Detective: An Interactive MiSTing

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G compuserve.com>

Review appeared in SPAG #7 -- October 14, 1995
NAME: DETECTIVE: An Interactive MiSTing
GAMEPLAY: Inform Parser
AUTHOR: C. E. Forman
PLOT: Trivial
EMAIL: ceforman SP@G worldnet.att.net
ATMOSPHERE: Demented
AVAILABILITY: IF Archive incoming
WRITING: Pathetic
PUZZLES: None
SUPPORTS: All Inform Ports
CHARACTERS: Cardboard
DIFFICULTY: None at all

Normally, looking at the above category descriptions (such as "Trivial," "Demented," and "Pathetic") one would expect a pretty bad game. Yet, such is not the case here. In the zany world of Mystery Science Theater 3000, (MST3K for short) where schlock is fun, and all involved want "More cheese, please," such descriptions denote an excellent game. Detective, the game least likely to be ported, now exists (with enhancements) for Inform.
A little background is in order to understand this game. SPAG #4 featured a review of an AGT game called Detective, which stated that the author had made every possible mistake, and that the game should be avoided. In SPAG #5 I wrote a second review in which I stated that the game, though awful, was in fact loaded with unintentional laughs and bizarre incongruities that were sure to entertain the player, and that the game would make an excellent episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
For those who don't know, MST3K is a cable television show (soon to be a major motion picture) on Comedy Central, that involves a man shot into space by two mad scientists and forced to watch bad movies so that his reactions can be monitored. Throughout the movie we can see the silhouettes of Mike and his robot companions (whose outer casings are made out of things like a gumball machine, a bowling pin, and a lacrosse helmet) at the lower right-hand corner of the screen, and hear them deliver a barrage of sarcastic remarks, pop-culture references, and suggested dialogue. For example in Godzilla vs. Megalon, a close-up of Godzilla waving his arms and bellowing drew the response "I am Kirok!!", a reference to a classic bit of Shatner overacting in Star Trek's The Paradise Syndrome episode. In Marooned, when three astronauts, stranded in space are arguing over who will leave the ship (there was only enough oxygen to sustain two until the rescue ship arrived) one of the robots observed "they could toss a coin, but it would never come down."
The show is in its 7th season, and each episode is two hours long. Their bread-and-butter is schlocky sci-fi movies, but they have hit almost every genre, including the occasional biker movie. Before and after the show, as well as during intermissions, they do short amusing skits, often based on scenes from the movie.
Chris Forman has taken this format and adapted it into a text game, almost seamlessly. The original Detective game has been transferred verbatim to Inform, even retaining the AGT default responses, and snappy responses from Mike and the robots have been inserted everywhere; into room descriptions, item descriptions, response descriptions, et cetera. Repetition is avoided, enhancing believability. The first time you enter a room you get one set of responses. The second time you will get either a different set, or none at all. The jokes are generally top quality, turning an already (unintentionally) amusing game into a laugh riot. The level of imitation is flawless; if you have seen the show, you can almost hear the dialogue coming out of the actors' mouths.
A typical MST3K episode features a short skit and an invention exchange with the mad scientists before the movie actually begins. Mr. Forman has represented this by including a special introductory text file that highlights the robots attempting to write their own text games, and Dr. Forrester's "fictionary," a device that inputs the vocabulary of a text game directly into the player's mind, with hilarious results.
The only thing that could put anyone off about this game might be found in Stefan Jokisch's original SPAG review: "we should not forget that Matt [the original author of Detective] wrote this game with good intentions and he offered it for free, so who are we to mock at his efforts?" Matt Barringer's game is "mocked" here, but previous MST3K episodes have had movies featuring the likes of Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman, Linda Evans, Peter Graves, James Earl Jones, and Bela Lugosi, putting Mr. Barringer in very august company indeed.
This may not be my all-time favourite text adventure, but it is one of the few that I would recommend to absolutely everyone.
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