[MIDI music plays]
At the start of the 1990s,
the IBM-compatible PC was becoming
more and more of a gaming powerhouse
with each new innovation.
Graphics cards, sound cards and CPUs
were all increasing in capability at a rapid pace.
But one of the biggest industry shakers
was the introduction of games on compact disc.
Before this, computer games predominantly
came on floppy disks of various sizes.
Floppies were holding game programming back.
Not so when affordable CD-ROM
drives started appearing,
with each CD holding upwards of 600MB per disc.
The technology had been around since the ’80s,
but it wasn’t until 1993 that
millions of computer gamers
had a huge reason to buy a CD-ROM drive:
The 7th Guest.
Released that year by Virgin Interactive
and developed by Trilobyte.
It was self-labeled as an interactive drama,
and was one of the first computer games
to be released exclusively on CD-ROM.
Developed by Rob Landeros and Graeme Devine,
the original idea for the game was
sort of a mixture of the board game Clue
and the absurdity of the TV show “Twin Peaks.”
While they kept the Clue-like mansion for the game,
the sleuthing was swapped for puzzle solving,
reminiscent of the brain teaser game Fool’s Errand.
The developers wanted to make
a game like nothing before it,
combing puzzles with full-motion video
to form a sort of interactive movie.
After letting management at
Virgin know about their idea,
they were promptly fired,
while not really being fired at all.
They were actually kept on under contract to Virgin,
but as a separate entity,
soon to be known as Trilobyte,
since Virgin thought the game was a great idea
for a CD-ROM proof-of-concept showcase,
but it probably wouldn’t sell well,
and they didn’t want to taint the company’s image.
The plan in 1991 was to shoot the game
inside an actual mansion on S-VHS video,
and compile it together into a
complete game in six months.
It turned out this would be very expensive,
and had more technical problems than anticipated.
But when Robert Stein III was hired on in late 1991,
who could create 3D-rendered environments,
the video idea for the mansion itself was canned,
leaving the remaining video
footage for the actors in the game,
while the explorable mansion
would be a pre-rendered 3D model.
Two years later, the game was released
to massive critical and public acclaim,
selling over 2 million copies and
creating one of the biggest killer apps
for CD-ROM drives.
It also jump-started the whole
full-motion videogame fad,
which lasted will into the ’90s before being overtaken
by real-time texture-mapped 3D graphics.
Although Virgin wanted both a floppy disk
and CD-ROM version of The 7th Guest,
it was only ever released on CD-ROM, like this one here.
Underneath the stereotypically creepy mansion artwork,
you’ll notice this little warning which states the game
is not recommended for ages under 17.
It may seem a bit silly nowadays,
considering the rather tame content,
but such a message on a box like this
was pretty uncommon for the time.
And this was still before the whole
adult content debate in U.S. government,
resulting in the formation of the ESRB.
The back of the box is the back of the box,
containing box-backing words
and awe-inspiring screenshots.
“Old man Stauf built a house
And filled it with his toys
Six guests all came one night
Their screams the only noise
No one knows what happened next
There’s no one left to say
But if you should see Old Man Stauf
Get on your knees and pray”
What a charming little children’s rhyme!
If I ever have kids, I can’t wait to tell them
this one every night before bed!
Inside the box, you get the
game itself on two CD-ROMs,
the manual covering all the typical
installation and gameplay tips,
a bunch of Virgin Interactive promotional stuff,
and a booklet called “The Stauf Files”
which covers some more of
the game’s story and characters.
Certain early versions of the game also
came with a making-of documentary on VHS,
but unfortunately, mine was not one of them.
Though mine did come with
this floppy disk and documentation
to update the game to version 1.30.
Considering all the problems
the original version can have
with free memory, sound and
video corruption and whatnot,
it’s probably a good idea to install this before playing.
Once you do get the game installed and running,
you’re greeted with a sphinx ouija board menu screen,
letting you start a new game, load a previous one,
or say farewell to The 7th Guest.
All selectable with a delightful little
animated bony-hand mouse cursor.
Start the game and you get to
watch a little introduction video
with some pretty awesome CD audio music
by none other than George Singer, aka “The Fatman.”
[violin music plays]
[violin music continues]
There are a whole bunch of great-
sounding CD audio tracks on the disc,
but most of the game just uses MIDI music,
I suppose to allow for the streaming of visuals
off the CD simultaneously.
The story begins with the story…
which begins the story of Stauf,
a murderous drifter in 1935
in the town of Harley on the Hudson.
After beating some choir lady to death,
he then dreams of carving creepy dolls for children.
Um, I mean what else did you
expect him to do after that, really?
He gives a doll to the daughter of some dude in a bar,
then dreams about primitive 3DS Max models
while fondling a pillow in a
creepier way than I thought possible.
He then sets up a toy shop to sell his dolls.
And everyone apparently loves them
because they’re built with that unmistakeable quality
that only a pillow-molesting murderer can provide.
But for unknown reasons, the strange virus came
and the children started dying!
And so the children started dying…
Apparently mentally stimulated by all this child death,
Stauf then has yet another vision,
this time about a strange house to scare people.
