The making of Stephen King's The Mist: "It's kind of hard for a text adventure to be scary"

The making of The Mist
(Image credit: Angelsoft)

In gaming circles, Stephen King's The Mist is best known as the 'science gone awry' story that inspired Half-Life. Yet the novella itself was adapted into its very own text adventure game in 1985. Here, Retro Gamer Magazine discovers how writer Raymond Benson enveloped gamers within The Mist. 

This is what happened. In 1984, American children's author Mercer Mayer and his business partner John Sansevere founded Angelsoft in White Plains, New York. Their idea was to develop adventure game software for home computers based solely on licensed properties in the hope of attracting casual gamers. The plan was in place, but they struggled to negotiate any suitable licences, so Mercer went to see a man about a dog. A dog named Cujo. Published in 1981, Cujo was Stephen King's grim tale of what happens when good pets go bad. 

The story culminates with Donna Trenton and her young son Tad getting attacked in their car by a rabid St Bernard. During the ordeal, Donna wishes that Tad was back at home, tucked up in bed reading "one of his Mercer Mayer books". This reference gave Mercer the perfect icebreaker. "I called King and we chatted for a while," he says, "then I asked him what he could offer us. It turned out that every one of his books had already been optioned by movie studios, ruling them all out. He went to speak to his people then came back and told me there was actually one story available – The Mist."

Bond, James Bond

Stephen King's The Mist Video game

(Image credit: Angelsoft)

King wrote The Mist in 1976 and it first appeared in Dark Forces, a collection of horror stories from various authors. It tells the tale of Bridgton, a small New England town smothered by an unnatural fog that unleashes terrible creatures. Most of the action takes place inside a supermarket where a number of survivors, including the story's narrator David Drayton, hole up from the horrors outside – only to discover that evil also walks among them. Angelsoft licensed The Mist in late 1984 and it immediately made people sit up and take note. "The Mist deal was significant to us," says Mercer. "It opened the door to other deals, Bond being the first." 

The company acquired the rights to A View To A Kill, the upcoming Bond movie that would premiere in summer 1985. As the deals were being done, Angelsoft hired programmers to develop a custom adventure game system. The framework was in place – it just needed someone to fill it with locations, people and puzzles. Enter Raymond Benson, an author who happened to be both a keen gamer and an expert on all things 007.

"My book The James Bond Bedside Companion had just been published in November 1984," says Raymond. "I was living in New York City at the time and I had an agent who knew I enjoyed games. I was a huge Infocom fan – I was really into Zork and its sequels. Angelsoft needed a writer for The Mist and A View To A Kill, and my agent immediately thought of me. I was hired as a freelance writer and designer to do both games." 

Beginning with The Mist in January 1985, Raymond joined a small team that consisted of a producer and several programmers. The first thing he did was give King a call. "I spoke with Stephen on the phone. It was a short conversation. "I asked him if he cared if I invented things that weren't in his story or deleted stuff, and asked his opinion on a couple aspects. He basically said, 'Do whatever you want'." Raymond wasn't about to mess with the story for the sake of it however, and changes were made only to aid the interactive experience. 

Text adventure 

The making of The Mist

(Image credit: Angelsoft)

Like a lot of King's tales, The Mist starts slowly, with Drayton and his family surveying the after effects of a freak storm that batters their lakeside home. It's only when Drayton and his young son Billy travel into town for supplies that the story shifts into high gear. The game omits the ominous buildup and begins with just Drayton – or more specifically, 'you' – inside the supermarket at the precise moment when the mist rolls in and all hell breaks loose. The novella paints an increasingly bleak picture in which Drayton's only hope is to somehow keep himself and his son alive. The game instead introduces a clear goal – return home and rescue Billy (who sensibly didn't tag along to the supermarket). 

"I figured the main point of the game would be to escape the town and kill as many of the creatures as you could," says Raymond. "The biggest challenge was to make it scary. I'm not sure if I succeeded at that – it's kind of hard for a text adventure to be scary – but I think the story came across as interesting and compelling. It's always the goal of an adapter to create something that complements the source and yet expands on it." 

The making of The Mist

(Image credit: Angelsoft)

"The Mist was moody and spooky – it was a good story for the medium"

Raymond Benson

Development of the game lasted roughly three months and was largely hassle-free. However, Raymond remembers being frustrated with Angelsoft's adventure scripting language (codenamed ASG). "Angelsoft's parser was nowhere near as sophisticated as Infocom's, and I was disappointed that I couldn't do some of the things that Infocom did with its games. But it turned out okay in the end." The game was published by Mindscape in 1985. As soon as it was finished, Raymond started work on A View To A Kill and followed that with a second Bond adventure, Goldfinger. 

The 007 games were more sophisticated than The Mist, but not necessarily better in the mind of the author. "For Bond, you needed more than just a text adventure, you needed graphics," he says. "It didn't translate well. The Mist was moody and spooky – it was a good story for the medium. It just worked better." These days, Raymond is best known as an award-winning author of more than 25 books, including six original James Bond novels. He hasn't worked directly on a computer game for many years now, yet he still has a strong interest in gaming, in particular the adventure genre. 

"In the late Eighties I got into the gaming industry full-time and worked for some companies like Origin Systems and MicroProse. I especially like The Mist, but I think the best game I ever did was Dark Seed II for Cyberdreams. It's too bad that text and graphic adventures have gone out of fashion. I've always enjoyed games with interactive stories. "It seems to me like King's The Stand would make a great game…"

This feature first ran in Retro Gamer 108. You can subscribe to Retro Gamer Magazine here and get more features just like this one delivered straight to your doorstep.