Book Review: The Sierra Adventure Tuesday 25th of August 2020

The front cover. This dust jacket feels awful to touch.
The front cover. This dust jacket feels awful to touch.

Today On August 10th I received my hardcover copy of The Sierra Adventure, The Story of Sierra On-Line, a book I backed on Kickstarter in September 2019. The book is authored by Shawn Mills.

Initial Thoughts

The rear of the dust jacket
The rear of the dust jacket

I was quite excited to receive this book, but it has subsequently been tempered with a fair amount of disappointment. This was an expensive book. And I just don't feel I've got a quality product - it feels like a mass market paperback with a hard cover slapped on. It feels cheap. For a book that cost $AU 100 I would have expected it to be of far better quality. Visually, the layout looks quite messy too, as unlike virtually every other book out there, the text isn't justified. There's also very little space between the outer edges of the book and the start of text content.

The book layout. Not a fan of the narrow margins or unjustified text.
The book layout. Not a fan of the narrow margins or unjustified text.

Not to mention of course, the giant elephant in that this book is supposed to be autographed, but isn't. This is due to current events so I can't really fault Shawn, but it is still disappointing as a substantial portion of the cost was for those autographs. Autographed stickers will be provided in due course and I suppose technically there's no real difference if I apply those stickers or Shawn does. Technically.

Finally, and somewhat strangely, I really don't like the feel of the dust jacket. I doesn't feel like the normal gloss of a hardback but something else. I disliked it so much that I couldn't read the book with the jacket on and had to take it off. As I said, strange.

As I read through the book, I encountered another issue - sometimes body text was grey. This doesn't appear to be a printing error as it was uniform and consistent. Think of a Word document with a hyperlink in it that you then print out in black and white. At first that's what I thought it was, erroneous hyperlinks, but as I got towards the end of the book it became more pronounced until whole pages were in grey.

An example of grey text. At first I thought it was a hyperlink, but probably not.
An example of grey text. At first I thought it was a hyperlink, but probably not.

When I compare this tome to the ones I've purchased from Bitmap Books or Read-Only Memory I find myself extremely disappointed in the end result.

More grey text. After this it starts being by page.
More grey text. After this it starts being by page.

The Content

Now that I've thoroughly judged the book on its physical form, what about the actual content? Well, I quite enjoyed it. It didn't grip me enough to read it in one session, but it also was engaging enough to keep me sneaking back for a page or two here and there. Compiling!.

The story starts around 1984 after the famous Video Game Crash and describes how Sierra was caught up in that. The next 300 or so pages condense twenty years of Sierra history and finishes with Vivendi closing the studio down in 1999.

It is mostly chronological, sometimes jumping back a little, but never confusing. Shawn has spoken to, and writes about, quite a varied cast of people and there are numerous anecdotes. For example, how in the early days, if you rang the hint line, Roberta Williams herself would be answering the phone... how cool would that be? Or the trials and tribulations of moving from EGA to VGA, and later on from text parsers to full mouse control.

Oh yes, and how they almost bought id software... id were willing and Ken Williams balked. Oops.

What I found interesting was how much effort they were capable of putting in, such as building their own studio in order to film the video sequences for FMV games such as Phatasmagoria. Or how they had their own network (similar to CompuServe) in the days before the world wide web.

There's a lot of material in this book, far too much to cover in this two-bit review. But it was a fascinating read.

The book closes with a list of a series of epilogues written by select Kickstarter backers on what Sierra meant to them. Then there's a list of the Kickstarter backers, along with three appendixes describing the list of systems that Sierra developed for, a list of their in-house game engines and finally a list of games they published.

Just before I read this book, I finished reading The Friendly Orange Glow by Brian Dear, a book on the history of the Plato system - a system I'd never heard of before, but, if the author is to believed, we owe quite a lot to. My point of bringing this book up is that in the middle of the book is the usual half dozen pages with colour photographs of people involved with Plato, the system itself, output of what it can produce, etc. And scattered throughout the book are black and white photographs of the same.

This is something I really missed from The Sierra Adventure. I think the inclusion of photographs of people or locations, box art and screenshots would have been very welcome in this volume.

The Signatures

On September 12, I received a simple letter through the post. It had an Australian postmark so was obvious what it was, further confirmed by the neat little cover sticker on the back. Inside was a thank you card, in the same style as the book cover, along with a sticker containing the signatures of Lori and Corey Cole. Plus an edition number - mine was 40/40.

Post from Australia! A nice thank you card and the signature sticker.
Post from Australia! A nice thank you card and the signature sticker.

Quite a neat little package - I think I'll just stick it all inside the book as it is!

Closing Thoughts

Partial listing of Kickstarter Backers, including yours truly
Partial listing of Kickstarter Backers, including yours truly

I suspect this will be the last physical book project I back. I've had to skip on several projects in the past due to shipping costs, and while shipping in this one was pretty reasonable, the entire package cost quite a sum which just isn't reflected in the physical quality of the book. The actual content, Shawn's words, are great - but I could have just got an e-book. Ooof, did I really just write those words?

My discontent with the physical package aside, if you're a fan of Sierra I think you'd enjoy this book quite a lot.


  • 25Aug2020 - First published
  • 30Sep2020 - Added signature section, corrected mispellings

This post was first published Tuesday 25th of August 2020 and was last modified Wednesday 30th of September 2020 at 17:04:04.

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