King's Quest VII – Munchausen By Hotkey

Do you want to have a fun classic Sierra easter egg like in the old days? No back-alley computer science, no piecing together history from sugar packets, just clean simple fun? How about a hotkey for violence?

Okay now we're talking!

King's Quest VII is Sierra's first pure CD-ROM game. In 1994, it was a big deal that there would be no floppy disks, no on-screen game text, and that the initial version was for Windows and not DOS. In the parlance of the time, it was "multimedia software", which meant you needed a new computer. KQ7 may also be the first mother/daughter adventure game, but I don't know how to fact-check that. I always thought of it as "the Disney one." Disney wasn't involved, but they were the inspiration for the high-resolution art, and the game has a Disney sort of story and tone.

The Queen Mum's games are famous for gruesome deaths. In The Colonel's Bequest, Laura Bow is sliced in half, daggered, choked out, pulped, and then the gators show up. All that silly gore is perfect for a pixelated murder mystery, but for a family cartoon? Inappropriate! You can't just chop Princess Rosella into chunks. And Valanice isn't just a Queen, she's a Mama.*

KQ7 deaths make more sense with that constraint in mind. There are still many ways to die, but when a brutal one is near, you scream before an abrupt cut to the Game Over screen. The details are left to your imagination. You play as both characters, so some screams were performed by both actors. There's also a lot of yelling in general. I don't know this game very well, but it seems like you're always falling down or taken aback. Anyway, all that alarming audio added up. And somebody noticed.

Press the / key twice before getting caught by the bear

In the forest there is a betrousered bear. If he catches you then it's an immediate Game Over, unless you press the / key twice. Do this before getting caught and you'll hear yourself being eaten alive for up to twelve seconds. The author of "munchScript" went to the trouble of programming it for both characters and randomizing the horrific sounds. They had a lot of material to work with.

This is a top shelf easter egg! It only reuses audio so it only exists in code. The only way you'll find this one is by sluicing the scripts. Good luck though, because this is a huge game. The trigger is a simple hotkey that no player would press. The extra programming effort makes it all the funnier. I love how at odds this is with the tone. It must have been a ton of work to program KQ7; I'm glad someone snuck some fun in.

We don't normally do attribution here — that's beyond our remit — but sometimes a true artist leaves their signature. This art was the work of Sierra's Carlos Escobar. In addition to the hotkey, there is a second trigger. munchScript always runs when an unrelated debug mode is enabled, and that mode is activated by a file named C:\CARLOS.KQ7.

Every programmer recognizes this trick. Carlos added his own personal debug mode that was automatically enabled on his computer. This mode only affects certain rooms and scenes — presumably the ones he was responsible for — and it triggers diagnostics and dialogs for testing. Some of these rooms have debug hotkeys just like munchScript's, but with the \ key instead. I associate practical testing like this with quality, but I'm projecting. When I wrote Pac-Man The Video Game Of The Board Game Of The Video Game, my debug build had so many testing hotkeys that I ran out of letters.

Leisure Suit Larry 6 Debug Dialog
Leisure Suit Larry 6 Debug Dialog

Carlos used a similar technique in Leisure Suit Larry 6, where he was the lead programmer. Throughout the game there are obscure areas where multiple clicks trigger a debug dialog with Carlos' name and caricature (and voice?) with a random tasteless insult.

Carlos Escobar passed away in 2011. He worked on a tremendous number of Sierra games and appears several times within them. According to posts on his memorial page, his caricature was used in an internal Carlos Says program with even more of his quotes. munchScript sounds like his kind of humor. I like the idea of someone finding my weird software jokes when I'm gone. In the meantime, you can search my script repository for "Carlos" to find references to him in other games.

This may be the only time we visit KQ7, so let's make it count. When we'd get ScummVM bug reports about this game, I couldn't stand investigating them for one pedestrian reason: you walk soooo sloooow! It's agony, I don't understand how anyone had the patience to play it. Sierra added speed hotkeys in version 2.0, but the top speed isn't very fast and the code isn't very good, so it frequently resets itself. We can see from the scripts that the developers never tolerated this. They always had hotkeys in debug mode to jack up their speed. We shouldn't tolerate it either!

So I wrote a patch that sets the fastest walk speed. It's even faster than developer speed! Just drop it in your game directory and remove it when you're done. Now you too can fly around and fix things. This patch was the only way I could learn anything about the game. One week later, I learned about munchScript.

I hope you've enjoyed the King's Quest VII easter egg! Well... within reason. I had to listen to that wailing way too much in order to get the recording right, and now I'm a little self-conscious about hosting it. Look, this blog is famously pro-privacy; always has been.

But in this case, out of an abundance of caution, I've already forwarded your IP to the police.

Next Time: The Police!