(none) Quintin Stone - Interactive Fiction Review
Interactive Fiction
Role-playing Games

The Big Scoop

Author: Johan Berntsson
Language: z-code
Score: 7

In this whodunnit, you must try and get to the bottom of a conspiracy which has framed an innocent person for murder.

First, I thought that the story was done well. No, it's not an original story. Still, I liked the implementation, especially the way that the setup of the story is acted out as the player, instead of a big info dump. Motivation remains strong throughout the game and I was never left wandering and wondering what I was supposed to do next. The downside? The writing itself needs a whole lot of work. The author of The Big Scoop, like the author of Chronicle Play Torn, is not a native English speaker and it shows. The very opening of the game reads:
Loud signals wake you from a deep stupor. You open your eyes and try to sit up, but a thumping headache forces you back. The signals continue...
Is using "signals" instead of "ringing" a matter of regional dialect? If so, I've never heard it used that way before. In any event, it certainly disrupted my reading of the text, if only for a moment. The rest of the game suffers more from awkward sentence structure, mistakes in grammar, and worst of all, bland summaries of actions that should have been made more alive. One example is in the intro, where a mistake can quickly end the game: "The police enter the apartment and arrest you." That's it? How about a little more oomph there? The room where I work has the plain appellation of "Newspaper Office". I shouldn't have to have left the building in order to discover that my newspaper actually has a name. Finally, the dialog really needs some work. Not only is it flat and lacking any real feeling, it has a tendency to switch between quoting and lifeless paraphrasing.
>ask linda about murder
"Who killed Brian?", you ask. Linda says she doesn't know yet.
Dialog is a real opportunity to bring the characters to life and let the players get to know them. As it is, they exist as very shallow cliches: the journalist, the innocent woman trying to clear her name, etc.

From a technical standpoint, I found the game fairly well constructed. I did encounter a few bugs, though nothing that affected gameplay. One particularly noticeable bug occurred within the introductory sequence and I'm rather surprised that it got through even the most cursory play-testing: the phone rings twice after the game starts and answering it got me the same conversation both times. I appreciated the driving system, as it closely mirrored something I'd been considering for one of my works-in-progres. You can drive to locations only after you discover them or discover a reason for going there. As for the conversation system, it is a fairly standard ASK/TELL arrangement, plus the added benefit of a TOPICS verb. Unfortunately, the topics list includes subjects that could only be known through telepathy. They were never mentioned and there's no reason that my character should have known to ask about them. Topics should become available as I learn about them through discussion; I shouldn't know to ask about all of Linda's co-workers by name until she's referred to them herself.

Despite the writing issues I detailed about, I did enjoy myself playing this game. As I've said, motivation is never an issue because of the guidance I received from an NPC. The few puzzles there were had (in my opinion) reasonable solutions. The game as a whole felt like an unfinished skeleton. It's a foundation and structure, but there's no detail. The characters and writing need to be refined and have some life breathed into them. Then we'd have a really solid game on our hands.

Final score: 7

High point:
There's one point in there where the PC is trapped in a cellar with an NPC. When my first idea proved fruitless, I tried telling the NPC to do something rather unorthodox and it worked! (I was a little disappointed that trying that action myself produced a nonsensical response.)

Low point:
Answering the phone multiple times and getting the same message. An obvious bug so early in the game should have been caught very quickly in development.
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