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About the Story
The call comes through. Of all the dicks; you get the call, sitting in the front seat of your car, hands shaking on the steering wheel. An urgent call; but all you were thinking of was the bottle in the liquor store and so that's where you went first.
Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Individual PC - 2009 XYZZY Awards
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Make It Good is a dark detective mystery from Jon Ingold: there's been a murder, and everyone who was in the house at the time is a suspect. The protagonist is a cop whose drinking career has all but eclipsed his career on the force. His sidekick doesn't bother to conceal his contempt at having to serve such a useless master.
On this description, Make It Good looks like a classic style of interactive fiction, in the tradition of Infocom's Deadline and Witness. Those early commercial mysteries involved some of Infocom's most innovative character work: the non-player characters in Deadline give a strong impression of independent purpose as they move about on their own schedules.
Make It Good improves on this tradition.
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Make it Good is a game whose red herrings are more fascinating than many other games’ primary plotlines. The reward is high for persistence and attention to detail so long as one enters with the necessary experimental spirit, per a scientist with a labful of mice and an evolving hypothesis... or a troopful of lemmings and a malleable landscape.
Mr. Ingold has created a well-written, cleverly designed, technically proficient, devilishly hard work which, by dint of sheer over-arching competence, participates in the ever-rising standard of expectations for top-tier IF. Yes, he’s gone and made it harder for everyone else.
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Jay Is Games
Make It Good is a superb piece of interactive fiction on many levels. It manages to create a world that seems so alive, so independent of you, the player, that if you never bothered to play, no one would seem to mind. Each non-player character moves about the house on their own, has their own motives, their own knowledge of the situation.
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Number of Reviews: 9
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"Make It Good" is oddly-flavored detective noir. Though nominally set in the US in an unspecified year (but one in which a television is a luxury), it uses British spellings and cultural conventions throughout. The protagonist is a down-on-his-luck cop one drink away from being kicked off the force, who made a fool of himself with the Michaelmas liquor. One of the keen-eyed, not-to-be-trusted suspects is... a vicar. This sort of thing makes the game feel, from the beginning, as though it is somehow askew from the normal genres and normal reality.
That feeling only deepens as play goes on. What starts out seeming like a fairly straightforward mystery of looking for evidence and interrogating suspects quickly turns into something more: it's easy to begin to assemble a case, but a lot harder to know what you want to do with that information. The protagonist needs to make a careful plan and stick to it in order to bring the investigation to a satisfactory conclusion -- and that includes manipulating just what all the NPCs know, and when they learn it, and how they feel about him and about one another.
Ambitious coding underlies this design. There are five NPCs. Two of them walk around and perform somewhat complex tasks; all five talk, observe, and remember. This is not the sort of game where you can blithely carry evidence past someone and have him not notice. They will even, on occasion, talk to one another in your absence-- a dangerous matter. There are still some bugs in the implementation I played, but the astonishing thing is not their presence but how well most of this enormous machine does work.
The need to plan around these NPCs makes for an intensely difficult game. Like "Varicella" or "Moebius", "Make It Good" needs to be played over and over to be solved; and there are times in this process where the design is not quite as helpful as it needs to be, and it is hard to figure out just exactly what should change in order to make the next iteration more successful. It can, especially in the late-middle section, become a very frustrating play -- though releases after the first have become more generous with clues and somewhat fairer in scoring what the player has done.
Nor is the result of all the careful NPC code anything like a naturalistic portrayal of character. It would be more accurate to say that it is in support of allowing the characters to behave according to certain genre conventions, in which everyone has a secret and the best people are often the weakest and the most easily destroyed.
The PC, too, is an odd duck. "Make It Good" definitely uses what Paul O'Brian dubbed the accretive PC (in reference to "Varicella" and "Lock & Key"): the player starts out not knowing much about the protagonist or his motives, but after many playthroughs is playing a very specific role to specific ends. And yet even then, there is a touch of distance and strangeness; corners of the protagonist's mind that are never quite illuminated, trains of thought that are intentionally ambiguous.
In the end it all does come clear, in a breathless, vivid epilogue, and the player is left victorious, exhausted, and alienated all at once. But then a mystery of this genre never leaves everyone comfortable.
So: a little imperfect, but nonetheless brilliantly conceived and ambitiously executed.
Play it if: you want a difficult, voice-heavy playing experience in the tradition of Varicella.
Don't play it if: you'd prefer something more in the vein of Anchorhead, which sacrifices some challenge for ensuring greater flow in the player's experience.
It's a small shame that the most interesting aspects of Make it Good are not ones it can advertise openly. As such, the blurb suffers a little from being a bit too parodied: a very conventional preview to a rather unconventional game.
