Phantasmagoria is an interactive movie point-and-click adventure game released by Sierra On-Line and designed by Roberta Williams for MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows. Released on August 24, 1995, it tells the story of Adrienne (Victoria Morsell), a writer who moves into a remote mansion and finds herself terrorized by supernatural forces. Made at the peak of popularity for interactive movie games, it featured live-action actors and footage, both during cinematic scenes and within the three-dimensional rendered environments of the game itself. Phantasmagoria was noted at the time of its release for its graphic gore, violence, and sexual content.
Williams had long planned to design a horror game, but waited eight years for software technology to improve before doing so. Based on Williams' 550-page script, about four times the length of an average Hollywood screenplay, more than 200 people were involved in the making of Phantasmagoria, which took more than two years to develop and four months to film. Though originally budgeted for US$800,000, the game ultimately cost $4.5 million to develop, and it was filmed in a $1.5 million studio Sierra built specifically for the game.
Directed by Peter Maris, the game featured a cast of 25 actors, with all filming taking place in front of a blue screen. While most games at the time featured 80 to 100 backgrounds, Phantasmagoria included more than 1,000. A professional Hollywood special effects house worked on the game, and the musical score included a neo-Gregorian chant performed by a 135-voice choir. Sierra strongly promoted the game, but stressed it was intended for adult audiences. The company willingly submitted it to a ratings system, and included a password-protected censoring option within the game to tone down the graphic content.
Released on seven discs after multiple delays, Phantasmagoria was a financial success, grossing $12 million in its opening weekend and becoming one of the best-selling games of 1995. It received positive to mixed reviews, earning praise for its graphics and suspenseful tone, but received criticism for its slow pacing and easy puzzles. The game drew controversy, particularly due to a rape scene. CompUSA and other retailers declined to carry it, religious organizations and politicians condemned it, and it was banned altogether in Australia. A sequel, Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh, was released in 1996, although Williams was not involved.
Yngvi Th. Johannsson
Retro gaming enthusiast and all around computer collector.
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