Friday, 18 October 2013

Game 36: Hugo's House of Horrors - Final Rating

I’m super keen to move onto Loom. It’s a game I’ve never played but always wanted to. Before I can begin that new adventure though, I need to tie things up for Hugo’s House of Horrors. I know it’s not going to rate highly. The only question is how low will it go?!

Puzzles and Solvability
The puzzles in Hugo’s House of Horrors are of the more traditional variety, with the player in most cases having to find the right item to be able to progress past each obstacle towards an ultimate goal. The problem is that these traditional puzzles are way too easy. It doesn’t help that there is such a limited environment, with only a handful of collectible items to be discovered, but I don’t think it would have mattered anyway. There’s not really any point in having a door secured with a combination lock, if the code is going to be written in giant red letters on the bathroom mirror. The bung is obviously going to fix the hole in the boat, and the meat is clearly going to distract the hungry dog. There were a couple of parts in the game that can cause head scratching, but neither of those were puzzles in the truest sense. Making the player walk between two rocks (which hardly look like two rocks at all) to reach a completely unapparent underground area is not very fair, and don’t get me started on the Roy Rogers trivia question. That was clearly inserted to make the player go outside the game for the answer, and while there’s no rule that says a game developer should never do that, it sure ended up being expensive for me!
Rating: 2

 Solving puzzles is pretty straight forward when there are only a handful of items available in the whole game.

Interface and Inventory
I have to mention straight up that I played the game through SCUMMVM and really wish I hadn’t. Yes, I know Laukku has been telling me not to use it for ages, but now I finally understand why! In this game’s case, SCUMMVM added a mouse interface that originally wasn’t there, and it also changed the dialogue boxes and made it so items in the game were labelled when the cursor was moved across them. If I’m completely honest with myself, I think the improved interface helped me quite a bit with one particular part of the game, being the discovery of the mask in the closet. A lot of players struggled to guess what it was, as it really didn’t look like a mask at all for anyone that wasn’t specifically looking for one. I was able to find out exactly what it was by simply putting the cursor on it, so who knows how long it would have taken otherwise. Even with the improvements though, the interface was pretty bad. The collision detection was crap and the parser nowhere near what the competition were using at the time. I was misled numerous times, especially with all the “you are not close enough” messages, and the exactness required for certain complex commands were harsh. Overall the game didn’t feel very professional, because it wasn’t!
Rating: 2

 Oh, and the inventory is supposed to look like this (this is in DOSBox). It's just a list, with no way to investigate or interact with anything from within.

Story and Setting
The story of Hugo’s plight may have been similar in premise to that of Maniac Mansion, but while that classic had twists and turns, warped yet interesting characters, and an evolving storyline, the same can’t be said for Hugo’s House of Horrors. Characters are introduced and then never seen again, and as the game goes on each new section feels completely separate to the whole, being both random and unsatisfying. The fisherman by the lake is a perfect example. He asked me a series of trivia-style questions to make sure that I was experienced and wise enough to handle what was to come around the next corner. It turned out there was nothing around the corner, and I saved Penelope literally less than a minute later! Perhaps he knew something about the rocky marriage ahead for the two lovers! The setting is clearly a good one for this sort of game, as is testament to the fact two completely separate game developers used it for adventure games with no apparent awareness of each other, but here it is massively under-utilised. For an adventure game to be over in an hour and half, it would have to have a pretty incredible and tense storyline to seem even remotely worthwhile. That’s not the case here at all.
Rating: 2

 The game doesn't even bother to explain the motivations of the house's occupants. Why did they kidnap Penelope?

Sound and Graphics
On the one hand, what David Gray managed to do with a bunch of non-suitable bits of software in his spare time is impressive, but on the other hand, Hugo’s House of Horrors was technically primitive the day it came out. There are a few cases where music kicks in, but it was grating enough that I couldn’t wait for it to stop each time. The PC speaker quality is the main issue, but what I heard in the windows version of the game didn’t sound like it would change my opinion. As for sound, I honestly can’t remember hearing any in the entire game. There may be a few blips and blops here or there, but the game is completely silent for its vast majority. The graphics are quite inconsistent, with the external shot of the house and the more populated areas inside having adequate detail and a kookiness that you have to smile at. The rest of it is downright ugly though, with the kitchen being the most horrible example. The animation is also way below average; although I must say watching the dog chase me around without even standing up was enjoyable in its ludicrousness.
Rating: 2

Who needs a broom when you have a hoverdog (it's currently running in this image)?!

