Roberta Williams

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Roberta Williams
Born (1953-02-16) February 16, 1953 (age 68)
OccupationVideo game designer, writer
Known forKing's Quest
Mystery House
Spouse(s)Ken Williams

Roberta Williams (born February 16, 1953) is an American video game designer, writer, and a co-founder of Sierra On-Line (later known as Sierra Entertainment), who developed her first game while living in Simi Valley, California. She is most famous for her work in the field of graphic adventure games with titles such as Mystery House, the King's Quest series, and Phantasmagoria. She is married to Ken Williams and retired in 1999. Roberta Williams was one of the most influential PC game designers of the 1980s and 1990s,[1][2] and has been credited with creating the graphic adventure genre.[3]



In 1979, Williams was a housewife with two kids and no experience or particular interest in computers. Meanwhile, her husband, Ken, worked for a computer company on huge IBM mainframe machines. It was around that time that the Apple computer was becoming a popular item in people's homes. Ken saw the potential home computing could have for the future and brought his enthusiasm home with him. That got Williams interested in home computers.

She began playing video games, first a text-based adventure game called Colossal Cave. Before long she was hooked on video games—especially of the adventure-style genre.[4]

Mystery House[edit]

When Williams began developing her first game in the late 1970s, she had no experience with gaming or computers – only in reading and storytelling. She did not know how to program computers, but her husband Ken did. Their first creation was Mystery House, an adventure game with black and white graphics for the Apple II computer that was the first computer game to include graphics – predecessors had been text-only.[5][6] To create graphics the Williams used a machine called a Versawriter, which was basically a board of thick plexiglass that had an arm-like device with an electronic eye at the tip.[4] To the Williams' surprise, the game was met with acclaim and they went on to become leading figures in the development of graphical adventure games throughout the 1980s and 1990s.[7]

Sierra On-Line[edit]

In 1980, they founded the company On-Line Systems, which later became Sierra On-Line.[7] Her second title, Wizard and the Princess (1980), added color graphics.[8][9] But their biggest success was the King's Quest series, which featured a large expansive world that could be explored by players.[7] King's Quest I (1984) was the first adventure game to have animation, and King's Quest V (1990) was the first to use an icon-based interface.[9]

Williams also designed such titles as Mixed-Up Mother Goose (1987), The Colonel's Bequest (1989), and Phantasmagoria (1995), which was the first in her career to be developed in the full-motion video technology.[5] Phantasmagoria featured extreme violence and rape scenes. The game has received mixed reviews.[10] Though Sierra was sold in 1996, Williams' production credits date to 1999, when she retired from Sierra On-Line.[11]

Recent years[edit]

After retiring in 1999 (stated at the time to be a "sabbatical"),[12] she stayed away from the public eye and rarely gave interviews to talk about her past with Sierra On-Line.[13] However, in a 2006 interview, she admitted that her favorite game she created was Phantasmagoria and not King's Quest: "If I could only pick one game, I would pick Phantasmagoria, as I enjoyed working on it immensely and it was so very challenging (and I love to be challenged!). However, in my heart, I will always love the King's Quest series and, especially, King's Quest I, since it was the game that really 'made' Sierra On-Line".[3] Williams also said that designing computer games was in the past for her then and that she intended to write a historical novel.[3]

In 2011, the video game website Gamezebo reported that Williams had returned from her sabbatical as a design consultant on the social network game Odd Manor.[14] Williams and her husband Ken have a blog about their worldwide cruising adventures on their 68-foot (21 m) yacht Nordhavn trawler.[15] They have another website about their time at Sierra for fans, Sierra Gamers.[16]

In 2021, Williams self-published her first novel Farewell to Tara, set in mid-1800s Ireland during the time of the Great Famine.[17] She and Ken announced plans to return to game development in June 2021 with the game The Secret, in collaboration with artist Marcus Maximus Mera.[18]


Ars Technica stated that Williams was "one of the more iconic figures in adventure gaming".[11] GameSpot named her as the number ten in their list of "the most influential people in computer gaming of all time" for "pushing the envelope of graphic adventures" and being "especially proactive in creating games from a woman's point of view and titles that appealed to the mainstream market, all the while integrating the latest technologies in graphics and sound wherever possible."[19] In 1997, Computer Gaming World ranked her as number 10 on the list of the most influential people of all time in computer gaming for adventure game design.[20] In 2009, IGN placed the Williams at 23rd position on the list of top game creators of all time, expressing hope that "maybe one day, we'll see the Williams again as well."[7]

