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A Disappointing Follow-Up to Deadline, September 3, 2021
Stu Galley was, perhaps, Infocom's chief internal evangelist. He was the author of the idealistic "Implementor's Creed" and deeply believed in the potential of interactive fiction. To him, making IF was more than a job; it was a calling. Beyond Galley's significant technical contributions--he performed a late-Infocom rewrite of their parser--he was an important contributor to Infocom's culture, a needed source of aspirational seriousness that leavened the company's wisecracking Zorkiness. I feel both admiration and gratitude for Galley's contributions to the history of interactive fiction.
The opening of Stu Galley's first game, The Witness, is marvelously atmospheric. Take, for instance, this initial description of the victim's daughter: "Monica stops talking and looks at you sharply. She is a woman in her mid-twenties. Her grey eyes flash, emphasizing her dark waved hair and light but effective make-up. She wears a navy Rayon blouse, tan slacks, and tan pumps with Cuban heels. She acts as though you were a masher who just gave her a whistle." The feelies include a VERY authentic newspaper--game specific articles share pages with actual articles culled from the 30's. An included matchbook with a phone number written on it is another nice touch.
Between the feelies and the opening, it really seems that we players are in for a deliciously noir story. But when we find ourselves sitting in a chair, attempting to speak with a character who has little to say about a small number of topics and nothing to say about everything else, it is clear that something is wrong. With nothing else to say or do, the player is obliged to idle in a room with a person who invited them over to have a serious, life and death conversation while repeatedly typing "z," waiting for something to happen.
I take no pleasure in saying so, but there's nothing else for it. The Witness is a bad piece of interactive fiction. There are only four characters to talk to, and nearly all of their responses to your questions are one or two sentences long. They hardly react when caught lying. In fact, the murderer hardly reacts to being caught. Anyone who enjoyed Infocom's previous mystery, Deadline, will be baffled and disappointed by the complete lack of complex character interaction here. There are few clues to find and many empty locations that you will never have a reason to visit. The wonderful opening is like a rainbow lying atop a greasy puddle--there is little worthwhile underneath.
That certain Infocom polish, working in concert with excellent feelies, earns The Witness two stars. I can only recommend it for Infocom and/or mystery completionists.