“Word is: if you don’t crack this one, you’re out of a job.”
I’ve previously established that Where’s An Egg? is the best game about being a detective, but Make It Good is probably the best text adventure about being an alcholic detective. It was released in 2009 but I only discovered it this past week. It’s free and you can play it right now in your browser.
Detective stories are about information; what does the gumshoe know, what is he not saying, and who around him is lying or telling the truth. For that reason among others, they’re hard stories to turn into videogames, which rely on predicting player knowledge in order to control difficulty and progress. They’re also stories where the key verbs aren’t RUN and SHOOT, but TALK TO, EXAMINE, think.
In both respects, a text adventure is almost the perfect platform. A text adventure can tell you explicitly what you should know with every description, and they’re all about looking under, over and inside objects in search of some new detail. Make It Good goes further with two helpful narrative elements: one, that you’re an alcoholic, which casts your struggles with the text parser as the fumbling actions of a jittery drunk; and two, that the character you’re controlling knows more about his life than you do, which as Emily Short points out in this article, brings out “the alienation and cynicism of genre noir.”
When I first began playing, I figured it would be a game about exploring the environment, with a little character interaction thrown in. The latter proves far more important as the game goes along. There are unusual commands unique to the game – ACCUSE, for one, which you can employ at any time – but also the few other people you encounter are unusually complex. I haven’t completed it – I might be nowhere near – but it’s reached a point where I’ve stopped thinking of it as a puzzle a designer has created for me, and started to think of it as something much more natural and unpredictable. Like a story.
Alright, look, it’s free. It runs in your browser. You could be playing it already.
Are there more games about detectives that I should be playing?