Make it Good is an impressive piece of detective fiction, not just in the sense of trying to figure out who the killer is, (Spoiler - click to show)but of course in trying to figure out what you evidence you need to destroy and plant to shift the blame from yourself. The moment you understand the big picture of what's going on is a shiver-inducing moment like something out of Spider and Web(Spoiler - click to show) - though in gameplay terms I do think this is a more complete, if not as unconventional, exploration of the narrative twist. It is written with the economy characteristic of any good mystery: no object, character, or detail is truly superfluous. It pulls off a rather neat trick, as well: details which I thought were minor bugs actually turned out not to be!
In structural terms, this feels much better than All Roads, which in my opinion was a more disorganized experiment in this sort of basic story idea which ended up being more of a noble failure.
Smoothing out the gameplay experience is a generally good sense for synonyms (the game doesn't call for too many exotic actions in any case), a TOPICS command to make dialogue as painless as possible, and a GO TO command to assist with navigation, which is welcome if not strictly necessary for a map of this size.
There are flaws, though. The first is the voice. I got the strong impression that this was a story set in the US, yet for a pulp noir protagonist, our hero uses a hell of a lot of Britishisms. Was this a calculated effect? Did I misinterpret the setting? We may never know. But it did feel jarring, and this is coming from me, a multi-national English speaker with little intuitive sense of dialect. It's a stylistic complaint, but there you go.
Second is the mid-game. Rarely have I felt more at a loss for what to do. Chalk it up to my non-puzzle-expert mind, but while I had a fairly straightforward idea of the goal I needed to accomplish, I had absolutely no idea of how to go about it. One of the problems with something like detective fiction this detailed is that you find yourself over-thinking the effects even mundane actions will have, only to miss a fairly obvious opportunity. The cruelty of the game demands a number of re-plays to compound this difficulty. It simultaneously feels fair - because of the detail-oriented nature of this sort of plot - and unfair, because we don't necessarily know as much as we have a right to. I still haven't made up my mind about this sort of gameplay being requested of players. Time will tell.
Even with these frustrations, though, it's a fantastically engaging game. It really does succeed in delivering the sort of excitement and challenge you'd get from investigating a mystery in the tradition of Agatha Christie or Columbo. Just don't expect it to feel particularly fair.
We have to wave the hat in front of Make it Good, because of two reasons. The first is that this is an excellent job, with a smooth writing and an excellent design. The second is due to the fact that in this IF we impersonate a drunk and ‘bad’ detective, dressed in the usual waterproof coat and hat, who will have to deal with a terrible crime. The frame of the investigation will be an anonymous terraced house, with a suspicious maid whose boyfriend conceals a mysterious past, a desperate housewife with a shattered marriage whose ‘close friend’ is a vicar of the near parish and also an excellent victim: an average man by the not so average past.
So the ingredients are all there to make the plot of Make it Good a real noir, sophisticated and engaging.
The game design is innovative and well-maintained. Let’s forget about a story with a simple linear sequence of commands or actions. Make it Good is a story alive with dozens of items to consider, different rooms and locations to be visited and some riddles of low difficulty rating, but definitely good and affordable through various strategies. This is the highlight of this text adventure, which leaves ample room for the player. The NPC’s artificial intelligence is really nice and there is a distinction between the interaction with the mere dialogue, with which you can inform an NPC about your latest developments on the crime investigation, and interaction with interrogation applications, which can be used to collect the suspecteds’ alibi and modus operandi. It is worth also to say a few words about the intensity of the betatesting which has undergone the game in the first period of public release and the considerable speed with which the author has fixed some bugs, more or less heavy, afflicting the first version. All of this has made the current version of the game, namely the ninth, very pleasant and more enjoyable.
I would really like to note the hinting system which automatically comes to the aid of the player by suggesting the appropriate commands for some situations (this system can be deactivated by the most hardcore gamers!). Good and concise documentation in the game.
I would like to return a moment on the quality of the work’s plot (some spoilers below!).
As with his other work, in fact, the author tries to reflect on the deep dichotomy between the player in flesh and bones and his digital alter ego, making the discrepancy between their knowledge a fundamental point for the ending revelation of the main plot storyline. This analysis is an excellent springboard to think about the importance and significance of the information’s medium and the timing of notification. Not only because this trick, we can find that in fact our task is not merely to investigate a crime so savage but to try to understand, through a few bold descriptions, the ironic and grotesque violence of the likely events prior the crime.
Final Vote: As a result, Make it Good ranks as a timeless classic, having the veins of the mystery stories and the verisimilarity of daily life. It offers an extreme interactivity and vivid characters, although in some sections they are a little ’stereotypical’ but always functional to the plot. Watch out, because their behavior will be certainly plausible and exciting! My final vote for Make it Good is 9.5.
PS: I'm sorry for my badly managed English, it is not my main language. The italian version of this review can be found here:
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