Tuesday 27 June 2023

Dracula Unleashed - Missed Scenes, Cut Content, and Final Rating

Written by Joe Pranevich

We made it to the end of Dracula Unleashed! Usually, these final posts are about rating the game and moving on. I am eager to move on (and have already started Plundered Hearts), but I cannot give a complete rating of the game without first looking at the scenes and endings that I missed. There were not that many of them, but I would hate to rate the game without the full picture. 

Dracula Unleashed is also the rare example of a non-Infocom game where we can discuss some of the discarded material, thanks both to the extras on the DVD edition as well as the information supplied in the hint book. None of the cut material will be considered for the rating, but I enjoyed working through the sources to see what might have been.

Dracula may rule the night, but he’s never faced a PISSED rating before. Let’s see how he does!

Spying on the bookstore owner.

Missed Content

Dracula Unleashed is a game where it is easy to miss things. Every scene in the game runs on a schedule, some scenes are different depending on what objects you are carrying, and missing an earlier scene can sometimes block later ones. Exploring the game’s chronological space is challenging and I resorted to building tables of what events happened when, “brute force” searching between events to look for ones that I missed. Most events have wide windows, but a few were tougher to find. I expected to find that I missed a lot. 

Thankfully, working out which ones I missed wasn’t too difficult. The Dracula Unleashed hintbook helpfully includes an index of every scene in the game, including those that require specific items. It does not call out all of the scene variations based on held items, except where the difference was critical. Even so, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I missed only a few sequences during the game:

  • After midnight on the first night, we could have returned to the bookshop to spy on Horner. I am not sure why Alexander would have been suspicious of him yet. Doing so would have revealed the hidden room (and how to open it) to Alexander earlier than happened in my playthrough.

  • We also could have sent one more telegram (on the third day) to Father Janos. He would have responded with a new scene with more details about the “cult” that revived Dracula. We would later discover that the cult was at least some of the members of the Hades Club, including Goldacre and Horner. 

Amazingly, that is more or less it. There is a rare event that I did stumble on but neglected to talk about: at night, there is a low chance of being questioned by the police if we snoop around certain locations. I saw it at the university, while the hint book mentioned it at the bookshop. I was unable to ever reproduce it again and forgot to take a screenshot. 

Who comes out of the crypt at the end is determined by how well you play the game.

The remainder of content that I missed is all endgame-related. Depending on my performance in the game, I could have triggered several additional “good” and “bad” endings. I am not certain how to trigger each one, but this list is helpfully provided by the hintbook:

  • At the burned out Asylum, we could have discovered Seward’s body hanging from a rafter after he apparently kills himself. 

  • At Holmwood’s home where we found Regina’s still-standing corpse, we could have discovered Jonathan there as well. In that variation, he seems to have found and knocked over her corpse and then was subsequently bitten by Dracula.

  • At Harker’s home, we could have discovered Mina and Professor van Helsing both dead of Dracula’s bite.

  • At some point during the night, Dracula could find Alexander in the street. He throws a cross at our feet to demonstrate that he’s now immune to Christian symbology (presumably powered-up after killing Anisette) and then he kills us too. 

Those death scenes seem to relate directly to four possible endings of the game:

  • A “worst case” where Alexander defeats Dracula, but only he and Anisette survive.

  • A scenario where Jonathan and Dr. Seward are both killed. Alexander, Anisette, Mina, and Professor van Helsing survive.

  • A scenario where only Dr. Seward is killed. Alexander, Anisette, Mina, Jonathan, and Professor van Helsing survive.

  • The “best case” where everyone lives. That is the ending that I found. 

Horner’s death does not seem to impact any of the endings. For any of the non-best endings, an “Epilogue” message would trigger by Professor van Helsing to tell us that we could have done better and to play again. The closing credits may only play over the best ending, but I am not certain on that point. 

I am disappointed that I did so well. I hoped that missing scenes would have addressed some of the dead-end plot threads such as Leopold’s wife (who we saw once as a Bloofer lady), Goldacre’s quest to bury Juliet early, and the raid on the cemetery that was reported in the paper but never followed up on. Notably, the scene at the opening of the game with Alexander talking to his brother’s grave never appeared in the story itself and it is not clear where it would have gone. I had hoped for some narrative magic to recontextualize it, but it was not to be!

Other than having multiple endings– a major plus for me– the missed content doesn’t add much and won’t change the score in any real way. 

It’s nice when we have easy access to deleted content. I am grateful to YouTuber "WarpedPixels" for the upload.

