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Unintentionally Unwinnable / Sierra

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While Sierra is better known for screwing players over deliberately, there are also some programming oddities that will just as easily stop players cold, especially if they're trying to run these games on faster computers.

King's Quest
  • The King's Quest series (at least for the first two games) has a set of "minor treasures" (e.g. the golden egg, golden walnut, diamond pouch, and scepter in the first game; the sapphire bracelet, brooch, necklace, earrings, and tiara in the second) that can sometimes be used to bypass some of the puzzles (such as bribing the troll in the first game, or buying the lamp for two treasures in the second) at a hefty cost to your score. It is very hard but possible to mess this up by not only losing out the proper solution but also losing all your treasures and access to them for some reason (e.g. getting them stolen by the dwarf), and you will end up stuck later in the game. However, this being Sierra, there are far easier ways to make these game unwinnable.
  • King's Quest VI features a magic map allowing the protagonist Alexander to travel between the different islands where the game takes place. Late in the game, after fullfilling Beast's quest by speaking to Beauty on the Isle of the Crown, Alexander will automatically travel from the Isle of the Crown to the Isle of the Beast. If you trade in the map for the ring or pearl at the Pawn Shop right before speaking to Beauty, you will end up stuck on the Isle of the Beast. This is because this late in the game, the game will just assume you have the map and automatically transport you to the Isle of the Beast without ever checking if you actually do - leaving you without a means of getting off the isle again.

Space Quest

  • Due to a spot of bad programming, a timer at the end of Space Quest IV runs based on hardware speed. Nowadays, it can take less than a second.
    • So is the zombie/robot timer at the beginning, in some versions. On modern computers, either shows up the moment you arrive where they can show up.
    • An antidote is available for computer-savvy hardware-speed timers: DOSBox. Just use this with an appropriately low number:
      cycles=auto limit ...
    • Space Quest II has a similar bug when Roger swims through a pond.
  • Space Quest VI has the infamous "Error 47" bug, which freezes the game when using the ComPost in sickbay. This was eventually traced to a timer problem, but unlike the other instances, many computers available at the time of release had this problem. It wasn't fixed until fan-made patches were released several years later.

Gold Rush

  • Gold Rush! has a timer problem opposite of the usual: The faster your computer, the slower a hidden timer runs. It means that even on a computer as slow as 1998 speeds, the realtor at the beginning never shows up in any reasonable amount of time, and as a number of events in the game are timer-based, getting past one only increases your frustration at the others. (Setting the game speed to "slowest" makes the timer run faster, so it's passable if you know about this glitch.)

