The Portopia Serial Murder Case

The Portopia Serial Murder Case

The release of Colossal Cave Adventure in 1976 cemented the concept of the text adventure game. Themselves inspired by the works spawned in the wake of Colossal Cave Adventure, a writer named Roberta Williams, along with her husband, Ken Williams, created a game in 1980 entitled Mystery House. Taking cues from Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and the Winchester Mystery House situated in San Jose, California, Ms. Williams’s work broke ground by featuring visual graphics in a time when most computer games did not. Slowly yet surely, the solely text-based titles made way for the graphical adventure game, although the Williams couldn’t possibly have known the influence of Mystery House would extend across the Pacific Ocean.

One year later in Japan, 27-year-old Yuji Horii read a PC magazine article detailing the rise of these adventure games. He was intrigued by their concept, but couldn’t help but wonder why the market of his native homeland lacked such games. Realizing the potential in this genre, he sought to introduce it to his peers by creating an adventure game of his own. Using his knowledge of the BASIC programming language, Mr. Horii began his project.

He started off wanting to create “a program in which the story would develop through entering a command and by receiving an answer to it”. It would be a game that progressed through a conversation between a human and a computer. He attempted to craft an artificial intelligence language algorithm, but realized it simply wasn’t possible with the technology afforded to him at the time. Instead, to make his game stand out from his inspirations, he experimented in non-linear storytelling wherein the main scenario composed 20% of the experience and the remaining 80% was to be allotted to responses to the player’s actions. Memory limitations made this extraordinarily difficult, causing him to scale back to several scenarios with short branches, though he still found it more interesting than programming one long linear path.

This game, entitled The Portopia Serial Murder Case was completed in 1983 and saw its debut on NEC’s PC-6001 home computer. It was eventually ported to other platforms, including Konami’s MSX computer and Nintendo’s Famicom console. It was notably the first adventure title to see a release on the latter platform, and its unique gameplay quickly caught on with the consumers, selling 700,000 copies. Critics were receptive to Mr. Horii’s work as well, enjoying its good storytelling and dynamic gameplay. The game notably resonated with future artists as well. Hideo Kojima, who would make his own impact on the industry a few years later with the stealth-action title Metal Gear, considered it one of the three most influential games he ever played. It was also one of the first games a man named Eiji Aonuma ever played; he would later go on to direct many installments in Nintendo’s venerable The Legend of Zelda series. Although its lack of a Western release ensured it remained unknown outside of its native homeland, its influence cannot be overstated. How was a single game able to leave this much of an impact on the medium?

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