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The Goods | CYBURBIA

An Artful Spin on an Old Theme

February 13, 1996|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The computer game field is relatively young, but the haunted house motif is already old hat. Whether set in contemporary ("The 11th Hour," "Phantasmagoria") or Medieval ("Stonekeep") times, the idea of finding one's way out of an evil abode by solving puzzles and locating secret passageways has become a cliche.

But don't give up on the genre just yet. The just-released CD-ROM "Masterpiece Mansion" manages to both put a new spin on the motif and even more amazingly, provide "edutainment" for both kids and adults.

To make your way out of the haunted house in this game, which comes on a hybrid CD-ROM that will work in both Macintosh and Windows platforms, you do have to work puzzles and answer questions, but instead of the usual generic brain teasers, the problems posed all have to do with art history.

To get from room to room, you're going to have to know the difference between Dutch Realism and Renaissance paintings, the influences on the works of Frida Kahlo and the countries that were home to famous artists.

Fortunately, you don't need to know much about art history to start. At any point in "Masterpiece Mansion" you can pull up short biographies of the mentioned artists (about 40 in all) or get tutorials on different periods in art history.

After a tedious introductory sequence explains the plot, the first room you enter is the foyer, which has hanging on its walls Van Gogh's "Bedroom at Arles," Rembrandt's "Old Man With Gold Chain" and Caillebotte's "Paris A Rainy Day" (obviously, the folks who used to live in this mansion had a heck of an art allowance).

To progress, you have to answer trivia questions about Van Gogh, such as the name of the famous artist who visited him in Arles. And after a brief lesson on Rembrandt's style, you are shown a group of paintings and then have to choose which among them was painted by the master. Finally, you have to rearrange the Caillebotte, which has been scrambled in the manner of a jigsaw puzzle.

If you're successful, you move on to the west wing, which contains puzzles and questions having to do with Cezanne, Monet, Picasso and ancient antiquities. If you fail to get enough points, you're sent back to the beginning to try again.

In all, there are 10 rooms in the game and as you progress, the problems get tougher. For example, you get only a 30-second look at Winslow Homer's famous "Breezing Up" before having to answer questions such as, "How many of the boys in the boat are wearing hats?"

"Masterpiece Mansion" won't win any awards for technological innovation and it doesn't have the freshness of a "Myst" or visceral excitement of a "Doom," but it is a welcome, pleasant variation on a computer game theme, and a painless way to become more familiar with some great works of art.

The list price of the game, distributed by Philips Media, is $39.95.

* Cyburbia's e-mail address is David.Colker@latimes.com.

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