (read: management geniuses) now thought there wasn't enough interest for another Space Quest.

Additionally, in the aforementioned Space Quest Collection, the manual contains a promotional page which features the release date for Space Quest 7: late 1998. Things looked bright for the future of the ever-so-popular Space Quest Series.

December 1997

The Space Quest 7 project was being put "on hold indefinitely" around late december, 1997. The reason why was given in this e-mail fans from all around the globe received. It was written by Scott Murphy and Leslie Balfour:

To the Friends and Fans of Space Quest,

As you all know, the path to Space Quest 7 has been long and bumpy, and we were never sure what we would find at the end of the road. The decision has been made, after much soul-searching and agonizing, to put Space Quest 7 on hold indefinitely.

The joy for the team has been in the journey. We've made many friends out there, and it has been quite heartening to know that Roger Wilco has so many fans. I look forward to continuing the friendships I've developed over the last year. But Sierra is in the process of many changes, and we had to take a hard look at whether a Space Quest 7 project made sense. Unfortunately for those of us who love Roger and his stupid antics, other projects just have more to offer both to the company and to our customers in general at this time.

Please don't worry about the team. We will all move to other projects at Sierra On-Line. Many of us will go over to the Babylon 5 space combat game, which will be coming out in Holiday 1998. Others will go over to the B5 adventure game, which will also come out in 1999. Both of these products will reflect Sierra's commitment to excellence in space games, and I hope you'll consider playing them if you have the opportunity.

I am sending this email to those of you who have sent me mail lately. Please pass the information on to any Space Quest fans I inadvertently omitted.

Finally, don't be sad for Roger. Just think of him as weary from making us laugh for all these years, ready for a break from his adventures. He and la Wankmeister want to settle down, raise a family. And perhaps as we look up in the sky, a distant star will remind us that somewhere, in a distant galaxy, Roger Wilco is probably getting pantsed.

Thanks again for all your support,

The Space Quest Team:
-Leslie Balfour
-Scott Murphy

February 1998
Scott Murphy fired?

Long and bumpy the road was indeed. Two months later (around mid February 1998), rumours were spreading that Scott Murphy was fired. The Virtual Broomcloset stated: Supposedly, Scott will be re-hired if the SQ7 project is ever restarted.

June 1998
Craig Alexander shares information with fans about management meeting

Surprisingly, in a meeting on the 22nd of June 1998, Sierra's management briefly discussed the future of Space Quest 7. Craig Alexander, General GM for SQ7 (whatever that means), told the Virtual Broomcloset the following: It went okay, although we only spent a few minutes discussing [SQ7]. In early July, I plan to have another meeting and formerly pitch restarting the project in early 1999. The tides are definitely turning, in part because of [the fans'] support. However, there is a long road ahead of us.

August 1998
Leslie Balfour left Sierra 

Leslie Balfour (designer/writer for SQ7) left Sierra. Scott Murphy, however, would stay under contract if the project was to be restarted.

January/February 1999
The Space Quest 7 project was restarted

The team got back together and started working on Space Quest 7 again.

February the 22nd, 1999
Chainsaw Monday stabbed the limping Space Quest 7 project in the back

On February the 22th, 1999 (which is called Chainsaw Monday by Scott Murphy) Space Quest 7 was finally axed. Sierra closed down its Oakhurst California facility, firing two-third of the employees there. Scott Murphy, who was an old timer at Sierra, also had to pack his bags as his contract had expired and was not renewed. The rest of the employees has been given an opportunity to relocate to other Sierra divisions like Belvue Washington. The Oakhurst facility was the roots of Sierra. It produced games like Leisure Suit Larry, King's Quest, Quest for Glory and of course Space Quest. This action of corporate consolidation was taken by the new owner, Havas, which bought Sierra from CUC Software. The following letter was written by the founder of Sierra, Ken Williams, in respond of Chainsaw Monday:

Dear former Sierra employees,

Roberta and I wish to express our deepest sympathies for the recent loss of your jobs. Hopefully, it will not be long before you resume work at Sierra in Seattle, or at some other company... in Oakhurst, or elsewhere. According to tradition, I'm supposed to say something uplifting and motivational to help everyone feel better. Unfortunately, I have failed at this task. There is really nothing good that can be said. This is a sad ending to Sierra's twenty-year operating history in Oakhurst, which at one time, represented over 550 Oakhurst-based employees. This story should have had a happy ending, but instead has had a long string of bad news concluding with the shutdown yesterday of all of Sierra's Oakhurst-based product development activities.