Cut Content and Deleted Scenes

Unlike with our Infocom games, we have never been lucky to get a source code leak for Dracula Unleashed or any of the ICOM adventures. Fortunately, we still have two sources for information on cut content for this game: the DVD and the hintbook.

As discussed in the introduction, Dracula Unleashed was remastered and rereleased in 2002 by Infinite Adventures. They reworked the original video for full screen (standard definition) and ported the software to work directly on compatible DVD players that supported the DVD-Video “VM” instruction set. I hoped to try this out for myself, but copies of the DVD are rare (as I type this, one is being sold on eBay for $500). Even with six months of searching, I was never able to find an affordable copy. Like most DVDs of the era, the Dracula Unleashed DVD included deleted scenes, outtakes, a production featurette, and other materials to pad out the release.

Of the five deleted scenes, two are basic: one scene of Alexander writing in his journal at the desk in his room plus one more scene with him being questioned by the police. The former could have been slotted in someplace, but as it implies that Alexander writes his journal only in his flat, it may have confused players. 

A set of keys inside a dead body?

The remaining scenes all involve a deleted puzzle:

  • At the Hades Club, presumably on the final night, Alexander arrives to find the door locked. This is implied but there is no “deleted” scene showing this. 

  • Alexander would find the missing key by searching Regina’s body after knocking her over at Holmwood’s home. There are variations of this scene both with and without Jonathan also being dead.

  • A final scene shows Alexander using the key to get into the club.

Why might this have been cut? Unless there was more explanation elsewhere, it makes little sense for Regina to have had a key to the club. Arthur certainly would have had a key, but Regina never once showed interest in the Hades Club at any time that we spoke to her. We could imagine Dracula/Arthur planting it on her, but that also doesn’t make sense as we are chasing after Goldacre at this point and there is no reason for Dracula to be helping us in any way. Why would the club have been locked anyway? Goldacre wants Dracula to find Anisette in his trap room; locking the door would at best slow Dracula down and at worst remind players of the superstition that Dracula cannot enter anywhere that he is not invited into. All in all, the sequence is better on the cutting room floor. 

Very helpful for this wrap up!

Our next set of cut content is more speculative, but helps to fill out the story. The Dracula Unleashed hint book by Rick Barba includes a “novelization” of the game, similar to the ones in the off-brand Sierra hint books but hewing very close to the game’s actual dialog and journal entries for most of the text. Movie novelizations are often based on shooting scripts rather than a final product and frequently contain deleted sequences, but they can also contain original ideas from the author that were never intended in the production. As Barba’s “novelization” is very close to the exact text of the game, the few places where it differs may reveal lost ideas. Even if this is all apocryphal, the small number of differences are worth talking about and fill in some gaps left by the game itself. 

The opening of the novel clarifies some points that make the game make more sense. We learn that Alexander had only just met Arthur Holmwood in person prior to the start of the game. Arthur and Regina had spent the last several months vacationing on the continent; Alexander’s introduction to Arthur and subsequent conversations about his brother were all done by letter or telegram. We now know that this is because Arthur and Regina were already dead and Dracula, still regaining his strength, was avoiding people that the Holmwoods knew in life. This further explains the death of Holmwood’s coachman on the first day as he may have sensed something off about his recently-returned employer and needed to be dealt with. (Their butler also appears in scenes at the beginning of the game but is gone by the end. This is never mentioned in either the game or the novel, but the implication is that he is also killed off at some point.) 

There are nearly no differences that I found through the middle of the game as the text is remarkably word-for-word. The remaining differences are all in the final day:

  • The newspaper salesman’s dialog about how amazing life will be in 1999 is not in the novel at all, suggesting either that this (funny!) scene was improvised or that Barba did not think the tone of fitting for his work.

  • After Briarcliffe’s death, Alexander slips a note to the police to inform them that the murderer had another victim. He didn’t want the body to go undiscovered, but he didn’t have time to deal with the inevitable questions right at that moment.

  • When Alexander listens to Goldacre and Horner through the bookshelf, Goldacre’s dialog is more forceful. He tells Horner that while Dracula is trying to trap them, he can turn the tables and trap Dracula instead. 

  • Father Janos’s final telegram stated that Dracula was revived on January 1, 1899, a year prior to the game, but that he needed “young life’s blood” to make his return to un-life permanent.

  • Later when Alexander finds Holmwood and Seward asleep while “guarding” Anisette, Alexander checks and finds that the windows and doors are still closed and locked. This would have been a clue that Dracula was still in the house.

  • The novelization places the scene at Quincey’s grave with the Bowie knife immediately before staking Juliet. The “I know now what I must do” referred to her, not Dracula. 

