Nyogtha Volume II, Issue XXV

#26. The 11th Hour
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Developer: Trilobyte
Systems Released On: PC, 3DO
Release Date: 11/30/1995

The 11th Hour was the sequel to the amazingly successful PC game, The 7th Guest. We’ll cover the first game later on in the countdown, but for now let’s focus just on The 11th Hour.

Although it has been over half a century since Old Man Stauf and his six guests disappeared from Stauf Mansion that fateful evening, the locals of Harley, New York still speak in hushed awe over the ominous domicile on the cliff. Now it is 1995, and you play the role of one Carl Denning, a reporter for the TV show, “Case Unsolved.” You have gone to Harley to investigate a series of grisly murders and disappearances which have caused the small town locals to being to look towards Stauf Mansion with dread. One of those disappearances is your girlfriend, Robin Morales. Your only lead is a strange electronic apparatus known as the “gamebook.” The gamebook shows you footage of Robin in peril, and so you (foolishly) go alone to the Stauf Mansion, where you will have to engage in battles of wits with the ghost of the evil Stauf himself.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg of the plot of The 11th Hour. The game is far more mature than The 7th Guest, with more emphasis on sex, sadism, and other adult themes. T7G had murder and ghosts, but not quite to this degree or description.

The plot is something of a reward in this game. As you solve puzzle after puzzle, resolutions about what happened to Robin (and sometimes other characters) are revealed. In The 7th Guest, the plot unfolded haphazardly and out of sequence with itself. This left it up to the player to unfold the chronological order of the events on their own. In The 11th Hour, the game is completely linear in regards to the plot. This makes the game easier to understand, but it loses something of the ghostly aspect the original game had. The three very different endings to the game help alleviate that somewhat, with all having a “Tales From the Crypt/Darkside” feel to it.

What really helped The 11th Hour to stand out a decade ago wasn’t the plot, but the amazing detail to the graphics and sound. The full-motion videos (FMV’s) were even better than the original game, and the detail shown wasn’t just amazing for its day, but it still holds up with a lot of what is released today. The opening sequence is still one of the best in all of gaming, regardless of genre. The video footage (and there is lots!) is on par with TV and/or movie footage, which really helped Trilobyte’s series to stand out from the other games being produced for the PC at the time.

The musical score is tremendous and definitely worthy of its own CD. Of course, when the game was originally released in late 1995, it was 4 CD’s long as it was, but I wish they would have included a soundtrack as well. maybe someday Virgin (or some other enterprising publisher) will re-release both of these games to work on modern computers? Hint, hint.

The big thing that made me enjoy The 11th Hour where is caused a lot of other people to utter profanity at it, was the massive leap in difficulty from its forefather. The 7th Guest was very popular for three reasons:

1. It was the most impressive video game visually ever released when it came out.
2. Its plot and puzzles appealed to a large cross section of gamers.
3. IT WAS EASY.

Because it was such a cakewalk, it allowed gamers to get at the real meat of the game, which was the plot. With The 11th Hour, the real reward is in passing some of the hardest and most original puzzles ever created in an adventure game. The game takes a very unexpected swerve into the Strategy gaming genre, which a lot of The 7th Guest fanbase was neither ready for, nor good at. Me? I’ve yet to play a Strategy RPG that has provided me with any challenge, but 11th Hour had me scratching my head at points (Mainly those bloody anagrams!). It’s nowhere near the impossible torture some gamers want to make it out to be, but it can be perplexing at times. And any game that gives me a decent mental challenge is aces in my book. And the reward of beating the game is much more than a smug sense of satisfaction. Once the credits are done, a player can access the “Open House” option and then one can view all of the video footage straight through as if it was a movie. That’s a pretty nice reward. Of course, you can also access all of the puzzles and play them over and over, but I have a feeling half the people who played this game gave a “No, thank you” to that option.

The puzzles in the game can be divided into three main types. The first are your typical brain teasers. The heart and soul of any adventure games. Sometimes you’ll be moving objects, sometimes you’ll be doing word puzzles. Other times, you’ll be using items or manipulating things in your environment. If you’ve played a single adventure game in your life, you know what I speak of.

The second type of puzzle within The 11th Hour is basically a convoluted scavenger hunt. Throughout the game, you’ll be hunting for items all over the mansion. I enjoy these sorts of things in real life, so a virtual version was right up my alley. As a lot of gamers have the attention span of a goldfish, I can see where this can get annoying.

