Posted by: Ben | October 10, 2010

if: Death Off The Cuff

First, a short announcement: If you are the author of any of the IF Comp 2010 games I’ve reviewed, or just an uninvolved busybody, drop me an email or comment and I’ll send you the transcript of my playthrough. Unless I forgot to record one. (If you are an uninvolved busybody I suggest you impersonate the author, otherwise I might not reply.)

Next, Death Off the Cuff, a Z-code game by Simon Christiansen. Simon’s most recent game, the 2008 Comp entry Grief, elicited only obscene fulmination from me, but placed 16th of 35, with an average rating of 4.48. His 2005 entry, Internal Vigilance, placed 10th of 36 with an average rating of 5.84.

Spoilers.

Most of the time when you do this the murderer breaks down and confesses half way through your speech anyway. All you have to do is stall and wait for the guilty party to slip up. People love talking about themselves. If you wait long enough, they always end up revealing something you can use.

There have been a fair few detective games, but this must be some kind of first. Your Poirot-like detective has gathered the suspects in the drawing room, and is about to name the killer. The catch is that you have no idea who the killer actually is.

What an idea. If he manages to pull it off it’s going to look most impressive. Let’s find out.

(Scowls at the screen for about an hour. Becomes convinced that one particular character did it. Obsesses over the idea of getting him to confess. Later, disorientated by twists, attempts to tear off own moustache.)

Unexpectedly, rather than interacting with NPCs in the conventional sense, one is expected to “talk about” people and things as if they’re not there. The intent is that you’ll fool them into thinking you’re summarising your investigations when actually you’re trying to draw a confession out of them. It was disconcerting at first, especially when I discovered that my character was unable to talk about anything that didn’t actually appear in the room or character descriptions, but after a while I stopped missing the ability to ASK or TELL people about things, or even TALK TO them.

What your detective work actually boils down to is reading the descriptions, examining and then talking about everything in the room, then forensically reading the descriptions again to see if anything’s changed. What keeps it interesting is that things do change – everyone seems to have their own little secret if you can just tease it out of them, and like all good whodunnits, you find yourself convinced you know who did it, only to have your faith shaken when a new piece of evidence emerges. It might seem simplistic, but because you’re interacting with actual characters instead of inanimate objects, it’s only human to want to know more.

It doesn’t have quite the sophistication of certain other detective games (for example, it lacks the replayability that made An Act Of Murder special), but it’s a brilliant idea well executed, and I’d recommend it to anybody.

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