The Haunted Palace: A Game of Hide-and-Seek (2023)

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The much more sedate inside cover of the manual. The Atari title screen states U.F.O. is a subsidiary of Crystalware, so it isn’t really a different company.

I have mapped the ground floor and the floor beneath (“Level II” and “Level I”) fairly thoroughly; I’ve gotten through some of Level III.

My time since last has mostly been occupied by exploration, although I’ve also managed to become deadly. Let me explain the deadliness first.

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I need to backtrack on one of my statements: none of the monsters are only text description. If you can’t see one, you need to turn around and you’ll get a picture like the one above. So far I’ve run into ghouls, skeletons, demons, and vampires.

All of them use the same basic mechanics of trying to hit you for X damage while you try to hit them back for Y damage. If you have armor — one of the random plate mail armors scattered about the castle — it might get shattered mid-combat (or even sometimes right at the start before the hitting starts). Otherwise, your weapons skill plus some modifiers including I think strength and dexterity make up however much you hit the monster for. If that isn’t a large enough number, the monster then hits you back.

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In my experience, if you have no armor when the monster hits you back, you are dead.

Fortunately, the way the weapons number is determined allows for easy carnage: each weapon you pick up increases your weapons value. There doesn’t seem to be any inventory limit I can find, so you can swipe up spears, magic arrows, crossbows, etc. and all of them will contribute to your weapons value. Once my weapons value passed 250 or so I started to kill pretty much everything in one hit.

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Before I was an absolute killing machine, but still pretty dangerous. Having magic arrows with no way to shoot them still increases weapon score.

Incidentally, the “Courage” value I have found to go up as I’ve killed more monsters. Fall of the House of Usher required a particular courage score to win; I don’t know if that is the case here. If it is, I won’t have too much trouble with my current character getting up to snuff. (If I wasn’t playing the former war hero it might have been more difficult. I still need to test if Frederick gets a weapons multiplier compared to the other characters.) The manual, while indicating the mystery should be solved, is somewhat evasive how that gets exhibited by the player.

In order to solve the mystery you must collect a series of clues and find the secret hidden chamber where a demon waits. To get the right answer you must read all of the background material and examine the three exhibited articles in this manual thoroughly. The answer is not a single word or phrase, but consists of piecing together all the clues and recounting the sequence of events that have brought about the curse upon the mansion and how that curse may be lifted.

Speaking of stats, I found out (by studying screenshots of the Atari version of the game) that you can USE WISDOM or USE INTUITION. This doesn’t work on any of the other stats. So far, I’ve always got the message


but keep in mind those are my character’s dump stats. I may just not be able to use them at all. I do have the suspicion they’d help find at least one secret passage. Referring back to the game’s manual:

On going through my dresser this evening, I found a portion of an old mason’s worksheet. Next to one of the rooms I could clearly see a 5 foot space which appeared to be some type of secret passage. It appeared to lead to a small room. With hammer and chisel in hand, which I got from the Sculptor’s Studio, I set off to find the entrance.

Although I have lived here all my life and as a child played many a game of hide-and-seek, I have always found that the Palace seems a different place at night. To conserve candles and Mary’s work load, there are areas where there are no torches and which I hadn’t explored in years. Using my map I managed to locate the room and begin to chisel on the morter between what appeared to be two loose stones. In no time at all I had freed one of the stones and from then on the work became considerably less difficult.

— Lord Edward Stuart’s Diary, Saturday, December 14

There is a Sculptor’s Studio, and there is indeed a hammer and chisel inside. What I don’t know is where they go to; I haven’t gotten to the point of USE HAMMER&CHISEL on every single wall. Part of my reticence is I’m not sure how broken the game really is.

For example: I have a CANDLE and some MATCHES now. On the second floor of the Palace, there are some dark areas:

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However, my attempts at doing USE CANDLE or USE MATCHES or LIGHT CANDLE or LIGHT MATCHES all get the response NOTHING HAPPENS. (???) I’ve pretty thoroughly scoured the map otherwise and found no torches, although they are recognized as a noun in the game. I still am guessing at the moment the game intends torches to be the light source and they’re just hard to find, but I still have the lingering thought maybe the game is literally broken and light is impossible.

