When I was in my late teens I built my first PC. I did many crazy things like put in 16MB of RAM and a 400mb hard drive but the nuttiest thing I did was install a CD-ROM drive. I sold the idea of a CD-ROM to my parents by showing them that the ENTIRE encyclopedia Britannica was stored on a single disc, but my real motivation was The 7th Guest!
Released in April of 1993 The 7th Guest was like nothing I had ever seen. It was so different from all the video games I was used to playing. The game featured video clips of actors and pre-rendered 3D graphics that were truly mind blowing at the time. The gameplay was simple yet completely immersive and fascinating. You play “Ego” and you wander around a haunted mansion solving puzzles and games in order to unlock video footage that advanced the story.
Jump ahead 24 years and game designer Rob Landeros is bringing the world of The 7th Guest to the table top with a board game adaption of this landmark video game. The board game will have players taking on the role of one of 6 house guests working their way through the mansion trying to solve puzzles in order to reach and solve the final puzzle before the others. The game will feature 300 puzzles ranging form riddles to logic puzzles to spatial puzzles and more.
I wasn’t alone in the To Die For Games crew to be very excited by the announcement of this game and I was quite pleased when Rob agreed to answer a few questions for us about the game and the drive to create it.
What Boardgames inspired you to go into bringing the 7th Guest to the table top?
Actually, it was Matthew Costello, who wrote the 7th Guest story and helped design the structure of the original game, who prompted me to get off my ass and make the board game version.
But as far as inspiration or models, I kept it in the manner of simple, classic board games. Although I certainly have enjoyed playing some of the more complex and strategic, resource management and development board games, or epic games like Diplomacy, I’ve always mostly been a casual gamer. I find that the average person isn’t surrounded by a coterie of hardcore gamers ready to get together at a moment’s notice or on a regular basis to learn new, complex games that take hours to play. Most folks will suggest to their friends, how about a game of charades, or poker? Or standards like Balderdash, or even Monopoly. Something familiar or friendly and easy to learn. I most certainly and deliberately set out to make a game whose rule book didn’t require more than one page of instructions.
So I think minimalism still has a place in games and gaming. It was Mies van der Rohe, the famous architect, who popularized the aphorism, “less is more”.
Did you approach designing the tabletop version in the same manner as the video game?
Actually the design of the board game was very much dictated by the design of the video game. So in that respect, it was exponentially easier than coming up with something totally different from the original video game or any other board game.
I feel it is my job and duty to protect the 7th Guest brand and IP. And that involves retaining the essence of the back story, the characters, the look and feel, and the gameplay. There are an untold number of people who remember playing and enjoying the game. They all enjoyed it for various reasons, but over the years I have learned that the elements that remain indelible and immutable in people’s minds are the puzzles, the villain Henry Stauf (who is mostly a vocal presence), and not least of all, the environment of the mansion. In fact, you could say the mansion was the main character of the video game.
And I would also point out that the video game was quite minimalist. The puzzles themselves may often have been difficult, but the overall game was easy to learn and play. There was no elaborate manual or complex set of instructions. You weren’t even told how to play the puzzles. It was pure point and click. You were guided by a set of animated cursors that let you know, in a purely binary way, what you could and could not do, and where you could and could not go. (But if you did need help, Stauf would be there to give hints. There were also clues to be found in the Library) So in a sense, the board game could be said to be a bit more complicated than the video game.
So, yes, I approached the design of the game with the goal of staying as faithful to the original as I possibly could. And I think, if nothing else, I achieved that. At least, I have yet to hear differently from the fans who have visited our Kickstarter.
Why did you start designing games and why do you continue designing?
I fell into it, really. I started out as a lowly computer graphics artist, pushing pixels at Cinemaware for games like Rocket Ranger and Defender of the Crown. When CD-ROM technology became a reality, and it was time to make something for that platform, somebody had to come up with an idea that suited it. So my partner and I took it upon ourselves to do so and we sat down and first decided to make a game that took place in a closed environment… one from which you couldn’t escape. Some of our favorite movies, such as Die Hard, Alien, The Shining, would all be examples of that. So we decided on a haunted house. Then it was a question of what you do in a haunted house, and of course, the goal was to survive a night in it, while needing to solve the puzzles and secrets within its rooms in order to escape alive. Or at least, with your soul intact.
But going even a little further back in time, prior to getting into the computer games industry, one of my favorite things was to get my monthly copy of Games Magazine which contained dozens of puzzles of all kinds… crosswords, mazes, logic, hidden words, chronological sequencing, spatial relations… you name it. I would make it my goal to work my way front-to-back of every issue, solving all the puzzles. It was epic. Later, I came across a little known game called Fool’s Errand, that consisted of a wide variety of word and logic puzzles that you could solve non-sequentially, but with each solution you would be rewarded with a piece of a map that you would have to put together so that the Fool (you) could make his way to his ultimate goal. So that simple scheme was really the foundation of The 7th Guest, 11th Hour and now, manifest as a board game.
What inspires you to design games?
The 7th Guest the video game had such an incredible atmosphere, how well do you think this translated to the tabletop?
It would be nearly impossible to translate the atmosphere into the board game. The best I could do was include faithful renditions of the house and its rooms, and to maintain a mood with the illustrations of the cards and other components. On the Kickstarter page I include a soundtrack of scary music and sounds to try to put our potential backers into the proper mood as they learn about the project. I think it would be best to play the game by lowering the house lights, throw some cobwebs over the overhead lights and put on some scary Halloween music. And if you can get somebody to be the master of ceremonies, they could read the puzzlers in their best Henry Stauf impersonation. 🙂
By the way, we have considered a virtual component in the form of an app to complement and enhance the game. Perhaps even a VR or AR component. That would be cool. But that goal is much farther down the line. First things first.
Is there something you were able to do with the Board Game incarnation of the 7th Guest that you weren’t able to accomplish with the digital game?
Actually yes. We are able to offer three times as many puzzles and brain teasers as were included in the 7th Guest and 11th Hour combined., with the possibility of creating expansion packs for special interests, age groups and demographics. And of course, rather than just a challenge for solo play, in the board game you compete head-to-head against fellow guests, friends and family and so it is much more social. Although I do know – because many people have told me so – that many played the video game collaboratively with a friend or a parent or their child. And the way I have most enjoyed playing the 7th Guest board game is collaboratively with a partner. Because two heads are better than one. I think it was Chang and Eng Bunker who said that. 🙂
I spent many, many hours wandering the digital world created by Rob in The 7th Guest. I have great memories of racking my brain against the infection puzzle with friends and family calling out tips. I look forward to having a similar experience once again on my dining room table and against friends and family.
I you want to help this project come alive head over to Kickstarter and hit that back button. Find the project here: The 7th Guest Kickstarter.