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Video Game / Scratches

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"I arrived at Blackwood Manor one cold Saturday morning amidst a thick veil of fog, the weather didn't look good and there was an unnatural calm surrounding the area. Yet... I soon became entangled with the place..."
Michael Arthate, on the opening monologue.

Scratches is an Argentinian mystery/horror point-and-click adventure game for the PC released in 2006. A Director's Cut was released a year later featuring an alternate ending. It was developed by the now-defunct NucleoSys and published first by Got Game and currently by Meridian 4.

It features a soundtrack made by Cellar of Rats, which helps building the atmosphere.

The game has you playing as Michael Arthate, a rising horror writer who has acquired a Victorian mansion nestled in the sleepy English town of Rothbury to inspire him into finishing his new book. However, he soon discovers the mansion's horrible past with a murder committed by the manor's former owner, James Blackwood, followed by his sudden death and subsequent disappearance of James's best friend and house caretaker, Christopher Milton. In addition, Michael hears strange, unnerving scratching noises echoing through the house every night. Michael then becomes poised to solve the mystery.

The Director's Cut includes an epilogue, subtitled The Last Visit. Following a Time Skip, the Blackwood Manor has since become the subject of various thefts and vandalism after Michael's stay. The town of Rothbury, wanting to put this whole thing behind them, has ordered the manor to be demolished, but not before an investigative journalist is sent to the manor to finally put to rest what really happened inside that house.

