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by David Welbourn

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Detective Osiris

by Adam Burt

Historical Fantasy
2023

(based on 17 ratings)
8 reviews

About the Story

Death. Conception. Genesis. Mystery.

You are Osiris, the recently deceased king of Egypt. And it's time to investigate your own murder.

Question the gods! Interrogate the Egyptian pantheon, to piece together the details of your death.

Search ancient streets for clues! From Waset to Sepermeru, travel through primordial cities to find evidence.

Basic puzzles! As you hunt down your killer to make them face judgement, you'll be free to complete your investigation in any order, unlocking new conversation options with characters as you go. Use your observational skills and complete light riddles will help you catch the killer.

From the bank of the River Nile, to the heavens above, DETECTIVE OSIRIS is an explorable re-imagining of Ancient Egyptian mythology, with a light noir twist. Featuring art by Kama Mielczarek, and music by Mycelium Music. Playtested by Ben Joy and Taya Beleanina.

Content warning: Injury detail, sex references, drug references, alcohol references


Game Details


Awards

30th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: Detective Osiris, October 1, 2023
by kaemi
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

A murdered god wanders Ancient Egypt to inquire of gods and royals the mystery of his death. Sound intense? Detective Osiris does gesture towards its stentorian drama, like when sky goddess Nut muses on the strained symbiosis between humanity’s voraciousness and the gods’ creativities: “When we first created the world, it was tiny. It was so small, but it had everything we thought that people needed. / And, try as we might to provide everything, the mortals just kept expanding their efforts. They wanted more. More land for farming, more troves of natural resources, more things to discover, more knowledge of the world around them, and its limits. / So we kept making it bigger. We added more forests, then deserts, mountains, the ocean. Before long the people began to divide into countries. Sumer first, then Elam, and here in Egypt. / Shai tells me that one day, many summers and winters from now, humankind will set their sights on the sky itself. By then, they’ll scarcely even believe in us, only in themselves. So they’ll seek to conquer the sky with elaborate machinery, forged of metal. When that day comes, we’ll have to move even further away, and build more, for them to explore.” As an apotheosized mortal yet to develop an aspect, this polytheistic cosubstantiation through ideal and iteration offers a dizzy array of thematic jewels to inlay in Osiris’ reckoning with the divide between earth and sky.

An array that quickly proves too dizzying, as Detective Osiris retreats from its scope, modulating down into chatty ditziness that builds color through silliness rather than through a sustained tone. So we’re assured that Anubis is “a very good boy” and that Geb, an earth god, is “laying on the surface of the sky, face down, ensconced in a cloud of smoke. I recognise the scent: Cannabis.” Any heightened urgency posed by the setting melts in conversations like when we ask Maat, goddess of law and justice, about our murder: "Osiris, you too are now a god. There’s no need to bow, silly … I cant do anything about it other than be annoyed and wait for the guilty party to die. Or I have to go begging one of the more powerful gods to intervene and, y’know, do a plague or something. In normal circumstances. But, your wife did some magic, bingo bango, you’re back as a god.” Despite this weightless levity, the game also never really settles into comedy either, unable to transmute cheeriness into humor. The few times it does go for a joke, the results aren’t exactly electric: “Geb rolls his eyes. “At night, I could be watching sex. So that’s what I was doing. When you were killed, I wasn’t looking in the right direction.” / I’m beginning to see some of the attraction in watching the mortals. For the first time in the afterlife, I truly grin.”

Despite its many tonal jumps, Detective Osiris never truly surrenders its ambition, particularly in a few passages of lyrical descriptions that flourish a lovely dazzle: “The crystalline surface of the sky is hard underfoot, and the air is thin. The sprawling country of Egypt is visible through the floor below. Ra gently guides his solar barque, carrying the sun, on an adjacent pellucid river. The celestial light douses the world below in light and warmth, but the temperature here is fresh, and the baked glass mezzanine sky smells like hot stone roads cooling in the night air.” Rather, the game is just kind of jittery and unsettled. Take its historicity as an example: there are some solid hits, like a shoutout to the much underrated Elamites or how Egyptians counted on their hands, and then there are some glaring errors, like mixing in Ptolemaic Alexandria with the clear Old Kingdom stylings. Sometimes these errors are so obvious that they likely are an intentional part of the silliness, such as the Sphinx’s joke about H always being in the middle of “akhet”, which is the transliteration of a hieroglyph. The result is an unevenness that never seems to settle into itself.

