I've noticed that outside of the Zork trilogy, Infocom often did not have their implementors stay in their element. Case in point, Suspect, the third mystery-styled adventure, continues a three game trend of never assigning the same designer twice. This time, after veteran designer Marc Blank's Deadline, and newcomer Stu Galley's Witness, Blank's collaborator on Zork & Enchanter Dave Lebling takes the digital quill.
This time, we're no detective, but a nosy journalist covering the biggest high society Halloween shindig of the season. This means no magic portable crime lab, no help from Sergeant Duffy, and, as the box tells us, no help or sympathy from the upper crust guests when a socialite gets deaded and the evidence points at you.
Feelies in the box, a crucial element to the mystery in prior games, are a bit more frugal here. No dossiers, lab reports, photos, or statements this time - after all, the crime is scheduled to occur ingame, but it's disappointing that there's so little opportunity to do any pre-sleuthing before booting up the game. Included are:
- An informally-written memo from the editor-in-chief who recommends making a story of the festivities, suggesting an angle of old money families seeking respite from expanding suburbia.
- A two-page "Maryland Rambler" article, referenced in the memo, regarding the ongoing yuppification of ultra-wealthy Montgomery County, MD, how the local blue bloods are rapidly selling off their huge and extremely valuable plots of land to the incoming D.C. upstarts to be used as single-family house plots instead of ranches and fox hunting grounds, often to the great benefit of elite real-estatier William Cochrane.
- Also from Maryland Rambler, a brief article on the opulent Halloween bash at Ashcroft Farm, to be hosted by Ashcroft heiress Veronica Ashcroft-Wellman. Talk of the sweeping changes to Montgomery Country are certain to be on the minds of the hundreds of visiting dignitaries, and Colonel Robert Marston, family trustee, is quoted here saying that Veronica sees a threat to the Ashcroft way of light, but will have many sympathetic ears for the night.
- A rental receipt for one cowboy costume from "Costumes Unlimited."
- William Cochrane's business card, with a threatening note to Veronica scribbled on the reverse.
- Lastly, the game instructions, taking the form of a firmly tongue-in-cheek guide to murder party etiquette, advising the well-bred murderer or murderess on everything from the importance of accepting invitations with hand-written letters in the third person (a phone call, after all, rudely leaves no physical evidence) to how to command dignity and respect in maximum security.
It's Halloween night. Veronica Ashcroft and her mania for Halloween parties are putting new twists on a 110-year-old tradition. It isn't a very nice night for a party. The rain has been pelting down since early morning, but the weather hasn't deterred many guests. The ballroom at Ashcroft Farm is filled with oddly costumed visitors. The rather ridiculous western outfit you are wearing was the only thing you could find at the costumer's on such short notice, but it's out of place only for its relative sobriety and taste in this crowd.
Suspect opens in the packed Ashcroft ballroom at 9:00pm, where costumed partygoers dine, wine, dance, and gossip as an orchestra plays. Recognizable characters here include:
- Johnson, the bartender, busy and wearing a domino mask.
- Samuel Ostmann, unmentioned in the materials, as a vampire.
- Michael Wellman as a sheik
- Veronica Ashcroft-Williams as a fairy queen
Other characters encountered elsewhere:
- Colonel Marston, as an African explorer
- William Cochrane, as an astronaut
- Linda Meade, as a ballerina
- An unidentified werewolf
- Alicia Barron, as a harem girl
- Smythe, the butler, as a gorilla
- Senator Asher, as a harlequin
- A suspicious doberman
Michael gestures to join him and Veronica, but that's not how I ever start a game. I went exploring and Trizborting, keeping tabs on the script for any out-of-timeline clues.
The mansion and its grounds, consisting of at at least 55 interconnected rooms (not counting the upstairs rooms which are cordoned off and off limits to guests), is much larger than Witness and feels much larger than Deadline's.
- The enormous ballroom, consisting of nine separate areas on a 3x3 grid, is central to the mansion, and has guests constantly entering, walking about, and leaving.
- To the north is the dining room and kitchen, and the back door and porch, from where you can walk around the house to the garden and patio.
- East of the ballroom, large French doors lead to the patio and pond.
- A long hall west of the ballroom has the dining room at the north end, a coat closet in the middle, and a library at the south end.
- The hall continues east to the pond, and has a bathroom and sun room.
- The front hall, south of the ballroom, connects a living room, morning room, and entry hall. Further south is the front porch and driveway, which gives access to the east and west sides of the house.
- West of the front hall, another hall goes from the garden, where the doberman stands guard, to a corner. Accessible from this hall are the garage, Veronica's office and media room, and another closet.
- The corner continues west, and has another bathroom, linen closet, and a sitting room.
It took me a few sessions to map out the house, but Veronica got murdered each time, and could be found dead in her office, strangled with a costume lariat.
A general timeline of night events:
- 9:02 - Veronica, while drunkenly talking about her upcoming horse show, spills her drink on her gown, and throws the glass onto the floor.
- 9:09 - Cochrane emerges from the east bathroom and goes to the ballroom.
- 9:15 - Veronica can be found dead in her office by now. It isn't possible to reach the office any earlier; if you attempting to follow her closely, you will bump into Smythe and be delayed just long enough to miss her by a few minutes.