London Bridge circa 1880. This is the boring bridge, the nice one that everyone thinks is the London Bridge is actually London Tower Bridge.

The final and largest difference with the novel is the ending. In the game, we defeat Dracula and immediately jump to several days later after Arthur and Regina’s funeral. The novel reveals that Jonathan was only a few steps behind Alexander that whole night and had discovered Regina shortly after we did. (This is implied in the game itself as we could have found Jonathan dead there if we arrived too late.) After Dracula was defeated, Alexander, Jonathan, and Dr. Seward quickly met and divided up the beast’s ashes before casting them to the wind from three church towers in different parts of London. They also retrieved the amulet but was unable to destroy it, instead dropping it off the London Bridge into the Thames for the inevitable sequel hook. The novel ends with Alexander preparing to meet young Quincey, his brother’s namesake, and we learn that the child was born ten years to the day after Quincey’s death. The end.

All in all, I love these details although the scenes both around London and on London Bridge would have been challenging to pull off from a soundstage in Minnesota. The ending that we were left with wasn’t quite as fulfilling. 

Time to write a rating! This is the deleted scene of Alexander journaling from the DVD. The video quality was much improved.

Final Rating

This is going to be a difficult game to score. While its predecessors, the Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective games, were not “adventure games”, Dracula Unleashed builds on those foundations to create a new style of adventure game based around a FMV engine. It’s not a complete adventure as we understand them as there are no inventory puzzles and much more limited interaction, but it’s a great attempt and I’ve never played anything quite like it. 

We’ll have to see how the numbers add up, but I’m near certain it will score better than Consulting Detective.

Sometimes secondary elements in a scene turn out to be important.

Puzzles and Solvability

Dracula Unleashed is not a typical adventure, but includes at least three types of puzzles: basic inventory puzzles, “mapping” a timeline, and an optimization problem, in addition to the story-based mystery of “who killed Quincey Morris”. It’s worth looking at each of these types of puzzles in more detail. 

The inventory puzzles are very simple for the genre: we can put a single item “in hand” and doing so can affect the scenes that we will watch. Sometimes this adds color (such as holding the magic book while talking to Professor van Helsing in the pub), but more often it is required to get a good version of a scene such as surviving the attack at the asylum by readying the blackjack. It’s all trial and error, except that there is no room for “error”: failing to use an object at the right time means that you have to restore to an earlier saved game to try again. There are no object combination puzzles or any deeper manipulation of the scenes. Most of the objects we receive throughout the game have no use, or at least no use that I found or mentioned by the hint book. All we can do is collect objects (automatically when we watch a scene) and we either have them in hand or not. While there is an option to drop items that we collect, this is never needed throughout the game.

Is this a dagger inventory item I see before me?

The event map is arguably the stronger example of this game’s puzzles. Every location in the game has scenes that happen at certain times, although the window is usually large enough to be difficult to miss or telegraphed enough through dialog that you know what appointments matter. I took a brute force approach and still missed a few scenes, though I saw most of them. Just knowing about the scenes aren’t enough because we also have to craft a path through the game (using the timing information on the in-game map) to make sure we proceed efficiently. I could have over-thought this, but there is no indication what scenes are important and what ones are not so it was risky to miss one and have it block an event later. The final paths that I selected through the game work only barely and there is not that much room for error to see everything. There is only one scene that I know I missed (Horner’s accidental death), but that one seems to be structured such that if you kill him, it is difficult to impossible to win. I like that the game encourages you to take the time to experience everything. I also like how the game scales up the difficulty as you go: on the first day, we have few options and it’s much harder to miss things as we collect new address book entries. By the final day, the world has opened up and we must be a master of the cab system to move through well. This is brought to a head in the end-game as the later it is when we kill Dracula, the fewer of our friends survive. 

I’ll discuss the story more in later sections. Overall, the puzzles were fun but a more robust way to interact with the items would have gone a long way. My score: 4

A myriad of interface icons, some not used in the game itself.

Interface and Inventory

As a game set around a small video window, our interface is simplistic: a few icons at the bottom of the screen for the journal, clock, inventory, and map. We also have access to a basic inventory screen and Professor van Helsing’s narrated tutorial and help pages. A few more icons show up in specific circumstances, like when resting reading a telegram. The system is simple, but effective.

As compared to Sherlock Holmes, the interface is upscaled. I’m not sure if that game ran in 640x480 and this one runs in 800x600 or some alternate (S)VGA combination, but Dracula Unleashed is a sharper-looking game with video that is both clearer and takes up more of the screen. I know from interviews that the team struggled with video compression and the need to keep the video streaming at a rate that could be accomplished by CD-ROMs of the day, but they left few obvious clues that they were running against their limits. It helps that the director was instructed to not move the camera during shots to allow every background pixel to stay as static as possible. 