Whatever plays upon the surface, however, the underlying gearbox has no hesitations. The gameplay structure manages a clever magic trick of gently guiding you through an ever expanding playspace, keeping a firm control on the pacing of your journey without making you feel railroaded. No moment drags on too long, and the twist ending starkly reinterprets several of the characters you’ve met along the way. In this consummate craftsmanship, Detective Osiris manages a grounding that its narrative never quite achieves.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An ancient Egyptian murder-mystery that blurs the lines between heaven and earth, October 3, 2023
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 2 hours

In this choice-based game written in Ink, you play as Osiris, the recently deceased king (pharaoh?) of Egypt. A post-mortem ritual by your wife and demi-god, Isis, ensures your ascension to godhood. But as a newly christened god, you don't have any assigned duties yet. And all the gods are pretty sure you were murdered, so why not figure out whodunit first, and then you can get on with the whole being-a-god thing.

This is one of those choice-based games that plays a lot like a "parser-on-rails" as I call them. You can move back and forth between different locations, but there aren't really objects to pick up or examine, rather you have a limited number of options in each location (though the number of options may expand with continued exploration), and then it is time to move on. With this game being a murder mystery, your primary actions are to interview a number of different characters who may have either had a part in your death, or have some clue as to who the culprit is. You can visit every location and ask every NPC every question available to you, but then you will need to back track as new knowledge opens up new dialogue with characters you've already talked to.

All my criticisms will need to hide behind a spoiler tag below. But before we get to them, the praises. This game was well-written, with engaging dialogue in most of the scenes and a fairly robust dialogue tree for each NPC. I have a lot of respect for the coding that was required to open up new lines of dialogue with old NPCs only after certain facts were discovered. Also, I appreciated the limited graphics that went along with the text. Many of the names were unfamiliar to me, so having the graphical representation of the character pop up on the side of the screen when you were interacting with them was a nice touch and helpful to keep everyone straight. The credits mentioned music, but while I had my computer’s volume up, I never heard it. Perhaps I didn’t turn it up high enough.

So, I think a problem I had with the game is (Spoiler - click to show)that it was mislabeled as to the time it takes to play. The IFComp 2023 games listing has it at “One hour”, but I found that I was much closer to two hours and after “completing” the game found that I had probably missed out on a good chunk of the content. That’s because, having gone back and forth over the geography several times I started to see an option pop up in the dialogue tree to accuse someone of my murder and bring him before the gods for judgment. Given that I was way over the estimated time frame for playing the game I assumed that I had discovered enough clues to accuse this character (who was the obvious candidate from the beginning), and so I did, but I was wrong. I didn’t quite have it in me to play through again to see what I missed, so I just went with it. But I was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t figured it out on my own, even though it had seemed at that point that I had exhausted all my dialogue tree options (pretty sure that was just laziness on my part). However, I did appreciate that the game didn’t just give me a fail-state, but rather revealed the mystery to me and allowed me a satisfactory ending.

Overall, a pretty solid effort, enjoyable for the time it took, but probably not a game I will be coming back to. Still, the author has talent, and I hope to see more from him in the future.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Divine investigation, December 5, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).

Adapting a piece of static fiction into IF is a vexed challenge that could bedevil even the wily Odysseus. On one side, there’s the risk of hewing so closely to the original story that a player who’s familiar with it gets bored, knowing all the plot twists in advance – call that Scylla. On the other side lurks the danger of changing things so much that the coherence of the story falls apart, and it deviates so much from its inspiration that it no longer functions as an adaptation – call that Charybdis. Of course, this dilemma doesn’t cut so deeply if a player hasn’t read the original, though this creates its own problems: “come play my adaptation of the Odyssey, except if you like the Odyssey, this isn’t for you” is a rough marketing line. Detective Osiris proposes another way out of the bind, though, by adapting a myth – myths, after all, having a certain margin of error, being endlessly retold and reinterpreted in ways that occasionally differ from each other in quite radical ways. It nonetheless sails a wobbly course – at first I thought it tacked too close to Scylla, then at the end I was worried Charybdis was going to get it – but ultimately it does make it through.