The final type of puzzles are the ones where you go head to head with Stauf himself. These are actually some of the puzzles I found easiest, but for some reason, are the ones I hear the most complaints about. A lot of gamers feel the AI is amazingly cruel and some even accuse it of cheating. In the several times I’ve played through this game, I’ve never had that problem. It’s tough, but it’s certainly beatable. Here’s a hint: remember it’s a PROGRAM and don’t treat it like you would a human opponent.

The developers must have realized how hard the game can be at times, for the gamebook and a psychic friend are there to provide you hints. One of the more interesting things about the psychic, is that the more you use her, the weaker she becomes. I found this to be a very nice and unexpected touch the first time I played through the game. It also forces gamers to start to think for themselves, or sadly…run to a walkthrough somewhere on the Internet. Boo to that I say!

All in all, the 11th Hour did not live up to a lot of gamers expectations. They were expecting a great adventure game in the same vein as The 7th Guest. What they got was a very good STRATEGY game, with some halfway decent adventure aspects thrown in. The graphics and sound’s sheer brilliance can’t be denied even by the biggest hater of this game, the puzzles truly weed out the great gamers from the mediocre ones, and the story was one of the more mature and graphic ones to be released at its inception, yet it garnered less attention for its visuals than Mortal Kombat or Night Trap. Go figure.

The 11th Hour is NOT a game for everyone. It is a game for one who enjoys a good story, brain teasers, and is willing to engage in puzzle solving rather than shooting the crap out of a ton of antagonists. If you want a game that lets you walk away with a real sense of triumph once you have beaten it, it’s harder to find a better game than The 11th Hour to fit that description.

Folklore

As we’ve just talked about yet another haunted house on this countdown, I felt it would be only appropriate to share with you a story of a “real” haunted house.

In the cases of most hauntings, ghosts are merely harmless of mischievous apparitions who have stayed behind in this world for a myriad of reasons. Poltergeists however, are the exception to that rule and tend to be violent in nature, hurtling objects around either by their unseen form or telekinetically, and have been known to cause grievous harm to their victims. Once such well-documented Poltergeist named. ‘Bob,’ appeared in 1878 to the Teed family of Amherst, Nova Scotia, a small city close to the New Brunswick border. Bob was indeed malevolent and forced the entire family to live in fear.

Daniel Tweed, a foreman of a shoe factory, headed the Tweed family. He, his wife Olive, their two sons, Olive’s brother William, Daniel’s brother John, and Olive’s two sisters Jennie and Esther all moved into a small house on Princess Street. Needless to say, eight people in one small cottage was uncomfortable, yet the family managed to strike out a peaceful, if meager, existence.

The tribulations for the Tweed family occurred abruptly one night when Esther awoke screaming from the bed she shared with her sister Jennie. She claimed there was a mouse in the bed. However, the bed was searched, nothing was found. The night after, both Jennie and Esther saw a bandbox levitate up and down with something rustling inside of it. When the women managed to gather enough courage to examine the box, nothing was found to be inside. As soon as they brought the box into the center of the room, it leapt from their hands and landed on its side. The girls returned the box to its normal sitting position, but as soon as they did so, the box jumped into the air once more.

The next day, both girls were badly shaken. Some of the family remained skeptical, as a shoemaker named Bob McNeil had nearly raped Ether a few days earlier. She escaped with little injury, but was understandably shaken by the incident. The third night of the haunting however, convinced the entire family that something evil dwelt in the Tweed’s home.

Esther went to bed early that night, as she was feeling a fever coming on, most likely stress-induced from the previous night’s dilemmas. At 10 pm, Esther awoke screaming, awakening her other family members. She leapt into the middle of the room still screaming and saying she was dying. The assorted family members entered the room and were greeted by a ghastly sight. Jennie was trying to help Esther back into bed, who was struggling to breath and choking by this point. Esther’s short-cropped hair was standing on end, her face was flushed and her eyes nearly burst from their sockets. Esther became incredibly hot to the touch, and she wailed in pain. Her family thought her mad at first until they watched in shock as her body began to swell and expand to twice her normal size. Esther proclaimed she was about to explode. Suddenly, from beneath the bed, a loud ominous booming sound was heard. The entire room shook, and as there was not a cloud in the sky, thunder could not be blamed. The family heard three more booms, and then silence followed. Esther’s swelling subsided and her family placed her unconscious form back in bed.

All was silent for another four nights, but as the family began to feel the ordeal was over, both Jennie and Esther’s bedclothes were ripped from them and thrown in a heap on the floor. A familiar sight greeted the terribly frightened family, Esther swollen and screaming once more. Again the rolling thunder noise was heard and the swelling ended. When Jennie replaced the bedclothes on the bed, a pillow flew from the bed and struck John directly in the face. John fled the room while the remaining family members sat on the bedclothes to keep them on the bed.

