Space Quest 6: The Spinal Frontier ran on the last version of the SCI engine, SCI3.Template:Inconsistent This allowed it to use Super VGA graphics with 256 colors at 640×480 resolution. Unlike other SCI games, it didn't have the interface in a pull down bar at the top of the screen, but instead used a "verb bar" window along the bottom of the screen, similar to LucasArts' SCUMM engine. The graphics style was also more cartoonish than in previous games, as well as incorporating an ample amount of 3-D rendered images. Gary Owens served as narrator once again.
This game was the last to be released in the Space Quest series. Having defeated the diabolical pukoid mutants in Space Quest V, Captain Roger Wilco triumphantly returns to StarCon headquarters - only to be court-martialed due to breaking StarCon regulations while saving the galaxy. He's demoted to Janitor Second Class, and assigned to the SCS DeepShip 86 (a parody of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), commanded by Commander Kielbasa.
The game's subtitle comes from the final portion, in which Roger has to undergo miniaturization and enter the body of a shipmate and romantic interest, a spoof of the 1987 movie Innerspace. (This segment also provided the game's original subtitle, Where in Corpsman Santiago is Roger Wilco?, which was not used due to legal threats from the makers of the Carmen Sandiego products.) The romantic interest provides a dilemma for Roger (unprecedented in the series) since she is a friend and someone other than the woman who bore Roger a son, according to the narrative in Space Quest IV.
Josh Mandel designed the majority of Space Quest 6 (with Scott Murphy on board in a "creative consultant" capacity) but had to leave the project shortly before completion due to internal strife with Sierra. Sierra asked Scott Murphy to complete the game, and then (reportedly against Murphy's wishes) promoted SQ 6 as if the former "Guy from Andromeda" was solely responsible for it. As an additional result of this change in designers, some puzzles - primarily in the latter stages of the game - were shoddily implemented due to lack of communication. In a 2006 interview with Adventure Classic Gaming, Mandel spoke candidly about his disappointment with the uneven puzzle implementation and design in the game, "One of the inventory items cut was a comic book CD in Nigel’s room that was fully readable and had all the hints to the Datacorder puzzle. From a writing and design standpoint, it was fully finished, and I know that Barry Smith had started the artwork. I don’t understand why it was cut. But the comic book content was something I’d worked on for months, and it was something that I was uncharacteristically proud of...I think it would’ve been one of the greatest parody sequences in the SQ series. So not only was I very upset not to see it in the game, but the fact that they had to put the Datacorder hints in the manual, leading player to think it was meant to be copy protection, disturbed me greatly."
Special Edition CD-ROM demonstration game
Sierra On-Line created a special CD-ROM version of Space Quest 6's demonstration game, which was distributed with Sierra's Interaction Magazine, PC Gamer Disc 9 included with Volume 2, Issue 8 from August 1995, early pressings of Phantasmagoria, and possibly other media. This self-contained demonstration featured an alternate story not related to the main game and is fully voiced by the Space Quest 6 voice actors.
The demo begins with Roger Wilco floating in space outside the bridge, washing the viewscreen while everyone else on the bridge is relaxing. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an Escher cube-shaped ship approaches the Deepship 86 and beams aboard two toaster-headed mechanoids - the Bjorn. They turn all of the crew into scoops of lemon sorbet (except Roger, who quickly ducked behind the viewscreen). Now it's up to Roger to find a way to restore his crewmates and drive off the Bjorn invaders.
Among some of the extra in-jokes in this version:
- A shuttle bay full of shuttlecraft from Star Trek: The Next Generation ("Some guy wearing a Delco Air Filter on his face parked this here."), Star Wars ("You hear a disembodied voice saying 'Remember your parking space, Luke.'"), Aliens, and others.
- Items and references from all of the previous Space Quest games all over Roger's Quarters (such as the Hint Book from SQIV, the Translation Device from SQI, and Roger's official Employment Rejection Papers from Sierra On-Line he received in SQIII).
A demo-related easter egg can be found in the regular Space Quest 6 by entering the code for "Bjorn Chow" (the Bjorn being a parody of Star Trek's Borg) into the "Mr. Soylent Clear" food replicator that is only obtainable in the Space Quest 6 demo.