296: House of Horrors

Brendan Main

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House of Horrors

It was supposed to be the scariest game ever made, but Phantasmagoria's realism wasn't terrifying - just awkward and gross.

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Happy Sock Puppet

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The author writes this article looking back at the game in the rear-view mirror. I played it when I was 15 years old-and there was nothing else to be compared to this game when it came out. Sure, I had played Doom and Wolfenstien, but this game was actually SCARY. There was a lot of shock-factor at how far video games could go, and upon it's release, this game went further than any game before it. The graphic were still VERY far ahead for it's time. The acting was solid (Donald in full-on crazy mode was very convincing). I am sure if I were to look back at it in 2011 there were moments of camp, but at the time I was terrified about what might happen next. The story flowed well and was convincing.

Most importantly, the author neglects to point at that THIS game was the predecessor for games like Alone in the Dark and Silent Hill.
 

Dastardly

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Brendan Main said:
House of Horrors

It was supposed to be the scariest game ever made, but Phantasmagoria's realism wasn't terrifying - just awkward and gross.

Read Full Article
I think Phantasmagoria was really more of an experiment in how to make this sort of game. And who are you going to get to risk money on experiments? Those weirdos out on the fringes, usually...

Nowadays, those weirdos have money and power and status, but back then? Not quite so much. So they had to try to ensure the game had more mass appeal, and they had to do so on a budget. Gore was a big seller in that era, if you look at horror movies of the time. They played the hand they were dealt.

I think it's right to occasionally look back and see how far we've come, but we have to be careful of the approach our criticism takes. Would we want to look back at the silent horror films of the early 20th century and laugh at their goofy special effects?
 

D Moness

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I disagree as well. For that time it was the feeling of a good horror movie of that time. Some parts were scary. The death scenes of the wives of that magician were optional(i missed 1 or 2 when playing it) but they were really creepy(the force feeding one really sickened me but that is kind of the reason i watch horror movies/play horror games). The actor's were very convincing in there roles.

It really stands out if compared to the other horror game sierra released the same year (shivers 1). That game just gave me one scare at the start and never again because the sound effects gave away were the creatures hid and would jump out to you.

Phantasmagoria 1 was a great creepy game for the time it was released. It had a good storyline and if i can ever find it complete again in my cellar i would play it again.
Phantasmagoria 2 just tried to find the line with what they could get away with, the first game will always stand on it's storyline.
 

New Troll

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I loved Phantasmagoria and it's sequel. And I'm NOT even into gore-fest slashers. But at the time, these games were very unique in almost every way. They might not have been the best in any one particular area (i.e. gameplay, story, graphics, etc.) but the overall package was definitely worth it's weight in gold (or blood.) The only other game that even came close to these in horror awesomeness at the time was Bad Mojo (another great game!) Other than those three, you were either in a cartoon or a totally different genre.

Phantasmagoria, might not be as impressive by today's standards, but at the time, two big thumbs up cause it was enjoyed immensely by 'this guy'.
 

Moriarty70

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Happy Sock Puppet said:
Most importantly, the author neglects to point at that THIS game was the predecessor for games like Alone in the Dark and Silent Hill.
I'd credit it more as inspiration for the haunted hotel mission in Vampie: Bloodlines. What Phantasmogoria and Bloodlines had in common is, there was no way to fight the evil. It was a force without form. It may throw things at you, it may block your path, but you can't just smack it with a bat or shoot it in the head.

I'd love to see more of that. A full game, or series of episodes of exploring haunted locations and unlocking their secrets without "zombies" or "possesed things" beating up on you in between, just the enviroment and you. I just don't know if there's a big enough market to make it worth while.
 

sarahvait

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D Moness said:
It really stands out if compared to the other horror game sierra released the same year (shivers 1). That game just gave me one scare at the start and never again because the sound effects gave away were the creatures hid and would jump out to you.
THANK YOU! Man, I thought I was the only one who was able to catch that. I try to explain it to people, but I don't think they get it unless I actively sit them down and point it out in the game itself ("Okay, hang on...THERE! Did you hear the music change? That means a monster is here! Really? You didn't-Okay, wait...There, listen to that weird noise. Now I'm definitely right next to the thing."). But I still think Shivers was creepier than Phantasmagoria. The museum itself had such an amazing atmosphere, there was always a slight sense of unease during that first playthrough. Even now, I go back and replay my old copy and love exploring that place.

