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About the Story
The year is 2021. Neo-America is prospering under the stern yet wise direction of President for Life, Gaius Julius Ceasar. 330 million souls live, love, and laugh, all working tirelessly for the glory of the American people! But with light comes darkness. With prosperity comes misery. And with law comes crime. Heinous crimes! Shocking crimes! Cunning crimes! And sometimes, very rarely, crimes so devious, so shadowy, so slippery that only Neo-America's greatest detectives can hope to solve them.
For these crimes, the very worst of crimes, America has a special team. Two individuals, both alike in dignity, in fair DC, where we lay our scene. Their names: Antony and Cleopatra.
He's the Vice President.
She's the Queen of Egypt.
Together, they fight crime!
Note that this is a fully synchronous two-player game and requires two people and internet access to work. You cannot download this game and play it offline.
24th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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I was intrigued by the idea of a two-player online murder mystery, so I managed to rope my wife into playing as... my wife. I had fun and so did she.
It is a very, very silly game--there is no worldbuilding reason why the Queen of Egypt is investigating a US diplomatic incident in 2021, it is (as far as I could tell) purely for "don't take this too seriously" purposes and various historical figure jokes. If it was a straightforward twine mystery, I'd probably call it "solid". However, the two-player mechanics were novel and well-implemented, and brought the experience to another level. You share a schedule and have to agree on how to budget your time for interviews and investigations. Narration changes and dialogue options differ between Antony and Cleopatra (sometimes just with slight rewording, sometimes actually differing in information), and the conversation progresses depending on who speaks first. And it seems that the two players can name different solutions--though in our case, we just went with my best guess, which turned out to be correct. I'm very impressed that the author pulled this off in a way that was satisfying to play.
+: Unique two-player mechanics done really well, sandbox mystery with fair clues, some laughs.
-: Prose is somewhat sparse, with scattered typos.
So on one hand, this game gestures wildly at everything: our dramatis personae draws from history a la carte with random appearances from whomever seems like they could plausibly fill the role Ė thereís a French ambassador, may as well be Napoleon Ė so you get a strange eclecticism where Cleopatra chats with Rasputin about Audrey Hepburn; the plot sizzles with international intrigue, as multiple nations potentially engage in espionage over a Raytheon-led military project shrouded in secrecy, all the while snarled up with tawdry DC gossip a la the Petraeus scandal; thereís a multitude of meta levels that enjamb each other, like Antony and Cleopatra solve cases but then thereís also a TV show with the exact same premise as the real life duo, or how every historical character is both themselves and not quite themselves; and bizarre little details constantly unsettle the flow, like an offhand reference to a character wearing a Noh mask or the deliberately loose way that a foreign head of state seems interwoven with a classified state investigation.
On the other hand, however, rather than slosh chaotically between competing stylistic pressures, the gameís flat affect smooths over these discontinuities to make a mild matter-of-factness that equalizes every left turn into a neutral paste. Madcap juxtapositions merely provide the pretense for straight-as-you-go transcripts laying out a series of facts, not really building up to anything you could call a testimony, which you judge against the others. Characterization consists largely of wikiskim vibe approxies, though many interactions do not attempt at all to summon the historical person, using their name rather as a de facto placeholder, including our protagonist duo, who make little impression. The metonymy of the tone occurs when we visit a suspect in Alexandria, and there isnít some grand attempt to capitalize on presumably-a-golden-reason-this-bizarre-combination-would-even-exist pun between the Virginian and Egyptian cities. The resulting flatness, beyond making you thirst a little pizzazz, also undercuts the two-player conceit, because neither perspective really accomplishes much that the other doesnít, and the only real variable, a few moments where you can change the tone of a question based on who asks it, could easily have been achieved in a single player design.
Mostly the game persists with the weightless superficiality of a madlibs murder mystery, listing resinous references without their manifesting narrative consequences, although a few witticisms are peppered in to make some use of the setting, like this great line: ďWhile you donít necessarily have any issues with buying diamonds or gems with blood, as blood is an essential part of statecraft and a Queen cannot avoid it, Antony kindly explained the implications to an American audience.Ē Additionally, a few strong characterization lines help you parse the lineup, like this bit which purposefully ignites your suspicions: ďHis handshake is laser built to convey trustworthiness, vital energy, and a good-natured affect.Ē So electricity does carry down the line, even if it never sparks the story to life.
As the game ought, being so well engineered. The experience runs seamlessly, with live updates between clients, and a few interaction-rich collaboration points. The one bug we did encounter, a momentary disconnection from the server, ended up providing a positive moment of appreciation for the underlying systems, as we just clicked a button and were instantly right back in the thick of things. Presumably a lot of hard craft went into making the play experience so effortlessly smooth, and itís hard not to be impressed with Twine as a platform in the wake of innovations like this.
Thereís so much potential here, and the technical accomplishments of this game go a great deal towards establishing a solid foundation. As it is, though, the narrative on top doesnít quite justify its expensive chassis.
