The 7th Guest, published in 1993 by Virgin Games, is a video-based puzzle computer game, not unlike The Fool's Errand and predating Myst. It was one of the first computer video games to be released only on CD-ROM. The 7th Guest is a horror story told from the unfolding perspective of the player, as an amnesiac. The game received a great amount of press attention for making live action video clips a core part of its gameplay, for its unprecedentedly large amount of pre-rendered 3D graphics, and for its adult content. In addition, the game was very successful, with over two million copies sold, and is widely-regarded as a killer app that accelerated the sales of CD-ROM drives.
The game is played by wandering the mansion
, solving logic puzzles and watching videos that further the story. The main antagonist, Stauf, is an ever-present menace, taunting the player with clues, mocking the player as they fail his puzzles ("We'll all be dead by the time you solve this!"), and expressing displeasure when the player succeeds ("Don't think you'll be so lucky next time!").
A moderately complex plot of manipulation and sin is played out by actors through film clips as you progress between rooms by solving twenty-one puzzles of shifting nature and increasing difficulty. The first puzzles most players encounter is either one where players must select the right interconnected letters inside the lens of a telescope to form a coherent sentence; or a relatively simple cake puzzle, where the player has to divide the cake evenly into six pieces, each containing the same number of decorations. Other puzzles include mazes, chess problems, logical deductions, Simon-style pattern-matching, word manipulations, and even an extremely difficult game of Infection similar to Reversi that utilizes an AI (and would later go on to make an encore appearance in the sequel). For players who need help or simply cannot solve a particular puzzle, there is a hint book in the library of the house. The first two times the book is consulted about a puzzle, the book gives clues about how to solve the puzzle; on the third time, the book simply completes the puzzle for the player so that the player can proceed through the game. Although the game's manual states that there may be consequences for using the hint book, the hint book can be used without penalty for all but the final puzzle.
The 7th Guest was the first game for the PC platform to be available only on CD-ROM, since it was too large to be distributed on floppy disks: it came on 2 CDs. Removing some of the large movies and videos wasn't an option as they were essential to the gameplay. This game, along with LucasArts' Star Wars: Rebel Assault and Brøderbund's Myst, helped promote the adoption of CD drives, which were not yet common. The game's POV footage of walking through the house was originally planned as live-action video in a practical set, but the idea was abandoned after pre-rendered 3D sequences proved feasible and more cost-effective .
Old Man Stauf built a house, and filled it with his toys
Six guests were invited one night, their screams the only noise
Blood inside the library, blood right up the hall
Dripping down the attic stairs, hey guests, try not to fall
Nobody came out that night, not one was ever seen
But Old Man Stauf is waiting there, crazy, sick, AND MEAN!
The story revolves around a man named Henry Stauf. Stauf was a no one; like so many during the Great Depression
, he had no money, and became a simple drifter and thief. But one night, in the town of Harley-on-the-Hudson, he murdered a helpless woman on the way home from choir practice, beating her on the head with a hammer, so as to steal her purse. He was forced to sink even lower, truly a pathetic wretch. But, as he was sleeping later that night, he had a dream, a vision, of a doll so beautiful that he had to make it for himself. And he did, working without rest, until it was indistinguishable from the one in his dream. Afterwards, he went to a bar in town. The owner saw the doll and said his daughter would love it, and Stauf offered it to him. In return, the owner offered Stauf food and a place to stay.
That night, Stauf had another vision, and another, and another, and continued to build these toys just as he saw them, continually selling them for a tidy profit. Soon enough, he was able to open up a shop, because every child in the town and outside of it wanted a Stauf toy. "A Stauf toy is a toy for life," they said, and "no two are alike." Stauf's toymaking empire reached its zenith, however, when a mysterious virus started killing the children. Doctors did all they could, but nothing could be done to save them. Meanwhile, Stauf, acting upon one last vision, built for himself a large mansion; a strange mansion, one that frightened people.
He wasn't heard from again for quite some time, until one day, invitations were sent out to six individuals inviting them to stay at the Stauf mansion for the night, with promises of granting them their greatest, fondest wishes.
The game begins inside the house some time after the night of the "party", and puts players in the shoes of an unexplained protagonist known only as "Ego." Ego himself doesn't appear to know why he's there, or who he is, but as he explores the house, he witnesses ghostly reenactments of that fateful night so long ago, solving the same puzzles that the guests had to solve, as he tries to piece everything together.