Shivers also has some of my favorite bgm as well; it really added to the uneasiness you felt. That one tribal tiki room with the drums still unnerves me. And the maze in the basement; those screams and whispers mixed in the bgm were quite good. And of course, the puzzle room.

Anyhow, to go back OT a bit: SPAZZ!!!!! WHY SPAZZ, WHY?!!!!! :(
 

FlitterFilms

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I have to say I was something of a fan of the old live actor trend of games, although 'Phantasmagoria' is a pretty dumb example in retrospect for much the same reason I find the 'Saw' films pretty boring (but oddly compelling). But like everyone else is saying I wasn't thinking that at the time I was playing.

Anyone remember 'The 7th Guest'? I remember finding 'The 7th Guest' in a bargain bin, buying it totally at random and being completely obsessed with it. One of the first games I think I ever bought for myself, or at least not far off. I don't think I found it particularly scary though.

Moved from there on to the 'Myst' series I seem to recall. I was all about the puzzles when I was a kid.

Anyway back on topic, this comment about sums it up for me:

Dastardly said:
I think it's right to occasionally look back and see how far we've come, but we have to be careful of the approach our criticism takes. Would we want to look back at the silent horror films of the early 20th century and laugh at their goofy special effects?
Just because we can do better now doesn't mean we can run down the work that brought us to this place or work that was at least trying something new and interesting regardless of whether it worked or not.
 

LawlessSquirrel

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It's a surprise I've not heard of this game until now. Whether or not it was any good, it certainly sounds ambitious and unique. It's a shame, I guess. But you've got me interested enough to seek out more.
 

Brendan Main

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LawlessSquirrel said:
It's a surprise I've not heard of this game until now. Whether or not it was any good, it certainly sounds ambitious and unique. It's a shame, I guess. But you've got me interested enough to seek out more.
Absolutely. For those interested in giving Phantasmagoria a try, it's actually easier than its ever been to get ahold of a copy. Good Old Games recently began setting it as a digital copy, which is worlds nicer that having to manage to juggle compatibility issues and a handful of CDs.

The game can be found here.

http://www.gog.com/en/gamecard/phantasmagoria



I wouldn't want anyone to gather from the article that Phantasmagoria isn't worth a go-through. It absolutely is, even if it's to see what succeeds and what isn't quite up to snuff. Judging from the first few comments here, I see that most readers have a very different modern experience with the game than I do, but none of that means you shouldn't see for yourself. Go for it!
 

Gildan Bladeborn

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Wow. I'd always heard fairly good things about the original Phantasmagoria, and downright awful things about the sequel (staggeringly cheesy apparently), but it was always one of those games that were on the fringes of my awareness - I knew it was out there, I had some notion of the basic concept and had seen screenshots and marketing blurbs, but that was as far as my familiarity with the title went.

But until now I'd never experienced anyone sitting down and actually describing the content, and knowing what I do now I am retroactively extremely glad my younger persona didn't get it into his head to sit down and play this game; I would have been scarred for life! Seriously, just reading about stuff like that makes me wince - I'm no stranger to graphic violence and dismemberment and the like, but there's a certain squick factor to blood and guts produced via torture and mutilation that's in a category all of its own. Egad.
 

manaman

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D Moness said:
I disagree as well. For that time it was the feeling of a good horror movie of that time.
I can look back fondly on any number of movies from my childhood and see them as good movies through the filter of my memories. It doesn't mean the movies were actually any good. Most were utter garbage. Nostalgia is one thing, but letting it blind you to faults that where apparent at the time is just as bad as trying to judge a game or movies technical limitations by what is achievable today.
 

Therumancer

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Hmmm, interesting read.

