HalloFREEn: The Malstrums Mansion

(Originally published on the 1UP.com Freeloader blog in October of 2012)

While my introduction to PC games started somewhere around GORILLAS.BAS, the games that made me fall in love with the PC as a gaming platform were point-and-click adventures.  Of course, at the time, there wasn’t even any pointing-and-clicking involved; instead, it was all about arrow-keying-and-typing.  With the proliferation of the mouse as an input device (particularly on the Mac), games began to take advantage of them, though in a strangely uneugenic way.  Originating from their text parser predecessors, some of the first mouse-based adventure games simply required the player to click on words to perform their actions rather than type them out.  Indeed, this strange manifestation of parser and mouse combination lasted for many years, used in games as recent as Monkey Island 2.

One of the first and most well-known adventures of this type was Shadowgate, developed by ICOM Simulations, Inc. (later, Rabid Entertainment, Inc.), specifically for the Macintosh.  Originally developed in 1987, Shadowgate had a quite a long life, generating spin-offs, sequels, or ports for a multitude of systems, including the Atari ST, Windows 3.1, NES, Gameboy Color, Nintendo 64, and TurboGrafx CD.  The Gameboy Color version was even ported to cell phones as late as 2005, so I would not be surprised to see it popping its severed head up again sometime in the future (iPhone, perhaps?).  Oddly, despite my PC pedigree, my memories of Shadowgate were formed during a few terrifying weekends with the NES version, rented from my local, non-chain video store.  The dark, survival horror-esque gameplay provided quite a stressful experience for a pre-teen, but, as it was the NES version, I was able to deal with the stress appropriately (see #8, here).

In 1989, long before I plugged in my NES copy and fumbled awkwardly with the D-pad, three kids in Chile were busy creating their own game based on their love of Shadowgate, going so far as to hand-craft notebook paper design documents on top of former grocery shopping lists.  Edmundo, Andres, and Carlos Bordeu mapped out the entirety of The Malstrums Mansion on those spiral-bound pages.  Says Eduardo,  “The Malstrums Mansion was the game we wanted to make after playing Shadowgate, but at the time we had no idea how to program and make a game. What we did have was a copy of Superpaint, so we made all the pixelated graphics for the game and stored them in 700kb disks, waiting for the time we would be able to create games.”  The game was never made, but those three boys did go on to form the development studio ACE Team, whose game Zeno Clash was released on Steam in April of 2009 to many favorable reviews.

During development of Zeno Clash, Carlos had the idea of including The Malstrums Mansion within that game as an unlockable.  Using the aforementioned design documents and graphics, a member of the ACE Team programming team put the game together in Flash, in the hope that the game would be included with Zeno Clash.  Ultimately, they decided that the two games were not a natural fit and opted instead to release the game for free on their website as an April Fools joke.  Due to the overall polish of the finished product, many were fooled by the posting’s assertion that the team would be working strictly on classic style adventures from that point forward.  Though released in a tongue-in-cheek way, The Malstrums Mansion is a full-featured game that perfectly captures the spirit of Shadowgate and similar adventure games of the time.  That is to say, this shit is hard as hell, and contains a few instances of instant death without any option to save your progress.  To solidify the experience, ACE Team added a fake Macintosh OS, complete with floppy disk access sounds, as part of the game’s initial start up.  It’s available now on their website and you can also check out a scan of that ancient design document in their forums.  Almost as important as the first drawing of Pac-man.


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