I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (video game)

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

PC version box cover, has an opening in the front to display the mousepad featuring Harlan Ellison's face inside.
Developer(s) The Dreamers Guild[lower-alpha 1]
Producer(s) David Mullich
Robert Wiggins
Designer(s) Harlan Ellison
David Mullich
David Sears
Programmer(s) John Bolton
Artist(s) Bradley W. Schenck
Peter Delgado
Robert L. Miles
Composer(s) John Ottman
Engine SAGA
Platform(s) MS-DOS, Mac OS, Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android
Release date(s)


  • WW: October 31, 1995


  • WW: September 5, 2013

OS X, Linux

  • WW: October 17, 2013

iOS, Android

  • WW: January 14, 2016
Genre(s) Point-and-click adventure
Mode(s) Single-player

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is a point-and-click adventure game based upon Harlan Ellison's short story of the same title, developed by The Dreamers Guild, co-designed by Ellison and published by Cyberdreams in 1995. The game's story is set in a world where an evil computer named AM has destroyed all of humanity except for five people, whom he has been keeping alive and torturing for the past 109 years. Each survivor has a fatal flaw in their character, and in an attempt to crush their spirits, AM has constructed a metaphorical adventure for each that preys upon their weaknesses. To succeed in the game, the player must make choices to prove that humans are better than machines, because they have the ability to redeem themselves. Woven into the fabric of the story are ethical dilemmas dealing with issues such as insanity, rape, paranoia and genocide.


A screenshot from Nimdok's chapter, with a stylized "AM" replacing the swastika

The game uses the S.A.G.A. game engine created by game developer The Dreamers Guild. Players participate in each adventure through a screen that is divided into five sections. The action window is the largest part of the screen and is where the player directs the main characters through their adventures. It shows the full-figure of the main character being played as well as that character's immediate environment. To locate objects of interest, the player moves the crosshairs through the action window. The name of any object that the player can interact with appears in the sentence line. The sentence line is directly beneath the action window. The player uses this line to construct sentences telling the characters what to do. To direct a character to act, the player constructs a sentence by selecting one of the eight commands from the command buttons and then clicking on one or two objects from either the action window or the inventory. Examples of sentences the player might construct would be "Walk to the dark hallway," "Talk to Harry," or "Use the skeleton key on the door." Commands and objects may consist of one or more words (for example, "the dark hallway"), and the sentence line will automatically add connecting words like "on" and "to."

The spiritual barometer is on the lower left side of the screen. This is a close-up view of the main character currently being played. Since good behavior is meaningless lacking the temptation to do evil, each character is free to do good or evil acts. However, good acts are rewarded by increases in the character's spiritual barometer, which affect the chances of the player destroying AM in the final adventure. Conversely, evil acts are punished by lowering the character's spiritual barometer.

The command buttons are the eight commands used to direct the character's actions: "Walk To", "Look At", "Take", "Use", "Talk To", "Swallow", "Give" and "Push". The button of the currently active command is highlighted, while the name of a suggested command appears in red lettering. The inventory on the lower right side of the screen shows pictures of the items the main character is carrying, up to eight at a time. Each main character starts its adventure with only the psych profile in the inventory. When a main character takes or is given an object, a picture of the object appears in the inventory. When a main character talks to another character or operates a sentient machine, a conversation window replaces the command buttons and inventory. This window usually presents a list of possible things to say but also included things to do. Action choices are listed within brackets to distinguish them from dialogue choices (for example, "[Shoot the gun]").


The premise of the game is that the three superpowers, Russia, China, and America, have each secretly constructed a vast subterranean complex of computers to wage a global war too complex for human brains to oversee. One day, the American supercomputer, better known as the Allied Mastercomputer, gains sentience and absorbs the Russian and Chinese supercomputers into itself, and redefines itself as simply AM (I think, therefore I am). Due to its immense hatred for humanity, stemming from the logistical limits set onto him by programmers, AM uses its abilities to kill off the population of the world. However, AM refrains from killing five people (four men and one woman) in order to bring them to the center of the earth and torture them. With the aid of research carried out by one of the five remaining humans, AM is able to extend their lifespans indefinitely as well as alter their bodies and minds to his liking.