I'd like to point out a few things though, at this time the idea of "interactive movies" was a big thing, and we also saw games like "Daedalus Encounter" and "Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller" being produced on this new CD rom technology. To be honest I don't remember Phantasmagoria doing anything differant from a lot of other games of the time, other than using a horror theme and trying to push the envelope. To be honest games like this and their ultimate failure despite a strong, initial critical reception are why I look at things like "Heavy Rain" as a step backwards, and roll my eyes whenever someone tries to present the style of game as something new and innovative as opposed to a recycled dinosaur (the big differance being that Heavy Rain isn't using digitized actors).

"Phantasmagoria" was an unmitigated success at the time it came out, it's sequel however is something else entirely and the game that is typically mocked in connection to the series. It's been forgotten along with a lot of other games of the time period simply because gaming was hardly as mainstream as it is now, there just weren't all that many people gaming. The truth is that the number of people who were actually gamers in the 80s and 90s was tiny, and currently we have a lot of people trying to claim the "cred" of being an old school gamer on the internet while actually lying through their teeth. This leads to the impression that games like this were "forgotten", when in reality I don't think they ever were to the people who were actually there at the time.

While primitive compared to modern games, due to the passage of time, I will also mention that this game is still obtainable. GoG.com has it on their list right now for those who might be interested due to the article.

Something to also remember is that "Phantasmagoria" was developed by "Roberta Williams" of King's Quest fame. That in of itself made it a big deal at the time. Sierra was also distributing magazines to people who bought and registered their games, and the contests connected to this game such as "design your own Phantasmagoria torture device" were likewise a big deal. This was before the internet as we currently use it was such a big deal, and this was big news among the much smaller gaming community that met online through things like "Fidonet" using something referred to as "Echos" running on "Bulletin Board Systems".
 

D Moness

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manaman said:
D Moness said:
I disagree as well. For that time it was the feeling of a good horror movie of that time.
I can look back fondly on any number of movies from my childhood and see them as good movies through the filter of my memories. It doesn't mean the movies were actually any good. Most were utter garbage. Nostalgia is one thing, but letting it blind you to faults that where apparent at the time is just as bad as trying to judge a game or movies technical limitations by what is achievable today.
But there is a difference between see things through nostalgia (for someone that like older movies , animations etc know how nostalgia can warp your memory) and saying a game that is 16 years old is just bad because of the form they used to make it.

Phantasmagoria was never a bad game(just like shivers was a really good game). It has a good script for a gothic horror story, used a few easy scare tactics (stupid cat) and generally set a mood that was getting creepier the further you got into the game.
 

Therumancer

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Gildan Bladeborn said:
Wow. I'd always heard fairly good things about the original Phantasmagoria, and downright awful things about the sequel (staggeringly cheesy apparently), but it was always one of those games that were on the fringes of my awareness - I knew it was out there, I had some notion of the basic concept and had seen screenshots and marketing blurbs, but that was as far as my familiarity with the title went.

But until now I'd never experienced anyone sitting down and actually describing the content, and knowing what I do now I am retroactively extremely glad my younger persona didn't get it into his head to sit down and play this game; I would have been scarred for life! Seriously, just reading about stuff like that makes me wince - I'm no stranger to graphic violence and dismemberment and the like, but there's a certain squick factor to blood and guts produced via torture and mutilation that's in a category all of its own. Egad.
It's not that bad, to be honest it reminded me a lot of "Friday The 13th: The Series" for some reason when I played it.

I'll also say that horror is not for everyone. Truthfully the gore and stuff exists to make people uncomfortable, that's the point of horror, and why a lot of people can't appreciate it. To be honest it seems to me that most people who complain about stuff like this and claim "it's not scary" are those who aren't real genere fans, and miss the point, they want some of the trappings but to not actually have anything try and wiggle under their skin.

Truthfully real horror, the stuff that does it's job, tends to be exactly the kind of thing that gets complaints because what can get a reaction from a horror fan is totally out there by normal standards. Fear of those reactions is why you see very little real horror anymore, but rather an increasing number of deritivitive works that go through the motions, and at best work as suspense movies or potboilers.