Environment and Atmosphere
When I first walked into the House of Horrors, I thought perhaps this category might get an ok score. The first two screens showed some promise, particularly when the scientist walked along the upper hall and into the room beyond, apparently oblivious to my presence. Things went downhill from there though, and the game environment ended up being too small to be effective. There were around eight rooms in the house proper, and only a few sections to the caverns beneath. Most of these screens were sparsely detailed, with many of them serving a single, undemanding purpose (the mirror in the bathroom, the mask in the bedroom, the chop in the dining room). The atmosphere is also pretty lacking, despite the horror cliché setting. It’s all just a bit too silly, despite a couple of gory death scenes, and the aforementioned lack of sound and disconnectedness of the “events” make it pretty underwhelming.
Rating: 3

 It's hard to feel concerned when an apparently nasty mummy can't find a way around a rock to reach me.

Dialogue and Acting
David was clearly trying to replicate the style of Sierra adventure games like Leisure Suit Larry when it came to dialogue and descriptions. In some ways he succeeded, with a mix of required information and humour pervading pretty much all of it. Some of the humour hits the mark, although a lot of it is awkwardly implemented. There were a lot of grammar and spelling issues throughout, despite the short running time, but that’s to be expected for a shareware game that was produced with no real play testing or quality control. The thing that was most disconcerting for me though was that the messages often switched perspectives, occasionally within the same “conversation”. One minute the scene was being described to me (“You are in front of the house where Penelope was last seen”), before suddenly switching to first person (“I don’t see anything much in here”). At first I wasn’t certain why the dialogue felt so odd, but eventually I figured out that the above was subconsciously messing with me. Overall the dialogue in the game is not terrible, but like everything else, it’s hard to get excited about it.
Rating: 3

 The tone and language reminds me of the early King's Quest games, but it lacks the professionalism of even those primitive games.

2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 3 = 14, divided by 60 = 23.33, which is 23 when rounded down. That puts Hugo's House of Horrors down towards the bottom of the board, yet nowhere close to the insanely bad Psycho. It does put it below both Mortville Manor and Captain Blood though, which is probably fair when you consider the years they were released, but feels a bit harsh. Perhaps I'm being generous because it was only a shareware game and didn't waste very much of my time, but I'm going to use my discretionary point to move it up to 24.

I'm pretty sure a lot of the predictions were in the 20s, but I'll have to go check to see whether anyone nailed 24. Yep, TBD got it exactly! Once again it was the lowest predictor that got it right. Congratulations, you've won yourself 10 CAPs and a copy of Loom! Speaking of which...

185 CAPs for Laukku
• Tricky Smack Down Jackpot – 150 CAPs – For successfully predicting a puzzle that would defeat me
• 300th Post Award – 20 CAPs – For figuring out why the number 300 was relevant
• Companion Award – 10 CAPs – For playing the game with me and completing it
• Quotation Fail Award – 5 CAPs – For informing me of my misplaced quotation mark

65 CAPs for Lars-Erik
• Sponsor Award - 20 CAPs - For sponsoring the blog with free games
• Moby Games Investigation Award – 10 CAPs – For investigating the changes made to Moby Games
• Companion Award – 10 CAPs – For playing the game with me and completing it
• Echolocation Disturbance Award – 10 CAPs – For informing me of the real use for the whistle
• Kickstarter Award – 10 CAPs – For announcing a new adventure game project on Kickstarter
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing an adventure game sale on GOG

30 CAPs for Canageek
• Genre Support Award – 10 CAPs – For announcing numerous adventure game releases / sales on Steam
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing an adventure game sale on Steam
• Flying Squirrel Award – 5 CAPs – For discovering the real answer to the fisherman’s riddle
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing an adventure game release on Steam
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing an adventure game sale on Steam