Scratches provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Broken Bridge:
    • The main game restricts access to several areas of the manor and its grounds in the first two days, until the player acquires the keys to unlock them on the third day.
    • At the end of the main game the entrance to the hidden part of the basement is revealed to be at the fireplace of the living room, but Michael doesn't realize that until he lights the fireplace at the beginning on the third day and by the evening the firewood has been burned out.
    • The Last Visit restricts the player to only a few areas of Blackwood Manor. Justified due to the poorer conditions inside the house, with rusted and broken doors inside and immovable obstacles around the grounds of the manor.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The Last Visit invalidates the secret ending.
  • Cat Scare: At the ending of the game, when you examine a hole in one wall of the basement, glowing eyes appear, staring at you, before Robin suddenly jumps out. The Last Visit reveals those eyes to simply belong to a vicious feral cat, while Robin is hiding elsewhere in the house.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Almost anything that looks peculiar, or seemingly useless item collected, or object you can interact with in the first minutes, you can bet it will play a major part much later.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Michael's secretary, Barbara, mentions that she's been studying languages in her spare time. This becomes useful when Michael reveals a letter written in Italian and sends it to Barbara for a translation.
  • Concealing Canvas: There's a safe behind one of the paintings in the master bedroom.
  • Convenient Photograph: Weaponized by Eva Mariani, who caught James burying his wife's body by taking a photo and showing it to the police. The player can also find this same photo late in the game to find Catherine's grave.
  • Creepy Basement: Quite possibly the creepiest in video game history.
  • Creepy Cathedral: The chapel is a very good example, even though it's well-lit.
  • Desecrating the Dead: Michael when he unearths Catherine's body, and removes a tooth from her skull using some pliers; this in order to obtain an ingredient for crafting the amulet.
  • Developer's Foresight: Jerry suggests hunting for some candles in the mansion when the electrician fails to show up on the first day. Michael will hang up the phone and immediately realize he hasn't yet found any candles if you have already explored the whole house before this conversation.
  • The End... Or Is It?: The first game: The monster (Robin) is still alive and in the mansion. And Michael left the door open when he ran away...
    • Last Visit: Blackwood Manor has been demolished, Robin is implied to be in a mental institution, but the cursed mask is still out there.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Halfway through Monday, Michael receives an eviction letter, revealing that Jerry had falsified his acquisition of the Manor. After that point, Michael bitterly refuses to ever call Jerry again, and The Last Visit reveals that Jerry ended up in jail for fraud, never crossing a word with Michael since.
  • Evil Laugh: The Mask
  • Evil Mask
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: James had made a whole gallery for African culture in his house, and his family pegged this interest as one of the reasons for James' madness.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: If you try to play this game out of the box on Windows 7, you are in for a nasty surprise in the form of the BSOD. Fortunately, there is a fix for it. And the Steam version has this fixed.
  • Goodies in the Toilets: Two bathrooms in the Manor contain useful items. The Mask and Robin turn up in one, near the end of The Last Visit.
  • Guide Dang It!: This is an old-school adventure game, so expect this a lot, especially if you want to get the secret ending.
  • Haunted Castle: Blackwood Manor. Possibly subverted according to what was found on Last Visit.
  • Hearing Voices: Early on in the game, there are the eponymous scratching noises. Later on the main character starts hearing whispering voices (that might or might not be real) mocking him during the exorcism of the cursed mask.
    • James Blackwood also heard whispers coming from the mask's room, Christopher Milton in his diary questions his sanity when he also mentions hearing them.
  • Hint System: The game has an optional hint mode in the main menu, which adds extra comments from Michael at the beginning that act as a tutorial, and makes his general in-game messages more obvious to the story.
  • Hope Spot: After performing the exorcism ritual on the cursed mask, the music changes into a soothing and triumphant theme, Michael then heads for the exit of the mansion... then there are the scratching noises again, louder than ever.
  • In-Universe Game Clock: The grandfather's clock in the entrance, which serves as an indicator of progress since it advances only when a puzzle is completed; And certain events can only be completed at certain times.
  • It's for a Book: Michael tries to get information from the retired police-officer William Bailey by pretending to be a reporter writing about famous murder cases.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: First with the music box hidden in the attic, then on the nursery and near the ending.
  • Karmic Death: Christopher Milton's fate at the end of Last Visit. He ends up sacrificing his life by being attacked by Robin in order for the reporter to escape unharmed. Judging by Milton's dialogue, he's more than willing to atone for what happened.
  • Last Note Nightmare: Quitting the game before finishing it takes you to a grainy reprise of "Blackwood Adventures Sonata", interrupted toward the end by a very unsettling Scare Chord and an ominous howling track.
  • Law of Conservation of Detail : There are many hints and codes hidden in seemingly mundane objects or apparently randomly stacked objects.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: As revealed in The Last Visit, Michael refuses to discuss his time in the Blackwood manor, not even to the most experienced of journalists and Jerry was arrested for acquiring the manor through less-than-legal means. This is what sets off the plot of The Last Visit, due to the house being marked for demolition, someone has to investigate the place before it gets destroyed.
  • Locked Door: The doors for the greenhouse, chapel, crypt and some rooms of the house are locked and you'll have to find the proper keys or tools to open them.
  • Loose Floorboard Hiding Spot: Late in the game, Eva Mariani's room turns out to have her incriminating photo of James Blackwood stashed under a loose board beneath her nightstand. Though Micheal can only find it after reading her translated letter.
  • Mistaken for Murderer:James Blackwood.
  • Madman In The Basement: Robin.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The game never actually shows whether there were really any supernatural events in mansion or if everything was only a series of unfortunate events that Blackwood in madness blamed to a curse. Last Visit at the end gives a rational explanation for everything but the final coda hints that there's still a missing piece and something doesn't fit...
