Sunday, 4 December 2022

7th Guest - Final Rating

Written by Reiko

Having finished the 7th Guest and taken some time to consider the experience, I'm going to take it apart and consider what worked and what didn't. I'm glad I got to experience this classic game, but it really hasn't aged well. I wish I'd at least tried playing it back in the day so that nostalgia could have helped me out a bit.

Puzzles and Solvability

We've got a mixed bag here, for sure. Probably two-thirds of the game is solving puzzles, and the rest is trying to understand the ghostly scenes. The variety is good: we've got chess puzzles and tile puzzles and language puzzles and even a music puzzle, but the quality is uneven. Most of the puzzles are interesting to some extent, but honestly I'm struggling to think of puzzles that were truly fun.

I liked this clever twist on a maze

Now that I've finished, my favorites are still the mazes: the heart maze with the valves and the full-size maze depicted in the rug. The card and skull coin puzzles, where the goal is to find a connected path through all the objects, were also quite good: I liked making the realization that the path could jump over gaps and also previously flipped objects. The door path puzzles (the insects and the knives) were tricky but fair.

Most of the early puzzles were a bit too simple for my tastes. Then with the chess puzzles they started to get more difficult and also longer and more tedious. The balance was not so good. I would have rather liked the music puzzle, but again it was just too long, so I was a bit worried through the second half that I was going to hit a wrong note and have to start over. There are ways to make music puzzles that aren’t tedious, but that didn’t happen here.

Which words are correct is half the battle…

Then we have the extra difficult puzzles. I used tools (dictionaries and databases) to solve the language puzzle (cans) and the Rubik letter puzzle. And it sounds like the infamously difficult blob (microscope) puzzle was originally difficult enough that some people used a solver for it too.

Finally we have the inscrutable puzzles: the chapel floor puzzle and the attic dollhouse puzzle. I mostly understand how they work now, but at the time I solved them almost entirely by trial and error without understanding their mechanics.

The puzzles are generally fair (except for the microscope puzzle, which arguably isn't a puzzle at all when it simulates an AI playing a two-player game against the player). There are no dead-ends; either the puzzle is solved or it isn't.

Score: 6

Interface and Inventory

The interface mostly stays out of the player's way, especially in puzzles. The main menu screen has all the meta options. As I mentioned at the beginning, the Anniversary Edition has a few quality of life features that the legacy edition does not, so I'll note that the legacy edition would be a point lower. This is mostly for things like highlighting the hotspots and such and also the movement speed and responsiveness.

A few times I did have trouble figuring out how to do something, but this was less the interface and more due to either the muddiness of the graphics or the opaqueness of the puzzle itself. The interface was always clear about what I was allowed to do, especially when I hit the button to show hotspots, even if the puzzle was sometimes unclear about why I was only allowed to do those specific things.

I had trouble maneuvering around the staircase.

The movement through the house was tediously slow, however, and from what I could tell, it was even slower in the legacy edition than the anniversary edition. The first floor especially was annoying when trying to get from one side of the stairs over to the other side of the stairs. I often found myself going the wrong way because the view was limited, so I'd end up clicking a door instead of turning around.

There was no inventory at all; 7th Guest is actually more of a pure puzzle game than the Dr. Brain games.

Score: 6 (5 for legacy)

Story and Setting

I'm rather torn on this category. The setting here is fantastic: a large and detailed house with realistic rooms (except for the chapel, maybe) and also creepy vibes all over the place. It's the perfect haunted house setting. But the story is an utter mess.

Well, honestly I think the story could have been interesting except that it was presented so poorly. I didn't even know which characters were in some of the scenes! That's partly due to the fuzzy graphics, which is a different issue, but even so, I did not follow what was going on at all once I got to the actual gameplay.

This part of the story was very understandable.

The introduction started us off well enough, with a clear backstory for the main villain and a clear description of how he was harming children. So I understood what Stauf had been doing and how he got the money to build himself his house. Then I got into the house and the story went to pieces. Literally.

Most puzzles and many new areas each gave me a little snippet of the story, which often ended up out of order. It's certainly possible to show a story this way and let the player put the pieces together and figure out what happened. It can even be especially immersive and cinematic to do it like that, if done properly. But it's got to make sense in the end once enough pieces have been encountered!

What is Temple actually doing? I don’t have any idea either.