Quest for Glory

  • Upon first meeting Baba Yaga in Quest for Glory I, you get hit with a quest to retrieve some mandrake root by sunrise the next day, or you die. The only time it is possible to get the mandrake root is at midnight from the cemetery, which is haunted at night. If you don't have either the Undead Unguent or sufficient funds to be able to buy some before nightfall, you're stuck between being killed by the ghosts or killed by Baba Yaga. You are at least warned several times not to mess with Baba Yaga (so you should be savvy enough to at least save the game before you meet her the first time).
  • Quest for Glory II:
    • If you don't have all the requisite spells for WIT, beating Erasmus' trial leaves you permanently stuck, presumably because it's waiting for an answer to a question it hasn't asked, and which you can't answer.
    • Late in the game, after you reach Raseir, you need to become friends with Signor Ferrari in order to have a place to stay (if not, you will be arrested for vagrancy causing a Game Over). One segment requires you to pay five dinars to Ugarte for information (which you can haggle down to three if you "bargain" with him). If you do not have the three dinars before you first meet him, Ferrari will kick you out and you lose the game. It's not hard to see why: you received 100 dinars from Omar on the evening before your departure to Raseir, and you had less than three in-game hours to spend it all before nightfall.
  • Quest for Glory III:
    • When importing a magic user from the previous game, players are given the chance to make them paladins. These players must think of buying the throwing skill (or have the forethought of wishing for it from the djinn at the end of the second game). Lacking the throwing skill makes the game unwinnable if you are a paladin — winning a throwing challenge against Uhura is needed for the Leopardman prisoner event to occur. (An unconverted mage can earn a staff to trigger the event, but a paladin can't.) This only affects paladins who were mages; former fighters and thieves already have throwing.
    • Likewise, it's possible to import a character as a mage, even if they were formerly a fighter or thief and never bought the magic skill. At least a little magic is required in order to solve some mage-mandatory puzzles. Of course, in any case, the game tries to persuade you away from changing your class on import if you didn't earn it (as with becoming a paladin).
  • Quest for Glory IV has about fifty of these - it has to be one of the buggiest games made by Sierra.
    • One insidious bug causes the game to crash on faster computers when the player enters the screen with the Chernovy. This makes it impossible to fight the Chernovy, which you must do to beat the game. (There are third-party solutions, like running the game under DOSBox or using a program to slow down your computer.)
    • There's also the Domovoi conversation. If you didn't talk with the inn domovoi by midnight of Day 5, then you won't be able to get the doll out of the cabinet because it will have mysteriously disappeared. You need the doll to give to Tanya later.
    • It's possible to attack Tanya or Toby. You don't immediately lose the game if you do so, since Toby just kicks you out of Tanya's room; but at that point you still have unfinished business in Tanya's room, which you can't finish because Tanya will kill you if you go back in.
    • Paladins can learn special "honor" abilities, such as the ability to sense danger, getting a protective honor shield in combat, and so on. One of the abilities is a Healing ability, which uses stamina to restore health. Because of the mechanics of the game, this counts as a magic spell, but the player is required to have at least 5 points in Magic to access the spell list, resulting in the game giving the player 5 points in Magic and access to the spell list. However, this also makes the Paladin a Wizard, and it's possible to cause all sorts of unusual, potentially game-breaking problems by suddenly solving your problems with magic instead of strength and honor the way the game intended. For example, if you do this early enough (difficult at best, but possible), instead of getting the undead protection amulet from the gypsies, you'll get the Aura spell, which costs more mana points than you can reasonably have to cast!
    • There's even one that shows up at the very end of the game — after you have beaten the final boss — if you are playing a Wizard, then the game will often give you the message that you are too busy to cast a spell right now, which prevents you from casting the game-winning spellnote .
  • Not necessarily unwinnable, but playing as a Wizard in Quest for Glory V changes the point list so that you get points from learning new spells, as per usual for the series. One of the spells is on a Centaur Wizard in the second Rite of Rulership, but the Centaur is protected by a Reflect spell, meaning that you can't damage him directly and have to rely on the Frost Bite spell (which is an area effect spell) to hurt him. The issue is if you imported your character from the fourth game: you learned Frost Bite in the last game, giving you a minimum skill level of 100. The minimum skill level in the fifth game is 200, and Frost Bite has a prohibitively high mana cost, meaning you're not likely to try to boost it. But if your skill isn't high enough (in the 300-400 range), then the Centaur Wizard won't take enough damage from your spell: he'll teleport after getting hit and regenerate the miniscule damage you inflict. Your only choice to win at that point is casting Trigger on his magic staff, making it explode and killing him instantly...which prevents you from ever getting the Augment spell and full points.

Gabriel Knight

  • Much like many other entries on this page, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers has an event that runs based on the speed of your hardware. Gabriel can persuade a beignet vendor to hang around outside a police station, which distracts the cops long enough for him to sneak into someone's office... except on any modern computers, the police will return from the beignet vendor in a matter of seconds, making it completely impossible to finish the game.