The next day, Daniel called the town’s physician, Dr. Carritte to examine Esther. Unfortunately this act of humanitarianism made the poor doctor the next victim of the poltergeist.

When the doctor was doing rudimentary checks on Esther, he watched as the pillow beneath her head began to move on its own accord. Unable to explain this, he continued only to be startled by the loud booming noises the rest of the family encountered previously. The bedclothes were then ripped from the bed as he watched. Checking Esther to ensure she was still all right, the bolster beneath her head flew violently at him and struck him in the face. The stunned doctor then watched it return to its original position. Now convinced something supernatural was occurring, he sat down on a chair to gather both his wits and balance. Behind him a strange metallic scratching could be heard. The doctor turned around and saw the wall above Esther’s bed had foot high letters being etched into the plaster by unseen hands. When the carving was finished the wall bored the sentence, ‘Esther Cox! You are mine to kill!’ Once more the loud booming was heard and a jagged clump of plaster flew from the wall to land at his feet.

Due to a combination of curiosity and compassion, Doctor Carritte returned to the Tweed house the next day to continue administrating Esther’s needs. As the doctor bent over, Potatoes flew from their place in the kitchen and began to barrage him painfully. The deafening crashes of noise now seemed to come from the ceiling as well as the floor. The doctor was unable to cite a reason for these happenings and would write years later to colleagues that he was convinced something not human plagued Esther.

Carritte’s treatments continued undaunted. Another day passed and this time Esther complained that electrical shocks were coursing through her body. Carritte gave Esther a large dose of sedatives and as he placed her in bed, the loud rapping noises on the roof of the house occurred once more. Once more he went outside to examine and saw nothing upon the roof. When he returned inside, the Tweed family claimed that the noises grew louder; to the point where it seemed someone was upon the roof striking it violently with a sledgehammer.

Now the noises began to increase in frequency, to the point where the booming could be heard all day and night, even by passerbys. Eventually the noises were written about in the town’s local paper as well as other publications throughout Canada.

Over three weeks, the hauntings grew increasingly violent. Silverware was flung at family members and belongings, sticking deep into the house. Entire pieces of heavy furniture moved on its own volition slamming heavily to the ground or into walls. Loud slapping noises echoed through the house, quickly followed by red marks appearing on Esther’s face. Sewing pins would materialize, causing damage to Esther as they jabed her flesh. One time a pocketknife was ribbed from a small child and jabbed the 19 year-old girl directly in the back. Jennie believed that the poltergeist could see and hear every action the family took. As soon as she confided this to the Doctor, three loud thumbs erupted from the house. Eventually the family learned that the spirit would communicate with them by making the booming noise, one peal of thunder for, ‘no,’ and three for, ‘yes.’

By this point the community was well aware of what was supposedly happening in the Tweed house. Rumor, especially ones as fantastical as the believed happenings to Esther spread fast. The clergy released a statement that they were interested in the happenings but believed that mishaps with the recently available ‘electricity,’ were the cause instead of ghosts or other supernatural beings. One Sunday Esther attended Baptist church services only to have the poltergeist follow her. It rapped so hard on the front of the church, the echoes of the noise drowned out the sermon. After that, Rev. Dr. Edwin Clay started visiting the house on a regular basis. In conjunction with Dr. Carritte, both men surmised that Esther body had received some kind of electrical shock, turning her into a living battery. Her body was now emitting tiny flashes of lighting, and the boomings were small claps of thunder. This theory became the most popular amongst the community, and Rev. Clay would publicly defend Esther against claims of fraud and deceit.

Members of the Tweed family instead believed that the ghost of an evil man was the source of their despair. Either Esther had unknowingly wronged him in life, or the man had a vendetta against her. Many townspeople believed Esther somehow contrived the entire affair. Doctor Nathan Trupper, who believed Esther was merely seeking attention, suggested that is a powerful man took a leather whip to Esther’s back, the haunting would stop entirely. Opinions varied greatly, with doctors such as Carritte taking side with the Tweeds than an actual entity plagued their home.

Esther developed diphtheria and after she recovered, she spent time at a sister’s house in New Brunswick. While away, the Tweed house was quiet and calm. When she returned however, the poltergeist reemerged with a vengeance. It’s appetite for destruction had grown in its absence. Esther told Jennie that the ghost was now threatening to burn the house. The voice also told Esther that it had once been alive too and now haunted her.