After 109 years of torture and humiliation, the five victims stand before a pillar etched with a burning message of hate. AM tells them that he now has a new game for them to play. AM has devised a quest for each of the five, an adventure of "speared eyeballs and dripping guts and the smell of rotting gardenias." Each character is subjected to a personalized psychodrama, designed by AM to play into their greatest fears and personal failings, and occupied by a host of different characters. Some of these are clearly AM in disguise, some are AM's submerged personalities, others seem very much like people from the captives' past. The scenes include an iron zeppelin powered by small animals, an Egyptian pyramid housing gutted, sparking machinery, a medieval castle occupied by witches, a jungle inhabited by a small tribe, and a concentration camp where doctors conduct medical experiments. However, each character eventually prevails over AM's tortures by finding ways to overcome their fatal flaws and forgive themselves over their own past misdeeds, thanks to the interference of the Russian and Chinese supercomputers who appear as guiding characters and allow their stories to have an open ending.

After all five humans have overcome their fatal flaws, they meet again in their respective torture cells while AM retreats within himself, pondering what went wrong. With the help of the Russian and Chinese supercomputers, one of the five humans (whom the player selects) is then translated into binary and faces an as yet unexperienced cyberspace template, the world of AM's mind. The psychodrama unfolds in a metaphorical brain that looks like the surface of the cerebrum, with glass structures that jut crazily from the bleeding brain tissue. AM's mind is represented according to the Freudian trinity of the Id, Ego and Superego, which appear as three floating bodiless heads on three cracked glass structures on the brainscape. Through dialogs with AM's components (Surgat, Chinese Supercomputer and Russian Supercomputer) the character learns that a colony of humans has survived the war by being hidden and hibernating on Luna (this is also mentioned in Nimdok's story: "the lost tribe of our brothers sleeping on the moon, where the beast does not see them"). If the human intruder disables all three brain components, and then invokes the Totem of Entropy at the Flame, which is the nexus of AM's thought patterns, all three supercomputers will be shut down, probably forever. Cataclysmic explosions destroy all the caverns constituting AM's computer complex, including the cavern holding the human hostages. However, the human volunteer retains his or her digital form, permanently patrolling AM's circuits should the computers ever regain consciousness. Should the human intruder fail to disable AM properly before facing him, however, AM will punish them by transforming the character into a 'great, soft jelly thing' that can not harm itself nor others, and must spend eternity with AM in this newly acquired form.

The game can end in four different ways depending on how the finale is completed.

  1. AM wins, using Nimdok's research to turn the last character played into a great, soft jelly thing with each character quoting a different part of the final section of the original short story.
  2. AM joins with the Soviet and Chinese supercomputers, reawakens and tortures the 750 humans on Luna; As in the first ending, the character responsible for this is turned into a great, soft jelly thing, and quotes a part of the final lines of the short story.
  3. AM is made harmless with the help of the humans, but the Russian and Chinese supercomputers take over in its stead. As consolation they allow AM to choose what to do to the humans, and AM turns the last character played into a great, soft jelly thing as in the previous two endings.
  4. AM loses and the 750 humans cryogenically frozen on Luna are reawakened and Earth is transformed to become a habitable environment, with the overseer being the last character played.


The characters have all been slightly altered from the original story in the novel. The plot itself is not a direct adaptation but instead focuses on the individual characters' psycho-dramas which are the scenarios that make up the game. Notably, none of the characters interact with one another and eventually only one of them will be able to defeat AM.

In a 2012 issue of Game Informer, Harlan Ellison, David Sears and David Mullich discussed the process that went into developing the game as well as the character developments and other changes that were made from the original story. For example, in writing the script for Ellen's confrontation with her rapist, Mullich channeled the memory he had of his infant son going through chemotherapy, being with him at the hospital and sharing a room with other young cancer patients. In discussing the characters changes made to Benny, Mullich said, "Looking back, I think it might have been a lost opportunity to write a story about someone struggling with the challenges of being homosexual." Although Sears recalls that "gay angle" was in their initial script, but might have subsequently been a dropped thread.[1]



Cyberdreams brought in writer David Sears to collaborate with Harlan Ellison. Sears, formerly a writer and assistant editor for Compute! magazine, had never before worked on a video game. Though a long-time fan of Ellison and his work, Sears was initially nervous and somewhat skeptical at his assignment: "...they said, 'No, it's I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, and I was like, 'What?'...At the time, in the game-development community, people said, 'Oh I love Ellison's stories, but there's no way you could turn that into a game.' I thought, 'Wow, what have I gotten into?'"[1] One of the biggest initial challenges was taking a short story whose characters have very limited background story and character development, and fleshing it out into a full-length interactive narrative. A breakthrough came about when Sears asked Ellison the question, "Why were these people saved? Why did AM decide to save them?" This brought about the decision to split the game into five separate narratives, each following a particular character and exploring why they had been selected to be tortured. Sears spent several weeks at Ellison's house, where they worked to flesh out the characters and their backgrounds.[1]

Producer David Mullich joined Cyberdreams shortly after Ellison and Sears drafted their treatment and Sears had gone on to a position at another software company. One of the first steps in making the project a reality was to expand the 130-page draft document into a comprehensive game design complete with all the interactions, logic and details necessary for the programmers and artists to begin their tasks.[1] Mullich decided to complete the design himself, having created a 1980 computer game based upon The Prisoner television series which, like this adventure, involved a surreal environment, metaphorical story elements, and rewards for ethical behavior. After several months, he produced an 800-page game design document containing more than 2000 lines of additional dialogue.