Laura Bow

  • Laura Bow 2:
    • It is possible (although unlikely if you're one of those Sierra players who live under the mantra "take everything that isn't nailed to the ground, and even if it is, solve the puzzle to trigger the anti-nailing event to nab it") to make it impossible to get the good or semi-good endings if you've failed to get most or all of the evidence in the game. If you don't pick up at least the evidence littered by the dead bodies, it doesn't matter if you can successfully identify the murderer to the correct victim and motive, or that you've successfully identified who had what dirty little secret—without proof they can't do anything with the murderer, the Dagger will go missing again, and the killer will still kill Laura.
    • Although a bit difficult (and unlikely, considering the game's emphasis in examining everything), you can find both halves of the Rosetta Stones in the museum, but not actually examine them, preventing you from writing down hieroglyph letters written on the stones to add into your journal. The problem comes when you eventually meet The Ra cultists in your chase, and you have to spell out the answers to their riddles using hieroglyphs (which Laura can't do if you didn't write them down, even if you know the answers).

Leisure Suit Larry

  • In Leisure Suit Larry 2: Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places), a programmer fixed one error, but accidentally caused another one by defining "bag" as a verb. That means that, in the last puzzle, you can't say "Put bag in bottle", which causes Larry to throw the bottle into the volcano without lighting it on fire, making the game unwinnable. You have to specify the bag. "The bag", "brown bag" and "airsick bag" are all acceptable, just "bag" is not.
  • In Leisure Suit Larry 3: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals, there is a bit where you need to lift weights in order to buff up. Now, here is the thing: For unfathomable reasons, the amount of lifts are based on the processing power of your computer. In 1989, you needed to do a leisurely 25 push-ups. On a modern computer, without a mod, it can easily go into the thousands. "Use the cursor keys until you work up a sweat" indeed.
  • Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work: An Unwinnable by Design occurs if you forget to write down the numbers of the various limousine companies you must call throughout the game at the single time they're shown in each location. This leads to an Unintentionally Unwinnable state: At one location, you can call a different "green card" limo company instead of the regular one, but when you want to return, they won't pick up; only the regular limo can take you back to the airport. If you only wrote down the green card number assuming they could return you, you'll never be able to get back. Worse, because viewing the real limo company number is a flagged event, failing to view it makes the scenario unwinnable even if you use a guide to get the correct number (with Sierra's stock "Oops!" error).
    • If the player fails to have Patti pick up both Data Paks in the FBI Labs then they can use the taxi to travel to the first location but can't take travel to the other location as they don't have the address. There's also no way to return to the FBI lab to get the other Data Pak.

Police Quest

  • While later Sierra games tried (and failed!) to avoid unwinnable situations, many contained game-stopping bugs that caused them. For example, at least one version of Daryl Gates' Police Quest: Open Season had a Game-Breaking Bug or programming oversight in which, if you failed to show the bone to SID on Day 3 before you gave it to the coroner, then the final scene of the day with the reporters at the morgue would fail to happen, which would make the game Unwinnable. Other Game Breaking Bugs could cause the game to crash on the map screen at the beginning of a day (it would happen every time with the saved game).
  • Police Quest III had the "endless highway" glitch: if you stopped a speeder or other criminal on the freeway near the "end of your jurisdiction", instead of turning around afterwards, you would get stuck in an infinite stream of stoplights. Hope you have an extra saved game.
    • Police Quest III had another problem on the highway. On the first day, you are sent to handle a crazy man in the park. After doing so, you can return to the police station and advance the game to the next day. However, you will eventually hit a brick wall where you can no longer progress. This is because, after arresting the crazy man, you were supposed to patrol the highway and give out several tickets, kicking off a series of events that allowed you to steal your partner's locker key.
  • In Police Quest: SWAT 2, you need to obtain several pieces of evidence in order to get the good ending for the SWAT campaign; however, many pieces of evidence spawn randomly (they can either be on a suspect or the ground), there's no indication that a suspect could be carrying evidence, and if you kill a suspect, it's impossible to search their inventory (you can only access a suspect's inventory by arresting them, or healing them if injured). If a dead suspect had evidence, which is generally a one-off item, the good ending is now unavailable.

The Adventures of Willy Beamish

  • When trying to get your frog back from Chef Childish, the puzzle is on a timer based on your system speed. On faster computers, it is impossible to complete this puzzle without running DOSBox or Moslo.
  • The fire hydrant puzzle has a similar problem. If your computer is too fast, the bullies will be upon you before you can turn the hydrant on.