Wayward Manor, a game written by Neil Gaiman

Wayward Manor, a game written by Neil Gaiman

By Nur Hussein, staff writer

If you’re like me, a fan of adventure and puzzle games, and a fan of Neil Gaiman, what could be more deliriously joyous then the news of Wayward Manor, Gaiman’s first foray into adventure game-based storytelling?  The game was  released today.

In June of 2013, Gaiman announced he would be collaborating with indie game makers to create a puzzle/adventure game based on a story he was developing. Gaiman felt the story shouldn’t be just read, but “experienced”, and what better what to experience a story than through the medium of computer gaming.

Wayward Manor was developed in collaboration with Gaiman by The Odd Gentlemen, an indie gaming house, and Moonshark, a mobile games developer. The Odd Gentlemen is the company that produced the charming puzzle platform game, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, which earned a lot of critical acclaim.

So what’s the game about? The year and the place is 1920’s New England, and you play the ghost of a murdered person who lives in a mansion. After a family moves in, your job is to haunt them until they are scared away from your abode. There is also the mystery of who killed the protagonist, which the player has to find out eventually. The premise sounds like Beetlejuice meets Maniac Mansion (ah the joys of the 80’s) but with Neil Gaiman and modern gaming technology.

Wayward Manor stars a delightfully quirky cast of characters. Besides yourself as the ghost protagonist, the game features the Budd family:

  • Herkimer Budd, the stern father of the family.
  • Mildred Budd, the mother.
  • Patience and Fortitude Budd, a pair of energetic young twins. Gaiman decided that the family moving into the protagonist’s house needed a pair of annoying little kids, as a challenge to the gamer.
  • Hubert Budd, a sadistic little brat whom Gaiman says is “trouble” and will probably grow up to become a serial killer or dictator.
  • Theophilus Budd, the grandfather who was once a big game hunter and adventurer.
  • Toombs, the butler who has “seen it all”. He is completely unflappable and Gaiman hints that scaring him will be a challenge.
  • Dagmara, an accident prone maid.
  • Benny “The Bull” Kubelsky, a dim-witted superstitious gangster who is in the house intending to rob it. He’s not going to have a good time.

Gaiman was inspired to write this game because he loves ghosts and ghosts-as-protagonists stories that don’t try to scare the player, but instead inverts the idea of a ghost story and have the player try to scare the characters.

The game itself isn’t such a hefty download (about a single CD-ROM’s worth of data needs to be fetched from the internet), and needs about 2GBs free to play. The game is available on both Mac, PC, and tablet and I tried the Mac version (although one imagines the other versions to be identical). I’ve only played the introductory level, so my comments apply to a cursory look at the game.

As the game unfolds, Gaiman himself narrates the cut-scenes, by assuming the role of the house itself. Yes, the manor speaks to you, the player, and it is as much a character as the occupants of the building. The graphics are beautifully drawn in a cartoony way, reminiscent of the later Lucasarts adventure games like The Curse of Monkey Island.

A screenshot from Wayward Manor.

A screenshot from Wayward Manor’s gameplay. You can click on the items glowing a faint green, and the amount of level ups you need to win the stage are represented by ghostly skulls on the top left. The housekeeper is dusting the armor on the middle right.

The interface is intuitive point-and-click; you can jump in the game right off the bat and pretty much know what to do (the house provides helpful hints to guide you through the first level). It is more a puzzle game than an adventure game like the ones of old, and each room is distilled down to the elements you can click on (the objects with an “ectoplasmic glow”). You click on the objects in a room to move them, and this startles the occupant(s) of the room. You gain power and level up as you terrify your uninvited house guests, and as they run fleeing from a room, you win the level. The first level stars Benny “The Bull” Kubelsky, the gangster trying to burgle the house. You pelt him with bottles and make him charge at a coat rack by moving these objects about, and eventually he’s terrified enough to give you enough power to take over the room.

How does the game fare? Well, it’s unfair to judge it based solely on playing the first level, but the nostalgic gamer in me kind of missed the free-roaming, quasi-open narrative aspect of Maniac Mansion and its ilk, which I can’t help but think of. I’m sure as the game progresses, a very interesting story will reveal itself to the player, but I’d say this game is more puzzle than adventure, at least from an early playing. The puzzles are framed by the story and characters, and I expect it will get more immersive as you progress along it. The graphics are gorgeous and the characters are funny-looking (in a good way), so the game gets a thumbs up in terms of visual design.

The game is available for $9.99 on Steam for both Mac and PC, and a tablet version should be released soon.

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