This game is not archived, but Iím only reviewing it by request. (although technically itís open on github so I guess thatís the same thing!)
There have been several multiplayer IF games in recent years, many of them by this author. Approaches to multiplayer IF have varied; there are parser games where codes must be passed back and forth and collaboration is key; twine games where codes are passed back and forth but no other communication is meant to be made; and games like this that utilize a server.
This is a very well written and technically proficient game. I think Iím going to divide my thoughts on this game into three areas: the story/writing, the mechanics, and the multiplayer aspect. Because this game works well and the author is proficient, Iím going to be a bit more critical than I would with a newer author, since I think this author values thoughtful criticism (and I hope Iím thoughtful!)
Story and writing
The main storyline is that you are Antony and Cleopatra, with Antony being the Vice President (I assume of the US) and Cleopatra being the Queen of Egypt (I wonder what it would be like if the vice president in real life was married to a monarch of another state. Thatíd be pretty interesting!). The two of you have been asked to solve the murder of Marlon Brando. You have around two weeks to gather clues, conduct interviews and investigations, and to make an accusation.
The story has varied suspects with differing motivations and interests. Iíve played a lot of other detective games where everyone just kind of blends together, a lot of rich white british people who have no distinguishing characteristics. But in this game, each character is very different. Interviewing Rasputin was memorable, and Vitruvius was very different from James Dean, who was very different from the General.
Youíll notice all the names are taken from famous characters in history. Thatís part of the conceit here; kind of like Clone High or Fate Grand Order (neither of which Iíve watched or played), all of the characters are characters from history, modified to fit into a single scenario. For instance, Marlon Brando and James Dean both work at Raytheon.
This is clever, but to me the influence of the characterís historical figure is like La Croix; itís not really there, just a hint of it. For most of the characters you could have swapped them with some other historical figure and there would be little difference. If it has been Queen Victoria instead of Queen Cleopatra, much of the game could have remained the same, outside of the Blood Diamonds bit. James Dean could have been Timothy Chalamet, etc. The only character that seemed heavily influenced by their historical counterpart is Rasputin. For the others, it mostly seemed like the name was just tacked on with a reference or two (Napoleonís coat) with the mental associations meant to be developed by the reader.
But thatís not to say the characters arenít developed; theyíre very well developed! Just not in ways that strongly justify the unusual character choices.
The storyline itself was really interesting, and I liked seeing how things developed out and new storylines emerged.
Youíre given a calendar with several blank days, each day with two appointments to make. You can schedule interviews or visiting locations (I thought you had to do one of each at first, but later I doubled up on appointments once I realized you can do so). Once in a meeting, you can mostly just click every link, although there are occasional choices you can make that make a difference. So the real strategy lies not in each individual interview, but in which interviews to schedule.
I found that satisfying in the long run, as time began running out and I had to guess which meetings were most important to schedule.
Iíve mentioned before my informal classification of mystery IF:
1-Have a standard puzzle game that happens to be about murder mystery, with solving the puzzles leading to solving the mystery. This is like Ballyhoo.
2-Modelling evidence and clues in-game, which have to be combined to form a solution. This is how Erstwhile works, and most of my mysteries.
3-Collecting evidence through puzzles and conversation and then having a quiz at the end (where you have to accuse the right person). This is how Tobyís Nose works.
4-Collecting physical evidence and showing it to someone, being able to make an arrest when you have enough evidence.
This is a type 3 murder mystery. At the end you have to pick who did it and why.
I got it wrong, mostly because I psyched myself out about a character I hadnít had a chance to interview. But the solution was logical!
I played this game twice, first as part of the Seatlle IF Meetup and then again on my own.
In the meetup, we only got through the first day after 30 minutes of playing. On my own, it took me over an hour to finish.
Overall, I usually play IF around other events in my life like meals, childcare, work, tutoring, etc. and so itís pretty hard to find time to meet up with others to play IF. Thatís why I tend to prefer multiplayer IF that has small amounts of text and short gameplay (like Ma Tigerís Terrible Trip by the same author).
This game has a lot of text and long gameplay! There was also one time while (when playing with two browsers on the same computer) it said I was losing connection and might have everything reset without saving.
That says to me that this type of game may be more appropriate for a Ďmultiple people in one roomí setting, like a TTRPG or boardgame, but digitally.
This feeling was strengthened once I realized that thereís not really special abilities for each of the two protagonists or information only one receives. There are certainly little details here and there and there are some witnessses where you get substantially different options, but by and large most of the multiplayer aspect is Ďdo the two of you agree on this course of actioní, which again to me sounds better for a cooperative game played by people in the same room.
This was a strong game, well made, and I enjoyed it. The multiplayer aspect and the historical figures werenít compelling to me, and I believe the game could have retained much of its enjoyability without either one. But Iím glad it encouraged me to work with others and Iím glad I spent time with this.
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