The problems began with the move of corporate to Seattle. The move to Seattle was mandated for several reasons, primarily due to the difficulty we were having recruiting senior management staff and software engineers. The relocation, although it was painful for Oakhurst, was instrumental in our tremendous growth from 1993 through 1996. I remain convinced that this relocation was the right decision for Sierra, and that we would not have prospered without it.

I can't say the same about either the sale of The ImagiNation Network (INN) in 1993, or the sale of Sierra itself in 1996. When Sierra started INN in 1991, it was a decade ahead of its time. After investing millions in INN, Sierra found that it did not have the financial resources to support INN's continued operations. In 1993, AT&T sought aggressively to acquire INN, promising to market the service and grow the company. Unfortunately, AT&T lost interest in INN and sold it to AOL, who to my great disappointment, shut INN down.

Sierra, as you know, was purchased by CUC International in 1996. Because CUC was offering to buy the company at a price roughly 90% higher than it was trading, the decision was out of management's hands. At the time of the purchase, we did believe that through consolidation with several Sierra competitors (Blizzard, Knowledge Adventure, Davidson and others), Sierra would become a much stronger company. We had good reason to believe that the acquisition would cause us to grow faster, not shrink. Unfortunately, CUC elected to transfer control of the company to Davidson, and shut down several groups at Sierra. Later, as we all know, CUC was merged with another company, HFS, to form the Cendant corporation, with roughly 12,000 employees. A few months after this merger it was discovered that someone, or possibly some group of people, within the former CUC organization had been fraudulently preparing financial statements. The actions of this handful of people, who shall hopefully get their due, caused the plunge in Cendant's stock price, and wiped out the net worth of many HFS and CUC employees, including many of you, as well as much of my own. Cendant was sued by its shareholders, CUC's former management team was terminated and the decision was made to sell the software business. It should surprise no one that morale suffered through all of this anarchy, and although I have not seen Sierra's financials for several years, my assumption is that the recent consolidation of operations is driven by a quest for restored profitability and stability. If this story were written as a book, the publisher might seek to classify it as "Fantasy", "Science Fiction" or even "Horror". It is much too outrageous to be true. But the bad news is that these events really did happen.

I console myself in the following way, and perhaps it will help you to cope with what has occurred. Let's imagine that a stranger had walked up to any of us, on the street, in 1979, and said:

"Would you like to move to one of the greatest cities on earth? While you are there, you can play a key role in creating a company that just about everyone will know and respect. Your grandchildren will be amazed when they learn that you once worked there. You will be the envy of your peers, because they will know that your team created the largest collection of hits ever to come from one company. There will even be years when you will have played a role in over half the products on the industries top ten lists! You will be surrounded by incredibly intelligent, hard working people, who will work 20+ hours per day when it takes it to get the job done. And, you will have more fun than you ever thought possible. There's only one catch though. This will only last for twenty years."

Even knowing it wouldn't last forever I would have followed that stranger anywhere. I'm disappointed that it didn't last forever, but, a 20 year ride on the greatest roller coaster on earth beats the heck out of life in the slow lane any day. Life may never be the same, but it also isn't over, and we all have some great memories we shall never forget. Good luck, and I miss you all.


Save space Quest 7! Fan Campaign

Save Space Quest 7!The cancellation of Space Quest 7 shocked the fans. "Save Space Quest 7" pages appeared everywhere and petitions were started. The image here on the left is the "official" website button to save Space Quest 7. It was linked to a "SAVE SPACE QUEST 7" site where people could sign a petition. It's now long dead and gone.

Even before the final blow that was Chainsaw Monday, several Space Quest websites had already launched "Save Space Quest 7" projects back in December 1997 when the project was put "on hold indefinitely". One fan made this funny phony thread letter:

The 'Bring out Space Quest 7!' ransom letter.

Niel Schuh (webmaster of the long-gone Wilco Burger fansite) and Kevin Hord made this animated gif when they heard about CUC closing down the Oakhurst facility, it became rather well known:

Niel Schuh's and Kevin Hord's protest-animation.

Colin McEvoy (webmaster of the Ulence Flats website) comments:

"... Boy is it right. The man shooting Roger Wilco represents CUC. CUC is the company that owns Sierra (at that time -ed) and they are responsible for canceling Space Quest 7. They didn't think enough people want it to be made, that's why we have to prove otherwise and show that we want Space Quest! This cartoon is excellent, not because of Roger Wilco bleeding dead at the feet of CUC, but because this is exactly how it is. It's really like that, CUC stopping Space Quests 7 and killing Roger Wilco."

February 7th, 2002
First rumors appeared about a new Space Quest game 

Space Quest 7 Screenshot A company called Escape Factory was hired by Sierra to work on an action based Space Quest game for the Playstation 2 and Xbox. Though it too was cancelled, information leaked about this highly secret project. More information about Escape Factory.