30 CAPs for Ilmari
• Prisoner of Ice Award – 20 CAPs – For solving my Prisoner of Ice riddle
• Companion Award – 10 CAPs – For playing the game with me and completing it

10 CAPs for TBD
• Psychic Prediction Award – 10 CAPs – For predicting what score I would give Hugo’s House of Horrors

10 CAPs for Charles
• Companion Award – 10 CAPs – For playing the game with me and completing it

10 CAPs for Deimar
• Companion Award – 10 CAPs – For playing the game with me and completing it

10 CAPs for Corey Cole
• Roy Rogers Defence Award – 10 CAPs – For convincingly defending Roy Rogers, and his dog

5 CAPs for Tymoguin
• Companion Award – 5 CAPs – For playing the game with me

5 CAPs for Aperama
• Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing an adventure game sale on Steam

1 CAP for Draconius
• Shameful Grab for CAPs Award – 1 CAP – For announcing the most obvious Star Wars reference imaginable


  1. Wow! GOG has a Point and Click sale on for the weekend!

    There are too many adventure games to mention, but the Dracula Trilogy, 7th and 11th Guest and Machinarium are amongst them. Check it out!

    1. From what I read, you may have been a bit generous giving it the extra point. Then again maybe it deserved it as it was over quickly so we could get on to Loom.

    2. 7th Guest and 11th Hour were recently added to Steam as well.

  2. What, bonus points for not dragging it out? :p

    I wonder why the dog acts that way in your game though, in both versions I tried (1.1 and 2.0, and both in ScummVM and Dosbox) the dog appears standing up when he comes running. Not really animated, but not dragging his butt either.

    Oh, and I beat you on the GoG sale with almost half an hour. :p

    1. I can confirm the phenomenon. I tried the whistle several times in my 2.0 DosBox playthrough and I was witness to many instances of butt-dragging. :-)

    2. In Windows-version the dog even runs - or at least there's some movement with the feet.

  3. Woohoo. I won!

    I already have a copy of Loom though so feel free to give it to the next highest guesser or something.

    But the 10 CAPs are mine! All mine!

    1. In that case, I'd like to offer it to Schide, since I know they want to play along and don't have a copy. If you see this Schide, send an email to and I'll reply with the code.

      It might as well go to someone that has never played it before. :)

  4. Pretty low score... and I don't think it'll be much higher when you get to the sequel.

    Never played Loom, so I'll be giving it a go to see what I've missed all these years.

  5. Some details about Loom:

    1/ It's a short game. I finished it in about two hours a month ago (it wasn't the first time), I think Trickster will have it done in 3-4 hours. It does not feel too short though.

    2/ Part of why it's a short game is that you can't lose. No deaths, no dead ends. I didn't even bother saving last time I played it.

    3/ There's no inventory, there are no action menus. Moving and selecting/looking at things is done through clicking. Everything else is done through 4-note musical pieces, called "drafts" or "patterns"

    4/ There's no inventory of known patterns. They must be written down somewhere or memorized. And with two exceptions they vary from game to game (between ~3 possibilities).

    5/ The difficulty level does not change the content of the game (even the fabled extra scene in expert mode is something minor in the middle of the game). It only changes the interface. So either you can do everything by ear and you use expert mode (it's what I do :-) or you can't and you use practice. In both case I recommend the keyboard for typing the notes instead of the mouse clicking on the staff.

    I really like this game in any case.


  6. I foresee Roy Rogers as a great candidate for the year's worst puzzle -award.

    BTW Trickster, in your opinion, are in-game hint/spoiler mechanics considered assistance, when placing bets? Think carefully what you'll answer, because it will hit you in a couple of games ;)

    1. That might be a little harsh. If there had been a Star Trek original series puzzle, many of us would have felt challenged and amused. For many people, Roy Rogers was once much more popular than Star Trek.

      The trivia puzzles at the start of the original Leisure Suit Larry are just as dated. Most people in 2013 could not be expected to answer them without looking up the answers. Back in the 1980's, they were a reasonable test of "Do you know what is going on in the rest of the world?" Sort of. :-)

      We put Firesign Theater, Monty Python, Laurel and Hardy, Marx Brothers, and other now-dated references into Quest for Glory. In fact, many of them were dated when we wrote them - They were a reflection of the trivia we knew rather than anything most players were expect to "get". The difference between those and Hugo was that we used them as gags rather than puzzles. Our idea was that only a fraction of our players would actually recognize any given reference, but that most players would recognize enough of them to be amused.