The inventory was weak, as discussed with “Puzzles”, but we must give credit that everything is narrated. I sort-of like the touch (confusing at first) that we get descriptions of things by clicking an “ear” rather than “eye” in the interface as we are told what something is instead of shown. There is almost no text in the game at all! It’s a nice package for a FMV game, but still a simple interface for relatively simple interactions. My score: 5

We start the game with a flash forward and fill in from there.

Story and Setting

Dracula Unleashed is, perhaps surprisingly, an entertaining mystery from beginning to end. The opening acts where Alexander struggles to break through to his brother’s friends are fun, but it’s a real relief when Professor van Helsing arrives and he’s finally brought into the truth – and where the game transitions from a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery to something much darker. I am completely a sucker for stories where “normals” are brought into secret truths (like TVTropes’s “Secret Keeper”) and the game handles the gradual reveal well. Even after that point, the game never ceases to be a mystery as Dracula lurks in the margins of every scene, becoming increasingly evident in Alexander’s life until the finale. It’s well done.

That is not to say however that it holds together all that well once you know the truth, at least without a healthy dose of head-cannon. I have replayed the first couple of days now to look for signs that Arthur and Regina were not who we thought, but neither Jay Nickerson or Kathryn O’Malley play their parts with the type of sly subtlety that is needed to pull off that trick. It’s difficult to discern why Dracula (disguised as Arthur) would bring Alexander into the Hades Club, nor why he would give Alexander (through Quincey’s present) the opening to become friends with the Harkers. Dracula didn’t need Alexander to get close to Anisette or Juliet and the opening of the game is clear that he would have gotten to Anisette earlier if not for Alexander. The death of the Holmwoods’ coachman fits well as Dracula trying to hide his tracks, but not why they needed to do it with the excuse of sending the present. The details don’t add up beyond either Dracula playing with his food or some vestigial bits of Holmwood that somehow wanted Alexander to succeed. I welcome other theories or details that I missed. 

The part of the Demeter Wolf was played by King, an actual wolf-thespian.

As commenters know better than I, the game hews tightly to the canon of the Dracula novel rather than the more theatrical depictions, both in terms of his powers and in the background events. Bits like the “Demeter Wolf” at the pub were great winking connections to the original story. It feels well-researched. 

That is a ton about story and I haven’t even touched on “Setting” yet! I’ll look at that in more detail when I talk about “Environment” shortly, but London at the turn of the century is well done. Street addresses are all plausible and I had great fun trying to locate where different places were on a real street map. The limitations of the sets mean we get relatively few outdoor scenes (and only at night), but this isn’t the type of game where we expect Alexander to relax in Covent Garden. Like in the Sherlock Holmes games, Alexander exclusively travels by cab even though the London Underground (established in the 1860s) was already established. In truth, this is perhaps realistic: Alexander being both wealthy and Texan (so unused to cities) may have made him to be uncomfortable on the Underground; upper-class people tended to favor the privacy and personal space afforded by a carriage both then and now. 

Given that I enjoyed both the story and setting, I hope I am not being too generous. My score: 8

Split screen trickery so that Alexander could meet his dead brother. (Both played by Bill Williamson.) 

Sound and Graphics

I struggle to rate an FMV game against one of our third-person adventure games. How could I compare the beautiful watercolors of a Quest for Glory game to moody filmed sequence? 

We can start at least by comparing this game to some of the other FMV titles of the era. The 7th Guest received a 3 in this category, in part because the videos were low-resolution and blurry, it was difficult to tell the characters apart, and there were relatively few video segments. (That game also suffered from some early 3D renderings that didn’t always work with the filmed insets.) Dracula Unleashed has none of those problems: the video takes up an acceptable part of the screen, characters are easily recognizable (and well-acted), and they are ubiquitous in the way that the 7th Guest didn’t manage. The first Consulting Detective game received a 6 in this category, but it also suffered from muddy low-resolution video and a difficulty of telling minor characters apart. Dracula Unleashed seems to have learned from those mistakes, produced scenes that fit better in their resolution and are very comprehensible. Although entirely shot on a soundstage in Minnesota, you can see the care that went into the scenes, the lighting, and the special effects. Technically, they were also careful to shoot the film in such a way as to take advantage of the codec limitations at the time, avoiding rapid camera movements that would have led to pixelation at such a low bitrate. I don’t feel like I am playing in a postage stamp in Dracula Unleashed, even if we are far from a modern full-screen experience. 