Williams can be seen in games and on their covers. She posed for the cover of the game Softporn Adventure by Chuck Benton, published by On-Line Systems.[11] She also posed much later with her children as Mother Goose for the cover photograph of Mixed-Up Mother Goose. The end sequence of Leisure Suit Larry 3 features her as an in-game character.[21] She was also a source of inspiration for the character of Cameron Howe in the AMC television drama Halt and Catch Fire.[22]

Williams was given the Pioneer Award at the 20th Game Developers Choice Awards in March 2020 for her work in the graphical adventure game genre and for co-founding Sierra On-line.[23]

Personal life[edit]

As a young, timid only child,[24] Williams had a wild imagination. She would make up elaborate stories, which she called her "movies" and use them to entertain her family.

Later on in high school, she met her future husband, Ken Williams, at the age of 17. In Petter Holmberg's biography, he shares the couple's story about how Roberta and Ken met. Holmberg says: "She was dating a friend of his and two months after a double date where they had both met, Ken unexpectedly called her and asked her out. Roberta wasn't very impressed with him in the beginning. He was shy and insecure, like her, but also overly pushy at times. He asked her to go steady in the first week. It took some time, but at one point Roberta suddenly realized that he was very intelligent and quite different from the other boys she had dated. Ken wanted them to have a permanent commitment and they got married when Roberta was only 19 years old",[25] on November 4, 1972.[26] They have two children: D.J. (born 1973) and Chris (born 1979).

The Williams family has homes in Seattle, France, and Mexico, and they spend most of their time traveling on their family-owned yacht.[27]






  1. ^ "Computer Gaming World – Hall of Fame". Computer Gaming World. Retrieved July 6, 2013.
  2. ^ "75 Power Players". Next Generation. No. 11. Imagine Media. November 1995. pp. 53–54.
  3. ^ a b c Jong, Philip (July 16, 2006). "Roberta Williams Interview". Adventure Classic Gaming. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Roberta Williams". Lemelson-MIT Program. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Roberta Williams". Allgame. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  6. ^ "Mystery House and Sierra On-Line". The Dot Eaters. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d "Ken Williams & Roberta Williams". IGN. News Corporation. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  8. ^ Moss, Richard (January 26, 2011). "A truly graphic adventure: the 25-year rise and fall of a beloved genre". Ars Technica. Condé Nast Publications. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  9. ^ a b "NG Alphas: King's Quest: Mask of Eternity". Next Generation. No. 30. Imagine Media. June 1997. pp. 72–75.
  10. ^ "Roberta Williams' Phantasmagoria". GameRankings. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  11. ^ a b c Kuchera, Ben (July 18, 2006). "Roberta Williams: After King's Quest, where did she go?". Ars Technica. Condé Nast Publications. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  12. ^ "Roberta Williams Interview". Gamer's Depot. 1999. Archived from the original on November 27, 1999. Retrieved April 14, 2007.
  13. ^ Ribeiro, Ricky. "Mothers of Technology: 10 Women Who Invented and Innovated in Tech". BizTech. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
  14. ^ Webster, Andrew (August 14, 2011). "Legendary King's Quest designer Roberta Williams working on Facebook's Odd Manor". Gamezebo. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  15. ^ Ken's Blog
  16. ^ Sierra Gamers
  17. ^ "Farewell to Tara: Official Release Announcement". Retrieved March 14, 2021.
  18. ^ Rousseau, Jeffrey (June 3, 2021). "Ken and Roberta Williams making first game together in over 20 years". Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  19. ^ "Gamespot". Archived from the original on May 17, 2005. Retrieved May 17, 2005.
  20. ^ CGW 159: The Most Influential People in Computer Gaming
  21. ^ House, Michael L. "Leisure Suit Larry 3: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals". Allgame. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  22. ^ Sirois, Justin. "Halt and Catch Fire: Cameron". Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  23. ^ a b "Adventure game trailblazer Roberta Williams to receive Pioneer Award at GDC 2020". Gamasutra. February 26, 2020. Retrieved February 26, 2020.
  24. ^ "Roberta Williams".
  25. ^ Holmberg, Petter. "A Roberta Williams Biography". Oocities. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
  26. ^ "Roberta Williams". Sierra Gamers. Archived from the original on December 17, 2011. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
  27. ^ a b "Where are they now?". Choicest Games. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
  28. ^ "Legendary King's Quest designer Roberta Williams working on Facebook's Odd Manor".

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