Kickstarting the history of Sierra On-Line

July 8th, 2013 2:00 PM
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We retrocomputing enthusiasts have seen Kickstarter used for books (The First Apple, What's Where), games (Shadowgate, Ultima), and documentaries (GET LAMP, 6502). Now it's time to open your wallets again, as the latest project to warrant an Apple II user's investment is a documentary of Sierra On-Line.

Sierra On-Line was the developer and publisher of such classic point-and-click adventure games as the noble King's Quest, comedic Space Quest, avaricious Gold Rush!, and lascivious Leisure Suit Larry (a modern remake of which was published just last month, courtesy Kickstarter). Many of these franchises got their start on the Apple II, so naturally we should be keen to back this project, right?

I bid caution: Kickstarter is an investment platform, and you'd do well to research this project. In this case, this project already toured the Kickstarter circuit in 2012, when the creators asked for $40,000; they received $1,312. Their pitch video at the time consisted entirely of gameplay footage and title cards — no interviews, no introductions, no voiceovers. To their credit, that initial fundraising failure didn't deter the film crew, as their new pitch video demonstrates they've spent the past year conducting interviews with Sierra On-Line luminaries. Having that in their pocket may justify their new request for $125,000. (Makes you wonder what they were hoping to accomplish with just a third that sum!) They have thus far received $10,367, or nine times more than their last effort — but it's a slow start, an still a long ways from their goal.

One thing missing from their new video is the talent behind the camera. I'd like to know that the documentarians dedicating themselves to this project are as passionate about adventure gaming as they need their backers to be. The enthusiasm that Dave Kellett and Fred Schroeder brought to their comic strip documentary, Stripped, was contagious and, I suspect, a large part of why it raised double its goal on its first Kickstarter and its second Kickstarter. Between the lack of personality in the video and the relatively terse text write-up, the drive behind the Sierra On-Line film is not as explicit.

The Sierra On-Line documentary is entitled Heroes, an improvement over the original name, So You Want To Be A Hero? One backer suggested, why not call it Quests? I like the ring of that, since it abstracts and plays upon the King's/Space/Police Quest series. The project creators acknowledged and thoughtfully responded to that suggestion:

We chose the title Heroes for the film for a variety of reasons. Chief among them, the term "Hero" was a theme rooted in the adventure games. From the perspective of all of us who played the games, we had the opportunity to be a hero. We also felt that this was an appropriate term that serves as an homage to all of those at Sierra who worked tirelessly to create the games we all know and love a success.

Will this Kickstarter meet or even exceed its fundraising? Will the final film, scheduled for a March 2014 release, reveal anything new about this storied game company, or will it cater more to nostalgic fans? We'll begin to have the answers when the Kickstarter campaign closes on the evening of August 5.

In the meantime, digital antiquarian Jimmy Maher, whom we interviewed this year on Open Apple, has written extensively about the history of Sierra. Although he's not collected his works on this particular subject into a book, I encourage you to scroll through his posts and read them in the order in which they were published; the detail and accuracy of his narratives are remarkable.

UPDATE: This project has failed, having raised only $28,872, or 23% of its goal.

Jason Scott's three-pack Kickstarter

September 15th, 2011 8:42 AM
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It seems you can't turn around these days without bumping into Jason Scott. Because putting Apple II magazines into the Internet Archive, donating documentaries to Apple II users, or compiling collections of Apple II crack screens isn't enough to keep a guy busy, he's decided to tackle his greatest project yet.

Having produced both BBS: The Documentary and GET LAMP in the last five years, Scott now wants to more than double his filmography. His goal is to publish not one, not two, but THREE more documentaries in the next four years — one each about the 6502 processor, tape as a medium, and arcades as places. The 6502 documentary should be of particular interest to Apple II users, since it was on that chip that Woz based our favorite machine.

Scott's last Kickstarter project set out to raise $25,000 with which to complete GET LAMP, which he had mostly already filmed. This time, Scott wants $100,000 to pursue three films simultaneously. I found the project less than a day after its debut, at which point he had already raised $12,000. By the end of the first day, he'd broken the $30,000 mark. Will the project maintain the momentum enough to cross the Kickstarter's all-or-nothing threshold by the November 12 deadline?

It's easy to imagine not contributing to that inertia: commercial products should be financially solvent, funding themselves through their own sales. But for niche topics like this, especially those that are independently produced and don't have big-time backers, the truth is that these films won't exist unless fans like us support them. So I've tossed him a few dollars (as a belated birthday gift — Scott turned 41 this past Tuesday) as a deposit toward these films, at least two of which interest me. There is little variety to the affordable funding options, but you can donate any value you want — the tiers are only for the rewards. So pick a sum that fits your budget and help Scott meet his.