Ada Lovelace Day: Lori Ann Cole

Known as the first programmer (and a female to boot), Ada Lovelace worked with Charles Babbage’s first general-purpose computers. Today is the celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, where bloggers are asked to draw attention to the work of females in technology. Games included!

The name of this blog exists largely due to one reason: Quest for Glory IV. That game series created the earliest recollection I have of actually caring about who created the game, wanting to know the artist behind the work essentially. In this case it was a husband and wife duo, Lori Ann and Corey Cole. In the years since, Lori Ann Cole has offered interviews about the process and has been quite candid about her time at the gaming studio previously known as Sierra.

It was 1988 when Lori Ann Cole proposed a four-game series to Sierra, where her husband had been hired as a systems programmer. While Corey programmed the game, Lori set about scripting it as well as directing the game overall. The series was originally known as Hero’s Quest, but this would be changed because of trademark issues with a board game with the same name. Renamed Quest for Glory, it continued on, eventually moving from EGA to VGA graphics, seeing the implementation of voice acting, and finally moving into the realm of 3D with the fifth installment.

During this time she worked on a contract basis. As she explains on her company’s website concerning her lack of actually being fully employed by Sierra until the fifth installment:

Up until this point, I had been a freelance contractor with Sierra working for royalties. They kept trying to get me to sign an exclusive agreement with them, but I wasn’t about to unless they paid me the extra bonus like Roberta Williams had from Sierra. Then the government decided that exclusive contracts meant Sierra needed to pay Social Security and other benefits, and Sierra dropped the idea (Transolar Games Entertainment).

Here was a game that offered day and night, required the hero to sustain himself through proper rest and food, and rewarded players through an experience system not based on levels, but on what skills they used. If you wanted to become a better user of magic? Use magic. It also offered the option to import characters from one game to the next. For Sierra, it was quite a step away from the pure adventure titles for which it was known. However, Cole recalls playing Wizardry and was working on her own RPG system at the time, and this is what comprised her focus on games (Adventure Classic Gaming).

Playing the adventure gaming genre quite heavily as a child, Quest for Glory always struck me as different and more enjoyable, and it was not until years later that I was able to articulate why. Cole has also been kind enough to discuss this in interviews, offering how she saw her RPG/adventure blend to break from the mold, and why:

The Adventure game puzzle-solving aspects of Quest for Glory were intrinsic to the world, not patched-on, “here we need a puzzle” types that some games used. Too many Adventure games had puzzles based on the “Guess the Designer’s Mind” school of design. There was only one solution to a puzzle, and you needed to find it out no matter how illogical it seemed (ACG).

In an e-mail exchange I had with Ms. Cole months ago, she also revealed that she saw the playing of her games to be truly trying to reach an experiential form of storytelling merged with gaming. Coming from a tabletop RPG world, she did not feel games could quite reach the same feel those sessions could offer, but hoped to push forward beyond the need of being stuck at a hurdle when one could not solve a problem. If anything, the game shows the initial workings of what we now expect from an open-world or sandbox environment. So you can’t figure out how to get past the gate of skulls in front of Baba Yaga’s hut? Why not walk away, do something else, and come back to that particular puzzle later?

While the story itself was still linear and did not offer much actual choice in terms of altering the story (again, Cole is a storyteller and wanted to be sure to offer that skill to the players), it offered a player more choices in how to go about completing the tasks and building his or her own character. The three (later four) character classes all had different strengths and dependent on which one you selected, you would be able to access different parts of the story. If you were stuck, that did not mean that you could not continue playing. It is an element of game design we can take for granted with our Fallouts and Elder Scrolls, but one that certainly still continues to hold a charm to players.

Being noted as a female game designer, she has also been asked about women gamers a number of times. As she explains it, “For the most part, I designed the sort of game I wanted to play. I wasn’t trying to shoehorn my design to some artificial, stereotypical constraint” (Strange Horizons Articles). This was meant as a criticism of the idea that the gaming industry needs to market itself to a certain demographic (i.e. we need to make this more friendly for female gamers, or it needs more sexualization of female characters for the teen male market). Unfortunately, the original idea for Quest for Glory was to include more options for characters, and ones that were not based on class, but due to budget and artistic constraints, this was changed as the game progressed (TGE).

For a while, Cole ran a website called How to Be a Hero, which had forums where users interacted with each other in fantasy role play based on the same world. In recent years, she has frequently praised the idea of being able to interact with others online, and as she explained to me about this project: “Thus I decided that the website really was the game. It let people play what they wanted to play, how they wanted to play it.” As Corvus Elrod has stated, “Game is a set of rules and/or conditions established by a community and intended as a bounded space for play.” A game designer and storyteller at heart, Cole persists in her own field.

Currently, she is once again working on a design concept for Interactive Fiction called the School for Heroes, where the goal is to shape the game based on user interaction more akin to the tabletop sessions she has participated in for years.

Feel free to read more bloggers’ highlights of women in the technology industry.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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4 Responses to Ada Lovelace Day: Lori Ann Cole

  1. Chris Lepine says:

    Great stuff! It’s wonderful seeing Lori Cole getting some recognition for her work. Truly a great, and often unrecognized, designer and storyteller. It is interesting – of all the adventure games I’ve played, both the King’s Quest series and the Quest for Glory series have had an indescribable ‘feminine’ touch to them. Although the protagonist of QFG is drawn as male, so many of ‘his’ actions do not express any clear male-orientation.. and that is absolutely refreshing.Games such as Fallout (despite my loving it) tend to reprise gender roles in a much more clumsy and conventional way — female characters do Y and male characters do X. Designers could learn a lot from the way Lori Cole (likely unknowingly) crafted her characters.

  2. Chris Lepine says:

    For clarity’s sake – I should note of course that Lori Cole did not design the KQ series ;)

  3. Lori says:

    Hi, all. Right now, < HREF="http://www.theschoolforheroes.com" REL="nofollow">The School for Heroes <> is up and running. While it is set in the game world of Quest for Glory, at the moment it is more of a real-world “Be a Hero!” than an interactive fiction site, although there are aspects of it.Thanks for the kind words here. Corey and I are doing what we can to keep the spirit of the games alive.– Lori Ann Cole

  4. Packey says:

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.Betty< HREF="http://laptopprocessor.info" REL="nofollow">http://laptopprocessor.info<>

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