The Witness (1983 video game)

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The Witness
The Witness cover art
Developer(s) Infocom
Publisher(s) Infocom
Designer(s) Stu Galley
Engine ZIL
Platform(s) Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, TRS-80, TI-99/4A, Macintosh
Release date(s) Release 13: May 24, 1983

Release 18: September 10, 1983
Release 20: November 19, 1983
Release 21: December 8, 1983
Release 22: September 24, 1984

Genre(s) Interactive fiction
Mode(s) Single player
Distribution 3½" or 5¼" disk

The Witness is an interactive fiction computer game published by Infocom in 1983. Like Infocom's earlier title Deadline, it is a murder mystery. The Witness was written in the ZIL language for the Z-machine, which allowed it to be released simultaneously on many popular computer platforms including the Apple II and the Commodore 64. It is Infocom's seventh game.


The game takes place in Cabeza Plana, a quiet (and fictitious) suburb of Los Angeles, California in February 1938. Freeman Linder, a local millionaire, has begged the police for protection from a man named Stiles. The player's character is a detective assigned one evening to check out the wealthy man's claims.

Is Linder seriously in danger or just another rich eccentric? Before the player can decide, a window explodes and Linder collapses, dead. The case of possible harassment has just become a murder, with the player as the only living witness. With the help of Sgt. Duffy (last seen in Deadline), the player has until sunrise to solve the mystery. As usual, motive, method and opportunity must all be established to secure a "solid" arrest and the optimal ending.

The suspects include:

  • Ralph Stiles, a roguish grifter and the late Virginia Linder's former lover
  • Monica, the Linders' sullen daughter
  • Phong, the Linders' Asian manservant

With a little exploration, it can easily be proven that Stiles was near the window around the time of Linder's death. But naturally, this is much too neat an explanation; the truth is much more convoluted.

Eventually, the player can prove that Freeman Linder had developed an elaborate scheme. Since he believed Stiles was responsible for his wife Virginia's suicide, he planned to lure Stiles to his house by offering money, then frame him for attempted murder. Linder enlisted Monica to hide a handgun within a grandfather clock and attach a tiny explosive charge to the window. When Linder pressed the button, allegedly to ring for Phong, it would simultaneously detonate the charge and fire the gun, creating the illusion that someone had shot at Linder through the window. The bullet would miss him, he thought, and Stiles would go to jail.

Monica blamed Freeman for her mother's suicide, however. Virginia Linder took her own life in despair because she felt that her husband had emotionally abandoned her, not because of Stiles' influence. Monica subtly altered the angle of the gun so that the shot would be fatal instead of a near-miss. Phong had collaborated in the plot to frame Stiles, but had no idea of Monica's plan to commit murder.


Included in each package of The Witness were the following supplementary items, called feelies:

  • Virginia Linder's suicide note addressed to her daughter Monica
  • A telegram from Freeman Linder pleading for protection from Stiles
  • A matchbook from The Brass Lantern Chinese restaurant
  • A February 1938 "issue" of the fictional magazine National Detective Gazette
  • Two pages of a real issue of the Santa Ana newspaper The Register, with two fictional articles added about Virginia and Freeman Linder


The Witness was labeled as "Standard" difficulty.

The game is notable as gameplay begins before the actual murder occurs, which the player can witness in different ways due to their actions. Of course, the player is unable to actually prevent the murder, short of killing someone and bringing the game to a premature conclusion.

The game is written in the style of hard-boiled detective novelists of the 1930s, such as Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. Slang of the genre fills the dialogue and descriptions.

"The Brass Lantern", the name of the restaurant advertised on the matchbook, is an apparent reference to the player's primary light source in the Zork series of games.

"Cabeza Plana", the town where Linder lives, is Spanish for "Flat Head". This is another Zork reference, this time to the Flatheads, the royal family of the Great Underground Empire.

In a humorous Easter egg, at one point Phong can be seen "opening a can of worms".

The game was released in 1983 and takes place in 1938.


Creative Computing wrote "Infocom has come up with another fine game with Witness ... If you have ever longed to work with Philip Marlowe, Miss Marple, or Lord Peter Wimsey, Witness is the next best thing."[1] Compute! stated that "The Witness is the latest in Infocom's masterful series in all-text adventures, and it may be their best one yet". It praised the game's feelies and period-accurate prose style, and said that the addition of Duffy avoided Deadline's tendency to "bog down". The magazine cautioned, however, that only those who enjoyed intricate puzzles would like The Witness.[2] PC Magazine gave the game 11.0 points out of 12. It stated that the quality of the text parser and intricate plot balanced the "scant" 28 locations in the game.[3]


  1. ^ Arrants, Steve (December 1983). "Infocom does it again ... and again". Creative Computing. p. 153. Retrieved February 26, 2013. 
  2. ^ Gutman, Dan (December 1983). "The Witness". Compute!. pp. 182, 184. Retrieved 30 October 2013. 
  3. ^ Wiswell, Phil (1985-01-22). "The Plot Thickens". PC Magazine. p. 245. Retrieved 28 October 2013. 

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