The Manhunter series, two Sierra adventure game deviants

In the latter part of the ’80s, Sierra On-Line had become the synonym with the computerized adventure game. Mystery House, the company’s first title, had not only spawned the graphic adventure genre when released in the early summer of 1980 but also heralded the adventure game into the mainstream.
Following the success of the Hi-Res Adventure series, Sierra, in 1982, stroke a deal with corporate giant IBM to create a new and considerably more dynamic game for its upcoming compact computer, the IBM PCjr. While the PCJr didn’t become a success story, the game developed for it did. Roberta Williams’ King’s Quest became the game to not only help save a struggling Sierra but also to define the company for the next decade. The game went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies and spawned the best-selling adventure game series of all time with millions of sold titles.

A glimpse at Sierra’s adventure game lineup in 1987 showed familiar titles, like King’s Quest, Space Quest, and Police Quest all crafted from the very same formula, all strictly 3rd person perspective text-parser driven games, and all developed inhouse in Sierra’s Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI). Two games released in 1988 and 1989 would significantly stand out from this line-up, not only by being vastly different in tone and settings but also by being developed by a third-party developer.

In late 1987 Sierra reached out to Evryware, Inc. a small but successful game developer from Washington state, with an offer to let them use the AGI development framework and create an adventure game of their liking. While Evryware had no experience in the adventure game genre, the company had an interesting movie-like approach to its game design, sprinkled with technological know-how. The company had been around since 1980, established by engineers Dave Murry and Joe Gargiulo, initially to develop arcade-style games for the CP/M operating system and the Heathkit/Zenith Z-89 personal computer. The first three years saw a dozen arcade games developed for the Z-89 platform before the company switched focus to the much more popular x86 architecture used in the IBM PC and PCjr.
The first game for the IBM platform was Championship Boxing, an impressive boxing and strategy game, initially to be published by Microsoft’s new Home Software Division, but analysts decided the otherwise rapidly growing home consumer market still wasn’t big enough for Microsoft to invest in and withdrew from the deal. Luckily, Evryware’s contact person at Microsoft was an acquaintance of Sierra founder Ken Williams and told him about the game. Williams intrigued and impressed contracted with Evryware and published the game as Sierra Championship Boxing in 1983.

5 years later, with the impressive The Ancient Art of War series, published by Brøderbund, under the belt and with an offer from Sierra to create something unique, Evryware, which now included Dave Murry’s brother, Barry, and sister, Dee Dee started developing a new adventure game, as distinctive from the standard Quest games as possible.
The Murry siblings turned to a futuristic 2004 post-apocalyptic Manhattan and a much darker and more chilling setting than Sierra was otherwise known for. Manhunter: New York, as the game would be titled, tells the story of you as a New York City detective two years after aliens, known as the Orbs, had invaded and consequently enslaved the world. You are contracted by the newly founded alien dictatorship to be an enforcer of alien rule, track down and destroy a ring of human saboteurs and militants out to end the alien siege. Opportunities to choose between good or evil and make critical moral decisions are offered and throughout the game, you’ll discover that the Orbs’ purpose might not be what they claim it to be.

Manhunter: New York, developed by the Murry siblings of Evryware for the IBM/PC and published by Sierra On-Line in 1988.
Later it was released for the Atari ST, Amiga, and the Apple IIGS platform

Manhunter: New York not only would feature an innovative movie-like approach to how the game was presented but would also be Sierra’s first non-text-parser game, with Evryware reworking some of the AGI frameworks to function without the parser. Many of the game’s initiatives like extreme closeups, picture-in-picture, large panoramic views, switching between 3rd and 1st person perspectives, etc. would all later become standard in the genre. Sierra wasn’t involved in the process at all and Evryware didn’t show the game until the very last stage of development. One of Ken Williams and Sierra’s many great trademarks was to trust the employees and in this case the 3rd party developer.
The game was initially created and published in 1988 for the IBM/PC with 16-color EGA graphics but was swiftly ported to the Atari ST, Amiga, Apple IIGS, and Macintosh.

Manhunter: New York would significantly stand out from Sierra’s line-up of adventure titles in the late ’80s, not only by being vastly different in tone and settings but also by being developed by a third-party developer.
The text parser was dropped and options and choices to navigate and interact with the world were presented by a cursor controlled by keyboard or joystick

In the summer of 1989 the direct sequel, Manhunter 2: San Francisco, also by the Murry siblings, was completed and published by Sierra On-Line. The game continued the story and begins with you, piloting an Orb ship in pursuit of the antagonist Phil Cook, crash-landing in San Francisco. Another Manhunter is killed in the crash and you assume his identity. As the game progresses, you learn of organized resistance, experiments that have created mutant slaves, and the real goal of the Evil Orbs. The game plays very much like its predecessor and just like it, you almost catch the antagonist in the end but he yet again barely escapes, this time to London, clearly paving a way for a third installment, which unfortunately never came into existence.

Manhunter 2: San Francisco was, like its predecessor, developed by the Murry siblings of Evryware and published by Sierra On-Line in 1989 for the IBM/PC, Atari ST, Amiga, Macintosh, and Apple IIGS

Manhunter 2: San Francisco looked and played just like the first title but had a bit more focus on inventory and the use of items

Both Manhunter games did very well, received a majority of positive reviews, and sold over 100.000 copies each.
Manhunter 2 would be the last Sierra game to be developed in the now aging AGI framework, initially created to help the development of the original King’s Quest back in 1983-84. Inhouse at Sierra the new Sierra Creative Interpreter (SCI) had already been used with the 1988 titles King’s Quest IV and Leisure Suit Larry 2, the first two games to be developed in SCI0.
In 1990 King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart go Yonder would put the final nail in the AGI (and early SCI0) coffin, using Sierra’s SCI1 framework with 256 color VGA support, a fully mouse-driven interface… SCI would over the next 7 years see continual development alongside the technological advancements before reaching its last version with SCI3 used in Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh.

Manhunter 2: San Francisco
Centerfold scan from Sierra News Magazine Vol. 2 No. 2 – Autumn 1989
I’ll be uploading the poster to my Sierra Centerfold poster article

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