The game still has fairly deranged graphics in the hallways which don’t give me hope. Also not encouraging: the message YOU HAVE PICKED UP A EMPTY upon opening a cabinet with nothing in it.

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Weirdly, the graphics in individual rooms aren’t too bad, and sometimes have been genuinely evocative. It feels as if there was a nice concept and core to start with, but the game was shipped out incomplete.

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That second screenshot is from the cellar, which has been a smaller map than the other two.

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Torture chambers and dungeon cells.

There’s a map feature I haven’t mentioned up to now which is plainly apparent above — sometimes you have multiple exits off the same direction. The way the game handles this is to have multiple doors side-by-side, and when you press D to enter a door, the game prompts which door (left, middle, right) you wish to use. It more or less works, but the game already has a lot of friction so I’d rather have done without this feature.

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This will prompt 1.) left or 2.) right upon pressing D.

One last environmental feature which seems to be random but is honestly creepy: sometimes maggots or rats will appear. I tried fighting but had no luck; the best that I can do is run away. Sometimes it takes a couple of attempts, and the rats/maggots don’t leave a particular area after they’ve appeared.

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I’ll grant this has the right amount of creepy, and the disjoint with the perspective graphics makes it even more cursed.

I’ve still been finding many “clue” messages but they’re for the most part repeats of ones I’ve already found. The most interesting has been a picture:

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This tracks with the “meet me tonite” message, the fact Elizabeth was seen in town, and even the weird fact that the Butler wakes up later (I guess he’s out with Lady Elizabeth shenanigans). I don’t now how this translates to the mystery. If this is just repeating Fall of Usher then Elizabeth was killed by Lord Stuart’s ex-wife (who is still alive, and there already was the clue she didn’t have a death certificate), and that’s that, but that doesn’t quite mesh with the extra information so there might be a twist.

I don’t have a good sense how close I am to the end of the game. I’m going to guess halfway. What I’d really like to do next (assuming I don’t magically resolve my light problem) is find the subcellar. Not only does Lord Stuart’s diary imply the existence of such, but there’s a clue directly in the game:

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However, given my character’s lack of visual insight I need to hope USE HAMMER&CHISEL on the right spot will work. (Maybe my MAP #1 or MAP #2 would help, but the game won’t let me read them. Nor will it let me read my SCROLL #1 or SCROLL #2, or read the BOOKW, or any of the various letters. Did I already say this game is janky? This game is janky.)

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With a last triumphant whack of the hammer, a major portion of the wall gave way revealing the passageway I had seen on the map. I soon found myself in a musty spider infested passage and proceeded South. After walking just a few feet I found a door. The passage must have been the remnants of an old hallway sealed up long ago. On entering the room I first spotted a large old chest. Surely, this must be where Edgar had hidden his gold. Within a few moments my elation had turned to horror as I turned my gaze to the far corner of the room. There, crouched beneath the sign of a pentagram, was the most loathsome creature I have ever seen. Its yellow eyes gleamed dully in the light of my candle and its 7 foot tall body was covered with a sickly grey matted coat of fur. Around it were strewn various skull and human bones and next to was a stack of fetid rotting entrails. I dropped my candle and was plunged immediately into total darkness.

I flailed about and rushed blindly to escape. In my confusion, I rushed headlong into the thing and reached out to grasp its slimy fur. With a scream I reversed my direction and found the door. In a stumbling flight of terror I crunched into hard stone and banged my head on the low overhang. After what seemed like an eternity I lunged through the entrance to a moonlit room and rushed into the hall.

I now sit in my room. The rain still beats upon my window and the image of that horror is still etched forever on my feeble mind. I can feel myself tottering on the edge of sanity. There are footsteps coming down the hall. I can hear the sound of Virginia’s voice calling me … the knob is slowly turning and my door swings ajar … for a moment I can see nothing but a dark shadow in the door. There is a brilliant flash and poised in the doorway I can see it … as I scream I can feel my sanity leave me as thunder shakes the helpless house …

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