Phantasmagoria is a CD-ROM horror-themed video game created by Sierra On-line for the DOS and 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 released 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 as an on-screen avatar, as it starred Victoria Morsell. 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 6). Large portions of data were repeated on each CD, to avoid disk swapping when playing the game.
The story by Roberta Williams, somewhat similar to that of The Shining, revolves around paperback writer Adrienne Delaney, who has together with her husband Donald Gordon just bought a remote, enormous mansion previously owned by a famous magician in the late 19th century, Zoltan Carnovasch (Carno). Adrienne is hoping to get in the mood for writing her next novel and Don, a photographer, wants to photograph things. Immediately upon moving into the house, Adrienne begins having nightmares. Unknown to the happy two, Zoltan the magician was into black magic and had summoned an evil demon which possessed him, causing him to murder his wives.
Adrienne unwittingly releases it shortly after moving in during her exploration of the manor and it possesses Don. Don becomes more aggressive towards his wife and even rapes her in a controversial scene. Soon she receives ominous messages from a fortune teller machine in the manor, as well as occasionally hearing strange music. She meets Harriet, a homeless superstitious woman taking refuge in her barn along with her mentally challenged son. Adrienne digs into her new home's history and learns of the deaths of Zoltan's wives and his daughter Sofia. As far as the townspeople know, the wives died naturally however tragically, but as Adrienne explores the house she starts to see visions of the murders taking place. Zoltan murdered his wives in grotesque ways remotely connected to their enjoyed hobby or career; Hortencia, who spent most of her time in the greenhouse is stabbed with gardening tools before being suffocated with mulch; Victoria (an alcoholic) is killed when Zoltan slams her head onto a wine bottle that's on the table during an argument (the bottle goes through her eye); an overly talkative third wife, Leonora, has her head turned 360 degrees in one of Zoltan's contraptions , 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 and dies.
Exploring further, Adrienne finds out 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 famous and dangerous escapology trick; inspired by "The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe, Zoltan would escape from being strapped to a chair with a built-in axe that swung back and forth above him and lowering until it killed him, all while his head was covered with a burning hood.
The plan went wrong and both Marie and Gaston were killed by a rather much alive Zoltan two weeks later, although Zoltan is killed at the hands of a mutilated Gaston before the latter dies from his injuries. The sole witness to these events was a young boy by the name of Malcolm. Now 110 years old, he informs Adrienne of what occurred and how she must stop the evil. Meanwhile, Harriet, fearing for her safety, decides to leave as Don becomes more abusive and erratic. After finding the disturbing contents of her husband's darkroom, Adrienne is chased around the manor by the now deranged and homicidal Don until she is confronted by him wearing the now dead Harriet's scalp and hair. She manages to kill him and release the demon despite being placed in the chair/axe contraption last used by Zoltan to kill Marie. With the demon released she brings it to a dungeon downstairs and is able to perform a ritual that traps the demon before it can kill her. With the demon and her husband dead she leaves the house with the nightmare behind her.
Actress Victoria Morsell spent months in front of a bluescreen filming the hundreds of actions players could direct her character to perform. 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. 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.Template:Citation needed The final chase sequence took a week to film.
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. Despite the controversy, Phantasmagoria was Sierra's best-selling game in 1995 and one of the best-selling PC games of the year.Template:Citation needed
Reviews from the major editorials of the time were positiveTemplate:Citation needed: Computer Gaming World gave the game 4 and a half (out of 5) stars, and an Editor's Choice Award;Template:Citation needed PC Gamer scored it an 88% and also rewarded it with its Editor's Choice distinction. Computer Game Review (now defunct) applauded Phantasmagoria with its Golden Triad Award.Template:Citation needed 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."
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, no further titles were produced.
In a 2006 interview, 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.