After eating dinner, the guests read personalized messages from Stauf to them. He has arranged for them to play a "game." Throughout the house, there are puzzles and clues that show them what must be done to win, and subsequently, gain their greatest desire. All that Stauf is willing to tell them is that it involves another guest who hasn't arrived yet.
As the guests explore the house, discerning its secrets, making alliances, and breaking them just as quickly, they all experience terrifying illusions that begin to put them all on edge. The seventh guest is revealed to be Tad, a young boy who sneaked into the house after being dared by his friends. Furthermore, they learn that Stauf wants one of them to bring Tad to him so that he can steal his soul. All of the toys that Stauf sold during his heyday were the source of the virus, and all of the children's souls are imprisoned inside of them. However, it was required that Stauf collect a certain number of souls, and so he brought the guests to his house so that they might bring Tad to him.
Four guests, Brian, Martine, Julia, and Edward, want to bring Tad to Stauf, caring more about their desires than Tad's life. But the other two guests, Edward's wife Elinor and Hamilton, wish to save Tad's life, and fight to protect him. As the night wears on, all the guests except Julia end up killing each other, and she eagerly takes Tad to the attic face to face with Stauf. Instead of granting her wish, Stauf regurgitates a pool of acid, which rapidly consumes a crying Julia. Stauf then grows a long, snakelike tongue which wraps around Tad, pulling him closer and closer. As he watches this, Ego realizes that he is Tad, and that he has seen all of this before, countless times, trying to save himself, but always failing, never beating Stauf, always forgetting everything he had learned, stuck in some sort of purgatory. But this time, he successfully fights off Stauf, saving Tad's (and his) life. Failing to gain the last soul, Stauf turns into a skeleton, and tentacles rise out of a fiery pit that's formed beneath him and drag him down into the blazing inferno. Tad thanks Ego for saving them, and Ego steps into a large ball of light that has formed in the room. The light fades, and the credits roll.
Cast and characters
- Henry Stauf (actor Robert Hirschboeck)- The owner of the mansion in which the game takes place. Stauf was a homeless drifter who became a successful toymaker after a series of visions showed him the toys he would create, but the people of Harley know nothing of his past. They only know him as the eccentric old man who makes marvelous toys for their children and became a hugely successful "rags to riches" story. His name is an anagram of Faust.
- Ego (voice of Michael Mish)- The player's character, a disembodied consciousness that moves through the house solving puzzles and observing the events of that mysterious night at Stauf's house as they unfolded long ago. The entire game takes place in first-person view through Ego's eyes. Ego does not know how he came to the house, or why, he only knows that there is a reason for him to be there that he hasn't figured out yet.
- Tad (actor Douglas Knapp) - A boy who lives next door to the Stauf mansion. On the night of the party he enters the house on a dare by climbing in through a window, then discovers that he can't get out again. He spends most of the game dodging Stauf's guests while he tries to find a way to escape the house.
- Martine Burden (Guest one) (actress Debra Ritz Mason)- Young, pretty, and ambitious, Martine was once named Miss Harley-on-the-Hudson, but she hated the small town and left as soon as she had the chance. Now she is back after her wealthy boyfriend dumped her. She is immediately attracted to the older Edward Knox, whose desires for wealth and a new life away from Elinor are quite compatible with her own desires for power and status. Although in one scene the player sees her apparently being pulled underwater in a bathtub and hears a long drawn out scream, Martine actually dies in the crypt, turning into greenish ooze after Edward Knox is killed. The idea is that she formed an alliance with Edward to get him to do her dirty work and take the blame for her. But in doing so she unintentionally bound the two of them together, and she was forced to share his fate.
- Edward and Elinor Knox (Guests two and three) (actors Larry Roher and Jolene Patrick)- An older, married couple. Elinor is a decent woman who still loves her husband and seems to want to help the boy, Tad, as much as she can. Edward is having severe financial difficulties, and he shows little love or concern for his wife, instead teaming up with the younger Martine Burden to try and solve the mystery. His greatest desire is to start over with a new life, a full bank account, and no marriage tying him down. Elinor's desire is also to start over again, but with Edward still at her side. Edward is killed by Hamilton, who slams his head into the side of a coffin in order to save Tad. The player does not see Elinor get killed, but the last time she's seen, she is turning into a mannequin, pitifully calling out to Tad for help.
