Archive for the ‘mystery-house’ Tag

Mystery House (1980)   Leave a comment

Ad from SoftSide, December 1980 issue.

I’m not the first one to make the connection, but the very first game produced by Roberta Williams — Mystery House — is something of a predecessor to the one I just played, The Colonel’s Bequest. It’s very up-front that the plot will consist of an inital cast being slowly murdered, one-by-one:

The extra twist here is that you can be one of the victims. (The main character of Laura Bow was not part of the will of The Colonel’s Bequest and hence was never a target; the methods of dying in that game involved more mundane things like falling into water or getting kicked by an angry horse.)

In any case, Mystery House also holds the distinction of being one of the two candidates for First Graphical Adventure Ever. (I’ll get to the second candidate after I wrap up this one.) This allows for a distinct quality not seen in previous games: the text does not contain all the information you need to understand what’s going on.

For example, in this early scene, the text implies but not explicitly state there is a closed door. The only feedback to >OPEN DOOR was graphical, with no textual change at all. Entering the door gets this message…


…locking the player in with this strangely-drawn rendition of the cast.

>LOOK PEOPLE incidentally gets the message “the people were explained at the beginning of the game”. In particular the instructions list the cast, and for some reason their hair color (?)

The first body is only a few rooms away. Sam, the mechanic, has been hit by a blunt object.

Given Sam was just alive two rooms over, it appears the mysterious teleporting murderer is back in action.

I’m guessing (hoping, I suppose) this is shorter than some of the other works of the time due to the necessity of storing lots of pictures. Just for fun, here is the same scene with Sam rendered in a Japanese version of Mystery House (via Hardcore Gaming 101):


Posted August 26, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mystery House: The Imagination Gap   4 comments

Arguably, reading a novel requires a greater act of imagination than watching a movie — even the most thorough of textual descriptions won’t fully convey what a person or scene looks like. However, one could counter-argue a movie simply requires different acts of imagination.

A common movie technique is to make an “establishing shot” of a scene, then show a close-up — we are meant to imagine the people are still inhabiting the scene, even if we can’t see it. An internal monologue which might be fully expressed on a page might be merely implied by an actor’s facial expression. Watching the movie is an imaginative act, even if we’re unaware of it.

Adding graphics to computer games was a way of filling the “imagination gap”. In the process, though, other gaps were added, either inadvertently or by design.

The design of Mystery House wants the pictures to be our window in the world, and the text to be only incidental. Items that you can pick up are only conveyed by the picture.

Just at a glance, would you think from this scene that you can pick up a towel?

When look at this scene, do you think the middle of the room just contains some boards (as I did) or does it contain a sledgehammer?

Clearly, the idea here is equivalent to not writing out the actor’s internal monologue, but having them just act instead. Visuals mean aspects of the text can drop away. (Unfortunately in this case, it also means a lot of guessing what cryptic background objects might be called.)

The similarities to The Colonel’s Bequest continue: the initial cast of this game was: Tom, Sam, Sally, Dr. Green, Joe, Bill, and Daisy. So far I have found four of them dead, leaving Tom, Joe and Daisy. One of the bodies (Sally) had a blonde hair on it, suggesting the culprit was either Tom or Daisy. This reminds me of the one-clue-per-body plants that ran throughout most of Colonel’s Bequest (that game had the difference that the clue might have been either where the murder happened or where the body was later deposited).

Also, (again like Colonel’s Bequest) there are lots of ways to die which don’t seem to be related to the murderer. Turning on the stove in the kitchen results in it exploding. If you try to walk out of the dining room while holding a lit candle, you accidentally set the carpet on fire.

The most amusing death is reserved for trying to escape the house out the attic window:


In any case, I’m horribly stuck – the only thing I have resembling a puzzle I haven’t solved is a chest upstairs that needs a key I don’t have. I assume there’s some sort of secret passage activated by some graphical item in the background that I can’t decipher. I haven’t resorted to hints yet, but the lure of the walkthrough is strong with this one.

