A little backstory can be a dangerous thing.
When done correctly, it adds depth to a story. Think "Harry Potter" --- there's rarely a big revelation, usually accompanied by an "ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," that hasn't been teased or hinted at somehow.
But those hints and plot convolutions have been sewn into the fabric of the story from the beginning. It's another thing to try to link pre-existing stories by a common thread.
Such is the task undertaken by two separate groups trying to breathe new life into the classic "King's Quest" adventure games --- "King's Quest III Redux" and "The Silver Lining."
"Redux" is the third in a series of remakes AGD Interactive has done of the initial "King's Quest" games, the first being a straight update and the second adding several new puzzles and an actual plot. "KQ3" splits the difference, sticking mostly to the original with a few new puzzles.
Like the other two AGD games, it looks great. It's wisely rendered in 2-D graphics that look like lush drawings from an illustrated fairy tale.
I'm not entirely convinced that the point-and-click interface is better or easier than typing "dip fly wings into essence," but like the new (and fairly clever) puzzles, it gives players familiar with the old ways a fresh look at a classic title without putting off newer gamers more accustomed to mouse-driven action.
The voice acting is a welcome addition and an improvement on AGD's previous work, though there are some small narrative sins. The plot, a continuation of "KQ2 Redux," tries to cram events that rightly have gone unconnected into a neat little box with a ribbon and a bow. It's not only unnecessary, it fails to be convincing.
"The Silver Lining," a fan-made sequel intended to be the ninth game in the series, is unfortunately the bigger offender in this regard. The basic premise of the game is sound: King Graham is off to save his unconscious children.
But the Phoenix Online writing team quickly begins playing fast and loose with the history of the series. The idea of the Black Cloak Society, a legion of evil wizards, has become a dead horse so thoroughly beaten it makes doornails look lively.
If AGD's backstory comes in a package with a bow, Phoenix chopped down a tree, turned it into pulp and made their own wrapping paper. There seems to be no event in the "King's Quest" universe that won't be the result of sinister machinations by the end of "Lining."
Questionable writing choices seep into the actual gameplay as well. A narrator has one function. Oddly enough, it's to narrate: describe actions, then be quiet.
"Lining's" narrator talks to Graham, she talks to the player and --- the worst trespass of all --- she emotes. This is because she's given long-winded things to say. Examine a certain brook and be forced to listen to a blustering reminiscence about Graham's younger questing days. If the story is really needed (sorry, but it isn't), Graham needs to launch into soliloquy.
And some of the voice talent for the gruffer parts sounds like, well, actors trying to be gruff instead of gruff actors. Then again, there's no replacing the magnificent growl of the late Tony Jay as Captain Saladin, either.
The main parts of the experience, the puzzles, do satisfy. Some can be almost too frustrating --- there's plenty of guidance on some obstacles and none on others --- but they're in that tongue-in-cheek spirit of the series as a whole.
Both of these games are fan made --- the real-life saga of "Lining's" creation is epic, actually --- and therefore lack a certain amount of polish, especially the complex 3-D animations of "Lining." But considering they're volunteer-only projects, they're both quite amazing. I can only imagine what either group could turn out with actual budgets and dedicated staffs.
And credit is due to both groups --- an official reboot of the "King's Quest" franchise was just announced, and it's not hard to imagine the interest in both of these projects helped seal that deal.