The 7th Guest
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|The 7th Guest|
CD Cover art
|Distributor(s)||Trilobyte, Night Dive Studios|
|Artist(s)||Robert Stein III|
|Genre(s)||Interactive movie, Puzzle adventure|
The 7th Guest, produced by Trilobyte and originally released by Virgin Games in 1993, is an interactive movie puzzle adventure game. It was one of the first computer video games to be released only on CD-ROM. The 7th Guest is a horror story told from the unfolding perspective of the player, as an amnesiac. The game received a great amount of press attention for making live action video clips a core part of its gameplay, for its unprecedented amount of pre-rendered 3D graphics, and for its adult content. In addition, the game was very successful, with over two million copies sold, and is widely regarded as a killer app that accelerated the sales of CD-ROM drives. The 7th Guest has subsequently been re-released on Apple's app store for various systems such as the Mac. Bill Gates called The 7th Guest "the new standard in interactive entertainment."
The game is played by wandering through a mansion, solving logic puzzles and watching videos that further the story. The main antagonist, Henry Stauf, is an ever-present menace, taunting the player with clues, mocking the player as they fail his puzzles ("We'll all be dead by the time you solve this!"), and expressing displeasure when the player succeeds ("Don't think you'll be so lucky next time!").
A plot of manipulation and sin is gradually played out, in flashback, by actors through film clips as the player progresses between rooms by solving twenty-one puzzles of shifting nature and increasing difficulty. The first puzzles most players encounter is either one where players must select the right interconnected letters inside the lens of a telescope to form a coherent sentence; or a relatively simple cake puzzle, where the player has to divide the cake evenly into six pieces, each containing the same number of decorations. Other puzzles include mazes, chess problems, logical deductions, Simon-style pattern-matching, word manipulations, and even an extremely difficult game of Infection similar to Reversi that utilizes an AI (and would later go on to make an encore appearance in the sequel). For players who need help or simply cannot solve a particular puzzle, there is a hint book in the library of the house. The first two times the book is consulted about a puzzle, the book gives clues about how to solve the puzzle; on the third time, the book simply completes the puzzle for the player so that the player can proceed through the game. After each puzzle, the player is shown a video clip of part of the plot, if the hint book was consulted 3 times, the player does not get to view the clip. The hint book can be used for all but the final puzzle.
The 7th Guest was one of the first games for the PC platform to be available only on CD-ROM, since it was too large to be distributed on floppy disks. Computer Gaming World reported with amazement in 1993 that "not only does Guest consume an entire CD-ROM ... it actually requires TWO". Removing some of the large movies and videos wasn't an option as they were essential to the gameplay. This game, along with LucasArts' Star Wars: Rebel Assault and Brøderbund's Myst, helped promote the adoption of CD drives, which were not yet common. The game's POV footage of walking through the house was originally planned as live-action video in a practical set, but the idea was abandoned after pre-rendered 3D sequences proved feasible and more cost-effective.
The game is set in 1935 in the town of Harley-on-the-Hudson. A drifter named Henry Stauf, who has nothing to his name, murders a woman and steals her purse, sinking lower and lower. One night, he dreams of a beautiful doll, and seeing this as a vision, carves the doll exactly as he saw it in his dream. Taking the doll to a local tavern, Stauf manages to make a successful transaction with the bartender: the doll for food and drink, and a place to stay; the first of many such transactions. Soon, he has another vision: puzzles and board games, which he then creates exactly as he saw. Now flush with success, Stauf sets up a toy shop and continues to sell his creations, which became more and more popular. People begin to mention that Stauf's unique designs make the toys one of a kind. "A Stauf toy is a toy for life" becomes his slogan for success. However, at the height of his success, some of the children who owned Stauf's dolls came down with a mysterious incurable illness, and began dying. Meanwhile, guided by another, final vision, Stauf built a mansion on the edge of town, "a strange house, a house that scared people," after which he disappeared from public view.
The rest of the game is presented in a first-person view as the player's avatar (called "Ego") explores the house, witnesses past events in the form of ghostly images, and comments on what he sees.
Some time after the outbreak of the mysterious illness, six guests are invited to stay at Stauf's mansion: Martine Burden, a former singer; Edward and Elinor Knox, a dissatisfied middle-aged couple; Julia Heine, a bank worker who reminisces of her youth; Brian Dutton, a fellow shop owner; and Hamilton Temple, a stage magician.
When they arrive, they find no sign of Stauf, but an array of puzzles filling the house, and a declaration by Stauf that the guest who solves his puzzles will be granted his or her greatest desire. Left to their own devices, the guests individually come to the conclusion that Stauf wants them to bring him the "seventh guest", a boy named Tad who has entered the house on a dare from his friends. In fact, Stauf seeks to capture Tad and turn him into a doll, completing his pact with an evil supernatural entity.