The girls told family members and someone laughed at the idea that the ghost could destroy the house. Then lit matches began to fall from the ceiling onto Esther’s bed. The Tweed’s tried communicating with the ghost, and when asked if it would really set the house on fire, it rapped three times. Then to prove its point, one of Esther’s extra dresses was burst into flames. Daniel managed to put out the fire before any major damage to the house could occur.

From then on, other things began to catch on fire. Bob repeatedly set Olive’s skirts on fire and also managed to light tiny ones in remote places of the house to frighten the family more than an attempt to actual set the house ablaze. One fire was set in a bucket of cedar shavings that lay in the basement. Esther ran from her house screaming and neighbors put out the fire for her. The local fire department suspected Esther of arson, but when Olive claimed to be with Esther at the time the fire started, no charges were pressed.

More conservative members of Amherst suggested that Esther was a witch and needed to be beaten in order to force the evil in her body to flee. Daniel sent Esther to live at a neighbor’s named Mr. White, but the spirit not only followed her there, but also continued setting fires at the Tweeds homestead.

Esther returned to the Tweeds, along with an actor named Walter Hubbell. Hubbell had been a boarder with the Tweeds when the disturbances first started, and also tried to make the ghost appear on cue for money. This entrepreneurial attempt failed miserably with the ghost refusing to appear and lack of supernatural occurrences made the money-paying crowd irate. When he and Esther had returned to the Tweed residence, Hubbell found himself attacked by such objects as an umbrella, a carving knife and even a jumping chair.

Another local clergymen, one Reverend Temple attempted to exorcize the house. When the priest began to speak, the spirit made noises that resembled trumpets playing. The reverend fled in fear, and the Tweed’s were plagued more than ever as the spirit found it enjoyed making noises of musical instruments. Concerts complete with flaming matches soon followed.

The spirit began to show a dark humorous side at this point as well. George Cox was stripped naked three times in public. One day someone remarked sarcastically the Tweed’s cat was the only member of the family not assaulted by the poltergeist, and almost at once, the cat was picked up by the ghost and dropped five feet in the air onto Esther’s shoulder. With a loud screech, the cat fled the house, never to return.

In desperation, the landlord of the house threatened to evict the Tweeds for fear of the ghost. Esther, however chose to leave the family and moved into a nearby farm owned by a Mr. Van Amburgh, taking a job there. When the farm’s barn burned down, charges of arson were pressed and Esther went to jail for four months. Thanks to testimony and appeals from friends and townsfolk who believed in the poltergeist, Esther only ended up serving one month of her sentence.

After Esther was freed from imprisonment, the poltergeist abruptly vanished. Esther ultimately married twice before dying at age 53 in 1912. After her death, Walter Hubbell published a book detailing the events surrounding Esther’s haunting entitled, “The Great Amherst Mystery.”

Sources

Canning, John, ed. 50 Great Ghosts Stories. New York: Bonanza Books, 1988. First Published, 1971.
Cohen, Daniel. Encyclopedia of Ghosts, The. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1984.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, The. New York:
Checkmark Books, 2000
Sitwell, Sachverell. Poltergeists: Fact or Fancy. New York: Dorset Press, 1988. First
Published, 1959.

#25 Sanitarium
Publisher: Dreamforge Entertainment
Developer: ASC Games
Systems Released On: PC
Release Date: 04/30/1998

I have to actually thank fellow staff member Mark B. for suggesting I play this. When I first started the idea for the countdown, I had never played this game. Mark was going to send it to me, but couldn’t find the first disc. I finally tracked it down and it impressed me so much it got on the list, and alas bumped Phantasmagoria from #30 to #31, and thus off the list. Phantasmagoria fans, you know now at whom to direct your bile. ;-)

Sanitarium starts off amazingly dark and it just gets worse from there. The opening video shows you, the main character getting into a gruesome car accident. You awaken as an amnesiac being held in an insane asylum. Your head is completely covered in bandages, giving the player the assumption that you have been hideously disfigured. One would probably assume the plot of the game would involve freeing yourself from the sanitarium itself, but that is not the case. You’ll actually end up out of the asylum very quickly in this game, and will find your character plunged into 8 chapters of gruesome and twisted alternate realities. When I first got to this part of the game, I had horrible flashbacks to the game Juggernaut, which has your character in a similar situation. But where Juggernaut is a game you wouldn’t inflict on your worst enemy (I’m sure Mark will eventually cover it in Playing the Lame), Sanitarium offers good graphic, eerie sounds and some truly warped storytelling.

