Sierra vs. Lucasarts: War of the Adventure Games

Long ago, before the rise of FPS games and hardware accelerators, there were adventure games. These were among the premier computer games, and until the mid-90s, among the most popular genres. Now they’re more of an underground love, as the gaming industry politely acts like they never existed. But, I digress.

At the genre’s peak, there were two major factions. The first was Sierra, the first company to create actual graphic adventures. They were the old guys around the street that always yelled things at you for no reason. The second was Lucasarts, which gained popularity much more quickly than Sierra ever did. They were the young punks who beat you down for your lunch money, then spend it on cheap liquir. The most surprising (or, dare I say, horrifying) thing was both sides had their own armies of fanatics, ready to slaughter the other side at a moment’s notice. Even today, it’s not considered polite to bring up the topic on certain boards.

The whole point of this pointless, misguided piece of crap is to compare the two companies and their products. Note that this has NOTHING to do with which one’s better; both have their advantages and disadvantages. I could go on forever, and not convince a single one of you of anything. So, let’s continue.

Topic 1: Game Quality/Quantity

Sierra: There’s no doubt about it, Sierra cranked about a dozen games a month. As with any form of mass-production, flaws made it into many of the games, and the quality was much more spread out. This is one of the chief complaints against Sierra.

Lucasarts: The number of games were significantly lower, but the quality was much higher. There were only a handful of bad Lucasarts adventures (namely, The Dig and Monkey Island 4), and even these were somewhat enjoyable.

Topic 2: Interface

Sierra: Sierra’s older games used a type-an-action iterface. Fortunatly, around the time of King’s Quest 4, they got the idea to stop action while typing, reducing the number of needless deaths. Still, it took Sierra much longer to turn away from the typing system and move to point-and-click, and when it did, the system was seriously simplified.

Lucasarts: For nearly every game they churned out, Lucasarts used some form of the SCUMM engine. This was the first to get rid of typing commands, and instead offered several options that could be used with a simple click. It took Sierra several more years to catch up. Later games cycled through commands with simple right-clicks and such, making it even easier.

Topic 3: Graphics

Sierra: While their older games look like crap by today’s standards, they were great back then. Compared to Lucasart’s earlier efforts (like Maniac Mansion), Sierra had a definate advantage. Also, they made the jump to VGA pretty effortlessly, which made their games stand out even more. Their 3D games, though, are just plain ugly.

Lucasarts: Like I said above, Sierra beat Lucasarts pretty easily early on. Towards the end of Lucasarts’ adventure years, they were pretty much tied with Sierra in terms of quality. However, they were able to handle 3D much better than Sierra ever could.

Topic 4: Diversity of Games

Sierra: Sierra’s adventures walked across every aspect of the genre. When FMV came along, they dabbled in the new technology briefly, churning out two pieces of crap (the Phantasmagoria series), along with the only good FMV game ever made (Gabriel Knight 2). Quest for Glory managed to combine the RPG and adventure genres, creating a rather unique gaming experience. They even went the way of Myst and created a couple first-person adventures (Shivers, Lighthouse).

Lucasarts: Almost every Lucasarts game played exactly the same. While this means you know what you’re getting every time (especially with the company’s higher quotiant of good/bad games), it also made the entire system feel stale after a while.

Topic 5: Humor

Sierra: Sierra’s sense of humor was rather juvenile, although they very rarely sank to toilet humor (the only known example to this writer is the Leisure Suit Larry series). This, in turn, made their games seem more juvenile. (Just remember, they had Gabriel Knight. That counteracts every silly game they ever made.)

Lucasarts: I can sum up everything you need to know about Lucasarts’ sense of humor in three words: Sam and Max. By far the most hilarious game this noble writer’s ever played. Many of their games also carried a rather tongue-in-cheek sense of humor as well.

Topic 6: Stories

Sierra: Individual Sierra games had pretty basic storylines, but the company really shined at making epic, continious storylines. You could play one game, they play the next, and go back to the first game and try to find hints. Also, games like Gabriel Knight, King’s Quest 6 and Quest for Glory II had excellent stories by themselves.

Lucasarts: Lucasarts games had better self-contained stories. However, since games had few sequels (Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion are the only real ones), they needed self-containued stories.

Topic 7: Age Range

Sierra: Sierra games were aimed at very specific ages. Games like King’s Quest were aimed at all ages, while games like Phantasmagoria and Gabriel Knight were aimed at adults. (In fact, Phantasmagoria took the “adult” concept too far and became a sickening game as a result, as evidenced by the infamous rape scene.)

Lucasarts: Lucasarts games were almost always suitable for all ages. Sure, you might have bloodthirsty pirates or biker gangs, but unless you’re a rightwing mother in the mid-west, you most likely didn’t care.

Final Opinion:

Sierra: Sierra’s placement in the genre’s history is that of a revolutionary. Sierra’s games were always pushing things, experimenting with nearly every media advance and change that appeared. However, their games were not quite as good as Lucasarts.

Lucasarts: Lucasarts’ games were of a higher quality than Sierra’s, with much more effort put into production of individual games rather than several at once. However, they stubbornly refused to change in any way, which eventually caused their games to stagnate.

Bonus Topic: Where Are They Now?

Sierra: Sierra died in 1998, as far as I’m concerned. Their main production office, Yosemite Entertainment, shut down right after the release of Quest for Glory V, and the company went on to publish games like Half-Life. They reimerged briefly a few years ago, but are now dead once and for all. Sadly, we will never see another King’s Quest again.

Lucasarts: Sierra may have died quickly, but Lucasarts did something far worse: they treated adventure fans like shit. They rushed out Monkey Island 4, one of the worst adventure games in the last several years, then went on to announce another Sam and Max game. What did they do next? They cancelled the game…when it was DAMN NEAR DONE…when everyone on the fucking planet was looking forward to it…when every gaming magazine was cheering it on…because they thought nobody would buy it. They have no leadership, no idea what people want, no idea how to run a company. They think people only want Star Wars. The only good Star Wars game is KoToR, and Lucasarts didn’t even make that one. As you can tell from my insane ramblings, I’m disgusted by the way the company has headed, and after I vaporize them with my death ray, I’m certain I’ll become a hero in the gaming comuntiy in general.

Questions? Comments? Flames? Drunken ramblings? Post away!

oh man, I would have bought the new sam and max

I really love those point and click adventure games, but they just don’t make them with the same charm as the old ones.

Oh god kings quest! I almost forgot about that! That was one of the first games i ever played.

Also, Grim Fandango has got to be one of the best, if not the best, adventure game ever.


Yeah, Grim fandango was awesome, Manny’s voice in the spanish version was just great, but Monkey Island has and will always have a space in my heart. Especially Murray.

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Good comic. I always liked Sam and Max.

I always had a dislike for Sierra and I think you made a pretty good review of what got to me. In general, it just seemed like the quality of their games was subpar in comparison to the games I liked to play (Blizzard and Origin’s mainly).

This is the age of Funcom!
Long live The Longest Journey and onwards with Dreamfall!

Half-Life was their pinnacle. I owe that game a lot, especially with the Day of Defeat mod. The rest of Sierra’s games I couldn’t give two shits about. Gimme just Half-Life.

Sam and Max. Anyone ever see the TV show? That was great.

I saw a few episodes when it was on Fox. I liked what I saw…pity they canned the show.

I think the low point was when I saw, in the opening sequence of one game, these dancing stormtroopers that turned into the LucasArts logo.