Make It Good
Make It Good is a dark, noir-esque detective mystery (interactive fiction) from Fail-Safe author Jon Ingold. You are cast in the role of a down-on-his-luck detective struggling to solve a murder case or risk losing his job. Moving about a complete, living world, you'll turn over every potted plant, scrutinize every room, and question every character as you attempt to stitch together shards of information to discover just what happened.
The story begins sitting in your car just outside a typical suburban dwelling. Thoughts of losing your job float through your head, while a nearby bottle of whiskey quietly beckons your attention. Jack Draginam, husband, accountant, guy who actually employs a maid, has been murdered. No leads, just a bloody body and a lot of suspicious people. It's time to untangle this mess and get some answers.
It doesn't take long for you to realize Make It Good is much more than finding clues and putting them in the right order. It's about picking up on subtle hints, whether they be nervous looks from non-player characters, noises in the background, or curious placements of furniture in the room, then following that lead and prying more information out of it. Each clue-strand offers a number of new leads you could pursue, creating this beautifully organic structure that doesn't feel like solving a linear puzzle, it feels like exploring a story from the inside out.
As far as playing the game goes, most of the commands you'll use will be familiar to anyone who has played interactive fiction before. Moving around the environment involves simple N, E, S, W commands, manipulating objects is straightforward, and asking people questions is a breeze. The real game is in the subtext, as nothing you do shows an obvious next step to take. Because of this, Make It Good can be a brutally difficult game to play, so make sure you're ready to get involved before you click that link.
Analysis: 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. Prying information out of them requires asking the right questions and picking up on nuances in their demeanor, a task that's much more difficult than realizing you have to use the RED KEY in the RED DOOR.
Finding clues can be tricky, but figuring out what to make of the information is even more of a riddle. You'll come across more than your fair share of cryptic notes, discarded letters, mysteriously sealed cabinets/boxes, etc. But are they just a part of the game world, or is there something more there? Is it really that suspicious someone would have dirty laundry on their floor? You'll sometimes drive yourself mad wondering about the scraps of information Make It Good feeds you. But each step forward in the story feels like an epic leap ahead. A leap you earned!
From the technical side of things, programming a game that's so open-ended requires a lot of planning/forethought, a lot of testing, and a near-infinite amount of patience. The fact that the game was pulled off at all is a feat unto itself, but that it's so incredibly well-written, intriguing, and absorbing is quite impressive. The murky, gritty feeling the writing style imparts sets a brilliant mood for the game. You can almost see the muted colors, feel the stale atmosphere and taste the tension in the air.
Make It Good is one of those games you don't play, you let it absorb you. It requires you to think outside of gaming convention and react naturally to each situation. You'll probably have a difficult time solving the mystery, starting from scratch more than once and feeling lost at almost every turn. You'll enjoy every moment of intrigue, however, and the drive to see the story through to the end never waivers.