The endless power of 'Girl in the Tower'
The composer of the iconic power ballad that ends 1992's King's Quest VI reflects on its legacy.
After navigating a magic map, defeating an ancient minotaur, and saving your true love, there was only one natural conclusion to 1992’s King’s Quest VI: A hardcore power ballad. If players—as Prince Alexander—can save Princess Cassima and beat the puzzle adventure, the soaring and emotive “Girl in the Tower” plays over the credits, memorializing the characters’s love.
In the early years of games on CD-ROM, including the song was no small feat—the floppy disc version of the game could only hold a snippet. More than 30 years later, the surprise duet has lived on with cult status, further cementing King’s Quest VI as the fan favorite in the series.
Mark Seibert, who served as Sierra On-Line’s music director in the 1990s and wrote “Girl in the Tower” with Jane Jensen in 1991, spoke to us about how the ballad was born.
(What follows is Seibert’s words, lightly edited for clarity.)
Press play to listen to “Girl in the Tower”
King’s Quest VI was the second [game] of the bunch that had multimedia CDs. We were just starting to realize the possibilities of what we could do with audio to bring video games more into modern entertainment. The thought on Kings Quest VI was that so many movies had a song at the end. So, I was like, “Hey, you know, what if we wrote a song at the end of the game? A little pop tune that would go along with the game?”
Jane Jensen (King’s Quest VI co-writer and co-designer) was like, “Yeah, well, I could write you some lyrics.” And I said, “OK, well, you write me some lyrics and I'll see what I can do with it.”
Making the music
The music actually came from Kings Quest V. “Cassima's Theme” was the root of this new song. So if you go back to Kings Quest V, you can kind of hear hints of “Girl in the Tower.” When Jane was talking about this [idea for a] love song, “Cassima’s Theme,” it kind of fit that ballad structure. It almost wrote itself—it was pretty nice!
There was a lot of love for ballads back in the day. I'm a big fan of Chicago, although there's no brass in this song. “Cassima’s Theme” was more orchestral and more of a soundtrack in nature. But harmonically, it lent itself to me to say, “OK, well what if I took that and it was like a pop song that was on the radio today? What would that feel like?” And then the melody was driven by the lyrical content that I had to cover. Those fell together real nicely and really easily.
[On vocals], it was [my wife] Debbie Seibert and [Bob Bergthold], this guy I had never worked with before. Jeff Hall, who ran a big studio in Fresno that we used all the time—he and I were good friends, way back to when I was in high school. Jeff recommended Bob. I’d never heard him sing before, but man, he sang a couple of lines and I was all, “Yeah, this is the guy.” He was awesome.
My roots were writing pop, rock, and jazz kind of stuff. Before I was in the games industry, [Debbie and I] worked with a band. We did a couple of albums—had some local, regional hits. We had done that for three years full-time and worked with some people from A&M Records.
This was more of a pop tune than we used to do, which was maybe a little more sophisticated—a little more jazz. Hearing Debbie singing on it brought back little, old-time memories. It was fun.
Everyone around the studio, as far as I could tell, received it very positively. So much so that management went and did a whole radio station campaign. They sent out a single to the radio stations, and then they tried to get a campaign. Call your radio station and ask them to play “Girl in the Tower.” And we did get some airplays, no doubt.
I was like, “I'm not sure if that's gonna go well. I'm not sure if that's a good idea.” [laughs] But they wanted to do it, and so I was like, “OK, well, you guys do what you wanna do.” I didn't hear it on the radio, but I got royalties for it being played on the radio, so I know it got played.
The song’s legacy
I know that [Sierra’s] Al Lowe lampooned [“Girl in the Tower”] in Leisure Suit Larry. They did a whole “Girl in the Shower” version, which was hysterical. Made me laugh.
A couple of years ago somebody sent me a cover of some guy doing kind of a heavy metal version of the song. And it was kind of fun to hear somebody doing that. It was cool. But [hearing] the original? Um, boy, no—it's been years.
As told to Tim Leong.
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