This story did not make sense at all. I still don't understand what was going on with the skeleton on the bed, the baby in the chapel, the skeleton in the chapel for that matter, the naked man in the laboratory, the clown in the game room, Stauf's head in the kitchen pot, Stauf's wheelchair, or even why solving puzzles freed Tad. And that's just what I could think of off the top of my head. I understand the vaguest outline of the plot, but so many details were never explained or never presented in the first place.

I thought originally that the six guests and Tad all died on the same night with Tad having accidentally crashed the party, but someone said that Tad came later, after the original six guests died, and ran afoul of the ghosts. But why did everyone want Tad? Was it only that Stauf was collecting children and was supposedly going to grant a wish to whoever captured Tad for him? But if everyone was already dead, why did they kill each other over Tad in the scenes if Tad wasn't there yet? Was there a time loop? Is Stauf dead too? It hurts my brain to try to make sense of it all.

Score: 4

Sound and Graphics

The main hall's theme was delightfully ominous, and another theme made an appearance in the music puzzle, so it helped to pay a little attention to the music. I liked that there were different themes in different areas, which helped the music not feel quite so repetitive. Aside from that, though, I didn't really notice the sounds too much. In puzzles, manipulating objects generally made appropriate clicks or sliding sounds, enough to give good feedback that something was happening without being distracting.

The visuals were again a very mixed bag. The room backgrounds were quite detailed and gave the feel of an elaborately decorated mansion very well, although that's really more counting toward atmosphere than anything else. However, all the character video graphics were low resolution and blurry, to the point where I literally could not recognize characters sometimes, which certainly did not do me any favors when it came to understanding what was going on.

Temple is barely recognizable by his clothes, while Tad is a complete unknown.

There's a very early scene in the upstairs hallway, which triggers before the player has any way of knowing who Tad is, where I thought Tad was a woman because his outfit was shapeless enough to give the look of a dress and the face was far too blurry to see any detail. Even the backgrounds struggled with displaying fine details: in the spiral puzzle, I tried the wrong letter a couple of times because I could not correctly read what the letter was.

Even the puzzle with the cans would have unintentionally been even harder than it was if it had been any smaller, but fortunately the cans were large enough that the letters were readable. There was that one odd glitch with the H can though that I briefly thought might be significant to the puzzle, although it wasn't.

So it's unfortunate now that the category for which the game would have been most lauded back in the day, due to the newness of CD-ROM technology, is now one of the lowest-scoring categories in the ranking. That indicates just how badly the game has aged.

Trickster has made some contemporary reviews available for our reference via digital scans, so I took a look through a few of them. Computer Gaming World's 1993 sneak preview article has this to say about the hype: "...Guest is one of the first games for MS-DOS compatibles that has been designed from the ground up to take full advantage of the potential that CD-ROM has to offer. In fact, not only does Guest consume an entire CD-ROM... it actually requires TWO." [Emphasis in the original.]

I really think the game would have been far better for taking a page out of Myst's book (ha!) and including some textual clues in the environment, like letters, notes, documents, or at least some labels on things, like luggage, perhaps. The developers' insistence that everything had to be graphical and use live actors was the game's undoing in a way. Sure it wowed people of the time with the new flashy graphics, but there was little substance behind them.

Score: 3

Environment and Atmosphere

The entire environment is the creepy house belonging to Stauf, and here the game certainly delivers. As I said under setting, the house is fantastic, detailed and realistically arranged. But more than that, the game goes out of its way to offer creepy and spooky effects here and there.

The muddy graphics actually add to this somewhat by making the scenes seem even more ghostly than they would with clearer graphics. I don't really like the effect, but I can't deny that it's effective at making it creepy.

Hands pushing from inside the painting

Many rooms also offer those optional effects, indicated by the chattering teeth icon, which generally add some creepy visual to the room. In the dining room we have the dishes dancing; in the hallway we have the painting that appears as if someone is trapped inside it; the violin in the music room plays itself; the skeleton plays the piano in the chapel; and a few places offer strange passages back to the library.

Score: 8

Dialog and Acting

There's no interactive dialogue in the game, and there are no written texts (aside from letters in puzzles) to experience, so aside from the introduction, nearly all the dialogue in the game falls into two categories: flashback scenes between the other characters, or commentary to or by the character during the puzzle-solving process.

