[Our own Leigh Alexander talks to Phoenix Online Studios about what they've been through with their long-awaited King's Quest fan sequel -- and what the team hopes to do next now that they've gotten permission from Activision to release their work.]

The heyday of point-and-click PC adventure games might be in the past, but thanks to a group of passionate fans, the seminal King's Quest franchise is at long last getting an unofficial sequel after years of hard work: Activision has at last given Phoenix Online Studios the official go-ahead to release King's Quest: The Silver Lining for free.

Starting in the early 80s, the multi-volume Sierra property was an intro to gaming for many of today's fans. But as Sierra was bought by Vivendi, which was in turn swallowed by Activision -- and as the tide shifted away from the genre in favor of action titles -- the series' ninth installment never quite saw the light of day. But fans wouldn't be stopped.

"When we started this, it wasn't really planned," says Cesar Bittar. He's now director of Phoenix Online Studios and producer on The Silver Lining, but years ago, he was just another fan searching the web for news on King's Quest IX -- which was ultimately canceled in the prototype phase, leaving devotees hanging.

So when Bittar, who has a digital media degree, stumbled on a page seeking writers, programmers and artists, he decided to join the informal team as a writer, lending expertise from his background working with Telltale Games and with Activision as a producer.

It was a similar story for Silver Lining art director Richard Flores, who, disappointed to learn Sierra had no games in development, decided to pitch in and help the fans who were making their own -- Flores is a 3D animator with a background in film.

But forming a distributed development team working only on their passion for a launch franchise was deceptively challenging -- by 2004, the team had about 70 people hard at work on the project, some of them up to four hours a day outside of their real jobs. "It's really hard," says Bittar. "You're working on motivation. You cannot really offer anything back to these people, so you're working with their free time and motivation. You have to make sure that you recognize the talent in your team, and the key players and put them in key positions -- that was really hard."

"The only reward the team members really have is the chance to work on the actual game production," says Flores. "They get to practice their craft, create something they can use for their portfolio."

The dedication of the project's developers created a quality that helped eventually attract talent that had never even played King's Quest games before, Bittar says. But for others, being part of a quality fan project wasn't enough motivation: "There have been a lot of people that joined the team and lasted about a week or two, because everybody wants to make computer games but nobody realizes how much work is involved," says Flores.

For Flores and Bittar, just being part of a King's Quest sequel is the next-best thing to a dream job: "Ever since I was a kid, I've played all the Sierra games. I always had a dream to be able to work for Sierra as I was growing up -- what better series could I be working on? It's a dream come true."

"It's a very memorable part of my childhood; King's Quest was one of the first games I ever really fell in love with," Flores agrees. "To have a chance to contribute something to that is just incredible."

And the fan project has become part of bigger goals for Phoenix Online Studios: "In the same way Telltale has been bringing back the LucasArts magic, we want to do the same with the Sierra magic," says Bittar. "We would love to work on the Sierra franchises -- all those great games from the past that have been forgotten. There's so much history."

For that to happen, and for the team to earn permission -- and perhaps even support -- from Activision for further projects, King's Quest: The Silver Lining needs to be successful enough to prove to the company that the audience is there. After all, Phoenix Online Studios went through a few rights challenges getting permission to launch the game, first with Vivendi and then again with Activision.

"It's our hope the game is successful, and then we'd want to go more toward a commercial venture," says Flores. "We'd love to see that there's more interest in the Sierra properties, and if we can be involved in any way with that, it'd be another dream come true. We want to surprise Activision with how interested in the game the fan community is."

"The fans got us out of the same situation twice, so I think that should resonate with a lot of people -- how important King's Quest still is, and how passionate the fans are out there. They want a new game, they want Sierra things back into their lives. We're very thankful to the fans because of what they've done and because of the way they supported us."

The game will be released for free tomorrow, July 10, under a non-commercial license beginning with its first episode, What Is Decreed Must Be.