Passport to Adventure

Solve the Crime and Beat the Deadline!

by Arnie Katz


Infocom/Apple II, Atari 400&800/48K disc

You take a deep breath as you gaze upon the Robner mansion, so peaceful in the morning light. Yet appearances can be deceiving. This is anything but a peaceful home.

Its owner, Marshall Robner, has been found lying on the floor of his library, dead. It looks like a simple overdose of Ebullion, for the police have found a few tablets of the substance lying around the scene. But could it have been, in fact, a murder?

Warren Coates, the family lawyer, is one who is suspicious. Even though Coates hasn’t got any concrete evidence, he has written to your superior, the Chief of Police, asking for a more thorough investigation of the events surrounding his client’s recent demise.

The Chief, perhaps mindful of the Robner family influence, has assigned you to pick up the threads and continue the probe. To that end, you’ve gotten permission to poke around the Robner home for 12 hours. If you can’t piece together the clues and build an airtight case against the perpetrator of this subtle and ingenious crime, the Ebullion overdose story will have to stand as the official finding in the case. And a murderer will walk free.

That’s the gripping situation that confronts the player in Deadline, the first of a new series of adventure programs for popular microcomputers. Infocom has already drawn raves for its fantasy quests, Zork I and Zork II, and this text-only mystery challenge proves that the company isn’t afraid to depart from the tried-and-true adventure game formula.

Actually, Deadline is one of the most innovative adventure programs released this year, despite the absence of visuals. Written in machine language, it has an extensive 600-word vocabulary and can even understand full-sentence commands from the human detective. That’s a big improvement over the terse “verb/noun” two-word orders most other adventures require.

Even more important, the characters who populate the game seem to think, feel and act in a lifelike manner. All the while the player is trudging from room to room looking for evidence, potential suspects are going about their private business. If the detective isn’t at the right place at the right time, it is possible he or she will fail to see a person enter a room or perform some other action that would help break the case.

Time, then, is crucial in this game. The excellent eight-page instruction booklet reflects this by letting players know how to let game-time pass while they wait for the appearance of some suspect or for some anticipated event to transpire. For instance, the human inspector knows, from a letter which is included with a packet of papers and evidence Infocom provides for the tactile-oriented sleuths, that the lawyer will be reading the will at noon. If it’s only 11:15 a.m. and there’s nothing else you need accomplish before then, you can run the clock ahead with a single “Wait until 12:00” command.

An important feature of the instruction book is that it gives a pretty decent vocabulary list as well as guidelines for performing various tasks. Many players experience great frustration in other games when they know what has to be done but can’t figure out how to communicate their idea to the computer. This very rarely happens in Deadline, making the flow of play much smoother.

As the inspector in charge of the investigation, you do not have to work alone. To begin with, Detective First Class G.K. Anderson has conducted a preliminary search for evidence and has interviewed all of those who could have been involved in any crime. Meanwhile, Medical Examiner Xaviera Hockmuller has been doing her work as well. You’ve got a complete report on the body.

Now that you’re on the scene Sergeant Duffy performs as your faithful aide. When you want a substance analyzed by the police laboratory or learn, the owner of a set of intriguing finger prints, Sgt. Duffy, will carry out the legwork. Of course, you will have to twiddle, your thumbs a bit while he’s going to and from the lab, but it’s still far Jess time-consuming than having to make the round trip yourself. Remember, time is of the essence!

There’s no denying that Deadline is a lot more complicated than the usual hack-and-slash sword epic. For those who want to analyze the proceedings at their leisure, entering the “Script” command will cause everything that flashes on the screen to get typed out by a printer connected to your computer.

Another important option is the ability to suspend a game in progress for resumption at a later time. The process is simple. After entering the “Save” instruction, the display will prompt the computerist to insert a blank disk and then asks the operator to enter the position on the disk where the game-in-progress should be stored. It is possible to store eight different games simultaneously on the same disk, so that more than one amateur detective can try to unravel the tangled web without ruining someone else’s case. Since Deadline is fairly difficult, most players will be making repeated use of the change to rest and reflect between crucial moves.

The time element endows Deadline with a surprisingly high excitement level for a game which has virtually no overt violence and relatively little action. As the minutes tick past, the pressure to achieve some sort of breakthrough becomes intense. Of course, a wise detective doesn’t let his nervousness turn into meandering and desperate interrogations of the suspects, because that makes bringing the killer to book just about impossible. Offend a witness in Deadline, and he or she can become very, very hostile. Needless to say, an angry person imparts very little useful information to an investigator.

Deadline is a landmark in computer gaming history as well as a mentally stimulating contest of the highest magnitude. Although it would be very nice if, at some future point, Infocom authorized a revision that included high-resolution graphics, this text-based disk can hold its head high in any company. An outstanding achievement in computer software.

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