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Hands-on: The Silver Lining (the game Activison doesn't want you to play)

Kevin Kelly

Here's the real reason Activision doesn't want you to play this fan-made sequel to the legendary King's Quest series: It caught a whiff of money. Rather than working out a deal with with the developer, Activision sent it a cease and desist, even after a deal had been worked out with Vivendi Universal games that would allow the game to be distributed for free (as long as King's Quest was taken out of the title).

But the game does indeed exist. At least, one episode out of a proposed five does, although the developers are no longer actively working on it due to Activision's legal saber-rattling. I played it at PAX on a laptop belonging to one of the developers, and I'm desperately hoping that this will make its way into the wild so you can play it for yourself. If the developers are able to buy the license from Activision, that might actually happen. The Silver Lining might not have the words "King's Quest" in the title, but the heart of that series definitely beats in this game.

Gallery: The Silver Lining | 22 Photos

As the story opens, King Graham's daughter, Princess Rosella, is about to get married but during the ceremonies her twin brother, Prince Alexander, starts feeling sick and stumbles to his room where he passes out on the floor. His mother, Queen Valanice, follows and discovers him, then runs as quickly as she can back to the wedding where the bridal couple are about to kiss. Then, a black-cloaked stranger appears and she collapses. When the stranger vanishes, Rosella is gone, and only a black cloak remains behind on the ground. Graham heads back to his room, where he mans up and puts on the traditional King's Quest garb.

This is also when you, the player, take control of him ... and where the game shows a few of its faults. First of all, you have to keep in mind that this is a fan-made game, and that these people aren't being paid to create it. They have some amazing voiceover work in here, and the artistic style is very in-line with the King's Quest series. It's just that it's about ten years too late. The team is using an old version of the Torque Game Engine, so the graphics aren't going to blow you away. The controls are also a bit clunky, and you have to cycle through the standard commands like Talk, Touch, Look, Walk, etc by right-clicking the mouse.

There's also some poor path-mapping at this point, and Graham got stuck behind several obstacles when I'd try and direct him somewhere. It's all point and click, so it's frustrating when you click somewhere for him to walk, and he ends up moonwalking into a potted plant over and over. It would be a lot better if it had intuitive clickable mouseovers like some of the previous Lucasarts entires, Full Throttle for example. There are also some awkward camera angles that result from the 3D view, and sometimes you aren't sure if you're supposed to walk towards the camera or not. Your view doesn't shift, which can make it more confusing.

But you don't play King's Quest for the tight action controls and the eye-blistering graphics, you play it for the story. That's where this game nails it by feeling like a true heir to the throne, and not a wannabe. This feels like the same Graham from the original King's Quest back in '84, and the story will eventually touch on each of the eight different King's Quest titles and explain how a prophecy has caused all of the various events to occur. The NPCs are all incredibly colorful and well-voiced, and there are plenty of comedic moments with the narrator.

We played about 20 minutes of the first chapter, and now I'm dying to know how the story unfolds. The developers say that the remaining four chapters would constitute the bulk of the gameplay, since the first chapter is mostly concerned with setting up the story, and I'm hoping they get the chance to finish it. Activision, if you don't want to sell them the story, then just hire these people. The series hasn't seen an entry since 1998, and it's well overdue. You've got a terrific team here who has been sweating away for free, so just imagine what they could do with a few bucks. Let's make it happen!

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