I suppose this is also the right place to talk about special effects. The game is careful to introduce “supernatural” elements only sparingly but increasing towards the climax. Some of these looked cheap: “glowing eyes” seems to be colors drawn on the digital projection, the levitation is painfully obvious even at low resolution, but the practical effects like the makeup and the severed head are well-done.

It looks better as a still image.

As for sound, the score is appropriately moody and usually orchestral which works in a Dracula game of the time period. The additional use of choral pieces (from Carmina Burana, composed in 1936 by German composer Carl Orff) works thematically as well as musically. Juliet’s repeated song, which I now know was composed for the game by Jean Williamson and entitled, “It's Time to Rest”, starts out as whimsical and childlike but comes to take on a much more sinister meaning as the events of the game play out. I wished that they had added subtitles because some of the dialog is tough, especially when trying to spell characters names. 

Let’s talk about Carmina Burana for a second. I cannot fault the game for using it as it’s been used by many films and TV series, but Orff’s work was prized by the Nazi party and is considered one of the important cultural works of the Third Reich. According to a report at the conclusion of the war, Orff was “compromised by [his] actions during the Nazi period but not subscribe[d] to Nazi doctrine”. Others are less kind. In the context of the game, I suppose I cannot fault using a piece with such baggage as the leitmotif for Dracula and his minions, but some may find it uncomfortable. Other works have reused Orff’s music without comment and I barely should mention it here, but I did. Sorry about that.

Thinking about this, it’s certainly better than Consulting Detective and enough better that it gets a higher score. My score: 7

Christmas is often just in the background, a dark reminder of a joyful time.

Environment and Atmosphere

Something magical happens when you mix Christmas and horror. I am not a horror fan and know most of the the truth of that statement indirectly, but it absolutely works here. It’s off-putting and beautiful, to be plotting the demise of Dracula while surrounded with bright Christmas decorations. The director and set designers did very well to mix the genres and avoided over-lighting or making Christmas too much or too festive, but as a recurring motif in the background it is very well done.

I always struggle with the “Environment and Atmosphere” score because it is based on how the game makes you feel rather than the more mundane concerns of “Setting”. (I like to use the example of The Colonel’s Bequest as a game that has a well-designed setting in the southern mansion and a suitable creepy atmosphere.) The game comes together better than it probably should, at least in my mind. I have struggled with what to rate this as, but I consider the careful consideration of atmosphere to be one of the things the game does very well. My score: 8

Louis Markert is one of the stand-out actors of the game. 

Dialog and Acting

It’s rare to discuss actual “Acting” in these games, but this is a game that succeeds or fails based on its cast. It mostly succeeds and the acting is fine, especially compared to some of the god-awful FMV games that we will see. I credit this to using real actors and directors from Minnesota theater, plus having the experience of three Sherlock Holmes games under their belt to work out the kinks. Having a smaller cast than those games also helps with ensuring that each role is acted well. This is however the first “big budget” production for many of the actors and it shows a bit with everyone being fine but no one being spectacular.

Let me call out some specific performances:

  • Louis Markert as Goldacre is one of the stand-out performances. He’s over-the-top, but comes off as deliberately so, and his pained and emotional responses to Juliet and the situation that he finds himself in are all well-done. He’s probably the only character in the game to go through a true emotional arc and he pulls it off, even if he overplays it by the end. Goldacre is always sympathetic even when he’s a villain and that’s largely to Markert’s credit.

  • Dona Werner Freeman plays Mina with a warmth that is missing from some of the other cast. She handles wanting to open up to Alexander well, while not wanting to bring him into it. Overall, she is my favorite of the female characters, acted with strength and depth by Freeman. 

  • Bill Williamson as Alexander Morris has a very difficult path to walk as the audience surrogate and so he rarely gets to show that much emotion and frankly it doesn’t work as well. Those rare scenes where he gets excited (such as showing Jonathan his brother’s knife) don’t fit as well for a character that is acted as so even-keeled. He holds the show together and is fine, but just fine.

Beyond those, I remain disappointed by Nelson Williams’s portrayal of Horner as it bites too deep on the gay-is-evil apple. Neither Jay Nickerson’s Arthur Holmwood nor Kathryn O'Malley’s Regina Holmwood really work to portray that they are, in effect, Dracula. There are no credits for Dracula himself; he doesn’t look like Jay Nickerson under makeup, so I’m not sure who was playing him.

