I can still remember it, walking into an electronics store with the faint smell of cleaner and electrons floating through the air. I would make a beeline to the video games section to see what new electronic treat had been released; much like many people do today.
It was the mid 90’s, I had the Nintendo Entertainment System, but at this point, the graphics of the 8-bit console were just not going to hack it anymore and I had graduated back (more about that later) to the PC. On a PC, the games were taking strides that the consoles weren’t able to, at least not yet. I had games like Myst, The 7th Guest, MechWarrior 2, The Neverhood, Star Wars: X-wing Alliance, and I walked up the aisle looking at the large boxes with artwork that was bidding for my attention. Then I saw a game that would influence me to this day: Phantasmagoria.
The box was simple; there was a torn picture of a woman in a dress holding up a white shroud-like cape. The picture was torn so that her head and forearms had been cut off. She seemed like a monochromatic ghost and above her, at the tear, was a streak of red: blood. The blood separated the title from the ghostly woman. The title design was simple, even though, at the time I had no idea what a "phantasmagoria" was; the background was black with black type, which was surrounded by a white-ish/blue glow. Below the title was the tagline, ‘pray it’s only a nightmare.’ The box intrigued me and I immediately stopped: a horror game? I had never played one of these before and it looked like the adventure games that I loved so well. But the name at the top of the box stopped me: Roberta Williams.
Roberta Williams was a legendary game designer; she was a pioneer in the industry, using the latest technology in her work and has been credited with creating the graphic adventure game. I knew her as the author of Kings Quest IV, a game that I had had with my first computer, an Apple II GS; a game that confused and frustrated my younger self to no end. This was the game which made me turn my back on the PC, and jump to the Nintendo. Seeing Williams name on the top of the box conjured horrors of endless nights waiting for screens to load, getting killed by trees, sharks, falling from cliffs, but never getting anywhere. I was so frustrated I tried to find new ways to kill my character, because completing the story was out of the question.
I put the box down. I never bought it. Every time, for a few years, my Dad and I would go into the electronics store I would see that box pick it up, and wonder if I should give it a chance; however, my inner child screamed, ‘no!’ Eventually the computer games section slowly declined in size and now it's barely a footnote in some stores, relegated to a single shelf in a corner.
Now, I finally have a chance to play the game that has haunted me for years. Phantasmagoria has been released on Steam.