World of Horror
An old school macintosh hypertext adventure game styled after the horrific works of Jun Ito? Shut up and take my sanity! World of Horror peeks back beyond the cosmic veil to the beginning of the point and click adventure era, in what is as much a love letter to old school gaming as it is to old school horror.
The demo we played (dd12 at the time of downloading, latest version is dd15 -ed) was a bit rough around the edges, with an interface that is sometimes more scary than the monsters, but if you can keep grip of your mental faculties long enough, you may just enjoy World of Horror has to offer before succumbing to the embrace of the eternal abyss.
If the visuals didn’t already tip you off, World of Horror aims to resurrect the long dead corpse of old school adventure games that existed in that awkward period between text adventures and point-and-click adventures. Perhaps due to technology limitations of the time, they tended to adopt a kind of “choose you own adventure” style of gameplay, complete with bullshit instant deaths out of nowhere… which eventually evolved into games like Shadowgate (which was also filled with bullshit instant deaths out of nowhere).
It was a pretty niche genre, as far as I know, really only represented through the relatively small MacVenture series (Deja Vu, Uninvited, Shadowgate), but an important one as it possibly marked the beginnings of more media-rich experience using these odd things called hyperlinking, hypertext, and thinking of things in terms of “pages”. Yes, that’s right – these games were basically a prototype for the modern web as we know it. The Old Ones of adventure gaming indeed.
World of Horror doesn’t just recreate an old style of game, however. It takes this old school experience and runs away with the imaginations we had back then, adding a ton of complicated features to the game which we take for granted now. There’s randomly generated campaigns with big bads to throw down against, RPG-style stats to keep track off, a card-battling combat system, inventory management, and of course, a Lovecraftian sanity system.
Each scenario involves you investigating a particular case, exploring areas such as shady forests or abandoned decrepit houses through the aforementioned choose your own adventure style options. There’s plenty of battles though, and while the monsters/opponents often have low HPs, battles tend to be tense, deadly affairs. At least, until you find a decent weapon or scrape up enough cash at the store to buy one.
The mix of big bads is quite cool, ranging from cosmic entities coming to consume the world to eternal spiders from the nether-realms promising to drain your will, but the mass of buttons, text and things to click and manage is probably the larger threat to your sanity.
There’s so much going on on the screen at any one time, and the learning curve is steep, it really does ebb away at your sanity a bit. It also makes the gameplay a bit hard to describe on an abstract level. So, I decided to record my first adventure into the World of Horror, to better illustrate how a game session can go (hint: very badly).
My First Playthrough
After starting my campaign, I had to embark upon my first mystery, which was to investigate a hell house. So basically a typical weekday for me. Soon enough, I was poking around random locations for clues about the hell house, and sure enough a faceless horror that collects women’s ribs was waiting in the dark to eat me.
Combat options presented included a weak kick, a weaker punch or an absolutely useless pray option. No matter how many times I tried either of the attacks, my attack roll was always lower than the enemy’s. Was I unlucky? Or was the rib lady’s stats just that much better that no roll would beat her? I could not tell. There is a spells/items button, which I hoped might provide some way to even the odds, but pushing it made a menu briefly flash on screen then disappear again, so I wasn’t sure if that means I cannot use items/spells or if it was a bug. Eventually, I gave up and ran from the rib lady, whereby the game cheerily informed me that I gained nothing. Thanks, I guess.
Despite gaining nothing, a new clue had been added to my clue list, so I guess nothing is still worth something. Fleeing back to the forest, I tried to rest somewhere – but couldn’t because I wasn’t at home. Medical treatment wasn’t an option, without reaching the hospital first, either. Wondering what to do, bloody and bruised and alone in a dark forest, I discovered that I could inexplicably visit the shop, where I bought a hammer that promised to restore my sanity after I brutally murder someone with it. Lacking other options at this point, I gave into the dark whispers coming from the hammer and headed back into the woods to finish the job. This time, after some effort, I managed to smash the rib lady into pieces, gaining some experience but no further clues.
With just 5 HP left, and bits of ribs stuck in my teeth, heading to the hospital seemed like a good idea. After arriving, I decided to “investigate” it first, which, naturally like in most hospitals, revealed a vampire lying in wait. As I started to make sense of the overload of information on the combat screen, I realised the vampire was the same strength as me and my hammer, and should he attack, I only lose some sanity instead of precious health. My hammer restores sanity (or so it tells me) so I saw no reason not to attack. Yet, despite our equal stats, the vampire won most combat rolls, and had the annoying ability to gain health after each successful bite… even beyond his initial measly 2HP, meaning after an eternity of combat he eventually had 8HP and I died.
As you can see, World of Horror plays out much like real life would, in that the cards are stacked against you and even when things seem even, you’ll probably get screwed over anyway. Also, vampires are in hospitals. Another reason to avoid them.
The challenge, however, is not necessarily an off-putting one but rather a compelling one. If I can just slowly make sense of the myriad of screens and stats, and persist and survive to improve my inventory, experience and chances that bit further, perhaps I could see more of what the World of Horror has to offer.
There, the game has captured one of the best sides of old school gaming, and it works. My only negative at this point is the UI – either it has bugs and doesn’t work properly, or things are either not yet implemented or just not clearly communicated (why do some screens and buttons seem to activate or deactivate or not work at certain times, and how do you use magic and items exactly, can you even use them? I tried restarting with a different big bad to fight, but it always gives me the spider – is he the only one implemented or is this another bug?). If these sanity-reducing shadows are whisked away, which most likely will get ironed out from such an early stage of development, we could really be unearthing something cosmic here.
*We played version dd12 at the time, since then, a newer version (dd15 hotfix3) has been released, which may address some of the UI/bugs. As more updates come out, we will check it out and update this article as needed.