Hi-Res Adventures #3: Cranston Manor (1981)

Hi-Res Adventures #3: Cranston Manor (1981), by Harold DeWitz and Ken Williams, based on The Cranston Manor Adventure by Larry Ledden, developed and published by On-Line Systems

After Mystery House and the Wizard and the Princess became hits, it didn't take long for Ken And Roberta to start looking for other people to help to make the game flow going on and a one-game wonder Harold DeWitz was one of those people, who tried their hand in the games business. Cranston Manor was the first Hi-Res-series game that wasn't created by Roberta Williams, so that's something, I guess, despite the game itself isn't anything groundbreaking.

As it is, the story of the game doesn't reveal itself in the game. The very little story it actually has is just a small blurb on the last page of the manual. That wording on the story varies a bit, depending on if you're looking at the first or second release, but is just as short in both cases. Here's the original release snippet from the manual I found from the depths of the net:

"Old man Cranston trusted no one. He accumulated his immense wealth through questionable means. Before being dragged to his grave by cancer, he hid his treasures on his estate. Now it is suspected he still haunts the mansion and grounds guarding his treasure.

 You are in the deserted town of Coarsegold, which was strangled to death through old man Cranston's greed and plotting. You are determined to enter Cranston Manor, find the treasures and put them outside the gates so they can be used to rejuvinate Coarsegold. 

You have a list of the 16 treasures old man Cranston stole and hid, but it is not legible!" 

And the corresponding segment from the second release:

"It seems that old man Cranston was not exactly your run-of-the-mill type millionare. Exactly how he made his fortune is unknown (it appears he wasn't a man known for either scruples or morals). Before his untimely death, he had amassed an uncalculated fortune in jewels, gold and various other rare and expensive items. Cranston was aware of the fact he was dying. He had lived a life of excessive luxury, pleasure and sin, and knew that soon he would end up "paying the piper"! Being a greedy and covetous old man, he figured that if he couldn't take it with him, no one would take it when he was gone. He hid his treasures throughout the mansion and property encompassing it. 

Old man Cranston is now the "late" old man Cranston. Rumor has it that his disembodied spirit roams the estate guarding the hidden riches. You are placed in the deserted town of Coarsegold (smothered by Cranston's greed and plotting) and it is your goal to find the treasure so that the town may once again become the center of life for the thousands who once lived there. It won't be easy, and it won't be without it's terrifying risks!"

Either way and both ways are really the same but with different wording, a treasure hunt is the name of the game. While Roberta Williams was already eying towards a bit more ambitious storytelling in games, Cranston Manor is little else than a traditional treasure hunt game with a couple of puzzles and a lot of rooms to explore in order to find the 16-pieces of treasure old man Cranston left behind after he kicked the bucket.

Cranston Manor eases you into the game and is as such, a far simpler and forgiving experience than either of the previous titles Roberta Williams designed. You begin in the city of Coarsegold, from where you need to find a couple of items before you can break into the mansion itself.

Coarsegold basically teaches you how to navigate, explore, pick up items and use them, but interestingly enough it's not some two room tutorial scene, but a city scene that is constructed of a couple of blocks you can explore at your own leisure until you find a crowbar, which helps you to break into the mansion through a locked gate. As far I know, you can't die in the city itself, but death can be a frequent visitor in the mansion, though usually in locations where dying seems a pretty logical possibility.

One of the first big puzzles you encounter in the mansion is an automated suit of armour, that keeps following you on the first floor to every room you go. The puzzle obviously is to find a way to get rid of the armour, as it's preventing you from picking up items and the pieces of treasure you're after. This is logically done with a mouse you need to capture. For a good while, after you've found the mouse, you need to keep it with you in order to throw it on the armour every time you need to pick up something from a room the armour is as well. You can, later on, turn the armour off alongside a deadly soldier that is trying to shoot you every time it passes your path.

As far I could tell, the armour doesn't pose a deadly threat, it's just an annoyance. You do need to worry about the soldier, that actually resides only on a few specific rooms, and some other deadly things, but overall, I'd say Cranston Manor is surprisingly fair in that regard, especially for an old adventure game.

The puzzles are what you'd expect from a game like this. Some make sense, some not so much. A lot hangs on how well you can get into the minds of the developers in order to figure out the correct words to use. At times you know exactly what the game wants you to do, but you still can't find the right combination of words to type in or you just keep walking past a drawer you need to open, but don't really know it, as the game won't inform about it being intractable in the room.

In many ways, it commits all the standard sins of bad game design, but at the same time you can, if you think the game in its historical context, forgive some of them, as the developers still didn't necessarily know any better, given that the industry was still young.

Cranston Manor isn't a game I'd call innovative, as it's very much just a derivative of an old formula. It doesn't really try to do anything differently, as it's content at being what it is, a simple treasure hunt with no real aspirations in anything else. Or at least that's how I see it. If anything, it is a game, that On-Line Systems published because they needed to expand their catalogue, which wasn't really a bad idea and for its time, it probably was an okay game and something a lot of gamers expected to see from the genre in question.

Personally, I actually liked it. It's not a game I'll be returning to, but as far Hi-Res series go, it felt like a reasonable entry, that wasn't designed to get you at every point. It might lack the technical innovation that Roberta's games were often trying to reach but it still is a pretty decent treasure hunt, if you're willing to put up with the design flaws of the time. It's not something I'd call a memorable title, but adventure genre has done worse.

Screenshots from MobyGames