Personal Computer Museum, Canada's Videogame Museum

Sierra On-Line

Sierra On-Line
Sierra On-Line, Inc.
P.O. Box 485
Coarsegold, CA 93614
Year Founded:
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Sierra On-Line (originally On-Line Systems and later Sierra Entertainment, Inc.) is an American video game developer and publisher headquartered in Los Angeles, California. The company is currently a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard (a subsidiary of Vivendi SA). Sierra itself owns four in-house development studios: High Moon Studios, Massive Entertainment, Radical Entertainment and Swordfish Studios.

Sierra is best known today for its multiple lines of seminal graphic adventure games started in the 1980's (notably King's Quest, Space Quest and Quest for Glory), some of which proved influential in the history of video games.

The history of Sierra Entertainment started back in 1979 in the California home of Ken and Roberta Williams.

At the time, Ken was working as a contract programmer for IBM, developing an income tax program on a mainframe computer 3,000 miles away from L.A. One night he found a program labeled Adventure on the mainframe. Curious of what it could be, he downloaded it and it turned out to be a copy of Colossal Caves. It was the first true "interactive fiction" computer game and Ken became fascinated with it.

Roberta was not very interested in computers at the time, but Ken showed her the game on a terminal he had brought home from work. Roberta, who had been a big fairy tale and adventure fiction lover ever since her childhood, was instantly hooked in this new breed of storytelling and played her way through Colossal Cave with great enthusiasm.

For Christmas 1979, Ken bought a $2,000 Apple II microcomputer with a whopping (for its day) 64k of memory, a 140k floppy disk drive and a monochrome monitor. He was planning to use it to develop a FORTRAN compiler for Apple computers.

At the time, a company called Adventure International developed text adventure games for the Apple II. Roberta played their games, but even though she liked them, she was not entirely content with the adventure games that existed at the time. She realized that this medium had the possibilities to do even more than presenting text descriptions on the screen. Since modern computers could display graphics, instead of telling the player “You are standing in front of a house” a picture of the house could be displayed on the screen. The games could use better plots too, making them even more interesting to play.