Phantasmagoria – Sequel, Spin Off, Start Over or Stay Dead?

Welcome to this week’s, “Sequel, Spin Off, Start Over or Stay Dead?” Each week we’re going to look at a dormant franchise that was once pretty popular, but for some reason has disappeared into the sands of time. Diehard GameFAN staffers will have four options for what they want to have happen to the series and you can see them in the title of this piece. For a little more detailed description see below:

Sequel – A direct sequel to the franchise. This means if it used sprites and was in 2-D, that’s how you want the next game to be as well. This might involve putting the game on a handheld system instead of a console, but it keeps the nostalgia and classic feel alive.

Spin Off – This is where you take the characters or a specific character is a totally different direction from the established franchise. Examples include Luigi’s Mansion, Hey You, Pikachu!, Shadow Hearts (From Koudelka), and so on.

Start Over – This is a reimagining of the series from the ground up. Perhaps it’s time to bring the series into 3-D. Perhaps you want a totally different control scheme or to throw away the old continuity. In a nutshell, this is taking the brand name from the old series and that’s about it. Everything else is new and re-envisioned.

Stay Dead – This is pretty obvious. This is a toxic franchise that you don’t want to see return in any way shape or form. Let the dead rest.

This week, we’re looking at one of the best selling (and most controversial) PC games of all time. Some locations (and even entire countries) refused to carry it, yet it would go on to win numerous awards including a few GOTY awards for 1995. This game would become one of Sierra’s best selling title of all time, and along with The 7th Guest, remains the high point of the Full-Motion-Video (Or FMV for short) era. Join us as the Diehard GameFAN stuff remembers and discusses what should be done with Phantasmagoria.


Phantasmagoria


Mark B. – Stay Dead

I have no love for the Phantasmagoria franchise. Roberta Williams might well be a large part of some people’s childhoods, but I didn’t grow up with King’s Quest as a part of my childhood, so to me, Williams is everything that was wrong with adventure games. Have you ever played an adventure game that eventually dumped you off at a point where you couldn’t possibly hope to complete the game because you’d missed an item in a location that was no longer accessible, meaning you had to reload a save game from four hours ago to find said item? Yeah, a lot of Roberta Williams fans did that A WHOLE LOT. While some people think that’s “hardcore” and love that sort of thing in their adventure games, the rest of us don’t want to play the same four hour section of a game multiple times because we missed an item.

On the other hand, she posed for the box cover of Softporn Adventures naked, so… actually, I don’t have a point to that. I just wanted to point it out because it’s hilarious.

So, right. Phantasmagoria. This game was a drastic departure from prior Williams games; the game wasn’t rendered unwinnable unless you outright died, the puzzles weren’t absurdly complex and arbitrary in many cases, and the game was quite violent, and lots of people loved it. It was also really a game that was more about spectacle than substance, as the story was fairly basic, there was no significant challenge to the game until the very end due to what could essentially be described as “ancient Active Time Events”, and the whole point of the game was the motion-capture gimmick. The follow-up sequel, A Puzzle of Flesh, was not handled by Williams directly, but was basically more of the same with a less interesting concept. It was essentially blasted out of the water for being short, wonky and linear… but the first game was, SURPRISE, short, wonky and linear as well! Amazing what a year does to dull the impressiveness of FMV technology, ain’t it?

So, no, I’m not a fan.

There’s no point in bringing the franchise back, frankly; the whole gimmick of the series was to 1.) tell different horror stories, ALA a video game Tales From the Crypt, and 2.) showcase what FMV technology was capable of at the time. While the former is an admirable goal, the latter is a dated goal that serves no purpose. “Well,” you say, “you can still use the name and adhere to the original goal, with different technology,” and yes, you certainly could, but why bother? There were a whole two games in the franchise, and only one of the two was a commercial success. You could accomplish the same thing WITHOUT attaching the name to it, and at this point the franchise is pretty much non-existent in the minds of gamers. The games weren’t especially good in the first place and time hasn’t been especially kind to them at this point either, so invoking the names of games people won’t enjoy much doesn’t seem the best course of action at this point. Let the franchise rest and name your horror games something else.


Guy Desmarais -Stay Dead

I loved the first game in the series. Granted, I was a bit young, but the dead sequences were pretty cool for a kid back then. I was a little bit older when the second one came out, and it was a pretty big let-down. The problem is that the main reason why I enjoyed this game was because of the gory details and bloody FMVs. FMVs have been dead for a long time, and while I agree that a similar atmosphere could be conveyed with 3D graphics, it just wouldn’t be the same.

Therefore, I have to agree with Mark here. Bringing back the name wouldn’t accomplish anything. Any new horror game being developed in 3-D would be better served with its own new franchise name. Let Phantasmagoria represent an era long gone, when we thought that FMVs would finally bring movies and video games together.


D.J.Tatsujin – Stay Dead
It wasn’t until halfway through high school that my family finally buckled down and bought a proper PC. Before then, I had only owned gaming computers such as the C64, so, to me, at that time, a computer was still only good for playing games and sometimes writing annoying papers for school. I snatched up a lot of cheap discs at the local store and it wasn’t long before my friends were doing the same. One of our most favored genres was the click-and-point adventure series and at that time, the genre was going through a final parade before it faded away for a while. Games like Beavis and Butthead: Virtual Stupidity, Sanatarium, Grim Fandango, Discworld and The Neverhood were par for the course for us as we traded discs around. With Sanatarium being quite a decent title and items of spooky nature such as The 7th Guest being popular at the time, Phantasmagoria was one of the titles we eventually came across and even back then I absolutely hated it.