The guests soon turn on each other. Martine seduces Edward from his wife, and together they search for the boy. On the other hand, both Elinor and Hamilton realise that Stauf has evil plans for the child, and urge Tad to escape when they find him. One by one the guests succumb to Stauf's traps or die at the hands of their fellow guests: Edward stabs Brian, Hamilton breaks Edward's neck, Julia strangles Hamilton, Martine is drowned by a spirit in her bathtub, and Elinor's spirit is trapped inside a mannequin. Eventually only Julia and Tad remain. Julia takes Tad to the attic, where the wheelchair-bound Stauf awaits. Julia hands the boy over to Stauf and demands her wish, but Stauf dissolves her in a pool of his own bile. Tad attempts to escape, but Stauf holds him back with a long, prehensile tongue.
At this point, the narrator realizes that he himself is Tad's spirit. He has tried to stop this from happening countless times before and is doomed to repeat it forever. This time, through the narrator's motivation, Tad is able to break free of Stauf's hold, causing the supernatural entity to drag Stauf to hell. The endless cycle has now been broken, and both Tad and the narrator are taken into a glowing white light.
The second disc of the CD-ROM set included a very large single audio track playable on any regular CD player. In total, the track was almost a half an hour long and it included both the in-game music, composed by already leading video game musician George "The Fat Man" Sanger, and two live music recordings: "The Game", whose melody in various permutations and stylistic variations became the background music for most of the game (as well as the theme for a piano puzzle) and whose lyrics (sung on the disc by Cotton Mather vocalist Robert Harrison) were based on Stauf's twisted plot, and the ending credits theme, "Skeletons in My Closet", a jazzy tune with a female lead voice (Kris McKay), parts of which are used in the game as Julia's theme. A few years later, Sanger independently released an album titled 7/11, which was a little over an hour long and contained all the music from T7G (this time, on separate tracks) as well as its sequel, The 11th Hour.
Portion of Sanger's "The Game" leitmotif
The in-game music had conventions similar to the use of leitmotif in Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, wherein each guest was assigned a musical theme; where Peter and Wolf used instrumental changes for its characters, The 7th Guest, conversely, used stylistic variations on the melody of Sanger's "The Game". Where two characters interact in the story, the styles are fused, counterpointed, or even sounded simultaneously and when tension abounds, the characters' themes are reflected thusly.
The 7th Guest was the brainchild of game designer/graphic artist Rob Landeros, and a Virgin MasterTronics programmer, Graeme Devine. When Landeros and Devine presented their idea for the game, they were promptly "fired" so that with Virgin's help they could start their own company, Trilobyte, dedicated solely to the development of this game. They originally intended to create the movements through the mansion using video. 3D graphics and animation were introduced to the title early in '91 when Robert Stein III joined the team.
After creating the design document Devine and Landeros gave it to writer Matthew Costello. The developers chose to use 24-bit Super VGA graphics and a simple, textless, TV remote control-like user interface to make the game the answer to the question "What would Mom play?", and to simplify porting to game consoles such as the SNES-CD. Devine created the GROOVIE game engine, which allowed continuous streaming of data from CD-ROM, ran on multiple platforms, and was reusable. The 7th Guest was the first graphic adventure to use 640x320 graphics with 256 colors; Trilobyte reportedly spent more than $500,000 over more than two years to produce the graphics. George Sanger created the soundtrack.
The developers found that, as Devine said in 1993, "CD-ROM is bloody slow". Early blue-screened footage was imperfect and left ghostly auras, which they left in as a feature. The puzzles they intended to use were under copyright, so the developers used puzzle books from the 19th century. Devine said that he cried when watching the end credits play for the first time: "It had been such a hard game to make and I was so exhausted from the process of getting it finished that seeing those credits play through made me realise what we had done."
The game received a very positive response at its preview at the Summer 1992 Consumer Electronic Show and was very successful, with over two million copies sold. It is widely regarded as a killer app that accelerated the sales of CD-ROM drives. Bill Gates called The 7th Guest "the new standard in interactive entertainment."
Computer Gaming World in 1993 was critical of the IBM version of the game, calling it more "a nightmare and a dream" and stating that despite its lengthy delay the game should have been developed further. While praising the "rich, enjoyable gaming experience" from the graphics, sound, and puzzles, the reviewer found that the minimum system requirements were unrealistic and that as of May 1993 many players, including him, encountered stability and software incompatibility issues with their computers. An issue with Media Vision sound cards was especially problematic as it prevented him from hearing digitized speech necessary for progress. The reviewer concluded, "I feel I have been deprived of the full pleasure that Guest has to offer by the inability to get the game to run satisfactorily ... It would have been better to further delay the game than to release it as it was done, without sufficient testing". The Macintosh version of the game was reviewed in 1994 in Dragon #212 by Paul Murphy in the "Eye of the Monitor" column. Murphy felt that "The Seventh Guest suffers from an incurable case of confusion about what it is trying to be. It's either a collection of puzzles encumbered by an unnecessary horror setting and story—or it's a horror story and setting encumbered by an unnecessary collection of puzzles."
The CD-i version received mostly positive reviews. GamePro's review lauded the "sinister" story line, the challenging puzzles, the beautiful graphics, and the generally creepy tone. The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly scored it an 8 out of 10, describing it as superior to any of the computer versions of the game. Like GamePro, they praised the game's puzzles, graphics, and tone.
