In the late 1980s, home computers were slowly making the transition from the thing your parents used to balance their checkbooks to a legitimate form of entertainment. Computer games at the time were mostly text-based works and games with simple ASCII visuals. Soon, graphical games started to take hold, and among the heavy-hitters of that time were a group of adventure games created by a company called Sierra On-line.
King's Quest, Space Quest, and Leisure Suit Larry made Sierra On-line a household name with gamers. Their complex puzzles and wacky sense of humor were extremely popular and have been emulated time and time again. Of course, as with many things that are seen as out of date, these classic games have made way for larger, more advanced games in the decades that followed. For many players, though, these classics can never be topped. That's where the website Sarien.net comes into play. It is at once a multi-user graphical chat room and a place to relive these timeless games right in your browser window.
Sarien.net's story goes back to 2003, when founder Martin Kool, a fan of the old Sierra adventure games, decided to open up a graphical chat environment based on scenes of the old games but without actual gameplay. Nearly four years later, Martin, after seeing what he believed to be the mishandling of the old adventure properties by both Sierra and then Activision, decided to try and work out a way of incorporating the actual gameplay into the core of what he had developed for his graphical chat environment, allowing people to enjoy these games on the web, while still keeping the chat aspects alive. With the help of fellow programmer Sjoerd Visscher, they were able to replicate the logic behind the original game code, and soon games like Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge and King's Quest III: To Heir is Human became available for all to play on the web in their entirety. Today, Sarien.net boasts a larger collection of games, and the list is always growing. And there was much rejoicing! (yeah)
Sarien.net does add a few new aspects to these games. One is the ability to jump to different sections of each game instantaneously, either through the navigation on the main page or by bookmarking different spots. Using bookmarks, you can effectively save your position at any time, or skip to your favorite scenes without playing through the beginning of the game.
The other, more important aspect of the games as they exist on the website is the fact that multiple people can be playing at the same time. There are no cooperative aspects added to the gameplay itself (sorry), but this does lend a distinctly social aspect to the gaming environment. I found myself entertained watching other players try to make their way through games. Some would get frustrated (these games were, and still are, notoriously difficult to get through), but others provided quite a bit of enjoyment as they stumbled around the different screens.
Sarien.net is truly a labor of love for Martin. He is always working to add new games to the site and to fix bugs that may have crept into the existing games. He derives no monetary reward from the project (there aren't even any ads on the site), but has garnered quite a bit of notoriety for his work from various corners of the web, including Leisure Suit Larry creator Al Lowe.
As a fan of these classic games myself, it would be great to see Blizzard/Activision devoting as much time to them as Martin has. But in the meantime, Sarien.net is a superb tribute to this era of gaming history, and should be visited by anyone curious about these games, or just wanting a chance to play around in a unique chat environment.