I have no shortage of interactive movies yet to process. Today’s game is In The 1st Degree developed by Brøderbund, popularly known as that software company with the weird ‘o’ in its name. This is the third I-movie in a week that has referenced San Francisco. D made a completely superfluous reference to the city. Beyond Time showed us a brief pan of downtown SF to assure us that the game is supposed to begin in a Frisco museum. But In The 1st Degree is entirely set and filmed in the city by the Bay. As a current Bay Area resident, I can personally vouch for the authenticity of this game and I had a good time figuring out where the characters were presently situated in the tiny (by American standards) city. Why, here’s an authentic sequence driving down a famous San Francisco hill past a famous S.F.-style cable car:
Someone’s Dead. Someone’s Lying. Can You Prove Murder One? That’s the game’s tagline. There was a kerfuffle between a Frisco artist and a Frisco art gallery owner and the owner wound up shot to death. You play the district attorney and your ultimate goal is to get the artist convicted in court with murder in the first degree. Not second degree, not manslaughter, and certainly not an acquittal. You want murder one.
The first part of the game deals with reviewing documents, dossiers, and crime scene photographs. You drive around town and interview the witnesses at their homes or their places of commerce. And you also review the tapes of the witness interviews conducted by the police inspector:
As you can see, you get to review the tapes at your Pier 5 office, overlooking the Bay, Yerba Buena Island, and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The game’s writer(s) knew San Francisco and it shows in the characters’ dialogue which, BTW, is extraordinarily well-delivered by the standards of the I-movie genre. The second part of the game is where you go to trial with the evidence you have gathered and secure the most severe conviction you can. I didn’t get that far but I can honestly say this is the best I-movie I have seen to date and one that I would actually like to play again, perhaps to completion.
I knew that there was something different about this game when I first studied the QuickTime multimedia files some years ago. In The 1st Degree is fond of using the time-honored exposition-by-newscast narrative device where the story unfolds from the lips of television news anchors and correspondents. I would upload some samples to YouTube but YouTube has the worst time converting QuickTime files while retaining accurate A/V sync. At the beginning of the game, you (the DA) are sitting at home (which looks to be located in Noe Valley, if I were to guess), eating dinner:
What does a successful (we hope) DA eat? Looks like celery, cottage cheese, cookies, and a pastry. But about the main course on that plate — why, that looks for all the world like one of many fine Chef Boyardee pasta-in-a-can products. And — wow — that’s one honkin’ big cell phone, but this was a 1995 game. Ah, how far we’ve come.
Some interesting technical trivia about the game: Even though my computer display is set to use 1280x1024x32-bit color, the game complained that I needed at least 256 colors. It worked fine when I demoted the video mode to 800x600x16-bit color (8-bit isn’t even an option). Also, the game uses MIDI music to great effect. Even though the game claimed not to recognize my MIDI device, the music played and sounded great.