Camelot’s Conquests Proved Sierra’s Adventure Games Can Go Beyond Wacky Parody
This article first appeared in issue 354 of PC Gamer magazine, in our PC Gaming Legends column. Each month, we bring exclusive features that explore the world of PC gaming, from behind-the-scenes glimpses and incredible community stories, fascinating interviews, and more.
Conquests of Camelot introduced me to the ruthless difficulty of old Sierra point-and-click adventures in just a few minutes. As King Arthur, I filled my purse with coins in preparation for a long journey to find the Holy Grail, Merlin’s magnet to guide me, and kissed Guinevere before heading to the Camelot doors – or trying to do it. The castle gate fell on my head as I walked under it, crushing me to death.
“It is terribly reckless to begin a sacred mission without the blessing of the gods,” admonished Conquests of Camelot. Later, I would be gored by a boar, skewered on the dark knight’s spear, and I would fall through the thin ice, freezing to death. As in most of Sierra’s adventure games, surviving to see the end of Conquests of Camelot was a real challenge. Its puzzles were beyond my ten-year-old brain, but I didn’t care – becoming King Arthur made Conquests of Camelot as mystical an object as the Grail itself.
A busy life in Camelot
By the late ’80s, Sierra had expanded beyond King’s Quest and Space Quest to other adventure series like Leisure Suit Larry and Police Quest, but that game felt like a step towards maturity. Sierra hired Christy Marx, chief cartoonist of the cartoon Jem and the Holograms, who had no background in game design but a long list of cartoons and comics behind her. Without being intimidated by this inexperience, Marx embarked on research and wrote a game that, even today, feels exceptionally rich and devoted to its source material.
As a kid, this felt like the definitive Arthurian story to me, an adventure I got lost in once I ran out of Disney’s The Sword in the Stone tape. I didn’t read The Once and Future King until years later, so Conquests of Camelot was my main introduction to the Knights Gawain and Lancelot and the Grail legend. Marx’s writing has a classic flavor, more accessible than TH White’s novel but still imbued with a bit of Ye Olde English. It’s not tedious like Police Quest or as silly as most of Sierra’s other adventures, but it still has a tongue-in-cheek streak, like the text analyzer asking “Your Offer, Me Lord.”
Conquests of Camelot ambitiously attempted to capture anything that would go into a classic Arthurian quest, including a jousting contest, sword fight against a mighty Saracen, and magical puzzles. The action scenes were as clunky and frustrating as you might expect from an adventure game in 1990, but I didn’t know any better back then – and neither did Sierra, really, who didn’t. had released only one game in Quest for Glory series at that time.
Thirty years later, Conquests of Camelot may seem rudimentary, and it sadly never had a VGA upgrade like many of Sierra’s other early adventures. But it was one of my most formative PC gaming experiences, and not just because it taught me how to constantly save. My dad and I played it together, and for me it sparked a passion for games with stories and puzzles before I realized that adventure games were a defined genre. Years later when he upgraded the family PC to a Pentium I got my own IBM 486 and spent hours playing LucasArts adventures like Sam & Max and Indiana Jones & the Fate of Atlantis.
Camelot also taught me that people go on the internet and write FAQs with the answers to puzzles that I could never solve on my own. I printed out a guidebook and followed it to lead Arthur through Jerusalem and finally claim the Holy Grail. The lesson on prayer did not last, however. I’m still a pagan, I just know you shouldn’t trust the castle gates.