A Gorey Murder: “Mystery!” web game archive

There were two things that conspired to make me write this post. First, ever since putting together a page on the Murder, She Wrote tie-in games, I’ve been thinking a lot about the various detective-themed computer games I’ve played in my life. Second, while looking into the acting credits of the late great Dame Diana Rigg, I was reminded of the fact that she used to host the Mystery! TV anthology series on PBS.

For those who (due to age or geographical factors) are not aware, Mystery! was a series that aired on PBS (the Public Broadcasting Service in the US) from 1980 until 2007. It began as a spin-off of the popular Masterpiece Theater, and as of 2008 was reabsorbed under the Masterpiece umbrella. It was what could be described as an anthology series which aired various TV shows and mini-series that would, for the most of its run, be introduced by a host—notably Vincent Price from 1981 until 1989, and Diana Rigg from 1989 until 2003.

Aside from these introductions, the series didn’t have much in way of original content. Instead, it was instrumental in bringing British series produced by BBC and ITV to American audiences. (The only exception to this were the three movies based on Tony Hillerman novels featuring Navajo Tribal Police: Skinwalkers (2002), Coyote Waits (2003), and A Thief of Time (2004).) As a Canadian living close to the US border, I grew up having access to a local PBS station, and I must admit that if it weren’t for Mystery! I may never have become such a huge fan of detective shows.

For me, one of the most memorable things about the series was its opening title sequence, which used artwork commissioned from Edward Gorey, in his distinctive signature style.

The Edward Gorey artwork extended into various promotional materials for the show, and the early iteration of its website was no exception.

While the original website no longer actively online, it is still possible to browse much of its old content thanks to backups saved to the Internet Archive. For instance, you can CLICK HERE to view the backed-up version of the website from August 2000.

Screenshots of the PBS Mystery! website from August 2000. The website featured animations that changed as you moused-over the menu.

Nonetheless, due to changing technology, there is one part of the old website that will no longer load in any modern browser. According to the backups of the website, there were two Shockwave games that visitors could play as early as 1998, and these were joined by a third game in 2000. I remembered these mini-games well and wanted to try them out again recently. The problem was that just last year (in 2020) Adobe had discontinued Shockwave/Macromedia Flash browser plug-in technology. So while I was able to view the old webpages that the games were originally found on, the games themselves simply would not load.

List of games includes:
Murder Mystery 3: The disapearance of Polyanne Fishenchips.
Murder Mystery 2: Who Killed the Very Reverend Toby Spoon?
A Gorey Murder: Who murdered Miss Isabella von Recklinghause?
The webpage listing the three Shockwave Mystery Games on the old Mystery! website.

I thought it was a shame that these games (which were filled with spectacular Edward Gorey artwork) would be lost in the ether, so I set about figuring out a way load them again and to record them for posterity. Luckily, I found it possible to download the original .dcr game files from the archived webpages onto my computer (in fact, the game downloaded automatically when I visited the webpage). But I still had a problem finding software that would actually open and run these files. The solution to this problem turned out to be on the Internet Archive as well since several Internet Archive users backed up installer files for Adobe Flash Projector (a standalone program for playing Flash animations). After downloading and installing the program (specifically this one) I was able to open the games directly on my computer.

While I managed to find a workaround to play the original games, I was still wary of the possibility that technology may change again and make it truly impossible to play the original game files in the future. Because the games themselves are quite short (it takes less than 10 minutes to play through each of them), I thought the best way of preserving the games for posterity would be to make a playthrough video for each of them.

I have uploaded the videos to my YouTube channel (click here for the playlist), and you can also view the embedded videos below. In case it is not obvious, the main premise of each is to move your mouse around the screen and click on various objects to interact with them, or click on various suspects to interrogate them.

Hope you enjoy the videos, and let me know what you think in the comments!

2 comments

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who played them way back when. If it weren’t for the Internet Archive, I might have thought I had imagined them 🙂

      Like

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