IFComp 2007: My Name is Jack Mills

A noir-ish, hard-boiled sort of game by Juhana Leinonen. Spoilers follow the break.

So, you have a mission to recover a stolen item (an antique coin), possibly by stealing it back. Despite the premise, it’s not a mystery — you’re told the thief’s name in the opening scene. The problem is in (a) finding him and (b) getting the coin from him.

I don’t really have a lot to say about this game. The situations and solutions are all reasonable and genre-appropriate, but it felt kind of sparse, in a hard-to-pin-down way. It’s probably related somehow to the way that the geography is chopped up into groups of two or three rooms that you have to drive between. In games structured like that, I often find myself, when stuck, behaving in a way that doesn’t fit the story at all: driving to one part of town to randomly examine some objects just in case there’s something I missed, then driving away without having discovered anything. This game is no exception. But that’s the price of giving the player freedom.

The chief notable thing about the game is the branching plot. At a few points, you’re offered opportunities by the other characters — the thief, for example, is willing to trade the coin for another, more heavily-guarded objet d’art. Choosing which opportunities to pursue determines which ending you get, and also who Jack Mills is: the game seems to always close with “My name is Jack Mills. I’m a [something]”, with the [something] filled in to fit the branches you chose (private eye, con artist, art thief, agent of vengeance). There doesn’t seem to be an ending with “My name is Jack Mills and I’m an alcoholic”, though.

The classical problem with branching plots is that they pull the author’s attention in many directions at once, creating a player experience that’s the product of a fraction of the effort that actually went into the game. This probably also contributes to my sense of sparseness. None of the branches that I saw lasted very long, and the first ending I saw came abruptly at a moment when I wasn’t expecting it.

Rating: 5

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