Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Classic DOS Games: The 7th Guest

I've mentioned running this game in DOSBox a couple times, but here's a post dedicated to it.

Since this is a full retail game with no demo, I can't just provide you with a link to obtain it. I'm trying to stay legal with these posts.

A few important notes pertinent to running this game in DOSBox:
  • I find that I have to increase the cycles to about 10000 with Ctrl + F12 for the game to run smoothly. You can set this in your config file so you don't have to do it every time you start the game up, this is even easier if you have separate config files for each game like I do.
  • The game will capture your mouse pointer when you click, so press Ctrl + F10 if you need it back.
  • Since the game is on two CDs and you will need to switch partway through the game, if you're running it using .iso images (as I am) you can mount both of them at once and swap when appropriate using Ctrl + F4. Inspect the usage of the imgmount command. Again, you can set this up in your config file if you have separate config files for each game.
Now on to actually talking about the game.

The story of The 7th Guest, though laced with inconsistencies, goes somewhat like this. Henry Stauf was a poor man who had resorted to crime. One night he dreamt of a doll. When he woke up, he remembered the doll and created it. He gave it to a bartender who said his daughter might like it. Then he dreamt of another toy and made that. People loved his toys, and so he built a business around them.

Then, defying any remaining sense of logic, a virus hit and killed lots of children, who died clutching their Stauf toys.

There was one more dream, of a mansion that Stauf eventually built. This is where the game is set.

The cinematics are all of past events that took place within Stauf's mansion, and the people you see are rendered brightly and slightly translucently, giving them the appearance of ghosts. This is only one small element of the horror. Everything about this game tries to creep you out. People's faces will turn into skulls, there's blood everywhere, and plenty of things happen suddenly.

The core gameplay is a point and click free roaming puzzle game, kind of like Myst except a lot creepier. The comparison to Myst brings up another point: all of the graphics in the game are beautiful for a game of its age, due to the fact that they're all prerendered. Today's computers would have no problem rendering the Stauf mansion in real time, but back when this game was released, the only way to get graphics of this caliber was to prerender them.

As you explore the mansion, you'll discover the puzzles. There's one in each room, and you have a map that uses shading to tell you which rooms are accessible and which rooms you've solved a puzzle in. To aid you in getting around the mansion, there are secret passageways everywhere. One of my favorites is the pocket of the pool table in the game room that takes you to the inside of the oven in the kitchen. I'll leave the rest for you to discover.

Below the house is a giant crypt. It's very easy to get lost in if you don't know the way. There's a puzzle you have to solve just to enter it, and a puzzle to solve at the end of it as well. Somewhere in the mansion you can find a map of it, you might be wise to look for it and maybe jot it down or take a screenshot (Ctrl + F5 in DOSBox).

Most of the puzzles are fairly standard puzzles, ranging from placing eight queens on a chess board such that none can capture any of the others, to rearranging cans that have letters on them to figure out what the message is, to more cryptic things like turning lights on in a toy building in a certain pattern. In at least one of the puzzles you're actually playing against Stauf. The most notoriously difficult puzzle in the game is the microscope puzzle. I personally have yet to beat Stauf on this puzzle, but it is possible.

If you get stuck, the book on the table in the library will give you hints. Using it three times will solve the puzzle for you. So if you really just want to turn your brain off, you can just use the book to progress through the game.

As you go through the game, it's only natural that you may find that you really like one or two of the puzzles and want to do them again. Fortunately, there is a way to do this without having to start the game over and get back to that point again, or anything else weird or cumbersome. After you beat the game, it creates an open house save where you can explore the house freely and solve any puzzle you want.

Speaking of saves, you can save at any given time. You can't save puzzle progress, but it'll reload you right at that puzzle. You get plenty of save slots, so if someone else wants to start the game from the beginning just have them use a separate slot. The slots are numbered, but when you choose one you can give it a name.

The mouse pointers add to the creepiness too. Your basic mouse pointer is a skeleton hand. It will wag a finger when you can't do anything, it will beckon when you can go somewhere, and it'll turn into a skull with moving eyes and pulsating brain when you find a puzzle. There are eyeball cursors as well that show up when you're selecting things to move or place or use in a puzzle.

I often confuse elements (particularly the puzzles) of The 7th Guest with those of its sequel, The 11th Hour. Both are set in Stauf's mansion, but the puzzles are all different and The 11th Hour has a lot more stuff to do. I'll touch on The 11th Hour in a later post, though I will say this now: even though they're still prerendered, The 11th Hour's graphics are much better.

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