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About the Story
For the C64
Three weeks ago, you received an envelope. It had been pushed under your office door and was marked in ornate script with the words, "Of Greatest Urgency." Intrigued, you grabbed your trusty sword-shaped letter opener from a cluttered desk drawer and tore into it. Inside, you found the kind of letter that is basically an urban legend in your line of work.
Richard Hawthorne, millionaire art magnate, was retaining your services to investigate a murder. One that had not yet happened. His own. Included was a huge check and a set of security codes to access both the gates of his private community and the back door of his residence, 34 Hush Lane, in the event of his death.
Your assignment: if anything were to happen to him, investigate immediately and determine for certain whether it was due to natural or nefarious causes.
Paranoid or not, the man came to the right place. Your cluttered office and perpetually disheveled look belie a razor sharp analytical mind and expert interrogation skills. Underestimation by others is your secret weapon and allows you to fade into the woodwork, catching clues that others miss. This has made you one of the most successful P.I.s around. You had accepted the job immediately, not expecting to have to follow through so soon.
Download includes a .D64 disk image to run on a Commodore 64 emulator such as VICE or real hardware.
41st Place - tie - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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In the interest of full disclosure, I'm probably not Artful Deceit's intended audience, at least format-wise. The closest I have come to interacting with a Commodore 64 is the other retro game in this competition. But the mystery and the interesting format caught my interest, and so after trying two emulators I jumped in.
Artful Deceit is an affectionately goofy detective game, the kind where a detective's job is more about solving puzzles than breaking alibis. It is emulating (so to speak) a very retro, barebones style of play, with crucial information to be found in the lovely feelies, and only a few verbs. But by that same token I was never majorly confused about what was interactable in the room. The puzzles in the sections I completed were sensible and didn't require any bizarre leaps of logic. (Although the hints allude to a puzzle where you (Spoiler - click to show)press buttons around the sculpture--somehow this did not happen when I played. The (Spoiler - click to show)magenta button was visible to me when I entered the room, and so I (Spoiler - click to show)pressed it and obtained the device right away.)
The biggest hurdle I encountered was simply navigating the house, especially when trying to get into and out of the garage. It is a very large space relative to the number of rooms that can be interacted with, and when the hardware/emulator takes 5-10 seconds to transition between rooms, the time added up. I also struggled with the emulator itself. I had several crashes, and at one point accidentally started editing over the text of the game. I don't know how much of that was the emulation vs. me (as mentioned at the beginning), but after a third crash that was fairly far through and running up against the judging time limit, I had to call it quits.
This was one of the better experiences I’ve had with a custom parser game written for a retro format.
This game was written for the Commodore 64 platform and must be played in an emulator. I played with the Vice emulator.
It is a murder mystery. It comes with a great deal of background material. There are feelies with long, in-depth interviews with each of the suspects. There are also guides on what can be typed. I found it necessary to read every single feelie and command guide and manual to complete the game, as there are essential components you will likely not find without help (such as the important ANALYZE command).
The setting and game style is intentionally reminiscent of old Infocom mysteries such as Deadline and Suspect. There is a single house with multiple independent NPCs moving about and various clues.
I’ll talk a bit about things that were frustrating and things that worked well.
Frustrations came mostly from the engine and parser. The Commodore 64 emulator I had imitated its old clunkiness. Each room takes several seconds to load. If you go the wrong way and want to turn around, it’s 20 seconds just to correct your mistake. There was a ‘speed up’ button which I used, however, it caused the space bar to wig out, making only one-word commands possible in fast mode (great for navigation). At one point while messing with speed and trying to type ‘E’ I made the emulator hang up; I don’t believe it was the game’s fault.
Some commands were a bit difficult to phrase. One must type ‘interior garage door’; ‘interior door’ will not suffice. TALK TO someone and OPEN something almost always returned a blank line with no response at all.
The story and motives were lavishly described but stretched the imagination a bit. I’m not sure the motive found in the game would hold up in court, and some of the puzzles felt a bit arbitrary.
Those are the frustrating points. The good points are that outside of the above-mentioned difficulties, the parser was quite robust. I was frequently able to do what I wanted in an easy fashion. Puzzles were well-clued; I only turned to the walkthrough to speed up after I had the game crash. I do recommend playing on your own first without the walkthrough as it can help explain some of the more unusual action choices. I do think I would have had to turn to a walkthrough no matter what, though.
Other good things are the reasonable scope of the entry. With the slow emulation and the minimal parser, a long game could have stretched patience thin. This game seems well designed and compact, and is more fair (in my opinion) than the original infocom games. All interactable items are listed at the end of the paragraph, so you don’t have to worry about whether scenery contains an important clue.
In the past, I’ve had many bad experiences with custom parser and retro platforms. I’d say that this was genuinely refreshing and was, compared to those experiences, satisfying. For someone unaccustomed to such platforms I could imagine there would be much frustration. I also found the feelies to be very high quality (although there is a ‘images go here’ section that I believe will eventually be corrected). If I could change one thing, it’d be allowing ‘X’ as look at. I appreciate the game and was glad to play it!
Artful Deceit is an old school parser, made for the Commodore 64 machine (or a C64 emulator), where you are a detective hired to solve a murder, one the victim had been expecting. As the game has specific commands, reading the manual is highly recommended before starting the game.
I managed to find some clues on my own, before using the walkthrough. The game crashed* about 2/3rd through the game.
*not sure if it was because of the emulator or the game itself.
I'm a bit of a noob when it comes to parsers, especially the old types, and my frame of reference on what is or should be in an old-school parser rest essentially on what other people say about certain games. There are old-school and old-school parsers... like the ones who will only run on 8-bit machines that haven't been around since the 90s. This was the first time I dared to try out a game like this.
Even with an emulator, this was honestly an experience just loading the game and faffing about. There's something quite charming about those retro-style games (even the cluckiness of it or the loading of the command added to it), a style you can emulate visually with the likes of Adventuron nowadays. But it feels different with games like this one - sort of keeping some traditional alive in a way.
Aside from the novelty of it all, which was quite a lot for me, the game itself is a corny who-dunnit murder mystery, with a bit of a cliché revelation (but in a good way, it fits the vibe). There are some neat puzzles with hinting items close by, the ANALYZE mechanic was fun (I did send the other detective on wild goose-chases...), and I was glad to find I didn't need to read some of the clues on the tiny screen. But it wasn't too long or too large, it was just enough to solve the mystery, and seemed large enough to not feel unsatisfied.
But old-parsers also means frustrating commands, especially when trying to interact with some elements (you need to type out the adjectives, all of them) or conversing with the suspects (I barely managed to get a response from them). It's not always quite clear when an item can be open or not (like that painting) or why you have to take some objects to read them (but that might be an old-parser thing).
But the thing that frustrated me the most was the maze-like environment, especially in the manor. There are so many empty rooms where there is nothing to do... It was a bit disorienting at times. Even if the map helped a bit, I still think there were too many empty rooms...
I'm not against trying other games like this one in the future (hopefully they don't crash on me...). This was fun and new!
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