Time Extension: After you both left the company, following its sale to CUC International, you left the games industry and began travelling around the world by boat. I’m just wondering is there any one place you went to in your travels that you’ve found a special connection to? Or that you have particularly fond memories of?

Roberta Williams: You’re talking about our boating adventures and that’s kind of the main thing we did after we sold Sierra. We had to sign five-year non-competes, so we couldn’t do our normal job. What we decided to do was head out across oceans and around the world on our own boat. And the boat is a beefy boat. It’s the kind that you can cross oceans with. It’s called a Nordhavn and they’re built for long-distance cruising.

Ken and Roberta
Image: Ken and Roberta Williams

We ran it ourselves, just Ken and I. If we crossed an ocean, we might have someone with us, but basically, we did it ourselves all over the world, which was an adventure in and of itself. But, for me, the most adventurous thing that we did – and I always love adventure – was crossing the Aleutian Islands.

Have you heard of the show Deadliest Catch? That takes place along the Aleutian Islands. Now, the Deadliest Catch, they like to film it in the dark of Winter — January, February – when it’s cold and there are storms all the time. We live in Seattle, so we could head north to Alaska and it’s maybe a couple of days north to get up to Alaska, so we did that. And up in Alaska, we met two other boats. We had our Nordhavn and then we had two other boats that we were meeting that Nordhavns, but a little smaller than us. We were a fleet of three boats and we met them in Alaska, and we said, ‘Our ultimate destination is Japan’.

So we meet up in Alaska and spend a little time there, and then we were going to head across the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea, because there is just like a little necklace of beaches going across the Bering Sea going towards the Kamchatskiy peninsula of Siberia, Russia. [Our plan] was to go along them and then head over to Kamchatskiy — Petropavlovsk is the city there – to get fuel because we knew we were going to need fuel by that time. So that’s what we did. And we actually hired an Alaskan fisherman who knew all the guys who were in the Deadliest Catch and who knew all of the places to go if we wanted to drop anchor and where we should go, where we shouldn’t go, and make sure that we did it right. We didn’t want to lose our lives or anything like that.

He came onboard the boat with us and so this fleet of three boats and our fisherman, we headed out and he kind of told us all the places to go in, and we found out there are little, tiny towns and little places along these little islands and some anchorages and he told us where to go and we did that. Eventually, we wound up in Russia. That was very adventurous. That had good things and bad things about that part. And we were there for about a week, got our fuel, and then headed south down to Japan, and the island above Japan is Hokkaido and that’s the northernmost. From there, we just kind of went down and after five months of being on the boat we stopped south of Yokohama at one of the cities of Osaka. We went in there, put our boats into a mariner there, got people to take care of them, and went home to Seattle.

That was to me the most exciting, adventurous thing we did. I kind of like boating where you go, not to beaches like the Bahamas and hanging out on the beaches drinking Daiquiris with umbrellas, I like to get out and experience raw land.

Time Extension: Obviously you're just about to release your own reimagining of Colossal Cave. What's it been like returning to the industry after 25 years? Why did you decide now was the right time to jump back in?

Roberta Williams: We sold our company and we had to sign non-competes for five years, so we couldn’t be in the industry for five years. Five years was a long time when you’re still young and we were still in our early 40s. We thought, ‘What are we going to do?’ So we went off onto other adventures. Now, we say we’re ready to hop back in, we need a project, and Colossal Cave came up in my head.

Ken was practicing Unity and learning the tools that they have and programming in 3D with the idea of making a game. I thought about Colossal Cave, and again, just almost like I was drawn into designing Mystery House. I can’t explain why. I just had to. Colossal Cave just popped up again. It was like karma almost. I mentioned it to him and that really started the ball rolling on that. So, it’s like, ‘What goes around, comes around’. It’s like completing a circle.

But why would we think we could just jump back in and think we could do it? And that’s another question. Well, we didn’t think that. We didn’t think anything. We just started doing it, hiring people, and having ideas and it just sort of grew among itself and the team that we put together is now 35 people – all very, very highly talented. We just became this very cohesive team. Very creative. They just fell in love with Colossal Cave and the idea of what we were doing and it just built from there. And Ken and I — we didn’t think of starting a new business; we just wanted to do it. I think partly in homage to the game itself, Colossal Cave, and to Will Crowther and Don Woods who are the original designers. I credit them very much with starting my career and Sierra really. Just like many people come to me and say 'I played King's Quest when I was a child and it got me into the computer games business.’ Don Woods and Will Crowther are that for me, so I honour them and I would love to meet them one day. Maybe [one day] I will.

Time Extension: When I heard the announcement that it was going to be Colossal Cave and knowing the story of how the two of you got started from reading Ken’s book and talking to Ken over email, I thought it was a really beautiful full-circle moment. Like if you were going to come back to the industry, to do it in this way seems such a fitting move.

Roberta Williams: It kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? You could say, ‘Well, you could do King’s Quest 9’, except we don’t own King’s Quest. We sold it. It’s gone and we don’t have the rights. Although, you know, Activision has told us if we ever wanted to do that, we could do that, but it’s not the same. That’s not me and Ken doing it. That’s like for them. And what that means is if you did something like that with Activision I would be answering to a very large corporation and they would be telling me, ‘No, you have to do it like this. We want you to do it like that. We want it this way, this way, that way.’ And they would have given me a team of people that worked for Activision, overlooking everything that Ken and I do, and I never work [well] that way, because of my experience.

I could never work after all the experience of working with Sierra [for a large corporation]. [Sierra] was my own company, I could do my own thing. I answered only to Ken, and Ken only answered to me. We could do what we wanted. You can’t all of a sudden say, ‘Okay, I’m going to tie myself to this big corporation’, even if it was King’s Quest 9. And that’s why I couldn’t do that. So, whatever we were going to do had to be just us, and that’s what we did.