This Ink retelling of the story of Osiris starts out with many of the traditional plot points: you wake up in Duat, the Egyptian underworld, having been hewn apart and then painstakingly reassembled and resurrected as a god through the good offices of your wife Isis. Rather than immediately taking up your new divine duties, however, the other gods of the pantheon encourage you to investigate your murder so you can bring justice to the unknown perpetrator. This plays out largely through interviewing suspects, both divine and mortal, as you wander through a small but pleasing recreation of Ancient Egypt and its imagined afterlife, with a few puzzles tacked on towards the end of the case.
These conversations aren’t anything special in gameplay terms; there are typically only a few dialogue options in each, and you don’t need to work too hard to figure out who’s lying or choose an approach, as simple lawnmowering will work just fine. I did enjoy getting to know the various characters, though, especially the gods, who are given a recognizably modern slant: Geb is imagined as a TV addict who views the lives of mortals as “content”, while Anubis and Ammit are pets of Ma’at and Thoth (they’re both pettable: Anubis is a good doggy and clearly enjoys it, while Ammit doesn’t acknowledge the gesture in the slightest, which Ma’at says is a sign that she likes you). Sometimes this perhaps goes a bit too far – Ma’at’s dialogue skews a bit too informal for my taste, and Ra saying “wow. I love that” does undercut the majesty of the sun god – the game’s casual attitude towards anachronism occasionally leads to an inadvertent howler, like the mention of Alexandria at a time thousands of years before its founding, but on balance I found this more interesting than a more traditional, wooden approach would have been.

The puzzles, on the other hand, feel somewhat vestigial. There are only two, and the multiple-choice format combined with the lack of any penalty for failure means they’re trivial to brute-force. Even if you try to solve them honestly, one is far too easy, and the second (a math puzzle) is maybe a bit too tough. I appreciated the attempt to change up the gameplay, but I think the author would have been better off either leaning in by having more, more robust puzzles, or simply dropping them and focusing on the character interactions exclusively.

As for the prose with which all of this is rendered, I found it rather inconsistent. It starts out quite nicely, with this description of your experience of revival:

"When I wake up, I can taste the river in my throat. I’m laying in a glade, which seems unkissed by the sun and yet somehow still lit. The trees have cobalt leaves and the thicket is so dense that it obscures any kind of sky."

That’s quite nice! There’s also a sex scene which, impressively, isn’t terrible or cringe-inducing (though it does seem to indicate a major departure from the original myth, given that Isis famously couldn’t find one specific bit when she was stitching Osiris back together…) But there are some bits where the attempt to bring in a slight noir tone leads to comedy:

"I can scarcely believe it. Dead? And chopped into pieces? It didn’t exactly sound like an accident."

The text also boasts a fair number of typos and spelling errors, most of which are forgivable (it’s for its, that sort of thing), but there were still enough of them to occasionally take me out of the story.

So it’s all solid enough and engaging on its own terms, but I still found myself slightly checked out for the first three-quarters or so of the game. The trouble is that per the myth, I knew perfectly well who the perpetrator was, and the game doesn’t work very hard to hide the ball. So while running around and ticking the boxes on my investigative checklist was all well and good, none of the conversations really told me anything I didn’t already know, and again, Detective Osiris doesn’t make you jump through any hoops to obtain these somewhat-underwhelming clues. On the one hand, it was nice that the game didn’t require me to play dumb; on the other hand, that means this murder-mystery isn’t very mysterious.

But then the game did something unexpected, throwing in a twist I didn’t see coming at all. I’m not convinced it fully holds together – and it’s certainly not very well seeded in the previous section of the game, further undermining any claim Osiris has to being a detective – but it is reasonably clever and reinterprets the myth in a new way. It’s not going to replace the original, of course, and I do think the game maybe skews too faithful in the early going before getting too radical in the end, where a more consistent approach would have worked better. Even so, Detective Osiris still averages out to a novel-but-not-too-novel take that makes it through adaptation’s peril-filled strait only a bit worse for wear.

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