As you trapeze through these strange realities/delusions/what have you, your character will begin to remember who he is, why he is in the asylum and other important details. Although each of these worlds is highly unique, each one is a metaphor for the internal conflict the character is experiencing.

The sound of Sanitarium is probably my most favorite aspect of the game. The gibbering, wailing, and strange mutterings you hear in the asylum set the stage beautifully for what is going to come over the next 20 hours or so. The music is wonderfully creepy as well and just encourages you to crank up the volume…and turn out the lights. Alas, there is one problem with the sound and that is some of the voice actors. And by some I mean one. The main character’s voice actor is horrible. Just abominable. It’s as if he just got out of summer stock. But that’s the only real quibble. It’s just too bad he’s the main guy. Where every other auditory quality is stellar, he tends to remind you that sadly, this is just a game after all.

The graphics of Sanitarium will leave you happy as well. Adventure games tend to have pretty good graphics as a genre, and Sanitarium is no exception. You’ll be privy to a lot of gruesome events, and some “original” looking characters. From the four armed Cyclops to a very hideous looking child, Sanitarium was pretty above its time visually in 1998.

The controls of the game are pretty cut and dry. Like most adventure games, you’re going to be using your mouse for everything. Sanitarium does keep the game simple though, with most of the action involving puzzles in which you use objects you find on your journeys to help you out. The puzzles in the game are cut and dry for the most part. They are original, and sometimes make you go “ew,” but they are very easy and logical. There shouldn’t be any that give you a challenge. What’s also nice for the newcomer to this style of gameplay is that with each chapter, your inventory resets, so that you always know you’ll be able to find what you need on the level you’re on. Sanitarium is also very linear, so you won’t have to worry about backtracking and inserting one CD after another.

The developers of Sanitarium have thrown in a curve ball though. There are some action/combat sequences in the game. You CAN die in these, but you’d pretty much have to be a quadriplegic with down syndrome having just awakened from a coma to actually perish in these bits. Like I said, the game is almost TOO easy at times, but the plot and aesthetics more than make up for that.

I should point out here that the further you get into Sanitarium, the less horrible or frightening it will be. While the game remains quite excellent throughout in terms of the advancement of plot, sometimes the game hits you over the head with things so often it can ruin the mood. The repeated “save the children” aspect of each level for example. There’s subtle hyperbole and metaphor, and then there is smashing the gamer over the head with it until your ears are bleeding. Yes, children and more importantly, DYING children are a big part of the story, but you know, the reason Pac-Man can eat dots and run from ghosts in perpetuity is because that’s ALL there is to the game.

Sanitarium manages to be one of the more surreal games out there. Throughout the course of playing through the adventures of your bandaged protagonist, you’ll be asking your self what is reality, what is dementia, what is illusion, and if there is anything truly supernatural occurring in the game. There’s a deep feeling of schizophrenia running through the later half of the game, with Grimwall, Olmec, and even the main character’s sister. It’s quite appropriate however, all things considered.

The ending of the game is possibly my favorite moment, with a lovely O’Henry moment. Some may complain it feels too rushed, but I can’t imagine how they’d prolong it anymore that it already is.

In 2001, a film by the same name came out in England. I’m not sure if it is available here in the states, but I managed to catch it when I lived in the UK. If you’ve seen it, then you know that the movie may be missing the more supernatural insanity of the game, but the film has a very similar plot, right down to the main character having the exact same name as the protagonist. I found myself realizing I knew bits of the game, when up until a few weeks ago, I’d never even heard of it! Is it a tribute, a knock-off, or a coincidence? I’m been running around online trying to find out, and haven’t found a conclusive answer. Those that have seen the movie and have played the game agree with me that the film was either inspired by out just outright plagiarized the game. Even the covers are reminiscent of each other!

It’s amazing that Sanitarium can be so complex is plot, yet so easy in the controls. This duality of the game not only makes it that much easier for the casual gamer to sit down and enjoy a few evenings amidst the spooky ambience of this adventure game, but it also reflects once again on the very nature of the game itself. Supposedly there is a print run of XP compatible versions of Sanitarium out there with was republished by a company called XS Games. I wasn’t able to find one in stores anywhere around where I live, but if you happen upon it, by all means pick it up and engulf yourself in a game that truly knows how to be sick, demented, and yet captivating at the same time.

Closing

We’ll be back next week with more folklore and 2 more games on the countdown. Both are from the same series. One involves a haunted ship, the other involved torches. Lots of torches.