There is a ton good here and this is well beyond some of the other FMV-caliber acting that I have seen. My score: 6

Dr. Seward ponders the PISSED rating. You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps!


Let’s sum it all up: (4+5+8+7+8+6)/.6 = 63 points! That is a more than respectable score and currently our 15th highest scoring game. It beats both of the Consulting Detective games (59 and 52 points) and is the highest performing ICOM game so far. Comparing to other games, Dracula Unleashed scores between Kings Quest VI and Loom, two games that I absolutely love. I am not sure how I feel about that, but Dracula Unleashed doesn’t quite feel up to their level. It has been helped by the FMV and being a unique experience, but it still feels slightly off. All of my scores seem fair individually and there is nothing I want to change.

Given that, I will take away one discretionary point to bring us to 62, tied for 17th place. That is still an amazing score.

Looking at the guesses, most of you felt this game would score much lower with an average guess of 49. Only MorpheusKitami had faith that the game would do better than I expected, guessing 65. That guess is the closest, congratulations! You get CAPs!

We are not quite done with ICOM titles yet. We still have not reviewed Consulting Detective Volume 3, even though it was released prior to this title. That will include three of the final four not-yet-adapted Consulting Detective pen-and-paper game scenarios and I hope that they saved the best for last, though I fear otherwise. We’ll also have MTV: Club Dead in 1994. It was released under the Viacom label, although many of the ICOM crew members played a part and it appears to use an updated version of the same engine. I don’t have high hopes, but I am looking forward to playing it when it comes around. As for right now, I am off to draft up the introduction to Plundered Hearts, our first Infocom game headlined by a female Implementor. 

What do you think? Am I being too easy on Dracula Unleashed or was this really a Top 20 game? Let me know in the comments below. 

Before I forget, here are the CAPs for our contributors:

100 points to Joe Pranevich

  • Vampire Hunter Award - 100 CAPs - For blogging through this game for our enjoyment

80 points to MorpheusKitami

  • Get Your Fix on Route '66 Award - For blogging through Refixion for our enjoyment
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing closest to the score for Dracula Unleashed
  • Vampire Facts Award - For helpful vampire facts!
  • Pointing and Clicking Award - For research about the first point-and-click adventure game

    50 points to El Despertando
    • Duke of Earl Award - For facts about the name "Earl"
    • Dracula Facts Award - For helpfully explaining bits of the Dracula novel! Many times!
    40 points to ATMachine
    • Dracula Facts Award - For helpfully explaining bits of the Dracula novel and other Dracula facts. Many times!
    • Inzcver Snpgf Award - Sbe urycshy inzcver snpgf va Ebg13.
    30 points to zxcvb
    • Series of Tubes Award - For correcting my incorrect description of Dictaphone media, and other important Dracula facts.
    • Run to the Border Award - Helping to decipher a Nord and Bert mystery. 
    30 points to Ilmari Jauhiainen
    • Run to the Border Award - Helping to decipher a Nord and Bert mystery. 
    • A Hint in the Wrong Game Award - Providing a Nord and Bert hint on a Dracula Unleashed post.

    20 points to Mariano
    • Happy Librarian Award - For telling us (and Mobygames) about more Synergy games and trying to help us get it working through ScummVM

    10 points to Ross

    • Vampire Facts Award - For helpful vampire facts!

      10 points to Laukku

      • Town Cryer Award - For telling us of the imminent release of Firmanent
      10 points to Leo Velles
      • Antiquarian Who? - For linking to facts about the telegraph from the Digital Antiquarian

        10 points to Ken Brubaker

        • Vampire Facts Award - For helpful vampire facts from "The Dracula Tape"
        10 points to ShaddamIVth

        • Vampire Facts Award - For helpful vampire facts!

        10 points to Adam Thornton
        • Fear of Learning New Vocabulary Award - For deciphering my typo "hermophobia"
        10 points to Lisa H.
        • Correcting My Typo Award - For knowing that I meant "hemophobia"
        10 points to Sabrina (M)

        • Vampire Facts Award - For helpful vampire facts!

        10 points to Michael

        • Vampire Facts Award - For helpful vampire facts!
        10 points to Agrivar
        • Movie Facts Award - For helpful facts from the Dracula film.


        1. I've been telling you the scoring system was flawed (as Anonymous) for years! ;)

          Fortunately you can always sort by "Puzzles & Solvability" to get a more accurate list.

          (In this case the game looks even more strange in that position because of a combination of the aforementioned rating system having what look like dozens of categories that could have been expanded, why not, to "tone of the voice of the actors", "variety of the colours of the graphics", "plot twists of the story", "fear inspired by the darker areas"... with each of them having equal importance as the gameplay, AND a "few people would play this because of the video and the gameplay system" factor, which in my case also includes the "not into horror" factor).

