ST Format Review
For this review I’m running Steem with a 1MB STE, running TOS 1.6. I’ve picked Pompey Pirates 58. That’s one hell of a picture! The music is pretty good by chip tune standards, technically this isn’t anything special, scrolling text, etc, but for me that picture just makes it.
So I decided I should grab the manual and the scenario is actually quite low-key. A murder happens, you’re an amateur sleuth and if you don’t solve it then Scotland Yard will arrive and take over – the murderer isn’t necessarily going to get away because you didn’t solve it. The game claims to have 3 million murders. I assume that means that the randomisation of elements allows it to generate 3 million different murders. This is early procedural generation in a way, and not knowing the murderer in advance should give some replayability though I do worry that it will mean the story isn’t as tight as something like say Cruise For A Corpse (even if Cruise does lose it towards the end it is brilliant for much of its duration).
A simple loading screen leads us into…
.. an options page disguised as a newspaper. Here one can set parameters to randomise the murder by changing the date, difficulty (where it says novice), the type of house and the name of the house. I’m going to go novice as this is my first attempt at the game.
So this is the proper title screen then. We get some sampled thunder sounds with lightning generated by palette-swapping, and then a scream!
So this is where the murder happened. We know who died, and who found the body. It begins.
The main play area is quite small, with small but well-animated sprites, presented in greyscale. The tools around however are more colourful, but there are really two colours with different levels of brightness, which allows the appearance of more detail. There doesn’t appear to be any sound.
So it seems the victim was shot, and does that mean WITH a colt 45 or there’s one on the body?
I finally figure out (sort of) how to talk to someone. I have to right-click to swap the pointer for a magnifying glass, click on the person til the portrait changes, then click the question mark (top right). Now I can use the icons to construct questions.
Selecting person A brings up a list of people to talk about. In this case the scroll arrows (top of screen just left of the portrait) let me scroll the list – it turns out there are 23 people to talk to/about. My gut feeling is that’s too many – most murder mysteries work with a smaller cast to keep things manageable.
As I feared, the randomised nature of things is leaving this a bit empty.
I finally manage to highlight an item, a candlestick, though frankly I can’t see it in the graphics. There are no fingerprints, so that’s that ruled out. I have tried repeatedly to examine the table near the body, and the wardrobe, to no avail. A wine glass is found (not visible) upon clicking examine on a treasure chest in an adjacent room. It also has no fingerprints. The trouble here is that objects seem to be stashed randomly, without much thought, and not necessarily visible, which makes this worse than a pixel hunt, which is further compounded by very dodgy detection of whether you’ve actually clicked on anything. Certainly my attempts to click on people have proved somewhat hit and miss.
I’m going to call this one early as while I was super-keen to try it out, and the concept is great on paper, the execution is clearly sufficiently flawed to make it really not a great game, and there are some clear issues with the structure even aside from that.
So I had Murder down as the game I was most excited to play in issue 14, outside of Kick Off 2 which I had high hopes for due to my love of Player Manager (Kick Off + management) on the ST and Goal (kick off 3) on the Amiga. Visually it’s lovely, and one could argue there is potential there, but the choice to randomise things in the name of replayability has led to the first playthrough just not being much fun. Randomly placed objects aren’t great (and even worse when you don’t even have pixels to hunt to get to them) but worse is talking to characters and just getting generic text from each of them. That is the flaw of generated murders, where in Cruise For A Corpse each character is a person with relationships but also a way of talking, a personality. Here they are merely pieces of a puzzle, and are therefore much less interesting. This is a game designed by programmers, not writers. All this makes it a little less tragic then that the implementation is poor, because the poor controls are not hiding some potentially great game. It is still however disappointing to me as the ST Format review did such a good job of selling the game to me. C’est la vie.
Manual: https://www.mediafire.com/file/34r2mk5bwq4zbne/murder_manual.pdf/file (I’ve taken jpgs from another source and compiled them to a PDF for convenience)