Haunted Mansion (1980)   8 comments

John O’Hare finished his trilogy (and, as far I can find, his very last text adventure) with a large dollop of atmosphere. He cut short his process of evolving from a beginner; how many artists are like that, who show glimmers of promise but decide they’ve had enough of it?

Haunted Mansion still has the cribbed-from-Scott-Adams feel going in terms of technical style and minimalism (with possibly a pinch of Greg Hassett), and it’s still a treasure hunt: gather the 20 treasures together and you win. However, this game goes all-out with environmental messages.

The BIG MAC suggests O’Hare may also have had Dog Star Adventure in mind, although you later feed it to an oyster instead of a robot.

In addition to screams, there are random black cats and spiders and footsteps and so forth.

As seen above, a ghost starts appearing that can kill you at random. You need to shoot it with a “magic gun”. Interesting design note: the ghost doesn’t start appearing until after you get the gun, so you can postpone that particular pain in the neck until late in the game. However, you do need the magic gun to defeat another enemy, so you eventually have to unleash the ghost.

The “Hubie” from the screenshot above also appears at the top of the house:

After the scene above, Hubie occasionally appears with spooky warnings (always in the attic area) but never with any real danger. It’s not a “red herring” in the classic sense. He’s there purely for “plot” (or I guess “lore”, where you happen upon backstory).

When I finished my first session with this game, I walked away thinking this might be puzzleless; you can get the majority of treasures without fiddling with any obstacles (other than, say, applying nearby keys to a door).

This wasn’t to hold — I even got stuck on my last treasure and needed a walkthrough — but still, the overwhelming ratio of atmosphere to puzzles put this game in the same boat as Death Dreadnaught, of all things. With a few more examples I might call this part of a legitimate adventure sub-genre (puzzle-sparse-exploration-heavy) that feels a little bit like the modern “walking simulator” genre. (Not entirely there, though! This might be one of those proto-genres an aspiring modern author could still find new territory in. Imagine taking Gone Home or Tacoma and having an optional puzzle-focused subsection.)

So, about those puzzles–

None of them are particularly hard, because there are explicit hints given in texts in the game. You might remember last time how I got tricked into thinking a tiger needed food, rather than a swift application of a sword. Here, the game quite straightforwardly says “some treasures may be weapons” and “Kill a vampire with *silver*”. One coffin + silver knife later:

There’s a hint about moving things around when stuck. This appears at first to simply hint at moving a rug to find a trapdoor. This is where the coffin above is hiding. However, there’s a second level to the hint, one I didn’t get right away: you can move the coffin to find a secret passage.

There should be a name for this, where a hint gets “used up” on an earlier, easy puzzle, but the same hint has a second application. Maybe the Secret-Within-a-Secret Technique?

The last interesting puzzle bit was not difficult, again due to the hint (“when trapped, take a drink”) but had a nice atmosphere: deep into the sub-basement there’s a pit, and beneath that pit room there’s another pit room, and then another pit room:

There’s a vial of liquid that teleports you, so drinking that leads to escape.

Oh, and the treasure I missed was rather a silly one. I had 19 treasures but hadn’t used the “SAY CBM” clue yet, so tested it on every room in the house with no luck. I checked a walkthrough; it turns out I needed to be holding the blue book it was in and the book would turn *gold* after using the magic word. Oops.

Posted May 15, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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8 responses to “Haunted Mansion (1980)

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  1. the ghost doesn’t start appearing until after you get the gun, so you can postpone that particular pain in the neck until late in the game

    Seems like rather considerate design, especially considering the era.

    • Yes, I was impressed! It means you don’t suffer arbitrary death early when you don’t have the tool to fend off the ghost. It also means the ghost isn’t a puzzle as much as atmosphere.

      Mr O’Hare clearly went through some lengths to make the game beginner friendly.

  2. This looks fun. What platform does it run on?

  3. Don’t see it mentioned here, but the inspiration for this one was the TV movie Salem’s Lot. Oddly enough I don’t remember putting in code that prevented the ghost from showing up until you had the gun. I guess it’s possible I forgot or someone added that later.

  4. Pingback: Fantasyland (1982) | Renga in Blue

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