Mystery Mansion (1980)   7 comments

In our first namespace clash, Greg Hassett released Mystery Mansion in 1980, not to be confused with Bill Wolpert’s Mystery Mansion from 1978. (Not to mention Robert Arnstein’s Haunted House or Roberta Williams’s Mystery House. I haven’t got to it yet, but there is another 1980 game by John O’Hare called Haunted Mansion.)

Here’s a handy guide for keeping track of spooky domicile text adventures.

(Before I get started with the game itself, I’d like to thank Brian Decker for letting me know he found Greg Hassett had released his games into the public domain, leading Ira Goldklang to upload the entire set to the internet. Mystery Mansion wasn’t available anywhere until last year when this happened.)

This was Mr. Hassett’s first game done originally in machine language. He ported his prior game Enchanted Island to machine code and called it Enchanted Island Plus, but it was still essentially the same game; Mystery Mansion was designed from scratch in machine language.

Ad from Micro 80 magazine.

The premise is simply that “you have been called by a strange dream to a huge mansion. What you are doing here is part of the mystery.” There’s no treasures to collect, but not a lot of direction, either. I didn’t feel like the game was as aimless as Battlestar, because there’s enough tightness to the geography that it was always clear where the next obstacle was.

It does come across as a better game than his previous ones, by a multiplier. It’s nice in a “scientific” sense because he doesn’t change that much of his style; since Mr. Hassett essentially changed only one variable it’s more obvious what led to the improvement. The puzzles are still quite simple (you have poison, cheese, and an evil rat: what do you do?) His main innovation was to be more careful with the structure.

The game starts in a linear way: passing through a door or secret passage causes it to close, so you’re moving from small area to small area. There’s one point where you can leave something behind. It was genuinely interesting (and not, as I would expect, irritating) to solve this puzzle, in that I had to think of not just the tools I had, but a tool I could have had access to in the past had I approached a certain situation differently. This violates the essential rule in adventure game design that you can’t block progress by a prior action, but this is a special scenario in that a.) it happens near the start and b.) it takes about 60 seconds to get back to the puzzle in question. (This kind of design can still be very, very painful.)

After the linear section, the map opens up to a slightly larger but still blocked section. The left section opens up via a lever, and solving a puzzle there allows passing a zombie, opening up the third and largest section.

The overall effect is a sort of overlapping going on where solving puzzles leads to doubling back over the game’s geography in new ways. Even with very basic room descriptions …

… the structure gave enough of an “adventurer feel” that playing the game felt like exploring an environment, rather than filling in a bunch of map boxes.

I did finally discover why my character was summoned to the Mansion, but I’m stuck on what might be the last puzzle, so I’ll save talking about that for my next (hopefully last) post.

Posted February 8, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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7 responses to “Mystery Mansion (1980)

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  1. Reblogged this on Project ENGAGE.

  2. All things are possible or naturally probable to occur

    • Referring to the name, I’m guessing? I suppose a haunted house type game is a pretty natural genre to the adventure, a lot of games at this time were named after the setting, and there’s only so many permutations of how you’d indicate it.

  3. “(Not to mention Robert Arnstein’s Haunted House or Roberta Williams’s Mystery House.)”

    Or indeed Scott Adams’ Mystery Fun House!

  4. Thanks for the shoutout. I’m glad to be of service to the project in any way I can.

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