So, I guess he builds it, and there you are
in this house of this freak,
apparently Guest #7 to enter,
with the fates of the previous six unknown.
Then each of the badly-acted, badly-rendered guests
pass by in ghost form,
spouting some sort of random
line as they enter the house,
like this lady.
LADY: My, isn’t this a cheery place?
LGR: And this guy.
GUY: Lord, it smells awful, too.
LGR: And this guy.
Uh… yeah, were you gonna say something?
No? No? Oh, I guess he forgot his lines.
That’s okay. Just, just walk off.
You then turn around to face the staircase and say:
MAN: How did I get here?
I remember… nothing.
LGR: Well, that was helpful.
I’m sure glad your character says that
or I would… have no idea what was going on.
Ha. Alright, so the basic gameplay
of The 7th Guest goes like this:
Everything takes place in a first-person perspective
where you click on various
locations around the house
with your bony hand
and you get to watch an unskippable video sequence
as you move towards that area.
Actions are shown by context-
sensitive cursor animations,
so if you can open a door,
turn around or interact with an object,
it will change shape to let you know.
Just kind of roam around the house
and watch the random ghostly apparitions float by,
or the silly hands poke out of the silly paintings.
Eventually, you’ll come to a
room with some kind of puzzle,
signified with a skull cursor
with a brain popping out of it,
looking like Hannibal Lecter’s preferred lunch.
Chances are you won’t be able to solve it
until you’ve found the proper
clues and interpreted them,
so just keep wandering until you find
one that you CAN do something with.
The house doesn’t appear too large to begin with,
but looks can be deceiving
and as you solve more puzzles,
more rooms and locations will open up to you.
For instance, this puzzle here is preceded
by the ghostly guests reading a note,
telling them to make sure
each guest has a piece of cake
exactly the same size with the
exact same objects on each.
It is your job to make sure to cut the cake
into these equal pieces and solve the puzzle,
for these people in the past
that has no… bearing on what…
you’re really doing at the moment, I dunno–
which unlocks the kitchen.
Once you reach the kitchen,
you’ll have to solve another puzzle
that was solved in the past,
this time with a bunch of cans
that need to be rearranged
to spell a set of words.
Again, without looking and listening for clues
in this room and throughout the rest of the house,
you’re probably going to have no idea what to do at all.
And as obtuse as many of these puzzles can be,
for me, this is a total immersion breaker.
I would agree that it is fun
to walk around the creepy house
and click on things just to see what happens,
or listen to what strange thing
Stauf’s disembodied voice whispers in your ear.
Every few minutes.
The house genuinely has a creepy atmosphere to it,
from the lighting to the ghosts
to the music and sounds
But before long, you hit a roadblock
that makes absolutely no sense at all.
Unless you’ve been paying attention
to some minute detail or clue
in just the right way that
the designers wanted you to.
Back in the early ’90s, I would have
taken the time to figure these out,
especially if I didn’t have many other games to play.
That, combined with the allure of it being on CD-ROM,
with real music, real voices, video footage
and a sweet-looking 3D environment to explore,
would have been a huge incentive to
keep solving these annoying puzzles.
But I really just do find them
annoying now for the most part
and the drive to keep going to see
more environments isn’t that high
because I know I’ll just come across
another silly puzzle before long.
Thankfully some of this aggravation is alleviated
by using the library in the game
to read books on the puzzles
which also allows you to skip puzzles
if you read the book enough times,
but frick, if you can skip the
puzzles, why have them at all?
The 7th Guest seems at odds with itself
as it tries to be both an
interactive drama adventure game
and a collection of 19 tedious puzzles.
The flow of the story is interrupted by the puzzles,
and the puzzles are interrupted by the story.
Honestly, Microsoft got the mind-
bending stylish puzzle game right
with Pandora’s Box some years later.
It has all the crazy, obtuse puzzles like this
that you could want without all
the clutter of a horror environment
that isn’t actually scary at all.
And if you want horror games,
well, there are a plethora of those to choose from
without all the puzzle stuff in the way.
Frick, even Doom did horror better than The 7th Guest’s
pillow-fondling, doll-sickness cheesiness.
Really, what I want to leave you with
is that The 7th Guest is a strangely mixed bag.
I see what Trilobyte was trying to do here,
and obviously for its time
it was technically impressive
and unlike anything else out there.
It’s definitely not an awful game,
especially when you take other FMV
games from the time into account.
It’s worth a play just to see this
milestone of multimedia gaming
and experience the title that brought
full-motion video games to the forefront.
But sadly, it’s just one of those games
that feels weaker when taken as a whole,
rather than any one part of the game on its own.
If you do want to try it out,
it’s cheap as balls to find
an original copy of today,
and there are modern ports
for iOS and such, if you want to…
as well as version for the Philips CD-i system,
if you happen to somehow have one of those.
Just treat it as more of a
cheesy relic of days gone by
rather than a rewarding gaming experience,
and you’ll probably enjoy The 7th Guest,
at least a little bit.
[MIDI music plays]