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Gabriel Knight reborn

There’s a place in Lexington, Kentucky, called Doodles, that serves really good brunch that can be ordered while you wait. The one time I went there, I got a bowl of shrimp and grits, but I was jealous of the plate of beignets that my sister ordered. Beignets have always been special for me, not only because they’re tasty but because I first learned about them in the Sierra On-Line game “Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers” (hereafter GK1)

Gabriel Knight: Then and now
Much like my travails with “Space Quest 6: The Spinal Frontier,” my experiences with GK1 were trying. I played it on an early 1990s IBM PC, running Windows 3.0 or 3.1. Many of the game’s puzzles stumped me, plus its macabre subject-matter was a little much to take in as a 9 year-old just getting acquainted with computer games.

There were three games in the original “Gabriel Knight” run. I didn’t play the third one, but enjoyed the radically different designs of the first and second installments. Whereas GK1 was one of the pinnacles of the point-and-click VGA formula that Sierra perfected between 1990 and 1994, the second one, called “The Beast Within,” encapsulated the era of Full Motion Video.

It took up a full 6 (!) CDs, at a time when having a game on a single CD-ROM was considered cutting-edge. Sierra’s games may not have been action-packed, but they were frequently on the technical frontier, whether it was FMV in GK2, voice acting in “King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow” (it came out in 1992 and had more lines of dialogue that most films made up to that point), or open worlds in the original “King Quest,” all the way from 1984. Even SQ6 was philosophically ahead of its time, with its look at the early structure of what we now call the Internet.

Maybe the best of Sierra’s adventure crop – GK, SQ, KQ, Quest for Glory, Police Quest – were so far ahead of their time that they were waiting all along for the emergence of phones, tablets, and the MacBook Air as their ideal platforms. They were never served well by the hulking gaming PCs of the late 1990s, the rise of which neatly coincided with the decline of the adventure genre, which had no real need for graphical flair or processing power. Now that PCs as a whole are in decline and gaming PCs confined to a niche audience – with gaming itself having become radically democratized across many user demographics – it’s a perfect time for adventure games to reemerge, and so they have.

GK1 recently got a stunning makeover for its 20th anniversary. Here’s a comparison of the original PC version with the new 2014 version:

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The new coat of paint is nice on the eyes, although I still love fuzzy pixelated graphics sometimes. The biggest upgrade is probably to the UI, which is not simplified into just a few primary buttons rather than a crowded task bar.

The GK1 revamp is more ambitious than some other adventure game revivals in recent years. The “Broken Sword” games, for example, were mostly faithful in their iOS/Android ports from their 1990s PC originals. But even with the extra content and graphical upgrade, it still runs without a hitch even on a minimum specs MacBook Air that, for context, can’t reliably handle the online trading card game Hearthstone.

So about those beignets
The titular character encounters a beignet vendor in Jackson Square. The sweet foodstuff itself is an important item in the game, an example of how Sierra game designers often made silly, seemingly insignificant items pivotal (the rotten fish in SQ6, which is used to defeat the final boss, is probably the best example) to the plot.

My family visited New Orleans in 1998 and that trip remains the only time I’ve been to the city. We didn’t have time to get a beignet while there, so in ensuing years i’ve settled for versions at Taste of Chicago and various restaurants.

My fascination with these fried donuts continues on though, due to a 20+ year-old gaming puzzle that I now get to experience. Replaying the GK1 remake, the game has aged well thanks to this quirky touches of humor, strong writing, and a tuneful and moody soundtrack. Replaying it on my laptop, like replaying Broken Sword II on my Nexus 5 last year, seems natural, since processing power and graphics aren’t what matter or what ever mattered. Gabriel Knight is reborn, beignets in tow.

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