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Unwinnable By Mistake / 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
  • Although King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride is the only game in the series not to be Unwinnable by Design, there is one bit that breaks the game on newer, faster computers. At one point, you have to pick up a lit firecracker and quickly put it to use before it explodes right in your pocket. However, being designed for slower machines, on a modern computer it may explode near instantaneously.

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.
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    • 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.
  • In 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.
  • In importing a magic user from Quest For Glory II to the third 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 an insidious bug which 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.
    • In all fairness, there are about fifty of these in Quest for Glory IV - it has to be one of the buggiest games made by Sierra. 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 spell.

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 hot dog 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 hot dog vendor in a matter of seconds, making it completely impossible to finish the game.

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 Unwinnable by Mistake: 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).

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.

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.


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