          I personally would NEVER play a graphic adventure where I'm forced to listen to voice actors... Am I alone on this?

          1. Yeah, I really dislike how some games like King's Quest VI give you the choice of either voice acting or text, but not both at once.

          2. It's particularly bad when there is no text option whatsoever and the characters have thick accents. Luckily there is a fan-made subtitle patch for Gabriel Knight 2 (even though the transcriber misheard some stuff, they got things I in turn have missed).

          3. @Sabrina - I believe ScummVM fixes that problem in most cases where games didn't originally allow it.

          4. I personally would NEVER play a graphic adventure where I'm forced to listen to voice actors... Am I alone on this?

            You're not alone, but I'm not joining you. Much like a film, I like seeing how the director (or author or gamer designer or whatever) imagines everything to be, including how the characters look and sound. While some people in this community comment about how they always turn the voices off, I could never do that.

            As I've gotten older, though, I've come to appreciate the closed-captioning on my TV as a way to make sure I don't miss anything, from a fast talker or a weird accent. So for new, unfamiliar games, I will use a dual mode when available.

            One of my favorite (perhaps only favorite first person) games is in the TAG database coming up in 1999, released overseas as Faust or in the US as Seven Games of the Soul,. was one of the few early exceptions for me. The English-language accents, being produced in France, were sometimes a challenge for farm country-American me. So the subtitles were quite helpful. Except when they didn't match the speech. At one point, the subtitles show a two minute-long monologue while the character voices only the first line or two. Sadly, that kind of inconsistency is a trademark of the era.

          5. Much like a film, I like seeing how the director (or author or gamer designer or whatever) imagines everything to be, including how the characters look and sound.

            That said, I really wonder about Roberta Williams and whether or not that's REALLY how she envisioned the character of Cedric...

          6. I dabbled in some game engines of the late 90s that were oriented toward making the sort of multimed-heavy voice-acted adventure games of the period. On their forums, a common request was facilities for adding captions to the voice acting, and not only did the devs refuse, they were outright dicks about it, saying, and i quote, "If your voice acting requires captions, you should look into improving the quality of your recording equipment"

          7. Wow, guys, thanks for all the comments. I wasn't expecting such a big debate over voice acting. I find Ross anecdote quite interesting, too. By the way, I wanted to clarify that I wasn't referring to games like, say, Myst, where voices are minimal, top-quality and part of the experience. Of course, I was referring to... well, repeating the same sentence over and over again when something doesn't work? (Or in this Dracula game, listening to the same actors when watching the video for the 10th time). I mean, in some cases, like Woodruff (1995), you MUST listen to the character talk everytime you do something and there's no way to disable the voice OR to skip the animation.

          8. Frankly, I always found it funny that Trickster of all people put music and graphics in the same category, which makes that one very dense to me, whereas something like interface and inventory feels too broad because I ultimately don't care that much if an adventure game has items or not. But I imagine that besides tradition, it would be a pain to change it at this point and the admins would definitely want Trickster on board for that. And I'm sure Trickster would be okay...with playing Monkey Island and Loom again, but someone else would get Emanuelle and Psycho.
            As to the actual subject of the conversation, voice acting alone has to be very well mixed to be able to stand alone. Ambient noise can be terrible, I've got a furnace/AC on one wall, a fan next to me, neighbors who can be very noisy and fireworks/gunshots outside. Knowing the voice work quality of some games coming up, in a poor situation, you can hear some dude with an unidentifiable accent mumble something below the raging swordfight and thunderstorm going on.

          9. In Dracula Unleashed, you can skip the dialog easily... but there are no subtitles. When getting a scene that I've seen before, I would always fast-forward because being forced to watch again would eventually kill me.

            In general, I found the (voice) acting to be competent and so even some repetition didn't bother me. Many voiced adventure games, even by major studios, have voice acting (or audio mixing or whatever other magic that makes it bad when not done well) that I find grating and I would usually try to turn it off.

        2. While I don't want to particularly disagree with a reviewer's scoring, anything like this where it's got so few interactive elements to it, and the puzzle solving is quite basic, I have to feel like the score is a bit high.

          In particular the "trial and error" nature of the inventory items required to be "in hand" for specific scenes sounds like a total nightmare of a system to me and I admire your perseverance getting through this game. I would probably have got the worst ending and not wanted to play through it again, if I'd even been able to finish in the first place!