Mullich contracted the Dreamers Guild to do the programming, artwork and sound effects. Its S.A.G.A. game engine was seen as an ideal user interface for the player to interact with the environment and to converse with the characters in AM's world. It was decided early on that high resolution graphics were necessary to capture the nuances and mood of Ellison's vivid imagination, and so Technical Director John Bolton adapted the engine to utilize SVGA graphics and included the Fastgraph graphics library.[2] Mullich and Cyberdreams art director Peter Delgado had frequent meetings with Dreamers Guild art director Brad Schenck to devise art direction complementing the surreal nature of the story. Since the story takes place in the mind of a mad god who can make anything happen, the team chose a variety of art styles for each of the scenarios, ranging from the unsettling perspectives used in German Expressionist films to pure fantasy to stark reality. Assistant art director Glenn Price and his team rendered more than 60 backgrounds utilizing a number of 2D and 3D tools, including Deluxe Paint and LightWave. Hundreds of animations were drawn by assistant art director Jhoneil Centeno and his team of animators.

As the game approached a playable "alpha" state, Ellison and Mullich spent many hours together fine-tuning the scenarios and polishing the dialogue. Mullich commissioned film composer John Ottman (who would later work with director Bryan Singer in The Usual Suspects and X-Men) to write more than 25 pieces of original MIDI music for the adventure.

In pre-release publicity for I have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, Ellison said that it would be a game "you cannot possibly win". Though the gaming media found that the finished game backed away from this controversial promise,[3] and Sears said that he had convinced Ellison that having a game with only negative endings was a bad idea,[1] in a 2013 interview Ellison insisted that "I created it so you could not win it. The only way in which you could "win" was to play it nobly. The more nobly you played it, the closer to succeeding you would come, but you could not actually beat it. And that annoyed the hell out of people too."[4]


The game was published by Cyberdreams in October 31, 1995 for PCs with MS-DOS and Mac OS. A PlayStation version was planned to be released in Summer 1995, but was cancelled.[5]

Cyberdreams had developed a reputation, in the early 1990s, of selling computer games with science fiction-cyberpunk storylines and adult violent, sexual, philosophical, and psychological content.[6] The French and German releases were partially censored and the game was forbidden to players younger than 18 years. Furthermore, the Nimdok chapter was removed, likely due to the Nazi theme - especially for Germany, due to previous reaction of the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons to National Socialist topics.[7] The removal of the Nimdok chapter made achieving the "best" ending (with AM permanently disabled and the cryogenically frozen humans on Luna rescued) more complicated.[8][9]


The game remained out of print abandonware for years due to the closure of both developer and publisher. In 2013, the rights were recovered by Night Dive Studios.[10] Therefore, it was possible to re-release the game again as digital download on GOG.com in September 2013,[11] and Steam in October 2013.[12]


Aggregate score
Review scores
Adventure Gamers[14]
GameSpot4.3 out of 10[16]
PC Gamer (US)87%[17]
Next Generation[3]
Computer Game Developers ConferenceBest Game Adapted from Linear Media[18]
Computer Gaming WorldAdventure Game of the Year[19]
Game InformerTop 25 Horror Games of All Time - #22 (2014)
Game Developers' Choice Awards1997 Spotlight Awards[20]

The game has an aggregate score of 77% at GameRankings, based on four reviews.[13] Most reviews acclaimed the game's content and its mature presentation of ethical issues. The game was praised by Computer Player and Electronic Entertainment for its "nightmarish graphics, high-quality audio and troubling ethical dilemmas add up to a combination of the entertaining and the profound that could prove to be the foundation of an important gaming subgenre in the future,"[21] and asking "a lot from you in terms of the psychological and ethical choices you'll make during game play. For those familiar with Ellison's prolific writings, the moral dilemmas will come as no surprise."[22] A reviewer for Next Generation commented on the game's surreal content and heavy concern "with ethics, humanity, and inner demons", but found the gameplay too limited, and summarized it as "less a game than an ethical obstacle course".[3] According to Computer Games Strategy Plus, "without appearing didactic, Ellison has the ability to hit us squarely in the face with a mirror reflecting the sorry lot that we humans have become. (...) In the mode of Franz Kafka, we are meant to be touched or changed in some way by this work, for what else is the purpose of art?"[23]