      To some extent, we were inspired by "Silverlock", by John Myers Myers. I recommend it highly. Several fans wrote a booklet, "The Silverlock Companion", just to explain many of the little-known literary references in Silverlock; Amazon now includes it when you buy Silverlock. But the book itself works because you can enjoy the story without recognizing a single reference. It just goes to another level once you start saying, "Oh, that's from Beowulf. And that part over there is Shakespeare." Etc. We bought Benet's "The Reader's Encyclopedia" partly so we could untangle some of the references.

      Anyway, my conclusion is that abstruse trivia can be fun, but it's painful when used as a "gate" to exclude people who can't answer the trivia.

    2. Lori just looked over my shoulder and added that trivia puzzles are more fair than many adventure game puzzles. They have a distinct answer that the player might know and can certainly look up or get from a friend. When there is a single right answer, it's easy to get the parser to recognize it. (Of course, variations should be programmed in as well as the expected answer.)

      In contrast, some adventure game puzzles are completely within the context of the game, but also completely ridiculous. You can solve a trivia question with general knowledge or wikipedia, but you can't solve a puzzle that makes no sense. Cat hair mustache, anyone?

      My personal hardest puzzle was the shimmering blue curtain at the Bank of Zork - You need to come up with phrasing that you don't normally use, or the parser will not let you by. It is still probably a fair puzzle, but it was a game stopper for me. I got the answer about three years after playing the game and getting stuck. In contrast, even in those ancient pre-Internet days, I could have looked up the answer to almost any trivia question.

      Riddles have aspects of both - You usually need some outside knowledge to guess them, and they are often ambiguous. If you do not pick the answer the game had in mind, it will tell you that you're wrong even though your answer might make as much sense as theirs. And of course if the riddle isn't really a riddle... "What do I have in my pockets?" indeed! :-)

      So a trivia question may cost someone CAPs, but someone else gains them. :-) In some ways, trivia is fairer than many other types of puzzle.

    3. I love cultural references in games as long as they are done tastefully and unobtrusive. Take Space Quest for instance, where you have references to Star Wars, Star Trek, Van Halen, Terminator etc. If you don't recognize the references it doesn't hurt the game or your playing, but if you do it adds another layer of fun to the game. The setting works, and it doesn't break character.

      The LSL questions also has some semblance of function, as they were meant as a weak sort of age-check. Not the best of course, but at least it had built in slack as you could miss a question and still get in.

      The Hugo puzzle though is the last "big" puzzle of the game though, and if you didn't know every answer you were blocked just before the final scene. And in 1990, you couldn't just Google the answer either.

      It might be a bit harsh to call it worst puzzle of the year, but I truly find these kind of mandatory puzzles unforgivable.

      Making logic puzzles fair and generally solvable is really, really hard, but considering the world wide audience of games these days coming up with trivia questions that's as fair to a 18 year old Californian guy, a 30 year old Japanese woman and a 45 year old Indian guy is no easier I think.

    4. I actually love that sort of trivia hidden within a game - I am an avid fan of Marx Brothers and it was just hoot to get to speak with Chico and Groucho in the second Quest for Glory. Trivia becomes a problem only when it stops one entertaining the rest of the game. In case of Hugo, it's just not the datedness that is the problem. Like Player's Bill of Rights ( says: player should not need to be American (or more generally, of any particular cultural heritage) to understand hints. Roy Rogers and his career would not have been that well known in Europe even in nineties, so the question would have been almost impossible to solve.

    5. Furthermore, I'd say trivia questions need not be bad - all one would have needed here is one poster of Roy Rogers and Bullet in some background art (surely some of the monsters were Western fans).

      And just because some trivia question can make a bad puzzle, it doesn't mean that there could be bad puzzles of other sort. Bank of Zork is notorious, of course.

      And finally, my original comment was made tongue firmly in cheek. Yes, I know there's plenty of more hairbrained puzzles waiting in store during this year.

