Organizers of the 20th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards (GDCA), the premier accolades for peer recognition celebrating the industry’s top games, studios and developers, will be honoring the trailblazing storyteller and game creator Roberta Williams with this year’s Pioneer Award, which recognizes breakthrough tech and game design milestones.
The GDCA will recognize Roberta Williams for her influential work in the graphical adventure game genre, for creating the landmark games series King’s Quest and for co-founding Sierra On-Line with her husband Ken Williams. That company went on to publish a string of influential graphical adventures that pushed the technological envelope and helped establish video games as a true storytelling medium.
By 1980, Roberta Williams and her husband Ken Williams set about creating a graphical story-driven game for the Apple II under the developer name “On-Line Systems.” That first title, Hi-Res Adventure #1: Mystery House, blended text-based adventure gaming with simple monochromatic graphics and went on to become a big success. Riding the momentum from a series of profitable releases in the company’s diverse portfolio, including the Williams’ 1980 title, Hi-Res Adventure #2: Wizard and the Princess, the company soon relocated from Simi Valley, CA to Coarsegold, CA. The company’s expansion continued as it began taking on investors and set about rebranding itself, ultimately changing its name to Sierra On-Line in 1982. 1984‘s King’s Quest soon followed, which incorporated graphical breakthrough allowing for the game’s colorful avatar to move around objects on the screen, lending the title depth and movement. That series, helmed by Roberta Williams, helped establish Sierra On-Line as one of the premier game companies in the world. King’s Quest, and its many sequels, coupled Roberta’s trademark compelling storytelling with increasingly advanced graphics and technology.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, Roberta continued to create groundbreaking graphical adventures. Never shying from creative risks, Roberta helmed 1995’s Phantasmagoria, a thematically daring and mature title that featured full motion video and live actors. Sierra On-Line went on to publish numerous blockbuster titles, including Valve Software’s original Half-Life. Roberta retired from game development in 1999, and she and her husband Ken are now avid boaters who cruise the world’s oceans and waterways. Roberta Williams has been recognized throughout the decades as one of the most influential game developers in the history of the medium, and her focus on storytelling in video games has inspired countless developers to tell their own stories through gameplay.
“It’s hard to truly measure the impact of Roberta Williams’ landmark titles; they not only pushed the technological envelope at the time, but they helped establish video games as a legitimate storytelling medium, and one that could appeal to men and women alike,” said Katie Stern, general manager of the Game Developers Conference. “Modern blockbuster titles now incorporate compelling stories as a matter of course, but those fundamental narrative elements were created anew by Roberta and her colleagues in the 1980s and her groundbreaking work helped establish what games could and should be. For that reason, we’re proud to recognize her ingenuity, creativity and hard work with the Pioneer Award.”
Roberta Williams as well as Ambassador Award recipient Kate Edwards will be honored at the Game Developers Choice Awards ceremony, taking place on Wednesday, March 18th, 2020 at 6:30pm at the San Francisco Moscone Center during the 2020 Game Developers Conference, and in conjunction with the Independent Games Festival (IGF). The ceremonies are available to attend for all GDC 2020 pass-holders.
The recipients of the Pioneer Award are chosen by the Game Developers Choice Special Awards Jury, which includes notable game industry leaders Frank Cifaldi (The Video Game History Foundation), Ed Fries (1Up Ventures), Tracy Fullerton (USC Games), Raph Koster (Independent) and Erin Robinson (Guerrilla Games).
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