Make It Good: Inversion

Ending discussed in some detail below. Let the dance of the spoilers begin!

I recall seeing a joke somewhere that Infocom had planned to follow up their mystery titles Witness and Suspect with the natural completions, Murderer and Victim. I have some ideas for how to do a mystery game where you’re the murder victim — chiefly revolving around struggling, in your final moments, to leave clues in such a way that the murderer won’t be able to dispose of them before the detective arrives — but Murderer has been rendered redundant.

So, we’re playing the part of a bad guy. I’m up for that. I’ve done it plenty of times before. It does change things, though. In a typical mystery, your goal is to reveal the truth, and here, that’s the last thing you want. It’s pretty much the opposite of a mystery: you spend your time concealing evidence, fabricating new evidence, creating plausible lies without being caught doing it. In the Infocom mysteries, sending Duffy to take items to the lab was always purely a way to obtain information, and the span he spent away was a liability, eating into your time limit. Here, I frequently sent Joe off on frivolous analysis errands just to get him out of my hair for a while so I could do my dirty work, or to keep him from talking to the suspects. Ultimately, it’s easy enough to destroy all trace of your involvement in the crime, but that’s not enough. For the sake of your career, you have to send someone else to prison.

In fact, you can plant enough evidence to make a good case against two different innocents 1At least in the sense that they’re innocent of murder. Everyone’s guilty of something., the housemaid Emilia and her boyfriend Anthony. Good enough to make an arrest, that is, but the charge won’t stick without a confession. And that’s the tricky part — extracting a confession from someone who knows it’s a lie, and knows that all they have to do to make your case fall apart is not confess. What would make a person do that?

Love, of course. That and a sense of guilt. Through careful presentation of the right evidence items, and only the right ones, I found I could make Emilia believe that Anthony was the real culprit — and by answering her questions very carefully, I could convince her that she bore responsibility for driving him to it. Once this was accomplished, all I needed to do is arrest Anthony, and Emilia demanded that she be taken instead. It took quite a lot of finagling to get the manipulation of Emilia just right. If she had the least bit of hope left at the end, she would cling to it all the tighter, and all would be lost. This was by far the most troubling part of the game. It’s one thing to say “I’m going to be evil and frame someone for my crimes”, and quite another to methodically break down another person until she’s willing to throw her life away, watching her get more desperate with each lie you tell her. I can imagine a more sensitive person than myself, or a less completist one, giving up in disgust at this point.

Reading a walkthrough afterward, I find that there were major tasks that others assumed to be necessary but which I had skipped: some of Anthony’s clothes lie discarded in Emilia’s bedroom, and I never thought of stashing items in the pockets so that Emilia would find them and think they were Anthony’s. Apparently doing this somehow makes it possible to arrest Emilia directly, too, without tricking her into confessing by arresting Anthony. This would make certain other parts of the game simpler: my solution required court-admissible evidence against both Anthony (to justify his attempted arrest) and Emilia (to make her confession believable), and that made things pretty tight. At any rate, it’s good to know that the game supports multiple solutions. I just hope that other people realize this.

After the collar, there follows an epilogue which provides another twist revelation. Yes, your role in the case isn’t what you thought it was at the beginning, but it also isn’t what you thought it was after you realized that it wasn’t what you thought it was. I’m not sure what to think of this, or what the point of it is. It certainly doesn’t exonerate the PC — you still knowingly sent a woman to prison for a murder she didn’t commit, among other things. I think I’ll take it as commentary on the genre. Mystery games are all about figuring things out from the evidence available, but according to this game, you can’t be sure your assumptions are right even after you’ve rejected your initial assumptions.

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1. At least in the sense that they’re innocent of murder. Everyone’s guilty of something.

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