Color the Truth

Ah, a murder mystery! I love those. They're not all that rare in Interactive Fiction, but it seems to me that they've generally had a bit of difficulty fitting in with the parser format. Interactive Fiction, from the beginning, has mostly been about manipulating objects, whereas mysteries are supposed to focus on information. I've messed around with the mystery/IF relationship a bit in the past, so I like to think I know a thing or two about it.

The mechanic employed in "Color the Truth" involves the collection and comparison of conversation topics, or clues. Basically, most items of interest are added to your repertoire of conversation topics, and you can speak to characters about these topics simply by naming them; or, if you happen to notice discrepancies, you can link contradictory information to produce a new topic with which to challenge the characters. It may have been done before, but it hasn't been done often; and, to the best of my knowledge, it hasn't been done at all in parser IF. So there's something interesting.

Does it work? Sure. From a mechanical standpoint, it works fine. It does seem to me to be potentially cumbersome, as the list of topics grows, but I'm not sure I see any way to make that better. One thing I do appreciate about the linking system is that it prevents "accidental challenges": instances where one could simply spew a list of topics at a character in hopes that one topic might provoke a statement change. The linking system means that the player must identify the contradiction before moving on to the challenge, which in turns focusses the game on the character statements.

Another neat thing done here is that, rather than presenting each statement as a text dump, we're invited to play out each statement as the character being questioned. This gives us some interestingly different points of view with regard to scenery and other characters. It also keeps each statement interesting, and it gets the player involved. On the other hand, when a character changes their statement, we've got to play the thing over again, with the new actions or circumstances. Fortunately, the statements tend to be pretty short, and the game does a pretty good job of telegraphing to the player what needs to be done in each playthrough of a statement. I think each statement only needs one repeat, too.

As for the mystery plot ... okay, I feel that it ended a bit abruptly. This isn't a game of observation and deduction, so much as it is a game of using story discrepancies to get a confession--which happens much the same way you obtain revised statements from people, though this final confrontation gets you an arrest and a winning conclusion rather than a gruesome statement to play through. I was rather hoping to figure out, through comparing stories, who had to be guilty ... but that's just my own personal preferance.

I think I may have missed the killer's motive for the crime, though. It looked as though the killer was blackmailing the victim, but wouldn't that be a reason to keep the victim alive? Unless the victim had found a way to end the blackmail threat ... and then, what was the blackmail all about, anyway? I guess a detective is really only interested in the clues that prove the guilt of the perpetrator, and the reasons for the crime don't matter a whole lot. So, perhaps the motive IS there, somewhere among the conversation topics, but finding it wasn't necessary to solving the murder. I know I've done something like that in one of my own games.

On the whole, the game is well-crafted and solidly designed. I like the innovations in the gameplay and, as I've said before, I like that it's a mystery game. It feels compact and self-sufficient, like a sort of breakfast sandwich. Everything in a single, handy package. There's meat and there's egg and there's cheese. Maybe it's lacking a bit of sauce, but it leaves you wanting more even though you're technically full now and shouldn't have another one. And to finish, a small chai latte: just a little special and trendy, but it's tasty and it does the job as well as any workhorse coffee you could name.