Make It Good: Oh My God

It turns out that this game isn’t what it seems at first glance, and more sophisticated than I gave it credit for. It’s impossible to discuss this without spoilers, so spoilers we shall have.

It’s interesting how the big twist works here: there isn’t any particular moment of revelation. Just a whole lot of little hints that you’ll probably ignore or rationalize away at first, because they don’t fit your expectations. For example, the murder weapon. The first time I found it, I sent it back to the lab for fingerprinting, only to be told that I must have handled it without gloves on, because the only clear prints are my own. So I started over, this time taking care to don gloves before handling anything. The lab results were the same. Well, okay, finding useful prints on the weapon would have made the game too easy, but as far as I could tell, there’s no way my own prints could have wound up on there. Clearly someone was tampering with the results — who and why, I could only guess. But if someone on the force didn’t want this case to be solved, it explained why they had assigned an incompetent sot like the player character to investigate it. And that hypothesis seemed good enough, and dramatic enough, that I didn’t even consider the more straightforward but less welcome explanation.

(It’s worth noting in passing an alternate explanation that I considered but rejected: that perhaps the seemingly-inappropriate report was simply a bug in the game. Certainly there are plenty of games where that would have been my first assumption. This is a good example of the benefits of keeping the player’s trust. It lets you get away with suspicious behavior.)

There are several clues of that sort, things that don’t line up until you shift your perspective. Probably the biggest one is the note from the victim to his blackmailer, found in the glove compartment of the detective’s car and described as having shown up in your office yesterday. There’s a nice bit of gating around that: the catch on the compartment is stuck, and the only way to release it is to prod it with a suitable implement from inside the house. 1Amusingly, the murder weapon can be used for this purpose. But once you enter the house, you’re swept into the investigation and can’t leave until you’ve examined the body, so you don’t get to see the note until you’ve already started to form ideas about the case. I imagine that for a lot of players the note is the breakthrough moment. Me, I found it too early; I wasn’t receptive to its implications yet. It was puzzling, and I felt like I was missing information that I should have, but I assumed it meant that the detective had already been investigating the blackmail case before the murder occurred or something like that.

Still, the evidence kept mounting until I had to develop some suspicion of the truth. Strangely, the thing that finally changed suspicion to certainty for me wasn’t directly related to the case at all. Like the Infocom mysteries, this game supports an “ACCUSE” command for confronting suspects. With all I had seen, I experimentally applied it to myself. The response:

You’re guilty of enough – spending a whole month’s advance on tequila, beating to death that Indian kid in the cell in January, being a crummy cop and not solving a single case for a good long while. You don’t need accusations, you’ve got a string of them. You need to sort it out.

Oh my. The detective isn’t a good person at all. He’s not just struggling with alcoholism that adversely affects his work performance, as I had believed. He’s a very bad person, capable of committing manslaughter and then brushing it off like it’s a minor character flaw. And with that thought, I was through with finding excuses for him, and willing to accept more evidence of wrongdoing on his part at face value.

In my last post, I said that everyone seemed to be harboring dark secrets. I thought it was a pretty big deal that this might include the policeman sidekick, but now it turns out to include the protagonist and the author as well. This isn’t the first game I’ve played where the player character withheld important information from the player — I can think of a few examples offhand, but obviously I can’t list them here without spoiling them. However, I’m hard-pressed to think of a game that pulls this kind of unreliable-narrator stuff and still leaves so much game after the big revelation. I mean, in a sense, figuring out the twist is just the beginning here, because it means you’re suddenly playing a different game, with different goals — one less like Witness and more like Varicella. I’ll get into that more in my next post.

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1. Amusingly, the murder weapon can be used for this purpose.

1 Comment so far

  1. Amarth on 23 Oct 2009

    Ahahah. On reading your previous post, it was really hard to resist the temptation to comment. :) In my opinion, Make It Good is truly one of the masterpieces of IF. And you know as well as me that’s quite some praise.

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