I'll also be honest in saying that invoking Steven King (as the article does) doesn't carry that much weight. While he loves to go on about psychological horror, and getting people to freak themselves out, while delivering very little in the way of actual horrific events and content, it's noteworthy that he's become increasingly scorned by actual horror fans the more he's embraced that attitude. Genere fans will frequently praise is more visceral earlier work, but look down on his more recent stuff, and it's been that way for decades. I think to some extent this also lead to his success because he produces pseudo-horror for an audience that can't handle the real stuff. His strengths aren't really on his concepts or the amount of skin crawling terror he generates anymore, but on his characterization and how he can get in the head of dozens of differant characters, make them all believable, and tie together a dozen differant and seemingly unrelated plot threads.

Honestly I think real horror fiction survives in the hands of guys like "Edward Lee" who mostly publish through the small press. Though truthfully Lee and others like him seem to be losing their "oomph" by becoming fairly derivitive (and honestly, that's a problem only a rare few authors don't suffer from). I'm not talking in terms of the quality of the writing, but in terms of the content, and concepts.

As far as video games go, I doubt we'll see another age of horror games for a while, because right now the industry isn't willing to push the envelope far enough. What's more actual horror fans (like serious RPG players) are a niche audience, and more money can be made by going through the motions, than actually trying to get a rise out of the jaded.
 

manaman

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D Moness said:
manaman said:
D Moness said:
I disagree as well. For that time it was the feeling of a good horror movie of that time.
I can look back fondly on any number of movies from my childhood and see them as good movies through the filter of my memories. It doesn't mean the movies were actually any good. Most were utter garbage. Nostalgia is one thing, but letting it blind you to faults that where apparent at the time is just as bad as trying to judge a game or movies technical limitations by what is achievable today.
But there is a difference between see things through nostalgia (for someone that like older movies , animations etc know how nostalgia can warp your memory) and saying a game that is 16 years old is just bad because of the form they used to make it.

Phantasmagoria was never a bad game(just like shivers was a really good game). It has a good script for a gothic horror story, used a few easy scare tactics (stupid cat) and generally set a mood that was getting creepier the further you got into the game.
We got different things out of the article. I didn't get the impression of someone saying the game was horrible. I got impression of someone taking a trip down memory land and actually fondly describing a game, but focusing mostly on how the technical limitations of the time did not alow the game designers to soar to the lofty hights they set there sites on.

The article actually gives me incentive to take a fresh stab at a game I want really interested in at the time.
 

Oroboros

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I don't know why the author seems to have thought that Phantasmagoria warranted a review now when it came out so many years ago, while comparing it to today's standards. It kinda seems like picking the low fruit from a tree: no risk or controversy involved in picking on such an old title. What's next, a review panning Rogue for not having modern rpg staples like party members and a branching plotline? Older games should be judged as products of their time, not as products of our own. Phantasmagoria was a fine game for its time.
 

D Moness

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manaman said:
We got different things out of the article.
Seeing the different posts on the forum it indeed seems people see the article in different views. I can wholeheartedly recommend Phantasmagoria 1 (and shivers if you like puzzle games).

Honestly i always loved Sierra games, there was a time for me that logo meant a must buy(i miss that time).
 

Ne1butme

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D Moness said:
manaman said:
We got different things out of the article.
Seeing the different posts on the forum it indeed seems people see the article in different views. I can wholeheartedly recommend Phantasmagoria 1 (and shivers if you like puzzle games).

Honestly i always loved Sierra games, there was a time for me that logo meant a must buy(i miss that time).
Amen on shivers. Was the sequel any good? Does anyone know?
 

Monshroud

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Alot of the games everyone is mentioned all came out in around the same 4 year period of 92 - 96. Phantasmagoria, 7th Guest, 11th Hour, heck Sewer Shark even.. All using live action people blue-screened in a CG environment. It was a novel concept and the game industry was trying something new with the ideas of interactive mediums. I really do applaud them for their efforts at the time.

Horror in video games is a VERY difficult thing to do well. For every success that we have like Silent Hill 2, Fatal Frame, etc. there are at least 5 - 7 failures. I never got the chance to play Phantasmagoria when it came out, but I got the chance to several years afterwards. Sure, if you are looking back on it for the first time, it does seem silly.

I know people who have seen the original Halloween movie for the first time recently, and thought it was laughable. At the time though there was nothing like it and it terrifed audiences. Much like how people like myself talk about how great Half-Life is, and there are people out there who just don't get it because they played it 10 years after the fact.

We have to look at context here...