Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 75 / AUGUST 1986 / PAGE 58

Murder On The Mississippi For Commodore And Apple

Kathy Yakal, Assistant Features Editor

Requirements: Commodore 64 or Apple II-series computer with at least 64K RAM. Joystick required. Disk only.

Murder On The Mississippi, designed by Adam Bellin and published by Activision, is a rich, enjoyable adventure game. You're plunged into a convincing, complex world—a riverboat traveling down the Mississippi sometime in the 19th century, Though there is a lot to explore within that setting, it's not so huge and meandering that you get lost every time you make a move or have to keep retracing your steps. A cast of charming, eccentric characters makes you feel welcome in this imaginary world, and you cannot get killed five minutes into the game. In these and other ways, Murder On The Mississippi is free of the disagreeable aspects which reduce the fun of some other adventure games.

If you've ever played a poorly designed adventure game, the experience may have been frustrating enough to put you off the whole genre entirely. It seems that there are three areas in which many text-only or text-and-graphics adventures can miss the mark. First, some of them create a rather small world, or at least make it appear that way. As hard as you try, you can't get more than about ten minutes into the game without having to give up because you keep going around in circles. Second, some games have the nasty habit of allowing you to get into situations where you are easily killed, forcing you to start all over again. Finally, even if a game is playable, it may not have the feel of a real world. It's extremely difficult to create an environment and a set of characters with which you can easily and believably interact. And that is key to a good adventure game.

Trouble On The Delta Princess

On the other hand, a dedicated hardcore player of more traditional adventure games like Infocom's all-text Zork series may not find Murder On The Mississippi much of a challenge. Some people prefer to imagine what a game's world looks like, and aren't bothered by the hours it can take just to figure out how to move around and interact without getting killed. But for those who enjoy solving a murder mystery without bumping around in the dark, Murder On The Mississippi provides an entertaining, interactive environment in which to do just that.

As the player, you portray Sir Charles Foxworth, a famous British sleuth who is taking a three-day cruise down the Mississippi River on the Delta Princess. You are accompanied by your constant companion, Regis Phelps, While exploring the rooms on the ship, you come across a dead body and must enlist the help of passengers and crew members to find out who is the murderer, You have three days to solve the crime.

The game is entirely joystick-controlled; no keyboard commands are necessary. To move around the decks, to climb up and down stairs, and to enter rooms, you control the character by moving the joystick up, down, right, and left. It may take a few tries to maneuver your character into the exact spot that will make the door open, but it's not too tough.

The cabins themselves are not very big, so movement within them is rather restricted. If you're trying to get Sir Charles and Regis and a passenger to leave a room together, you sometimes get something of a Three Stooges effect—you keep bumping into each other as well as furniture and doors. But this tends to be amusing rather than irritating.

A Unique Interface

Adam Bellin has designed a unique user interface to allow interaction with the passengers, After you've entered a room, the character who resides there introduces himself or herself in response to your greeting. Pushing the joystick button will give you a menu: You can Walk around. Inspect, Examine evidence, Talk to (passenger's name), or return to the main menu. A small hand icon on the right side of the screen points to the selection highlighted, and pressing the joystick button activates that command.

If you choose to talk to the passenger, you're given another menu: Tell me about. What do you know about this evidence?, Please follow me, Share notes with, Accuse, or Previous menu. Information gathering is essential to solving the crime, so each passenger should be questioned, even if it leads nowhere. You can ask passengers to talk about themselves and about the victim.

After receiving information, Regis will ask if you'd like the notebook to take notes, If you think the information is important, you can choose to save certain key words from the passenger's speech. You're only allowed one line from each speech (generally 5-10 words), so choose carefully. Quite often, that's not enough, so you may want to take supplementary notes on paper, That's a good idea in the beginning, anyway, as it will help you keep track of who's staying in which room.

As you select highlighted words to be added to the notebook, an onscreen hand writes out the words in Sir Charles's handwriting. That's a nice touch, the kind of thing that surprises and delights a seasoned computer game player and makes computer games appealing to new users. Murder On The Mississippi contains many such thoughtful elements. Though the characters don't require a lot of depth in a game like this to make the game engaging, each is carefully drawn through the use of background, dialogue, and even accents. And Regis is an endearing fellow from the start—he's always following right on the heels of Foxworth, who appears to stand about two feet taller than his devoted sidekick.

Four Endings

In your early exploration of the ship, you'll discover that several of the rooms are locked. Finding out how to enter them merely takes some common sense, as does deciding what kind of evidence to pick up and keep for later examination. Getting to the point where you can actually start to draw some conclusions about the case will take some time and thought.

If you don't solve the mystery in one sitting (and you probably won't), you can save the game and later pick up where you left off. And there are four possible endings, so once you've solved the game, you can start over again and work your way through a new set of clues.

Murder On The Mississippi

Activision, Inc.
2350 Bayshore Frontage Road
Mountain View, CA 94043
$34.95 (Commodore)
$39.95 (Apple)