Hauntings of Mystery Manor
Review by Jen
Cindy Pondillo, who travels the 'net as Ghostlady, is the proprietress
of Mystery Manor,
an adventure gaming website with a twist. The Mystery Manor site
is set up as a series of 15 or 20 rooms of a house, each room
devoted to a different aspect of adventure gaming. For instance,
the Conservatory hosts a handful of reviews, you can download
a saved game from the Attic, or you might look for game patches
in the Sewing Room. Each room of the Manor is fronted by a pretty
graphic of that room's interior, each haunted by a ghost or two,
accompanied by a short loop of well-chosen music, and hiding a
Ghostlady says, "Over the years I have had so many requests
for The Mystery Manor game that I figured it was time to do something
about it," and so she did. Using the Adventure
Game Studio, a free development tool for independent game
designers, Ghostlady has set a game within the walls of the Manor.
The result of her efforts is a polished, although quite short,
point-and-click adventure game. To the outside observer (me),
it appears that Ghostlady put this whole thing together in less
than three months, which is, quite frankly, nothing short of amazing
... until she let slip that she is a programmer in real life and
so came into her first game-making project with the neurons of
her brain prealigned in that strange manner most conducive to
Hauntings of Mystery Manor the game takes the rooms of
Mystery Manor the website, adds a few new ones, and rolls them
all up into an actual haunted house full of ghosts. You are the
returning prodigal; first thing on entering your ancestral home,
you are beseeched to free the spirits.
Exploring the house further ("what do you mean, 'exploring'?
isn't this our own house? we must have amnesia") leads to
meeting the ghosts and learning what ails them. Ghostlady calls
this a gothic game and then goes on to give the dictionary definition
of gothic, to-wit: "of or relating to a style of fiction
characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre,
mysterious, or violent incidents." Well, that about sums
up the game, so I guess I'll stop here.
... No, just kidding! What kind of review would this be if I
didn't make more words?
Each ghost will tell you, via onscreen text (there are music
and sound effects but no voice work), how he died or who killed
her or what her defining life's moment was, and you must search
for the item(s) that will allow the spirit to shuffle off the
pesky residue of this mortal coil and make for the afterlife.
The Manor consists of a foyer leading to 12 rooms, six upstairs
and six downstairs. From some of these 12 rooms, you may go deeper
into the house, or even outside. You locate items and figure out
how they fit into the puzzles set by the specters, and then bring
these things to the appropriate spirit. Some ghosts need more
than one item; for others, you must create an item before you
can hand it over. Once a soul has been freed, it disappears and
the room falls quiet, a nice, clear signal that there is nothing
else there for you to do.
All of the shortcomings of the game result from the Adventure
Game Studio software. If you've ever played an AGS game before
(better-known examples include 5 Days a Stranger, the Ben
Jordan games, The
Adventures of Fatmango to the AGS site for a complete
list), you'll know what I mean. The interface is clunky; to use
something you have to mouse over the top of the screen to bring
up some standard menu items, which are represented by ugly, giant-pixelled
built-in icons, and then click on the inventory icon (a briefcase),
select an item, click "OK" to close the inventory, and
then apply the item.
Also, the choices of screen resolution are 320×240 or 640×480.
320×240? That's like something out of the Stone Age, at
least in computer gaming terms. Even at 640×480, it's possible
to see individual pixels with the naked eye on today's computer
I feel like a shit for complaining about it, because AGS is a
free tool that has enabled some talented people to make games
where they otherwise might've lacked the technical skills to bring
their ideas to fruition. And AGS games usually run beautifully
right out of the box, so to speak. But still, in the case of Hauntings
of Mystery Manor, the standard icons supplied within the AGS
are severely at odds with the finely rendered images used in the
The largely static game screens are drawn by Ghostlady's friend
Diz, a graphic
designer who specializes in Victorian-flavored digital art. They
are among the nicest images I have ever seen in an indie game.
Each room of the Manor also has its own snippet of music; all
of the pieces are chosen well and lend to the atmosphere and completely
failed to irritate this increasingly cranky adventure gamer.
Of course, it was not necessary for me to spend a whole lot of
time in any one roomI, I who have played at least six thousand
adventure games, I who can occasionally fall prone to fits of
hyberbole, finished the game in well under three hours, closer
to two. Ghostlady said it had taken most of those who'd played
around five hours to complete.
It's hard for me to say, since I got to play it for free, whether
Hauntings of Mystery Manor is worth its $15 price tag;
while it is unpretentious, well put together, and quite fun to
play, it is easily finished in just one sitting. I suppose if
I had forked over the $15 out of my own meager funds, I'd not
have been at all disappointed in the game itself, only in its
I hope Hauntings of Mystery Manor was enough fun for Ghostlady
to make that she will step up alongside Kathy
Salisbury as a female independent game developer and go on
to create other games. Although it was made by a girl gamer, Hauntings
of Mystery Manor is not at all a girl game; it does, however,
bring with it a refreshing feminine sensibility.
Release Date: June 15, 2005
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium 500 MHz
32 MB RAM
DirectX 5 or above
Supports all DirectX-compatible sound and video cards
Where to Find It
Manor $14.95 (download; add $3 for CD version)
Links provided for informational
purposes only. FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction
entered into by any party(ies).