Especially when the parser is this frustrating. Argh.

Posted August 29, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mystery House: Finished!   1 comment

Despite the lure of the walkthrough, I managed to finish this one all on my own. Be warned: spoilers on absolutely everything.

Where last I left off, I was searching for a secret door of some sort. I ended up finding it in the study.

I had previously done LOOK PICTURE to get the helpful response:


Since there’s no “SEARCH” command and LOOK by default seems to cover that verb, I thought the picture was adequately accounted for, but apparently I was supposed to GET PICTURE:


Oho! While there is no screwdriver object, a butterknife was sufficient to reach a secret button:

This led to the basement, where I found a key and a body (poor Tom!) holding a daisy. Given Daisy was my last blonde-haired subject left, the killer’s identity was clear. (Not like there is actually any need at all to worry about names or the identity of the killer — more on that in a moment.)

While I couldn’t go back the way I came, I did manage to escape via a whole to a large tree with a telescope, which led me to discover a previously unseen trapdoor on the roof of the house. Dropping down from the tree led me to a “forest” which is, huzzah, a maze. (Sigh.) Navigating the maze led me back to the house where I was able to get back to the trapdoor and make The Final Confrontation:


As you may be able to tell from the screenshot, it’s just her; there’s no need to worry about fingering the right person as the murderer. In any case, I tried defending myself with a handy dagger and sledgehammer but both of those options resulted in my being stabbed. Fortunately the game let me retreat and consider my options.

At this point I went back to peruse the instructions, and I noticed WATER ON as a possible command and made some sad growling noises. I had been trying quite a while to work any of the sinks in the game, since there’s a pitcher that seems like it ought to hold water but any possible permutation of ACTIVATE SINK failed me. WATER ON did indeed work, and now I had a full pitcher of water. Where should I use it?

Assuming Daisy was not the Wicked Witch of the West, I needed something a little stronger than water to take her on. I remembered the death-by-candle (I wrote about it in my last post) actually gave me a turn before dying, so I decided to try it out on the fire that got set on the rug. This resulted in a hole in the carpet, which coincidentally revealed a key.

This may be the dumbest luck in any videogame ever, and that includes Jinxster.

Remembering the locked chest upstairs, I tried the key and found a gun. Invoking another Colonel’s Bequest trope, I went back up the trapdoor and did away with Daisy once and for all.

At this point I could theoretically leave, but the game didn’t consider me done yet. I apparently needed to find some “jewels” hidden in the house. A note by Daisy mentioned they were in the basement. Returning there and messing with way too many unrecognized verbs, I finally hit about RUB ALGAE (not CLEAN even though it seems to be recognized!) which revealed a brick hiding the jewels. Grabbing the jewels and leaving the house, I finally registered victory!

Alas, not so satisfying. I don’t know if my posts have made this clear, but the game was very bad. It has:

  • Easily the worst parser out of any game I have played. (Yes, I mean all of them, not just the ones I’ve written about on this blog.)
  • Way too many circumstances where I was struggling to know what a particular item in the graphics was and what noun to use.
  • A nonsensical plot where immediately upon leaving the initial room all the participants are murdered instantly, except for Joe (who I guess made it to freedom now, I don’t recall seeing his body).
  • A maze even more pointless than normal; it only serves to make it slightly harder to make it back to the house. I forgot to mention that the way back to the house is UP — one of the rooms has a door leading to the house, but of course you would logically see that, except it’s the same forest graphic as all the other rooms. This is only mitigated by the fact I had found and mapped the maze beforehand.

I think perhaps the game is more known by the concept and historical value rather than any actual playability. I hope I’ve proven so far that it’s possible to have both. Still, I do like quite a few of the later Sierra games (infamous insta-deaths and all) so I can’t feel like I’ve wasted my time.


Posted August 30, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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