Uncle Buddy's Phantom FunhouseA reconstruction of the original interactive sci-fi/mystery puzzle game!

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ReconstructionHow was Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse Rebuilt?

Project Overview: Adapted from McDaid’s Specs for the Project

One of the first hypermedia novels, Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse was published in 1992/93 by Eastgate Systems, Inc. on the now defunct Mac-only platform HyperCard. While the interactive fiction of the period was parser-driven, and literary hypertexts were powered by then-new link-based architecture, Funhouse offered a radical departure, combining text, graphics, and audio that presented the story as a series of artifacts within the HyperCard environment, an approach that could be called “modally appropriate artifactual fiction.” Today’s game design theory would probably call it an immersive diagetic environmental fiction, but those terms hadn’t been invented yet. And therein lies a central challenge of this reconstruction: maintaining a sense of the historical situatedness of the text––its verisimilitude as an artifact of a particular time––while remediating it in a way that makes the work accessible today and open to re-platforming in any future environments.

High Level Design

The eight students from the Web Design & Development Team creating the game were tasked with maintaining the integrity of the gameplay––that is, an exploration-driven narrative that gives the reader/player complete control over their engagement with the text. They also were required to reconstruct Funhouse in open web languages (HTML5, CSS3, JS); no 3rd party plugins allowed. Additionally, all code had to be human-readable and human-accessible. No DRM, no minified JS, no hidden files. Additionally, the player should never be asked to think of themselves as doing anything other than what they actually are: sitting in front of a contemporary screen, interacting with familiar digital objects. There are ludic elements (a puzzle to solve, a password to guess), but the majority of the interaction takes the form of reading, listening, navigating, and making inferences. Anything players can do in the web at large (follow links, view source, check mp3 tags) should work exactly the same here: if they know how to explore something, their efforts should not be frustrated.

The story focuses on figuring out what happened to Arthur “Uncle Buddy” Newkirk by exploring the artifacts left behind. As a science fiction writer, Newkirk’s hard drive was a playground where ideas were explored and developed, leaving the player never quite sure about what is true. The “story” is embedded within both the text and the design of the objects the player encounters––including a sketchbook, a dictionary, a photo album, a compendium of lyrics––making it very much open to personal interpretation.

Screenshot of code for the Funhouse
Screenshot of the code for the Oracle room in the Funhouse

Aesthetic, Mood, & Tone

As a guiding principle, the spirit of the original aesthetic was expected to be retained. The interface nods to the conventions of HyperCard 2.0 in which it was originally built without treading on Apple’s IP. The one-bit, dithered images of the original have been either rescanned, vectorized, or remade from scratch. Typefaces resemble the original but chosen from those that are platform agnostic and Google friendly. Both the text and interface present themselves in ways that are ironic, self-referential, and playful. The mood is one of mystery, the tension of uncertainty, and the challenge of fitting all the pieces into a coherent whole. Since what that whole comprises depends largely on player choices, the sense of the text varies but ground the fact that Newkirk has disappeared and, so, inclines the work toward dark interpretations.


Original Interface for the Funhouse

Funhouse in 1993


Interface of the New Funhouse

Funhouse in 2022
Image of Characters Arthur Newkirk and Emily Keane
A screenshot from the music video McDaid made for the Funhouse

Music and Other Media

Unlike the original that used audio cassettes, the music here is delivered digitally (in high-resolution AIFF and mp3) and integrated into the work. Updated versions have been recorded and mastered. As appropriate, original music will be kept in archive. Add-on materials (the marked-up proofs of the original, a newly discovered one-act play, etc.) has been re-produced in PDF format and accessible within the game world. Likewise, the print-based physical media that accompanies the digital work and audio files and aid players in solving the mystery of Uncle Buddy’s disappearance have been incorporated into the interface and accessible during gameplay.