  • Monstrous Cannibalism: Blackwood's journal recounts a gruesome incident of this he'd witnessed as an explorer.
  • Multiple Endings: There's a secret ending that appears only if you perform certain tasks in a certain order.
    • The secret ending is unlocked by being a diligent writer. Going to Michael's typewriter and writing a page of his novel until it has finished gives you a story in which Michael has not experienced anything paranormal - he's gone mad, like James Blackwood before him.
    • And it explains just who was in the first casket of the crypt: Milton.
  • Musical Spoiler: Averted and played straight.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: "I strained my eyes to detect if there was anything useful amongst that junk... but instead I got the impression of a sinister presence lurking in the shadows."
  • Now, Where Was I Going Again?: The Director's Cut has Michael's journal to serve as this.
  • Occult Detective: First James Blackwood then Michael.
  • Oh, Crap!: Your reaction when in the middle of the night, you find that the cursed mask is not in it's place...
    • And just before the ending...
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: A music box in the attic starts with a relatively pretty tune that quickly turns creepy. The soundtrack also uses this for "R's Theme" in the hidden nursery, and part of the ending when you examine a battered teddy bear in Robin's prison cell.
  • One-Word Title
  • Open-Door Opening: The game starts with a grainy panning shot over each of the photos in Eva Mariani's dark room, zooming downward to one photo in the bathtub that shows the cellar door slightly ajar.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: The dream sequences.
  • Paper Key-Retrieval Trick: Subverted
  • Pixel Hunt:
    • Probably a consequence of having photorealistic graphics in a darkly lit game, but some items can be difficult to notice.
    • Other examples are when you first enter a dark room and you must first search in the dark for a candle or lamp to light.
  • Real After All: Most people say it's a Red Herring.
  • Real Fake Door: Played with. When Michael find the door to Robin's room in the blueprints, it's hidden behind wallpaper, and bricked up behind that as well.
  • Red Herring: Possibly. The curse may not be real in the first place.
  • Sassy Secretary: Michael's secretary, Barbara Stiles.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: A mask in this case.
  • Scare Chord: Three of them. Two during Sunday night, and the third just after the curse is removed.
  • Scenery Porn: Seriously, exploring Blackwood Manor is akin to visiting a virtual art museum.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Subverted, Michael fixes his car and attempts to leave the mansion on the third day, but he doesn't because he fears that something terrible might happen to someone in the future, so he decides to stay until he solves the mystery.
  • Self-Deprecation: Arthate's working notes for his book, in which he can't decide if a supernatural force is responsible for the scary events or not, and points out the flaws in choosing either alternative. The game itself seesaws between supernatural or natural explanations, and ends ambiguously.
  • Sequence Breaking: Even if you correctly guess Robin's name and use it to open the box in the study, you will still be forced to go through the puzzle in the crypt to try and find it.
  • The '70s: The game takes place in October of 1976.
  • Shout-Out: Mostly to H. P. Lovecraft.
    • A painting in one of the hallways depicts Cthulhu.
    • The back cover of Arthate's first book is a Shout-Out to Dark Fall: Light's Out, whose creator Jonathan Boakes worked on Scratches.
    • The entire process that unlocks the secret ending is likely a reference to The Shining.
    • The premise of an author traveling to a long-vacant mansion to type up a new novel in an appropriate atmosphere, only to be distracted repeatedly by eerie goings-on and a mysterious locked room, is straight out of House of the Long Shadows.
  • Skepticism Failure: Christopher Milton, but later he starts experiencing the same things James Blackwood did.
  • Smoking Is Not Cool: Michael points out that smoking can kill you if you examine a box of old cigars in the study.
  • Spooky Painting: The infamous The Hands Resist Him painting appears on the second floor near the bathroom.
    • And it's just one of several.
    • The Last Visit shows that this hallway full of paintings was robbed of all but one: Chronos eating his children. "Most likely too scary for the burglars to take."
  • Sundial Waypoint: Twice: Once in the crypt and later when you use the tip of the tower's shadow as a reference to find Catherine Blackwood's tomb.
  • Take That!: If Michael inspects the bookshelf in his room, he finds a book of a certain someone whom he seems particular displeased with:
    "King! What a overrated bloke!"
  • Things That Go "Bump" in the Night: The scratching noises.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Inverted, Blackwood Manor is situated on Rothbury, where the majority of the townspeople want to know what exactly happened in that mansion.
    • Michael's book "Vanishing Town" plays it straight, according to the summary on the back.
  • Trash the Set: The Last Visit takes place two weeks before Blackwood Manor is set to be demolished, and burglars have completely ransacked the house since Michael left, leaving nothing but broken furniture and graffiti.
  • Twist Ending: You think the potential curse from the African mask was the only thing weird about Blackwood Manor? Nope. Turns out there's a deformed monster in the mansion.
  • The Unseen: The mailman who delivers the correspondence to Blackwood Manor, and Mr. Electrician.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: There is an empty bottle of Thalidomide visible in the master's bedroom; during Last Visit the player character can make a comment on this. That drug is known to both ease morning pains for women, but also causes birth defects. This fits with the description in the newspaper of how Catherine was suffering pains in her stomach during pregnancy, and how Robin shows nightmarishly severe malformations.
  • The Voice: Michael's real estate manager, Jerry Carter and all of the other characters as none are ever seen. Except one at the very end...
    • You also see the lower body of Christopher Milton at the end of Last Visit.
  • When It Rains, It Pours: So much that the storm on Sunday is even hitting where Jerry is and many roads are closed, much to Michael's surprise.
  • Writing Indentation Clue: Michael uses the pencil trick to reveal a letter from the former house maid, Eva Mariani.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: The Director's Cut features an additional chapter: Last Visit set after the events of the game. This chapter invalidates the hidden secret ending from the original game.