Bits from my personal collection – EcoQuest – Educational Environmentalism

While most of us, now more than ever, are aware of the human impact on our beautiful and fragile blue planet – This hasn’t always been the case, and as our planet has to sustain not only more and more people but also more people living with a higher standard of living, our impact to full-fill our needs are having severe implications not only on a local but on a global scale.
Individuals as companies have throughout many years been institutionalizing measures to cut down on the impact on our surroundings, that being recycling, changing to greener energy or simply cleaning up after our selves. Today one of the most talked-about issues is the plastic in our oceans and what it does not only to the animals who live there but also the consequences it has on the food chain and ecosystems.
Most companies today have social corporate responsibility policies in place, policies that fundamentally makes the companies conscious of the impact they are leaving on all aspect of society, including the environmental impact.

1990 was the 20th anniversary for the International Earth Day, which gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide. The media coverage was extensive and with a multi-million dollar budget, the coverage reached far and wide to TVs, newspapers, and radios around the globe.

Sierra On-Line, the biggest game developer in the world, at the time, was well aware of the environmental impact they had and started in the late ’80s and early ’90s by using recycled paper for all office usage, experimented with recycled paper for some of their products, like boxes, manuals, etc… they even tried out with recycled floppies.
Co-founder Ken Williams had always been an advocate for educational software and with the educational software market becoming the fastest-growing segment of the software industry in the early ’90s, the timing was perfect for Sierra to catch the opportunity to do an educational title with the focus on our environment – and get in on the action right from the get-go.

The inspiration and development
In 1991 Sierra’s design team sat down pitching ideas for their new educational game. A lot of ideas were thrown on the table and a setting, the oceans, were found but settling on a topic would prove more difficult until an experience, former teacher, now game designer, Gano Haine have had earlier in her life.
Haine had worked at a children’s summer camp where they, every Wednesday, would go to this beautiful beach where the kids would enjoy the sand and water. Next season the same beach would be covered in litter and the water-filled with human sewage. This experience would end up being the determining factor – The team wanted to develop a game that would teach kids the value of preserving Earth’s most valuable resource, the oceans.
Haine would be assigned Jane Jensen as co-designer, both women had been hired by Sierra around the same time and cemented the company’s policy and willingness to hire female workers, in a time where the game business was almost completely male-dominated.
Haine and Jensen were not new to computer games, both of them were gamers and they had a pretty clear idea of what they wanted to create, they would take the typically Sierra adventure game with its puzzles, put an educational environmental twist on it and make it accessible – No more sudden and trivial deaths, no more dead ends and mindless puzzles – When looking back now, they actually took the aging Sierra adventure game and made it modern – Most adventure games since then opted for a more streamlined and less frustrating experience, that most of their older titles had been embedded in.

EcoQuest
Haine and Jensen ended up creating a young protagonist, Adam. Adam’s father, who is an ecologist, spends his life traveling around the globe dealing with various environmental issues, his lonely son, Adam tags along, finding his friends among the animals living in the places they visit.
Adam gets recruited by one of his human-like animal friends, a dolphin named Delphineus, to search for Cetus, the great sperm whale whom all of the other undersea creatures look to for guidance, but now has gone missing – No need to say that humans had a hand in Cetus’ disappearing.

Haine and Jensen worked with the Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito, California, to get the science right, and Sierra even agreed to donate a portion of the profits to the organization.

EcoQuest The search for Cetus would feature a fully mouse-driven interface, just like Space Quest IV, released the same year.
The first version of the game was released on floppies in the typical thin Sierra slipcase box and later on re-released as a part of the Sierra Discovery Series in 1992, on CD-ROM with full speech, in the thick slipcase box that would become the standard for a few years.

A sealed original floppy version, released in 1991 and a sealed Discovery Series release from 1992

Lost in the Rainforest
EcoQuest spawned a sequel in 1992, with The Lost Secret of the Rainforest, Jane Jensen was on to new adventures, literally speaking, as she started work, on what would become one of the best adventure game series of all time, the Gabriel Knight series – a series which rocketed Jensen to the hall of computer game fame.
With Haine missing out on Jensen to work on the story side of things, the sequel gets a bit pale in comparison to the first installment.

The sequel Lost in the Rainforest, released in 1992 and the Telahin (Asian) release from 1993

While Sierra was well aware of some environmental and sustainability challenges before EcoQuest, the research and development led to a way greater focus on the subject internally in the company.
Their discovery Series had only a short lifetime from 1991 to 1993 and with only around 13 titles released, the series seems to be mostly forgotten nowadays – I haven’t seen any digital versions for modern systems – hopefully, this will change since all of the titles and their subject matter is just as topical today as they were when released.

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