Mystery House, originally titled Hi-Res Adventure: "Mystery House" is a graphic adventure puzzle video game developed and published by On-Line Systems on 1980-05-05 for the Apple II. The first three initial runs were on hand-copied diskettes and sold mail-order and in a couple stores, but the game was re-released in 1982 under the company's new "Sierra On-Line" brand, and finally released into the public domain in 1987. The game was also translated into Japanese and ported to the FM-7, PC-8800, and PC-9800 in April 1983. This is the first game in the Hi-Res Adventure series. Although the game is based heavily on the format of earlier text adventures, the addition of graphics for each room makes this one of the first graphical adventures ever made.
In the game, the player enters a Victorian mansion filled with seven other people all searching for a valuable treasure that is supposed to be hidden in it, but, as you explore the house, you find that your fellow explorers are being killed off one by one! The game's designer, Roberta Williams explained that the game was inspired by the Agatha Christie novel, And Then There Were None as well as the earlier text adventure, Colossal Cave Adventure.
I remember hearing about Mystery House from interviews of Roberta Williams in the mid-1990s where she described her enthusiasm for making the game and how important it was for the genre, but, not having access to an Apple II, I never played the game or even saw screenshots beyond the initial screen where you're outside the house. I always wanted to play the game because it was hyped up as being the first graphical adventure game in history. In the 2010s, I saw the MobyGames entry which had a bunch of screenshots, but the game looked so awful that I had no desire to play it. In 2020, after finding out it was available to be played in SCUMMVM, I booted it up and started playing it. I was very underwhelmed. I finished the game on 2020-06-04. I needed four hints, but two of them were to just to figure out how to deal with the limited parser.
This game is now in the public domain. I don't own it, but I have beaten it.
Best Version: Apple II
— This section contains spoilers! —
- The game is a pioneer of the graphical adventure genre.
- The box art of the remake is fantastic.
- Although the game has murder mystery themes, you never actually have to solve a mystery. You don't have to look for clues, deduce who killed who, or figure anything out beyond what is expected in an typical adventure game. All of the "clues" are useless.
- The orientation of north changes in certain rooms without any visual explanation that it has occurred. The in-game help does hint at it, but doesn't explain which rooms are like this. Because of this, it's very difficult to know where the exits are. You basically have to try N, S, E, W, U, and D in every room and map where it takes you.
- Several of the rooms have objects in them that cannot be looked at, interacted with, or even identified. This is poor design.
- There is a lot of bad design around the picture. It's description makes it seem unimportant, and, the item used to remove it wouldn't actually work. Were it described as "screwed" to the wall, rather than "bolted" it would make sense.
- Why is it you can't see the trap door in the attic when you're actually in the attic, but you can see it from a telescope outside of the attic?
- By using most of the screen for the room's graphics, only a tiny area exists for text. This makes it difficult to give a decent description of the rooms, or useful feedback to the player.
- The game often halts to let you read text, but this prevents you from typing new input.
- The screen doesn't always update back to a main room after you look closely at an area. For example, if you look at the sink, the display will zoom in on it, and then, if you enter a bad command, you will be taken to the kitchen, but the display will still be the sink. Because you're now in the room, not at the sink, you won't be able to turn on the water, even though it looks like you could. This occurs in several places in the game.
- The parser is awful, even for the standards of 1980. It requires you to be especially specific in your commands. For example, you can't "PUSH" an object, you have to "PRESS" an object. You can't "GO NORTH," you have to just "NORTH." You can't "OPEN EAST DOOR," you must "OPEN DOOR EAST." Also, you can't "TURN WATER ON," but you can "WATER ON." This makes it very difficult to guess at what the designer expects from you, even when you're pretty sure you know what to do. The responses you get back from bad commands are not very helpful either.
- The graphics, even for 1980, are very poorly drawn. Roberta Williams drew the shoddy line art using a light pen, but no attempt was made to clean up bad lines. Some rooms are entirely redrawn just to accommodate the opening and closing of a door, and it's clear that the rest of the room has changed.
- The game is too short and dull. Adding some random elements, or even just requiring the player to uncover a mystery, would have made it more enjoyable.
- The solution to get out of the forest doesn't make any sense at all.