As I mentioned, the flashbacks were very difficult to understand, even with the subtitles, because the graphics were so unclear. The lines could likely have been written in such a way as to make things clearer. What makes it even worse is that, as I understand it (since I didn't do it myself), if a player decides to skip a puzzle by using the hint book, then the flashback scene that would have followed the puzzle doesn't play, so the player misses that bit of the story, for what that's worth.

Stauf's insanity comes through quite well in the library poem.

As for the acting and vocal performances, Stauf, played by Robert Hirschboeck, is suitably creepy and intense, but the guests are variously whiny, wooden, or overdone. I think the game suffered quite a lot from the hype of the fairly new video technology, and the development focused so much on getting the visuals of the actors into the game that they didn't bother to actually get decent actors to play the parts.

In fact, according to Jimmy Maher's detailed examination of the production process of the game, the developers spent only $35,000 and two days on filming all the scenes, so they needed actors that would work for next to nothing. That then tells you all you need to know about the quality of the acting, or lack of it.

One other aspect that really grated on me was the way that Stauf would repeatedly snap at me to hurry up while I was trying to solve a complicated puzzle, especially the chess puzzles or the late-game portrait puzzle with the red and green faces. I'd be completely fine if he said it once or twice during a solve, for flavor, but he said it something like every 30 seconds while I spent ten or fifteen minutes solving a puzzle. That's just excessive and obnoxious, and I wished multiple times that there was a way to turn that off without turning all the voices off.

Score: 3

In short, the game was trying to be an interactive horror movie, and while it succeeded well enough on the horror side, the interactivity was limited to moving slowly around the house and solving puzzles that only fit thematically, not sensibly, and the movie side was rather a failure. That's about one and a half goals achieved out of three there, or half good. Let's see how the more detailed scale rates it.

We get a total score of 6+6+4+3+8+3 = 30/60*100 = 50. My instinct that the game was literally half good was dead on, ha!

Fifteen people made guesses ranging from 70 to 2. Corey Cole and Vetinari both came closest to the final rating, with guesses of 48 and 52.

So there we have it, the result of modern eyes on a classic of adventure gaming. Some of you may think I’ve been too generous, and some may have enough nostalgia to think I haven’t been generous enough. Just remember this was a completely blind playthrough, so nostalgia didn’t factor in for me. If you like the experience the game offers of wandering through a vividly rendered haunted house, you’re likely to enjoy it more than someone like me who plays adventure games primarily for puzzles and story.

But it scored higher than the Dr. Brain games. Is it really a better game than those? Well, yes and no. Personally, I enjoyed the Dr. Brain games more. The distribution of scores is completely different, though, and more than that, 7th Guest was reaching really high and trying to do something almost completely new with contemporarily new technology. It was absolutely a success by the standards of the time. But just because I think it failed at what it was trying to do doesn’t mean it failed at being an interesting and worthwhile experience, and it set the bar for future games to come. As the Les Brown quote goes, “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.”

One analogy might be that Dr. Brain is like a comfortable, well-trodden path through a regional park on a sunny day: the hike is safe and beautiful, but you won’t see anything particularly new. 7th Guest is like a narrow footpath through the jungle at night: you’re exploring a new place and you may see some amazing things if you’re in the right place at the right time, but it’ll be very hard to tell what’s going on in the dark, and you might get lost along the way. But some people will find that more fun than the other kind of hike.

CAP Distribution

100 points to Reiko

  • Blogger award - 100 CAPs - for blogging through this game for our enjoyment
210 points to Morpheus Kitami

  • Classic Blogger award - 50 CAPs - for blogging through A Personal Nightmare for our enjoyment
  • Classic Blogger x 2 award - 50 CAPs - for blogging through Last Half of Darkness for our enjoyment
  • Classic Blogger x 3 award - 50 CAPs - for blogging through Transylvania for our enjoyment
  • Classic Blogger x4 award - 50 CAPs - for blogging through The Beyond for our enjoyment
  • Psychic Prediction award - 10 CAPs - for guessing closest to the score for La Crypte des Maudits
    • 50 points to Joe Pranevich

    • Classic Blogger award - 50 CAPs - for blogging through Lurking Horror for our enjoyment
    • 50 points to Ilmari
      • Classic Blogger award - 50 CAPs - for blogging through La Crypte des Maudits for our enjoyment

