Make It Good

Make It Good is a hard-boiled-ish murder mystery, modeled after the old Infocom mystery titles (particularly Witness), but more elaborate, with deep scenery and tangled characters. An accountant is viciously stabbed in his suburban home. He has no obvious enemies, but everyone around him seems to have something to hide.

If the traditional adventure game is a treasure hunt, the traditional mystery game is not far removed. There’s loads of nice juicy evidence items to be found here, mainly stashed in locked containers and other places where people didn’t expect me to find them. Little did they suspect that I’d have so much help from the game system! It really gives you a great deal of guidance towards the important parts of the scenes, moreso even than the typical adventure game. Infocom games, and consequently much modern IF, have a concept of “brief” and “verbose” modes, where “verbose” mode automatically displays the full room description every time you enter a room, and “brief” mode only does so on first entry. Make It Good does something similar to “brief” mode, but instead of just displaying the room name on re-entry, it gives a highly abbreviated description of its major contents:

Master Bedroom
Bed, mirrored dresser, window. Door. Yucca. Blood, lots of it.

It’s like the item list in a Scott Adams game, but a little more mannered. And it fulfills the same function as it does in the Scott Adams games: it lets you know at a glance what to interact with. In the Infocom games, a lot of players switch “verbose” immediately so as to keep information as visible as possible. Make it Good doesn’t actually provide that option, but even if it did, I wouldn’t want to miss the brief descriptions’ more focused information.

But as much as the game guides the player towards finding evidence, the significance of the evidence is up to the player to discover. The maid’s boyfriend, I learn, is taking prescription painkillers due to a recent injury — but when analyzed, they turn out to be mere sugar pills. Whuh? As is often the case, the beginning of the game is a bit overwhelming, with information flooding in faster than it can be easily processed, and I’ll probably need multiple playthroughs to figure out how to best manage my limited time and solve the case.

Limited time? Yes. This is another thing inherited from Infocom mysteries. (Infocom even named their first mystery game after its time limit.) I suppose it’s the simplest way to provide for a schedule of character actions, and provides a motivation to try to limit your actions to things that are useful for cracking the case, but I’ve never liked the pressure it puts on the player, even when the limit is large. Make It Good at least provides a dramatically interesting reason why you have to finish the investigation in a hurry: the detective is basically a failure, a washed-up alcoholic who’s dangerously close to being kicked off the force. Your superiors are impatient with you, and this case is your last chance to “make it good”. Although the hard-drinking detective is a genre stereotype, it’s a real departure from the Infocom model. In those games, the detective was The Detective, a kind of definitive impersonal force of detection. There was always an assistant as well, named Sergeant Duffy but otherwise as traitless as the Detective, existing only to take things back to the lab on your orders. (And the lab would take precious time to complete its analyses.) Here, there’s a policeman named Joe who fills that function, but he yells at you, makes sarcastic comments, blames you for contaminating evidence, and shows genuine surprise when you actually manage to make useful discoveries. I have to wonder if there’s a reason that a detective held in such low esteem was assigned to this particular case. Perhaps someone on the force doesn’t want it solved. Maybe my earlier assertion that everyone in the game has something to hide applies even to Joe.

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