In its current form, sure, maybe the digitized hook would work today in the world of high-definition, but the title resulted in players sitting and watching a movie with occasional bits of interaction. This is admittedly okay for some people if the source material is worth watching, but Phantasmagoria‘s plot was so poorly drawn out and linear, it just reeks of a B-movie. Honestly, the only branching and longevity in the game is in interacting with everything you can in every possible manner, which just yields in viewing more video footage.

As a franchise, the Phantasmagoria name means nothing to most people and really the only aspect of the title that could possibly stick in today’s market is its mature themes and violence. The series’ sequel did try to pull a more intricate plot and more interesting characters through, but, in the end, it was no better than the original and sold far worse. Perhaps the only thing I find interesting about the series is that it came from the mind of Roberta Williams and that a Japanese version of the game was actually released on the SEGA Saturn, of all things, in an eight-disc set. I would have to guess the mature themes and the lure of being an “interactive movie” were what lead it being Sierra’s most successful title of 1995, but with the controversy it soon stirred (couple with the fact some stores wouldn’t even carry it) would be amplified in today’s, “video game violence is the root of all of humanity’s evils” mindset.

There is just no reason at all to bring this series back as it had a minimal impact in the first place. Perhaps with the recent surge in classic-style adventure games, gamers are ready for another adventure that taps into the themes of psychological horror or imitating something one might have seen from Tales From the Crypt. What players aren’t ready for are discs full of FMV, horribly crafted plots, drab, linear gameplay, blatantly forced mature content only for the sake of having it (especially in the second entry) and grossly uninteresting characters. There is good reason the third entry of this series never released and I can only hope it stays that way. If the name is brought back, perhaps it could be interesting to keep it in historical context with the 18th century projection devices, but in its current video game form, there is no reason on any grounds to bring this franchise back.


Adam Powell – Stay Dead

I also loved the first one. It was gory, creepy and a bit reminiscent of The Shining, where the very location slowly drives the guy bonkers. I loved that one of the details was a bottle of absinthe that slowly disappeared as weird shit happened. The over-the-top cut scenes were also fun.

Then there’s…the second one, where “creepy” atmosphere was marked by…the protagonist getting a belly-button ring. and creepy gore was replaced with a tit shot.


Aileen Coe – Stay Dead

The only real notable aspects of the series were the FMVs and the, at times, over-the-top displays of blood splattered viscera (plus the innuendo and oh-so-titillating scenes in the second game). Sure, the death scenes were sort of entertaining in a trainwreck syndrome sort of way. But in this day and age, however, neither are particularly novel. The former would look dated, and the latter could just as easily be (and have been) rendered in 3-D. I doubt many would recognize the name even if they did make another game bearing that name, so there’s little value in resurrecting it.


Alex Lucard – Stay Dead

I’ll admit it: I loved Phantasmagoria when it came out. My friends and I snuck this and Psychotic onto one of our high school computers and play these during lunch break. I loved the gore being paralleled with the psychological horror. I was a huge fan of FMV with games like this The 7th Guest, Dracula Unleashed, The Black Dahlia and The Mansion of Hidden Souls. It’s a type of gaming that gets a bad rap because of a few god awful games. However, even today you can see some pretty goof FMV games being made, chief of which is the Casebook series.

However, this doesn’t mean I want the series to come back. Like Mark, I’m no fan of Roberta Williams’ games. This was the one exception to the rule of her general suckitude for me. As much as I’d love to see FMV come back in a high-definition format, it would need to be with something more mystery oriented rather than gore filled massacre monsters.

What I would like is to be able to play this game on a modern computer. There are a lot of great classics that don’t run on modern systems and that’s a damn shame. Think of how cool it would be to play The 7th Guest now that technology has caught up to it. To have Phantasmagoria, even as a download would be killer and a great example of how much things have changed in 15 years, as well as a nice look at the all too brief FMV genre.

Phantasmagoria is best left as a fond memory from our gore hungry adolescence. Like most adventure games, it was best as a one-shot due to the linearity of the genre, and you can always find the best bits on Youtube.


A.J. Hess – Start Over

There was some news today about how the PSP Go is going to have built in ESRB ratings. I saw that and thought to myself “what kid in his right mind is going to care?” It’s a total PR move. Anyway, I also thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if some dumb kid bought a M or AO game, played it, and was horribly scarred by it?” That’s what I want to see, and that’s what the Phantasmagoria series could do. Now, a Clive Barker’s Undying was a much better horror game, and if that was ever remade/updated I would be first in line. But I think the Phantasmagoria series has just enough haunt left in it to come back. It would also be nice to see another actual horror slash mystery game, and not just survival horror again. Survival Horror is turning more and more into tactical horror.


End Result:

Stay Dead – 6
Start Over – 1
Sequel – 0
Spin-Off – 0

Wow. A.J. was our lone dissident this week. We almost had our first unanimous column this week! It appears Phantasmagoria is a series best left to the grave. Join us next week when we look at another pretty violent adventure game series, albeit this one has had four incarnations instead to Phantasmagoria’s two; five if you count Haunting Ground as a spiritual successor.

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    • Alex Lucard
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    • Mark B.

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