Sunday, June 23, 2019

Mystery Mansion: Capitulation.

Alas, I am giving up on Mystery Mansion. I'm sure I could persevere with it, and eventually get a 999 point game, but to be honest I just want to move on. It stings a little, especially coming off of MUD1 which I also gave up on, but I need to keep moving. Persisting with games I'm not enjoying will be a sure-fire way to kill the blog dead.

When I left off last time, I had accomplished most of what I was capable of in the game.  Now my goal was to put it all together into a single run. Doing that took some planning, as there are certain tasks that need to be done before others. Below I've outlined the order that I tackled things.

Gathering Items: The first essential item is the lantern, which hangs from the mansion's front gate where the game begins. Second is the compass; dealing with relative directions is a real pain so I like to get this early. The third item I go for is the gauntlet to increase my carrying capacity, and then the door keys.

Killing the Vampire: Before going to release the Vampire, it's important to grab the cross from the chapel for protection. After opening the Vampire's coffin, it's a simple matter to lure him upstairs and open a curtain to let in the sunlight. I also tried killing him with a wooden wedge, but the game told me "you have not figured out how to do that yet".

Solving the Murder: To do this, you need to find and carry the murder weapon, then lure the murderer to the location of the dead body. I like to do this fairly early, because once the sun has set you can't access the garden, and if anything you need is in there you'll never solve the murder. The first thing I do here is listen to the radio in the Game Room; a news bulletin plays that tells you that the police are looking for the murderer, which reveals the murderer's identity. If I know where the corpse is, the next thing I do is examine it, which can give clues to the murder weapon. In my last game, the body was doubled over as though clutching its stomach, which indicates that the poison was the murder weapon. If I don't know the corpse's location, I'll just question people until they tell me. It doesn't usually take too long to get all three requirements in the same location, unless one of them happens to be in the garden (which I only go into as a last resort).

Once the murder has been solved, you just have to call the police using the phone in the Entrance Hall. They show up immediately and arrest the murderer.

The Mole Maze: Before you can hit up the Treasure Trek maze, you need the amulet from the Mole Maze. As mentioned in a previous post the mole changes the maze occasionally, but ever since I switched to Bob Sorem's port I've had no trouble navigating it using the map found here. Perhaps the changes aren't implemented properly in Sorem's port, or perhaps I've just been able to get through before the mole starts digging new tunnels.

Getting the Transmitter: If you enter the Bathroom and drop everything - including your clothes - you can go up into a secret lab where you'll find a matter transmitter and receiver. These are very handy for navigating the mansion, and as far as I can tell essential to escaping the Treasure Trek maze. While leaving the lab through the Large Bedroom, you can fix a crooked mirror, where some jewelry is hidden.

The Treasure Trek Maze: To get through this maze you need the compass, gauntlet, keys, and transmitter. First you have to unlock the door and get through before being crushed by a moving wall. After heading down to the Treasure Room, you need to quickly move through the maze to the two Troll Traps and the Den of Death. Doing this run nets you some pearls, an emerald, some pirate treasure, a ruby necklace, some diamonds and a silver goblet. With that done, it's a simple task to BEAM UP to the lab, then BEAM DOWN to wherever you stashed the matter receiver.

Finishing Up: With those tasks done, I collected the Vampire's Ring then went to the Front Entrance to phone for a taxi. As far as I can tell you can't do this until after 10pm. The mansion explodes at midnight, so I waited out front with my treasures. While I was waiting I killed the Warrior, because he's an irritating NPC who will attack you on a whim. After the mansion blew up, I simply headed south and got the following "victory" screen:

All through this you need to monitor your lantern power, and head to the twisty maze to get some batteries when it starts to wear off. I spent a good portion of the game with my lantern turned off, and it was still running out of power near the end.

There are also the various noises that happen once every hour, for which you need to type SCORE POINTS in order to get the full 999. I tried to remember them when they came up, but I'm sure I missed a good number.

In the end, I got 781, which I'm going to have to consider good enough. I scored 90 points for the items I was carrying, most of which were treasures. My inventory was full, so I don't think I could have earned much more here. Perhaps killing the werewolf would have done it; I can see in some walkthroughs that there is one, but I never did find it aside from getting killed in the dark by it one time. You can also kill the wolf in the garden, which I just figured out, by distracting it with food and shooting it. If those two don't account for the 200+ points I missed, I'm stumped. Perhaps there's something to do in the attic, which I accessed by standing on a chair in the closet and climbing through a door in the ceiling. I got up there and got down via the fire escape (which has to be oiled to use safely) but there didn't seem to be any point to doing so.

I also confirmed that you can sleep with the male characters, which gives you the same message as the female ones (so the game isn't assuming your gender or sexuality). You can't do it with the Vampire though, because you have to drop everything, and without the cross he drains your blood real quick. The Elf can't be lured inside, so he's not an option either.

And so, on 781 points, I bid farewell to Mystery Mansion. I could keep trying, but with such an obtuse game as this one I might end up banging my head against it for months with no progress to show for it. It's even worse with games of this vintage, because walkthroughs can be harder to come by. I found some, but none of them gave away everything.

