Great moments in PC gaming: Dying in Sierra adventure games

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

Long before Dark Souls told us to 'Prepare to Die', the designers at Sierra Online were proving that you don't need giant castles full of zombies to bring a game to an unceremonious halt. You just need a road. If you saw a road in a Sierra game, you knew it was a trap. Step onto it as Leisure Suit Larry and a car would drive along just in time to splat you. Do the same in Laura Bow without looking both ways, and again it was hero pancake time. And that's just two.

Sierra adventures were brutal. Getting through them for the first time, that could be a real pain. However, once you'd finished and seen the ending, suddenly it became part of the fun. How many ways could you find to die horribly? There was rarely a shortage, and nothing was considered 'too bullshit'. Leisure Suit Larry 2 will kill you in the airport before you even board the plane, by selling you a sandwich that turns out to have a bobby-pin in it for basically no reason. (And if you don’t buy that sandwich then you die, because you need that bobby-pin to pick a lock on the plane, before the KGB arrest you. Don't ask.)

It wasn't just the deaths though, but the fun the developers had with them. You'd rarely get something as mundane as 'You Died'. Instead, you got to witness awesome one-time animations made with deep sadistic glee, as your character gets flattened, stabbed, torn apart, or otherwise stars in a little presentation. Leisure Suit Larry doesn't simply die, but gets taken underground to the Sierra factory, where heroes are made, and you watch your next character be assembled. Space Quest responding to an acid-based fatality by having the designers pop on screen and narrate your death, complete with action replay and a chalkboard, marking down the exact moment when you screwed up. (Spoiler—it involves trying to pick up acid, like a fool).

Indeed, the average Sierra game was so brutal, there are lengthy, multipart compilations of nothing but the death sequences—the best ones being from MrWhitman on YouTube. With so many ways to die, it's a wonder anyone ever finished these games. In fact, how did we? Oh, yes. Expensive hint guides and phonelines…