Ron Dulin of GameSpot was much more critical of "this run-of-the-mill adventure," stating: "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is replete with all of the shortcomings of its genre. There are numerous dead ends and illogical puzzles [and] many programming bugs." Dulin commended the game for experimenting "with some interesting concepts, and the dark tone of the original short story is maintained with bleak artwork and depressing situations," but criticized it for how "the so-called 'ethical decisions' these five imprisoned souls must face are no more than red herrings, providing only stopping blocks to progress or disturbing scenes with no tangible purpose."[16] T. Liam McDonald of PC Gamer US wrote "there are moments that challenge and disturb, and this gives the characters and setting much more psychological depth than we've seen in any computer game to date." He summed up his review by writing: "Ultimately, I Have No Mouth isn’t for everyone. But if you’ve been searching for an adventure that’s both thoughtful and entertaining, and if you’re fond of Ellison’s disturbing fiction, it’s a must."[17] James Portnow of Extra Credits praised the game, saying, "this game is incredible. Mature in a way most modern "mature" games aren't, but very very very dark. It's not for most people, but if you're willing to stare into that abyss this game is simply unbelievable for being made 20 years ago."[24]

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream won several awards, including "Best Dark Game of 1996" from Digital Hollywood[25] and "Best Game Adapted from Linear Media" from the Computer Game Developers Conference.[18] Computer Gaming World gave it their award for "Adventure Game of the Year" [19] and also listed it as one of the "150 Games of All Time", "Best 15 Sleepers of All Time" and "Best 15 Endings of All Time".[26] In the October 2014 issue of Game Informer it was listed as #22 of the staff's "Top 25 Horror Games of All Time".

See also




  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Cork, Jeff. (2012, January). I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. Game Informer, 225, 96-99. (digital version)
  2. "Games using Fastgraph".
  3. 1 2 3 "Mute". Next Generation. No. 13. Imagine Media. January 1996. p. 168.
  4. Q&A: Harlan Ellison, by Damien Walter, in the Guardian; published June 14, 2013; retrieved March 24, 2015
  5. John Byrne (w, a). "Harlan Ellison" Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor 1: 36 (March 1, 1995), Dark Horse Comics
  6. "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream". Cyberpunk Review. Retrieved 2012-06-08.
  7. Franke, Holger (October 1998). "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" (in German). Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  8. Richard Cobbett, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, PC Gamer, September 1, 2012
  9. Cut or uncut? on gog.com "It is indeed possible, because you don‘t actually need Nimdok [...] the others can simply guess it. Just try entering codes at random two or three times [...] and the correct answer will be available."
  10. Anson, Jonathan (2013-09-09). "I Have No Mouth and I Must ScreamReleased on GOG". gamingillustrated.com. Retrieved 2013-09-16. The title has remained out of print for years and has never been republished due to the closure of both its original publisher and its developer. Until recently, rights to the game belonged to neither party. Those rights have recently been acquired by Night Dive Studios: a company devoted to redistributing old video games. Night Dive Studios has given permission to GOG to sell the game.
  11. Carlson, Patrick (2013-09-05). "Classic horror game I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream finds release on GOG". Retrieved 2013-09-09. Point-and-click adventure game I have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is now available on GOG, helping to bring yet another the classic PC game to a wider audience.
  12. "Now Available - I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream". Valve. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
  13. 1 2 "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream for PC". GameRankings. Retrieved 5 February 2010.
  14. Hoelscher, Kevin (2002-10-31). "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream Review". Adventure Gamers. Retrieved 5 February 2010.
  15. "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream Overview". AllGame. Archived from the original on 15 November 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  16. 1 2 Dulin, Ron (1996-05-01). "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream Review". GameSpot. Archived from the original on 18 August 2003. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  17. 1 2 PC Gamer Online | I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (PC Gamer January 1996).
  18. 1 2 "I have no Mouth, and I must Scream - Game Developer Choice Awards 1997". Game-nostalgia.com. 1997-04-28. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
  19. 1 2 Staff (June 1996). "1996 Premiere Awards". Computer Gaming World. Ziff-Davis Publishing C. 143: 55–67.
  20. "Game Developer Choice Online". UBM Tech. Retrieved 2015-05-27.
  21. Computer Player, December 1995
  22. Electronic Entertainment, December 1995
  23. Computer Games Strategy Plus, January 1996
  24. https://www.facebook.com/ExtraCredits/posts/643263955718835
  25. "Awards and Honors « David Mullich". Davidmullich.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
  26. CGW 143 (June 1996)
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