    6. Yeah, you guys are echoing the same thoughts I've had. Hugo should've at least had a bookshelf or something you could peruse; a way within the game to find the answer. Random outside knowledge that you either have or you don't is no fun when it's a barrier.

      I haven't played it since I was a teenager, but I thought Conquests of Camelot had something similar. One of the challenges had you solving riddles. You could go on if you were unable to solve the riddles, but you couldn't get the best ending. That was especially tough because you couldn't Google nor could you find riddles in a reference book/encyclopedia.

      Another question, was Hugo even released in Europe in 1990? The author might've been targeting an American audience and never expected a Jester's Cap in Australia to be playing it 23 years later! :)

      But yes, I love pop culture references in my adventure games except when they bar the way forward.

    7. But those riddles in Camelot are much easier and more gratifying to solve, because they reference mundane, common things that everybody knows (and make sense in a medieval setting). There's also a similar moment in Conquests of the Longbow.

    8. Actually, taking look at the list of possible riddles in Camelot, there's one in particular that seemed a bit out of place in a medieval setting (I'll ROT13 this, because Trickster hasn't got there yet). Evqqyr vf "Yvtugre guna jung V nz znqr bs, Zber bs zr vf uvqqra Guna vf frra" naq gur nafjre vf vproret. Rira vs vproretf jrer n pbzzba fvtug va zrqvriny Ratynaq, V fbzrubj qbhog gung crbcyr xarj zbfg bs na vproret vf npghnyyl uvqqra haqre jngre.

    9. Well, I don't play adventure games much, but thinking about it I don't like trivia problems:

      1) They are either trivial or impossible. Think about it; Either you know the answer, can google it or you are done and don't have a way to go on. There isn't an in-between way where there is a clever way for you to figure it out. This is sort of like a lot of bio and the multiple choice sections of history tests: You either know it or you don't. I prefer good chemistry, physics and computer science type tests; You may not know it, but there are clues you can use to figure it out, or at least get part marks.

      2) They break immersions in most cases. Why is there someone asking me these things? This goes double if it is trivia in a world that isn't normal earth, say a fantasy game.

      3) Technical issues: Windows has major problems alt-tabbing between full screen applications. I like to run games full screen, so it is a pain for me to access my browser during the game. I should not have to save and quite your game to solve a puzzle.

      I have seen a couple of these points done well: The Sherlock Holmes meets Cthulhu game I have (I forget the name and need to get back to work, sorry) has question segments where Sherlock asks you stuff like what country you should be headed to. This is all in character, and based on clues you've seen. Now, the problem with that was there was a clue involving n angvbany synt, naq jryy, V qba'g xabj Rhebcrna syntf ng nyy, naq nf fhpu, qvqa'g erpbtavmr gung pyhr NF n synt so I had to use a walkthrough. So it can be done in character, but still can have problems. Now this could have been improved if gurer jnf n cynpr jvgu n ohapu bs syntf vapyhqvat gur bar lbh fnj, fb lbh pbhyq znxr gur pbaarpgvba, be vs gurer jnf na ngynf ninvynoyr, be fbzrguvat yvxr gung. So I think it CAN be done well, it is just rare and hard to do.

  7. Replies
    1. Well, I'm catching up to one person, and falling behind the leader. Intresting. Wheeeee flying squirrel! Also, I think the sugar glider does the same thing, but it is called a glider in its name...

      Aren't some of these critters native to your part of the world Trickster?

  8. WooHoo, shooting up the CAPs ladder one point at a time

  9. You mentioned an inconsistency in graphics quality and singled out the opening shot of the house exterior. I was reading through Saturday crapshoot and they pointed out something interesting.

    Look what happens when I click on the first link after searching google for free haunted house clip art...

    1. Well that explains a lot! I was wondering why that first screen had much more detail than all the rest. It was outright plagiarism!

    2. Not sure you can plagiarize artwork, and it's also in the public domain (not sure if it was at the time). What he should have done is continued to fill his game with prefab art, or hired an artist (but then he'd have to pay for that).

  10. I wouldn’t rate Puzzles category so low. There are games for different audiences: easy for kids and beginners, medium for regular players and hard for genre-addictive hardcore gamers. Looks like this one suits the former.