          I do feel quite biased against this era of gaming, where we got a lot of Myst style games with limited puzzles and a lot of FMV in order to make the most of the new CD drives people were paying a lot of money for, so take my opinion with that in mind.

          1. I personally am inclined to agree with you, but not everyone agrees with us. But that's the magic of this site, the scoring isn't so much the important part as is the journey to get there. Even though I lost interest in the game months ago, I followed along for the community experience. And I still think I leaned rather high with my score guess of 51, which was the third highest bet. Hmm.

          2. This sort of game is remarkably similar to a visual novel, and requires a shift in perspective from a traditional adventure game. The whole narrative becomes a 'meta puzzle' where you comb over small possibilities you can make to change the game state (having or not having items in inventory, having or not having certain conversations, being in a certain time in a certain place. You're ultimately seeking to trip 'flags' (points at which the game makes a conditional assessment of its state) in order to get onto 'routes' in a branching story.

            The idea is that over time, players can build up a sense of the bigger picture and make deductions as to what state levers need to be pulled or left unpulled. But this kind of meta puzzle is susceptible to brute force (systematically working through every combination of state variables), and indeed if you want to be thorough, this is the only approach (lest you have some nagging doubt about an untested combination that *probably* changes nothing, but...).

            As such these games can be very subjective. But so often are traditional adventure games with their dead man walking, their moon logic, and all the other hoary tropes. I often like the idea of the wide open game state and its seemingly high level of responsiveness to player action - the sense that the world will develop both in reaction to player action, but also inaction. This can feel more organic than closed loop traditional adventure worlds where nothing advances if the player is not advancing along the singular prescribed route of the narrative. But at the same time, in the VN style, the vastness of the branching possibility space is exhausting, and reducing it conjures images of flow charts and spreadsheets - basically, work.

            TL;DR it's horses for courses but I'm not of the opinion that this is a de facto worse approach.

          3. Interesting message, Anonymous! About gameplay "feeling like work", it's exactly the reason why I NEVER play strategy games! (Perhaps the fact that my first strategy game was Cohort, for MS-DOS, helped... totally frustrating experience in spite of the cute graphics, especially for a 12 year old kid).

          4. I like the comparison to visual novels and your description sounds about right to me, especially where such games could score very well for "Story" and "Atmosphere" in our system. These ICOM games are very different from our usual fare. "Consulting Detective" was adventure-adjacent but still scored well, "Dracula Unleashed" just added some basic adventure bits and so scored better.

            When I played Tilly's Tale for the blog, I got the impression that the Coles expected someone to dig deeper into the game, find all of the plot threads and the mini-games that I missed and maybe get whatever the best ending is. The difference is that Tilly's Tale felt like a complete game with only the one playthrough, while Dracula Unleashed requires the diligence and replay to finish.

            Another difference is that I felt rewarded by Dracula Unleashed because when you find that golden path, you are rewarded with a complete story and game. In Tilly's Tale (and I believe most VNs), you never experience everything in one playthrough. That doesn't feel as fun to me and VNs where you just get a slice each time wouldn't score as well in my view.

            You have given us a lot to think about! Thanks for your comment.

          5. This sort of thing doesn't necessarily strike me as too different than brute forcing in a more traditional adventure game, just a heck of a lot slower.
            Regarding VNs, this sort of thing strikes me as a slightly more complex version of a Japanese-style adventure game, with a bunch of menus showing what you can do at any given time and all the actions you can take on that screen, minus the inventory items. Actual VNs, as far as gameplay goes, seem like they're completely arbitrary to me.
            Regarding Myst, it feels bizarre to lump this in with Myst, considering that Myst-style games very much focus on being puzzlers, outside of a few rare exceptions.

          6. A term I've heard used for some of the games this reminds me of is "database games". It's a fairly niche genre, but one I'm really fond of, based around the paradigm of just having a lot of content, and a fairly simple engine that is based around doling out the content one little chunk at a time in response to the player determining, from clues in the chunks they've already seen, where to look for the next bit. I think the prototypical example was the 1986 text game 'Portal', which was basically "keyword-search wikipedia after the apocalypse to try to understand why civilization collapsed". In this case, the game is basically "Following the narrative you've already seen, which entry from your address book do you look behind for the next bit of content." I might be inclined to call this sub-genre, "advent calendar games".

        3. One thing I must admit is that the name of the game is great... Perhaps even too great for its own sake.

          It probably would fit better for a Castlevania title. A more appropiate name for this horror adventure would be... Dracula: The Decision? Dracula: Decisions? Dracula: A Video Nightmare? I'm not sure.


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