      35 points to Michael

      • Psychic Prediction award - 10 CAPs - for guessing closest to the score for Lurking Horror
      • What's Your Story award 25 CAPs - for sharing What's Your Story answers

      22 points to Laukku

      • True Companion award - 10 CAPs - for playing 7th Guest along with me
      • Strategy Analysis award - 10 CAPs - for performing a detailed analysis of the microscope puzzle using the Ataxx version of the game
      • Punster award - 2 CAPs - for suggesting the knight/night pun that the game should have made

      10 points to ShaddamIVth

      • Translator award - 10 CAPs - For translating some Dutch for The Beyond
      10 points for Andy Panthro
      • Helping Hand award - 10 CAPs - For all the little things he pointed out for Personal Nightmare

      10 points to Corey Cole

      • Psychic Prediction award - 10 CAPs - for guessing closest to the score for 7th Guest

      10 points to Vetinari

      • Psychic Prediction award - 10 CAPs - for guessing closest to the score for 7th Guest

      10 points to Leo Vellés

      • Psychic Prediction award - 10 CAPs - for guessing closest to the score for A Personal Nightmare

      10 points for limbeck

      • Straight Up! award - 10 CAPs - for an exactly correct guess for Straight 3 for 1993

      5 points to El despertando

      • Gamers Are Readers Too award - 5 CAPs - for writing up a mini-review of the 7th Guest novelization

      5 points to Ross

      • Moon Logic Resolution award - 2 CAPs - for suggesting how to fix the soup cans disconnect with a visual effect
      • Difficulty Analysis award - 3 CAPs - for verbalizing the difficulty with the soup cans puzzle

      Next up for me, in the not too distant future, should be Gateway II: Homeworld. I certainly can’t claim to be free of nostalgia for that one!


      1. A great review! I played this not too long ago and think that I might have given higher points in graphics and sound, if only because the music (the "sound" half!) is frequently quite good. There are some hidden musical tracks on the 7th Guest CD which you can play and I enjoyed them as a kid. Even so, I doubt my rating would be much different than yours as I likely would have scored something else lower.

        Playing Dracula Unleashed now, I cannot help but think that the 7th Guest integrated the video player much more seamlessly into the experience. It feels less like a FMV game and more like an experience.

        1. Thanks! That reminds me of finding Holst's Mars on my CD for Outpost (man that game was buggy but still so fun).

        2. I'd probably been more favourable in terms of graphics, crediting it for art direction (e.g. the stairway at the start is a decently memorable sight), advancements in 3D graphics, and being in higher resolution than was common in the era. I thought making everyone one a ghostly apparition was a clever way to justify the limitations of blurry FMV. On the other hand I found the game tedious, boring and silly, and would've scored it lower in E&A, likely resulting in pretty much the same overall score anyway.

      2. ShaddamIVth is owed 10 CAPs for his work in translating some Dutch back when I did The Beyond. (and one might say that Andy deserves 10 for all the little things he pointed out during my playthrough of Personal Nightmare, but I didn't offer CAPs for that like I did for Shaddam)

        I feel like the game is a bit better when you just consider this a traditional haunted house movie, but done up as a video game. Its something that despite its clicheness, isn't really done that often as a video game in this old Hollywood-style, and its that appeal that led to the game having a fanbase over the years despite most other FMV games turning into Youtuber fodder. I get the feeling a lot of the people who played this never really looked at the novel. I hope they didn't look at the novel.
        As to the comparisons with Dr. Brain, personality, I always noted that there were a few really fun puzzles in each game and the rest were kind of generic. (and I note this applies to entries that you haven't covered yet too) In 7th Guest, to me, outside of the obviously annoying puzzles, maintained a better quality. Sort of the exact opposite observation you had.

      3. That certainly was interesting so thank you Reiko for a very thorough review, I especially enjoyed reading how you solved the soup cans as I really thought that was going to be near impossible.

        If the FMV and the plot had been clearer it could easily have become much more of a classic, maybe that's where Myst succeeded and became so well regarded. But that's what you get if you try your hand at amateur film making of you're really a programmer I guess. I think I read somewhere they used actors from a local theater group, could even have been this blog but I'm not sure.

        1. Thanks for the kind words. I was honestly surprised after the fact that I managed to do as well as I did. You can tell which puzzles were the hardest by which ones I had to come back to later after first encountering them, rather than solving them right away. (Soup cans, alphabet blocks, and microscope.)