It must have been Christmas of 1991 that I found Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers under the tree, and got the gift of seeing exciting new possibilities in games.
I was a fan of adventure games, sure, having played a few games in Sierra’s King’s Quest series, not to mention Lucasfilm’s brilliant and bizarre early titles like Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. But this was my first experience with Space Quest, Sierra’s comedic sci-fi series starring Roger Wilco, the hapless space-janitor who finds himself thrust into one cosmic misadventure after another.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the quality of Space Quest IV’s puzzles. What I do remember is how varied and vibrant its universe seemed, with harsh alien worlds, moody cantinas, and glitzy space-malls. But what really knocked my socks off about the game was how meta it was. After progressing a bit through Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers itself, poor Roger finds himself flung into (the non-existent) Space Quest XII: Vohaul’s Revenge II.
Today, it’s not so uncommon for games to break the fourth wall and wink knowingly at the player about being video games, to play with conventions in ways both tired and inspired. But wow, was this exciting for me in 1991! The game also sees you venturing into Space Quest X: Latex Babes of Estros (an obvious riff on the 1986 Infocom adventure Leather Goddesses of Phobos) and all the way back to the original Space Quest, which already looked humorously primitive and pixelated compared to 1991’s state-of-the-art graphics, making high(er)-definition Roger Wilco all the more conspicuous.
Space Quest IV may or may not be a great game, I honestly don’t remember well enough to say. I just remember sitting there on my Christmas break, awestruck by the clever meta-ness of it all, and having my mind expanded about the possibilities of what video game storytelling and structure could do.