Codex Gamicus

Phantasmagoria is a CD-ROM horror-themed video game created by Sierra On-line for the DOS and Microsoft Windows platforms, and later for the SEGA Saturn in Japan. The game was released in 1995 and was followed by a sequel, Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh in 1996.

Made during the height of the "interactive movie" boom in the computer game industry, Phantasmagoria is notable for being one of the first adventure games to use a live actor (Victoria Morsell) as an on-screen avatar. The game was released on seven CDs to accommodate the massive amount of video generated by this process, the creation of which was contracted by Sierra to Kronos Digital Entertainment (who had previously worked on Sierra's King's Quest VI). Large portions of data were repeated on each CD, to avoid in-game disk swapping.[1]


The story, designed by game developer Roberta Williams, revolves around paperback writer Adrienne Delaney and her husband Donald Gordon, who have just bought a remote mansion previously owned by a famous 19th-century magician, Zoltan Carnovasch. Adrienne hopes to find inspiration for her next novel and Don, a photographer, lays plans for a private darkroom. Immediately upon moving in, Adrienne begins having nightmares; early explorations of the estate elicit strange music and ominous messages from the reception hall's fortune-teller automaton. Unknown to the happy couple, "Carno" the illusionist practiced black magic and summoned an evil demon which possessed him, causing him to murder his five wives.

During her exploration of the grounds, Adrienne unwittingly releases Carno's demon, and it promptly possesses her husband. Don becomes more aggressive towards Adrienne and, in a controversial scene, even rapes her. She finds help in Harriet, a superstitious vagrant taking refuge in Adrienne's barn. Adrienne researches the Carnovasch estate's history and learns of the deaths of Zoltan's wives and his daughter Sofia. As far as the local townspeople know, the wives' tragic deaths were entirely natural, but as Adrienne explores the house she starts to see visions of the murders. Zoltan killed his wives in grotesque distortions of their customs or habits; Hortencia, who avoided Zoltan's abuse by secluding herself in her greenhouse, is stabbed with gardening tools and suffocated with mulch; Victoria, an alcoholic, is killed when Zoltan impales her left eye with a wine bottle during an argument; an overly-talkative third wife, Leonora, has her mouth gagged and her neck contorted in a torture device; and finally (in another of the game's most controversial film sequences), the food-loving Regina is force-fed animal entrails through a funnel until she chokes to death.

Adrienne discovers that Zoltan met his demise when his last wife, Marie, realized he was a murderer. Marie conspired with her lover, Gaston, to kill Zoltan by sabotaging the equipment for his most infamous and dangerous escapology trick: donning a burning hood, Zoltan was to escape from bonds on a throne equipped with an overhead pendulous axe.

The lovers' plan is successful only in disfiguring and hospitalizing Carno, and both Marie and Gaston are killed by an enraged Zoltan two weeks later. Zoltan himself is killed at the hands of a mutilated Gaston before the latter dies from his injuries. The sole witness to these deaths was a young magician's assistant by the name of Malcolm. Now nearly 110 years old, Malcolm informs Adrienne of the demon and how she may eradicate it. Meanwhile, Harriet, fearing for her safety, decides to leave as Don becomes more abusive and erratic. After finding the disturbing contents of Don's darkroom, Adrienne is assaulted and then chased through the manor by the now deranged and homicidal Don until her inevitable capture (in an optional scene, Don wears the now-dead Harriet's scalp and hair). Despite being placed in the "Throne of Terror" (last used by Zoltan to kill Marie), Adrienne manages to kill Don and releases the demon from his body. She provokes the villain to a subterranean chamber and performs a ritual that traps the demon before it can kill her. With the enemy defeated and her husband dead, Adrienne escapes the house in stunned silence.


Actress Victoria Morsell spent months in front of a bluescreen filming the hundreds of actions players could direct her character to perform.[2] The game script was about 550 pages long, four times the size of a regular movie script, and an additional 100 pages of storyboards set the style for the over 800 scenes in the game.[2] The game required four months of filming alone and over 200 people were involved in the production, not counting the Gregorian choir of 135 people that was used for parts of the music in the game.[3] The final chase sequence took a week to film.[2]


Phantasmagoria was a notable outing for designer Roberta Williams, best known for her family games like the King's Quest series. Featuring graphic gore, violence and a rape scene, the game stirred controversy over age restrictions and target audiences in the maturing game industry. It was banned in Australia, while CompUSA and other major retailers simply refused to carry it. The game was never banned in Germany, but had an 18-Rating. Phantasmagoria was Sierra's best-selling game in 1995 and one of the best-selling PC games of the year.[4]

Reviews from the major editorials of the time were positive[5]: Computer Gaming World gave the game 4 and a half (out of 5) stars, and an Editor's Choice Award;[6] PC Gamer scored it an 88% and also rewarded it with its Editor's Choice distinction.[7] Computer Game Review (now defunct) applauded Phantasmagoria with its Golden Triad Award.[8] Jeff Sengstack of GameSpot however, gave Phantasmagoria a 6.0 "Fair" rating and commented that "experienced adventurers will find Phantasmagoria generally unchallenging, the characters weak, the violence over-the-top, and the script just lame."[9]

Phantasmagoria was also ported to the SEGA Saturn. This version, exclusively targeted at Japan, was developed and released by Outrigger Corporation in 1997. Renamed Phantasm, it featured eight CDs and was fully translated and dubbed into Japanese.


Although Roberta Williams was asked by Sierra to produce a third game in the series,[2] no further titles were produced.

In a 2006 interview,[10] Roberta Williams cited Phantasmagoria as the game most representative of her game design career.

A boxed set of both Phantasmagoria games was released in 1999, called Phantasmagoria Stagefright.

On 11 February 2010, Good Old Games re-released Phantasmagoria for sale by digital download.[11]

See also[]


  1. [1] Programmer Greg Tomko-Pavia Interview, 1996]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Roberta Williams interview, 1999. Retrieved on 2008-04-05
  3. [2] Coming Soon! Magazine, 1995
  4. [3] Orlando Sentinel: Best-Selling Titles, 1995
  5. [4] Adventure Gamers, Phantasmagoria review, 2009
  6. [5] Business Wire: Sierra's Phantasmagoria tops charts and rakes in year-end awards, 1995
  7. Metacritic: Phantasmagoria (pc: 1995)
  8. [6] Business Wire: Sierra's Phantasmagoria tops charts and rakes in year-end awards, 1995
  9. Phantasmagoria review at GameSpot, May 1, 1996
  10. Roberta Williams interview, 2006. Retrieved on 2008-04-05

External Links[]