Mostly though, my capitulation is the result of the fact that I just wasn't enjoying the game very much. I was intrigued by it at first, but after solving the mystery portion of it I just couldn't make any more progress. As I've said before, I just think the game is too obtuse for its own good. It's also very disjointed, with a mystery plot grafted onto a treasure hunt. Not that you'd know it, because Mystery Mansion does very little to let you know that the game even has treasures to collect. With just a little more guidance it could have been enjoyable.

Before I do a Final Rating, I present to you the Wall of Shame. These are all of the puzzles for which I sought outside help:

  1. Navigating the Mole Maze
  2. Finding the gauntlet
  3. Opening the Treasure Trek Maze with the amulet
  4. Finding the pearls
  5. Getting into the Laboratory
  6. Calling the taxi on the phone

Story & Setting: The setting of a mysterious old mansion is a classic one, but this game doesn't do anything new with it, and doesn't do anything to tie any of its disparate tropes together. Why is there a matter transporter upstairs? Why is Dracula in the basement? I don't know, and Mystery Mansion isn't about to tell me. As for the story it's one part murder mystery and one part Adventure-style treasure hunt. The mystery part, at least, is novel, so I'll mark it up slightly for that. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: There are a lot of characters roaming around in this game, all of whom can be interacted with. You can question them, you can shoot them dead, and you can even have sex with some of them. Unfortunately, most of these characters are interchangeable, and their main purpose is mostly to act as murder suspects. It's a step up from most of the adventure games of the era, though, where most of the characters are simply obstacles. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: It's a text adventure with pretty simple writing. The Bob Sorem port has some sound effects that play through the PC speaker occasionally, but those are more startling than pleasant. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: For all the frustrations I had with this game, it does things reasonably well. The parser is simple, but I didn't find myself searching for the right verb too often. The relative directions when inside are annoying, but I was impressed that the room descriptions change depending on which way you're facing. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Challenge: For the mystery portion of the game, I think the difficulty was pitched pretty well. It took me a little while to figure out, but with various hints and clues I was able to solve it within a reasonable time. The treasure hunt is absurdly hard though. There are so many actions that could only be figured out through trial and error, or very lucky guesses, and the game gives you no help. And then there's the changing mole maze, which is just cruel. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation and Influence: I don't believe that this game was particularly influential; I've never heard of it, or seen it brought up by early game developers. But as possibly the first ever murder mystery adventure game I have to give it some props. Rating: 5 out of 7.

Fun: I briefly enjoyed this game during the mystery portion, and the mapping phase, but after that it very quickly lost its shine. I think the Mole Maze drained my enthusiasm, and it never came back. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Obviously, no bonus point for this game because I really don't want to play it again. The above scores total 18, which doubles for a Final Rating of 36. That places it 13th out of 27 games overall, and 8th out of 17 adventure games. That seems a little high, but it does earn some extra points for doing some things that I've yet to see before during the course of this blog. It has more ambition than most of the games below it, which has to count for something.


Somewhat later in this blog I made the decision to overhaul my Final Rating system, so I'm going back through and fixing all of the games I've already played as of March 2020.  I've ditched the Innovation and Influence category, and replaced it for adventure games with a category for Puzzles.  For CRPGs I'm using a Combat category.  I've also changed the purpose of the bonus points, saving them for games that are important, innovative, influential, or have features that are otherwise not covered by my other categories.

Also, the Final Rating is a boring name.  The CRPG Addict has his GIMLET.  The Adventure Gamers have their PISSED rating.  Data Driven Gamer has his harpoons.  So I'm ditching the generic name and calling my new system the RADNESS Index: the Righteous Admirability Designation, Numerically Estimating Seven Scores. It's a pretentious mouthful, but I'm going with it.

Puzzles: Obtuseness is a frequent quality of adventure games around this time, and Mystery Mansion has plenty of it.  Solving the murder is enjoyable, but the treasure hunt aspects of the game are far too obscure for my liking. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 1. This is the first adventure game in the blog in which you have to solve a murder mystery, which is a level of sophistication above the treasure hunts that have dominated the rest of the genre.

Mystery Mansion gets a RADNESS Index of 31. This puts it equal 12th, along with The Game of Dungeons v8 and Colossal Cave Adventure II, both games with a solid base and glaring problems.  For adventure games it's equal 7th out of seventeen.

NEXT: My next game is Devil's Dungeon, a text-based Apple II RPG that promises an infinitely deep dungeon. Whoopee, just what I was asking for!


  1. I assume you didn't see this post on Renga in Blue by commenter alegiassi, who detailed how the scoring system works:

    >I’m wondering if something is wrong in the C port(s), since it looks like nobody scored more than 979 points.

    >This is how points are scored in the FORTRAN code:
    >45 initial score
    >75 kill vampire
    >75 kill werewolf
    >50 arrest murderer
    >200 mystery solved
    >10 taxi waiting at the end
    >465 visiting rooms
    >36 saying “score points”
    >956 total
    >+ points for items carried at the end of the game.

    >In my case: 956+92=1048.

    1. So it looks like I missed the werewolf, and a couple hundred points worth of visited locations. I did skip the Gargoyle Garden, so that could have been it. I also went through a lot of areas with my lantern turned off; maybe that was where I went wrong?