- Julia Heine (Guest four) (actress Julia Tucker)- An older woman, and quite vain. She is unhappy with her life, and recently lost her job at the bank due to a quickly developing drinking problem. Her heart's desire is to be young and beautiful again, when she felt like she could take on the world. Julia succeeds in bringing Tad to Stauf, but instead of granting her wish, Stauf mercilessly kills her.
- Brian Dutton (Guest five) (actor Michael Pocaro)- A middle-aged man who walks with a cane, Brian owns a shop in Harley-on-the-Hudson, and has sold goods to Stauf. Brian admires the way Stauf had grown wealthy and the way he had solved his own problems, and his greatest desire is to be as successful as Stauf, but he is also haunted by memories of seeing his brother fall through thin ice and drown when he was a child. Brian is stabbed repeatedly by Edward while they fight over Tad (ironically with his own knife).
- Hamilton Temple (Guest six) (actor Ted Lawson)- A professional stage magician nearing the end of his career, he is a kindly man who also tries to help Tad, and he gets along well with Elinor Knox. His greatest desire is to know if there is such a thing as real magic, and if there is, can Stauf give him the ability to use it? After trying to convince Tad to trust him, Hamilton later is strangled to death by Julia.
Those people where already dead when the game started. It was the ghosts that were killed in the game.
(In the bib scene you see a red spot appearing on the shirt of Brian.)
The second disc of the CD-ROM set included a very large single audio track playable on any regular CD player. In total, the track was almost a half an hour long and it included both the in-game music, composed by already leading video game musician George "The Fat Man" Sanger
, and two live music recordings: "The Game"
, whose melody in various permutations and stylistic variations became the background music for most of the game (as well as the theme for a piano puzzle) and whose lyrics were based on Stauf's twisted plot, and "Skeletons in My Closet"
, a jazzy
tune with a female lead voice (Kris McKay
) which was the ending-credits theme. A few years later, Sanger independently released an album titled 7/11
, which was a little over an hour long and contained all the music from T7G
(this time, on separate tracks) as well as its sequel, The 11th Hour
The in-game music had conventions similar to Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, wherein each guest was assigned a musical theme; where Peter and Wolf used instrumental changes for its characters, The 7th Guest, conversely, used stylistic variations on the melody of Sanger's "The Game". Where two characters interact in the story, the styles are fused, counterpointed, or even sounded simultaneously and when tension abounds, the characters' themes are reflected thusly.
The 7th Guest
was the brainchild of game designer
/graphic artist Rob Landeros
, and a Virgin MasterTronics programmer
, Graeme Devine
. When Landeros and Devine presented their idea for the game, they were promptly "fired" so that they could start their own company, Trilobyte, dedicated solely to the development of this game. They originally intended to create the movements through the mansion using video. 3D graphics and animation were introduced to the title early in '91 when Robert Stein III
joined the team. Trilobyte
developed the game and went on to produce the sequel, with Landeros as game designer and Devine as the lead programmer
. Unfortunately, The 11th Hour
had trouble overcoming some technical hurdles and was late to market. Despite high presales due to the success and popularity of The 7th Guest
, the sequel sold much less than the expected sales numbers. This was due to several factors: the game was designed for DOS when Windows 95 was already available and popular, causing many people to call in frustration trying to get the game to work; inferior puzzles compared to The 7th Guest
; and the music was MIDI and not WAV.
Rob Landeros developed a game called TLC, Tender Loving Care but, to the dismay of Devine (who found out about its content well into development), had a considerable amount of adult themes. The founders split up before TLC could be released. The interactive game was subsequently published by Aftermath Media. Before Trilobyte's demise they released two additional game titles, Clandestiny and Uncle Henry's Playhouse, the latter a comical twist of Henry Stauf's devious puzzles.
An official third installment was started at Trilobyte
, but was never completed due to the demise of the company. Rob Landeros also attempted to create an official third installment, titled The 7th Guest Part III: The Collector
, in which the user does not return to the Stauf Mansion, but is instead taken to a museum in which Henry Stauf, now known as "Doktor Stauf", is the curator. The game was to be developed by Lunny Interactive
For a time, they had a working demonstration available for public viewing. However, the demonstration has since been taken down, and the project is assumed to be dead.
The 7th Guest
won the following awards: