Roberta (Heuer) Williams was born on February 16, 1953. She was raised in La Verne in southern California, which is located about 30 miles east of Los Angeles. When she was a child, her father John Heuer was a horticulturist and worked for the County of Los Angeles as an agriculture inspector. Her mother Nova was a housewife and a very good oil painter. She has one brother, Jim, who is 18 months younger than her. She met her future husband, Ken Williams, in high school, and they married on November 4th, 1972. They got two sons, D. J. (1973) and Chris Williams (1979).
Roberta is often referred to as the “Queen of the Graphic Adventure.” With Ken she founded On-Line Systems in 1980, later known as Sierra On-Line (1982). Together they created the very first graphic adventure game, Mystery House (May 1980). As the game sold very well, they were able to leave Los Angeles and move to Coarsegold, a small gold mining town in the Sierra Nevada foothills just south of Yosemite National Park, where Roberta's parents had an apple orchard. Later on, the first real office of On-Line Systems was opened at Oakhurst, seven miles from Coarsegold.
Mystery House would become part of a series of six adventures called Hi-Res Adventures that were published in 1980-1982. The first adventure that Roberta designed after Mystery House was The Wizard and the Princes (1980), the first adventure game with colored graphics, that became the number one game on the Apple II. Time Zone (1982) became her first game for which outside artists were used, a very huge game with about 1400 rooms (where an average game had 90 rooms).
Her next game – made on request of IBM – would become the first episode in a series that would make her famous: King’s Quest, the first animated 3D (in fact 2.5D) adventure game (1984). The King's Quest series, a saga about the adventures of the royal family of Daventry, would comprise eight adventure games. The series sold millions of copies. The reason of its popularity is, according to Roberta, that it springs from the fantasies of a child and that it allows adults to experience again the stories and fables they loved as a child. For children it is the ultimate cartoon, and for both it is a chance to outwit the designer (herself). Roberta designed the later episodes (V-VIII) with the help of co-designers.
In the period that Roberta was working on King’s Quest VII, she also designed Phantasmagoria (1995), a horror game with a $4 million development budget and 2 years of development time, that had a script of about 550 pages and was published on 7 CD-ROMS. It sold over 1,000,000 copies before, according to Roberta, “the new management essentially killed the product.”
Roberta remained active in the development of games for Sierra till it was sold in 1996 to CUC International. Her last and first true 3D game for the “New Sierra” was King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity (1998), a game that departed from the original series as it had a gloomy atmosphere and included RPG elements (1998, with co-designer Mark Seibert). Many years later, Roberta said that in hindsight she would have omitted the RPG elements and would have thought more in terms of physical puzzles that could be better done in 3D than in 2D.
With her games she won numerous awards and a special tribute was paid to her with The Roberta Williams Anthology (1997), which included 15 games (seven King’s Quest games, six Hi-Res Adventures and two Laura Bow games).
After Mask of Eternity and 18 years of game production, she took a well-deserved rest and left the spotlight in favor of reading, traveling, and learning Spanish. Roberta and her husband divide their time between their homes in Seattle (where Chris lives) and Cabo, Mexico (where D.J. lives), and they travel with their boat (a Nordhavn) almost non-stop.
In 2009, after three years of research, she started to write a historic novel, tracing Irish history, the Potato Famine, and the Irish immigration to the US.
Last updated: Jul 08, 2009
- Roberta Williams on Wikipedia. -- Roberta Williams article at Wikipedia.
- The Pioneer of Graphic Adventure Games Was a Woman -- 2017 article about Roberta Williams' career.
- 1999 Interview with Roberta Williams -- on AdventureClassicGaming.com
- An interview with Roberta Williams -- by Adventure Classic Gaming (July 2006)
- IMDb -- The IMDb profile for Roberta Williams
- Life After Sierra -- Randy Slaganski of Just Adventure+ interview with Roberta Williams in March 1999