'The 11th Hour'
Due to the success of The 7th Guest, Trilobyte released a sequel entitled The 11th Hour. The game's reception was initially mixed and did not sell as well as was initially expected. Plans for further sequels to the series were initiated, but never completed due to the then demise of the company. Landeros attempted to create his own official third installment titled The 7th Guest Part III: The Collector, releasing a trailer for the game onto his official website, only for the trailer to disappear and no further information on the series being released.
Trilobyte also released a compilation game made up of the puzzles from both The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour as well as Clandestiny. The game was entitled Uncle Henry's Playhouse. The game was poorly received, only selling 27 copies in the United States.
Ports of both The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour were planned, with The 7th Guest being ported to the CD-i console. Initial plans for The 11th Hour to be ported to the 3DO eventually fell through. In 2010 the first game in the series was ported to the iPhone and iPad, with the series later also being ported to other systems such as the Macintosh. A stand-alone version of the Microscope Puzzle from the original version of The 7th Guest was later released under the name The 7th Guest: Infection. The puzzle had been excluded from the game for technical reasons and features two versions of the puzzle, a somewhat updated version of the puzzle as well as an older version of the Infection game that can be unlocked by beating the main game. In 2013, Trilobyte partnered with Night Dive Studios to re-release both The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour on Steam.
Crowdfunding campaigns for The 7th Guest 3
Trilobyte, relaunched under Rob Landeros, started a Kickstarter campaign on Halloween 2013 for The 7th Guest 3: The Collector. However, it failed to meet its funding target of $435,000. Another crowdfunding campaign was started at Crowdtilt with a smaller goal of $65,000 to build the first story of the haunted mansion but also failed to reach the goal.
'The 13th Doll'
In July 2015, developer Attic Door Productions, having received licensing from Trilobyte for a commercial release pending success in gaining sufficient public interest and funding, began a Kickstarter campaign for an unofficial fan game to The 7th Guest titled The 13th Doll. The campaign target was set at $40,000, running until 27th August 2015. The campaign had 1,199 backers and $60,266 was pledged. 
The 7th Guest won the following awards:
- Wolf, Mark J. P. (2008). The Video Game Explosion. Milton Park, Abingdon, UK: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 192. ISBN 9780313338687.
- Geoff Keighley: "Haunted Glory: The Rise and Fall of Trilobyte" at GameSpot
- Wolf, Mark J.P. (2007). The video game explosion: a history from PONG to PlayStation and beyond. Greenwood. p. 129. ISBN 0-313-33868-X.
- "The 7th Guest: Infection Launches for iPad". Dread Central. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
- "Products". Trilobyte Games. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
- Miller, Chuck (April 1993). "A Sneak Preview of Virgin's The 7th Guest". Computer Gaming World. p. 30. Retrieved July 6, 2014.
- Demaria, Rusel (November 15, 1993). The 7th Guest: The Official Strategy Guide. Prima Games. ISBN 1-55958-468-8.
- Keighley, Geoff (September 22, 1999). "Haunted Glory: The Rise and Fall of Trilobyte". GameSpot. pp. 2–3. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
- "Part II of CGW's Computer Game Developers Conference Coverage". Computer Gaming World. August 1993. p. 38. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
- Keighley, Geoff. "Haunted Glory: The Rise and Fall of Trilobyte." Part 1.4 from GameSpot
- "A Moment With... Graeme Devine". Retro Gamer (122) (Imagine Publishing). December 2013. p. 30.
- Miller, Chuck (August 1993). "Virgin and Trilobyte's CD Apparition Finally Appears". Computer Gaming World. p. 54. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
- Rolston, Ken, Paul Murphy, and David "Zeb" Cook (December 1994). "Eye of the Monitor". Dragon (212): 55–59, 62.
- "ProReview: The 7th Guest". GamePro (61) (IDG). August 1994. p. 92.
- "Review Crew: 7th Guest". Electronic Gaming Monthly (59) (EGM Media, LLC). June 1994. p. 38.
- Stiles, Greg (November 4, 2010). "Extinct Trilobyte's back in the game". Mail Tribune. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
- Keighley, Geoff. "Haunted Glory: The Rise and Fall of Trilobyte". Page 5. GameSpot.
- "Download The 7th Guest - PC Game". Dotemu.com. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
- "Download The 11th Hour - PC Game". Dotemu.com. November 30, 1995. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
- "News - Trilobyte Games joins list of GOG.com partners". GOG.com. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
- "The 7th Guest 3: The Collector". Kickstarter. December 8, 2013.
- "The 7th Guest 3: The Collector". Crowdtilt. February 20, 2014.
- WILLIAMS, STEPHEN (February 5, 1995). "PLUGGED IN GAMES". Newsday. Retrieved November 23, 2012.
- "'Cybermania' cites tops in Multimedia". Billboard. November 19, 1994. Retrieved November 23, 2012.