IFDB page: A Party To Murder
Final placement: 28th place (of 38) in the 2002 Interactive Fiction Competition
I will say this for it: A Party To Murder is the best ADRIFT game I’ve ever played. Unfortunately, that’s not saying much. Even if it were written in a first-tier IF language, APTM would have some problems to overcome, but as it is, it’s hopelessly lumbered by the terrible, terrible ADRIFT parser. We’re talking about a mystery game here, reminiscent of Suspect — you play a guest at a party where a murder is discovered, and you must extricate yourself from suspicion. A mystery game, okay? You might think that, in a mystery game, you’d be able to SEARCH things. Not this one — it doesn’t recognize SEARCH, LOOK IN, or LOOK THROUGH. Worse, with the latter two it parses them as LOOK rather than just admitting that it doesn’t recognize them. Same with LOOK UNDER and LOOK BEHIND. Hint: ignoring prepositions doesn’t make them go away, it just makes your response more likely to be wrong.
Perhaps, in a mystery game, you might want to SHOW things to NPCs. You can’t here. Even if you hold a completely damning piece of evidence and want to show it to the person whom it damns, all you get from the ADRIFT parser is “I don’t understand what you want me to do with the letter.” Maybe, in a mystery game, you might even want to TELL someone about something. In this game, you can’t. All these very basic verbs, absolutely standard with any first-tier system, are unavailable in ADRIFT, and their absence absolutely slaughters this game. In fact, from a very early stage, whenever I encountered one of the game’s many containers, I got in the habit of trying to GET ALL FROM it, because that was the only reliable way I could get the game to tell me whether there was anything inside. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly feeling immersed in the story while doing so.
As I said above, even if all these problems were resolved, APTM still wouldn’t be a great game. Part of the reason for this is the fact that the game seems to operate on its own inscrutable logic rather than any sort of recognizable sense of cause-and-effect. For instance, there’s a portion of the game where access to a useful item is being controlled by one of the NPCs. The only way to persuade this NPC to let you have the object is to perform a long series of apparently arbitrary tasks, and the NPC doesn’t really indicate that it wants these tasks performed. The only way I found out was via the walkthrough, and I’d be surprised if anybody figured it out any other way.
Of course, by that time I was going straight from the walkthrough anyway, because in my initial playthrough of the game, I never found that NPC at all — it seems she only appears after a particular item has been discovered, even though that item is more or less unrelated to her absence. Oh, and that item is only accessible by using an object whose primary logical use is unimplemented in the game. For the sake of spoilers, I won’t name what that object is, but just for example, if you found a knife, and the game didn’t understand the word CUT, you might think that knife was a red herring (and that the game was lazily implemented). Wouldn’t you be surprised to find out from the walkthrough that even though CUT isn’t implemented, you still need the knife to, oh I don’t know, scrape the mud off a stone tablet or something? Something analogous occurs in this game.
See what I mean about inscrutable logic? In addition to logic problems, there are certain implementation errors as well. For example, most of the game consists of a flashback, but typing X ME while still in the frame story depicts the PC as if the flashback was already happening.
So after all this, what makes APTM the best ADRIFT game I’ve ever played? Well, for one thing, despite the occasional glitch, it does have a decent depth of implementation. Most first-level nouns are described, and the setting is rather richly detailed. I spent an inordinate number of hours with Suspect when I was younger, and at times this game brought back pleasant memories of that experience. The writing gets its job done with a minimum of errors, and the NPCs are coded to handle a reasonable number of inquiries. In fact, a couple of times during the game I asked an NPC about a somewhat extraneous topic, and was happily surprised to discover that the response had been implemented.
Another point in favor of the NPCs is that they will sometimes react sensibly to strange actions on the player’s part; for instance, walking into the teenage daughter’s bedroom while she’s making out with the neighbor elicits angry responses from both of them, escalating in intensity the longer the PC hangs around. Snooping around the objects in the house, though it’s necessary, also provokes suspicion from some of the NPCs. Then again, nobody gives you a second glance when you walk through the house carrying an 8-foot ladder, so this realistic implementation is really rather patchy. Overall, APTM would be a seaworthy craft, but between the logic holes in its hull and the tsunamis of ADRIFT inadequacy, it sinks dismally fast.