Deadline (video game)
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DOS Cover art
|Distribution||3½" or 5¼" disk|
Deadline is an interactive fiction computer game published by Infocom in 1982. Written by Marc Blank, it was one of the first murder mystery interactive fiction games. Like most Infocom titles, Deadline was created using ZIL, which allowed the easy porting of the game to popular computer platforms of the time such as the Apple II and the Commodore 64. It is Infocom's third game.
The player's character in Deadline is an unnamed police detective, summoned to a sprawling Connecticut estate to investigate the apparent suicide of wealthy industrialist Marshall Robner. At first, it seems a very straightforward case: the body was discovered in the library, which had been locked from the inside, and the cause of death was an overdose of his prescribed antidepressants. But something just doesn't feel right. Could someone have killed Robner for his money? Did he make an enemy through his business dealings? Or was there some other motive? With the able assistance of level-headed Sgt. Duffy, the player has twelve hours to solve the case before it is closed forever.
- Leslie Robner, the victim's wife: is she the faithful, grieving widow she appears?
- George Robner, the victim's son: why doesn't he seem to be very sad about his father's death?
- Mr. McNabb, the gardener: he's very passionate about his work. Would he kill his employer?
- Mrs. Rourke, the housekeeper: is anyone in this household truly innocent?
- Mr. Baxter, Robner's business partner: is he hiding shady dealings?
- Ms. Dunbar, Robner's secretary: why does she seem so nervous?
New commands were implemented to suit the game's detective theme: the player can accuse or even arrest any of the suspects at any time. A well-timed accusation can cause an unnerved suspect to reveal previously concealed information. For an arrest to stick, however, the player must possess hard evidence of the three basics: motive, method and opportunity. Without these, the game ends with a description of why the presumed culprit was released. The standard examine and search commands are present, of course, but the player can also fingerprint objects or ask the invaluable Sgt. Duffy to analyze them.
When writing this game, Blank couldn't include all of the game's text in the limited 80KB of disk space. Working with a newly hired advertising agency, Infocom created the first feelies for this game: extra items that gave more information than could be included within the digital game itself. These materials were of very high quality and their inclusion with a computer game was unprecedented. Critics and fans hailed Infocom's pioneering move and gushed over the feelies' high quality and the immersiveness they added to the game. The feelies included:
- A police folder in a pouch containing an Inspector's Casebook
- A plastic bag with 3 white pills found near Marshall Robner's body
- Notes from police interviews with Leslie and George Robner, Mr. Baxter, Ms. Dunbar, and Mrs. Rourke
- Corpus Delicti (summary of findings from the coroner's examination)
- A letter from Mr. Coates, Marshall Robner's lawyer, to the Chief of Police
- An official memo from G.K. Anderson of the Lakeville, Connecticut police department
- A lab report on the teacup Robner drank from before his death
- A photo of the murder scene, complete with white chalk outline
(Note that in later "grey-box" editions of Deadline, many of these documents were incorporated into the Casebook, rather than existing as separate papers.)
These materials were very difficult for end-users to copy or otherwise reproduce. They included information which was essential to completing the game. So, as a side effect, the feelies acted as a deterrent to software piracy. Infocom thus started including feelies in their subsequent releases, though not every game required the use of the included feelies.
Deadline was a game of many "firsts" for Infocom: their first mystery game, their first non-Zork game, and the game that started their tradition of feelies. The number of NPCs, the independence of their behavior from the player's actions, and the parser's complexity were also considered revolutionary at the time of the game's release.
Infocom gave Deadline a difficulty rating of "Expert", largely due to the abundance of evidence and false leads to be sorted out within a short timespan.
Working titles during the game's development included Was It Murder? and Who Killed Marshall Robner?
A bug in the program made it possible to follow a certain set of instructions that resulted in Ms. Dunbar dying while another Ms. Dunbar continued to walk around the house. Upon hearing the gunshot that killed Ms. Dunbar, the alive version of Ms. Dunbar executed her AI script faithfully and ran into the room to see what had happened. This led to an amusing exchange with the game parser:
- >examine dunbar
- Which Ms. Dunbar do you mean: Ms. Dunbar, or the body of Ms. Dunbar?
Although Computer Gaming World's reviewer disliked the solution to Deadline's mystery, she praised the game's realism, documentation, extensive command vocabulary, and the frustration involved in both finding the killer and presenting enough evidence for a conviction. BYTE called Deadline "fascinating" and "great fun", calling the multiple endings "a radical departure from the prototypical mystery". PC Magazine called it "of the highest quality. It is thoroughly researched and tested, and it is virtually flawless". The New York Times Book Review mentioned the narrative and participating character of the game.
- Maloy, Deirdre (July–August 1982), "MicroReviews: Deadline", Computer Gaming World: 34
- Morgan, Chris (December 1982). "Deadline". BYTE. pp. 160–161. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
- Cook, Richard (December 1983). "Deadline". PC Magazine. p. 110. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
- Rothstein, Edward, Reading and Writing: Participatory Novels, The New York Times Book Review, May 8, 1983.