Mystery House

      In 1980, a company called On-Line Systems released a game called Mystery House for the Apple II home computer. This would turn out to be significant for a two majors reasons. First of all, Mystery House was the first story-based adventure game to have graphics. Before Mystery House, these games relied entirely on text to tell their stories. This idea would forever change the video game landscape, ultimately leading to the creation of classics such as Uninvited and Myst. Secondly, Mystery House is important because of who made it. The generically named On-Line Systems would go to become Sierra On-Line, one of the greatest PC game companies ever. Mystery House was the first video game designed by industry legends Ken and Roberta Williams. They distributed the game themselves and it managed to become a hit. When all was said and done, the game had sold thousands of copies.

      So what was this game that launched Sierra? Was it any good? By today's standards, no. The game features blocky monochrome graphics that Roberta Williams drew by hand on a $200 digital pad. Certain objects, particularly people, look absolutely awful. But you have to understand that this game was groundbreaking at the time. As I said before, no other adventure game had used graphics up until this point. Besides, the game's story was actually pretty cool. Inspired by Agatha Christie novels, Mystery House puts you in the role of an uninvited guest who shows up at a house where seven guests have gathers for purposes as of yet unknown to you. Eventually you discover that the house holds a valuable treasure... and a deadly killer! When the others start turning up dead, it's up to you to figure out who the killer is and bring him (or her) to justice. It's a nice concept, but how well is it executed? We'll find out... right after we take a brief look at the game's instructions.


      Note that FASCINATING is spelled wrong, that's probably not a good sign. It's also not a good sign when the instructions boast that "winning is quite a challenge in a game where it may take hours to move". So basically, they're saying that the game is painfully slow. Fantastic.


      I take back my previously bitching. If KILL is a command in this game, it can't be all bad. However, it really bothers me that the Williams didn't put an apostrophe in DOESNT, but they had no problem putting single quotation marks around the sample command strings. The apostrophe and the single quotation mark are THE SAME FUCKING KEY! There's no excuse for that.


I can move in the basic compass directions:  north, south, east, and west. Got it. When do I get to the game?


Oh my god... even more instructions. Make it stop. I learned that the game has a save/restore feature though. That should come in handy.


      An outdated company address! Let's harass the current residents by sending them $5. No wait, they'd probably like that.


      Finally, the last page of the instructions. The instructions end by giving me the names, professions, and hair colors of the other people in the house. I'm not quite sure how knowing their hair colors will help since the game isn't rendered in color, but Roberta's a clever girl so she must have her reasons. After blatantly ignoring most of these instructions, I'm fired up and ready to play. Bring on the game!