31 Days of Gaming Terror – Day 8: The 7th Guest

The 7th Guest
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Developer: Trilobyte
Systems Released On: DOS, MAC, Phillips CD-I
Release Date: October 30th, 1993



For quite some time, The 7th Guest was the best selling PC game of all time. It’s no wonder really. Trilobyte and Virgin gave us not only one of the first CD-ROM games, but also one that turned out to be YEARS ahead of what any other developer would be doing with the technology. It also combined graphics that not only featured pre-rendered backgrounds that were simply gorgeous in its day (and still hold up well in this modern era), but it also combined the computer generated graphics with actual SVGA/VESA video (representing the ghosts that haunted Stauf’s mansion) that interacted seamlessly with their surroundings. This technical achievement, which carried over onto a whopping TWO CD-ROM’s was able to inspire millions of people across the world to pick up the game, and also shed their old floppy disc drives for a CD-ROM one. Many people point to 7th Guest as the zeitgeist that led us to eschew an older but more comfortable form of technology for a new, untested, but potentially superior one. Those people would have a hard time finding anyone to really argue against them.

The 7th Guest has a wonderful classical style ghost story to it. The plot revolves around the machinations of one Henry Stauf. Always a ne’er do well, Henry had a “vision” and found he had the unrivaled talent to make toys of the highest quality. He became rich as every child put Stauf’s toys on their “nag parents until they give me one” list. However, as Stauf’s fortune’s grew, children who had his crafts would grow sickly and die. People began to whisper and rumour spread that the sickness and the toys were somehow related.

The rumours only grew when Stauf spent most of his fortune having a ghoulish mansion built on a craggy precipice. One night, Stauf invited six people to his mansion for a party. They came, along with one uninvited guest, and none were ever seen again. People of the nearby towns believe that Stauf killed them all, and then in turn slew himself. No one dares set foot into Stauf’s mansion, for fear that something unholy and/or inhumane lurks in the bowels of the domicile. No one except you…

In The 7th Guest, you play as EGO, a man who has no memory of who he is or how he managed to end up staring up at the gates of Stauf Manor. You only know that you must proceed into the house, for something you cannot resist is beckoning you to enter.

The 7th Guest involves you playing the role of ego from a first person perspective. For the entirety of the game you will be solving puzzles in typical adventure game format. Again, The 7th Guest was YEARS ahead of its time in terms of puzzles and interaction with the players. The puzzles were in such a way that anyone could enjoy them, even with the varying degrees of difficulty. The one puzzle most people found troublesome in the game was actually the one I found easiest. It’s the Microscope puzzle. Old time gamers and big retro fans will find the Microscope puzzle easy as well, as it’s actually the puzzle game Spot for the NES! Spot was a one-time 7UP mascot by the way.

The music of TSG is simply incredible. It was done by The Fat Man, and you can actually listen to tracks from the game and purchase the soundtrack at their website. The music for The 7th Guest still remains one of my favorite video game scores of all time. I’m just glad the CD lacks the creepy children.

The voice acting for the game is hit or miss. Again, this was one of the first games to have voice acting and so there was really no place to go but up from here. Stauf is well done and creepy in tone as he is in visage. But other characters, such as Tad, the little boy you are supposed to care about, just makes you hope monsters eat him every time he opens his bloody yap. In 1993 though, the voice acting impressed nearly all who played the game and it received high marks and technical awards for the level of quality it boasted. The 7th Guest hasn’t aged as well in this category as it has in the other though, so don’t expect Metal Gear: Solid level voice acting.

As I mentioned in the opening, The 7th Guestwas a visual masterpiece that took many other developers 3-5 years to catch up to, especially in regards to the full motion video. Games like Mortal Kombat would go the route of digitizing actual human actors doing the moves and taunts, but the quality was still nowhere near what TSG pulled off. Other games would feature slow and choppy video, or footage that was very “jaggy” or heavily pixilated ala Sewer Shark or Mad Dog McCree. Although as a side note, I suggest everyone should play MDM. That game rocks!

Although The 7th Guest is one of the most famous and popular video games of all time, there are three big problems with the game we need to address here.

The first reason is that the game was almost impossible to play when it came out. Most computers simply couldn’t handle the game. They lacked the system requirements. Pretty much every ounce of your computer had to go directly towards playing the game and nothing else for it to work at optimum levels. Then by the time computers could generally the play the game with ease, aka the Windows 95/98 era, the 7th Guest was no longer made and was not compatible with the current systems. The game was a victim of its own innovation. Trilobyte would eventually release a patch to allow you to play TSG on Windows 95/98, but their webpage has long since died. Computer Hope does have the patch still available for download. Although who still uses 95 or 98 anymore?

The second reason is that the plot, as much as I enjoyed it, is a tangle haphazard mess. Very little of the game actually occurs in chronological order, which leaves it up to the gamer to piece the correct order of happenings together in their mind. I personally enjoyed this and felt it added to the “haunted” aspect of the game. But it confused a lot of gamers, and probably still will today.

The final reason is simply that T7G is not scary. Halfway through development, Virgin nixed most of the blood and violence in the game, wanted it to be accessible to all ages. This helped the game to be the financial success that it became, but for a ghost story, it’s about as spooky as The Canterville Ghost.

Even with these limitations, The 7th Guest earned its place in gaming history, and I’m rather sad most of my staff haven’t played this game. It’s funny that in 1992, one of Trilobyte’s employees stated on “The Making of the 7th Guest” documentary, “…in months, we will see an explosion of CDROM technology that may change the way games are distributed–all games will come this way.” It’s amazing how right he was.
It’s very rare that a single video game changes the industry all by itself. Games like Pong, Pac-Man, Dragon Warrior, and Super Mario Brothers can all lay claim t o this feat, but only The 7th Guest changed the actual MEDIUM in which we play games, as well as revolutionized the technology of the industry. If you run across the game, or find a way to play it on your current system, I strongly advise you do so. Few games have the historical significance TSG does, and even fewer has the pedigree and are still fun to play after all these years. Maybe some day, someone will smarten up enough to re-release this game on a compilation that is accessible to the majority of today’s gamers. But until then…

Old Man Stauf built a house
And filled it with his toys,
Seven guests all came one night
Their screams the only noise…

Mark B.: The 7th Guest, aside from being the second adventure game I played on a personal computer (Being as how the computer was a Macintosh, if you don’t know what the first one was, go ask your parents), was probably one of the two best horror-themed experiences I’d played at that point (the other being Pathways Into Darkness), largely because of the FMV cinematics and the creepy atmosphere. In this day and age, it’s an absolutely abhorrent game, largely because the puzzles made less than zero sense (hello Soup Cans), but at the time, it was pure gold, and the story and execution still hold up pretty well today.

Still… “Shy gypsy slyly spryly tryst by my crypt”? Who came up with that? Kill him

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