- 9:18 - Alicia arrives, late, rings the doorbell, and Smythe answers and takes her coat. Alicia goes to the ballroom.
- 9:21-9:23 - Linda and the werewolf leave the sitting room for the ballroom, stopping at the sun room on the way.
- 9:22 - Cochrane leaves the ballroom for the east bathroom again, and returns.
- 9:30 - Alicia and Michael dance together.
- 9:31-9:49 - Smythe sweeps up Veronica's broken glass and dumps it in the kitchen trash.
- 9:32 - Senator Asher, in the media room, leaves for the living room.
- 9:45 - Colonel Marston, in the living room, leaves for the ballroom.
- 9:47 - Asher leaves for the sitting room.
- 9:49 - Band breaks.
- 9:52-9:54 - Cochrane, Marston, and Michael argue about horse sales at the bar.
- 10:00 - Cochrane, Marston, and Michael leave the ballroom for the office.
- 10:08 - Cochrane, Marston, and Michael arrive at the office and discover Veronica's body. Michael calls the police, with Cochrane's reluctant agreement.
- 10:09 - Band returns from break.
- 10:10-10:16 - Michael leaves the office and goes to the garage, taking a roundabout route, and gets huffy if followed. He returns to the ballroom after this.
- 10:14-10:16 - Marston and Cochrane leave the office for the ballroom.
- 10:21-10:31 - Marston tells us (if we were not present), Smythe, and Alicia, who responds with horror and elation, in that order, that Veronica was strangled and her office ransacked. Ostmann either hears this from Marston or Alicia.
- 10:31-10:44 - A police car approaches and the doorbell rings. Smythe answers, and takes the detective, accompanied by Sgt. Duffy, to the office, where they examine the scene.
- 10:44 - Michael goes back to the garage, and once again gets angry if followed, and returns to the ballroom afterward.
- 10:45 - Marston leaves the ballroom for the library.
- 10:48-10:50 - Ostmann and Cochrane argue.
- 10:50 - Band breaks.
- 10:52 - Michael, if he wasn't followed to the garage, meets Marston in the library and kicks you out if you are there so they can discusss something in private. They both leave soon after and go to the ballroom.
- 10:52-10:58 - Marston goes to the fireplace and surrepticiously yet obviously burns something.
- 11:09 - Band returns from break.
- 11:19 - Michael goes to the garage for a third time.
- 11:21 - An ambulance arrives and removes Veronica's body. The detective and Duffy leave and wander the house.
- 11:40 - Detained by Sgt. Duffy and arrested.
In the epilogue, you are acquitted by a hung jury, even though your lariat was the murder weapon and a bullet from your costume was found by the body. The detective and Duffy consequently solve the case, but you're encouraged to try again.
The first immediately suspicious thing is that Senator Asher is found in the media room, adjacent to Veronica's office minutes after her death. That he wears a clown suit and watches CNN is suspicious too, but doesn't really link him to the murder.
In Veronica's office, everything's been opened and spilled all over the room, except for one mysteriously pristine manila envelope inside her desk containing an unsigned purchase and sale agreement for Ashcroft Farm, to Ostmann Properties. Cochrane's business card with the threatening note is found in the trash. Veronica's body, when moved, reveals a bullet, and at this point, counting the bullets in your own costume shows one is missing. You can't count them at any time before this - I tried.
Michael's business in the garage is obviously something you need to observe, and by hiding behind one of the cars, I could observe him popping the BMW's trunk. After he left, I opened it with a crowbar found here, and discovered a stack of financial papers, including an accountant's letter suggesting that Ashcroft trustee Colonel Marston had been investing the family fortune into Southeast Planning Corporation, his own private firm. One sheet at the back is torn off. I could not figure out how to interrogate Michael or Marston about this.
By hiding behind the library chair, you can listen to Michael and Marston's conversation. All that occurs is that Michael passes a piece of paper to Marston, which I assume to be the same as what he burns. It can be retrieved from the fireplace before it burns, and on it, lists both men as equal investors in Southeast Planning Corporation.
By interrogating the various characters, I learned a bit more about who everyone was, and their interpersonal relations.
- Michael, Veronica's husband, is new money, and liked by most but not all of the guests.
- Samuel Ostmann is Cochrane's mutually hated business rival in real estate and mostly constructs town houses and office buildings. He regards Veronica highly and Michael as pathetic. Marston admires him but thinks he is out of place here.
- Jack Johnson was hired through a friend of Veronica's and wants to be a lawyer.
- Colonel Marston, manager of the Ashcroft trust, is thought to be fogyish and paternalistic by multiple guests. He considers Michael to be easier to work with than Veronica.
- Bill Cochrane, the main driving force in local surburban expansion, has been drinking heavily. Michael calls him a crook, and Ostmann concurs. He is evidently frustrated that Veronica won't sell out to him, but thinks Michael might.
- Smythe has worked for the family since Veronica's parents generation. He can't be spoken to.
- The werewolf is Richard, Veronica's brother. Michael dislikes him, Ostmann calls him a parasite, and Marston calls him a manchild. Cochrane, Alicia, and Asher think him a pitiable wimp. He won't speak to you apart from growls until the murder is discovered, and admits he hates Veronica but would have killed her long ago if he could.
- Linda Meade, Richard's girlfriend, also isn't liked much by Michael or Marston, who think she is riff-raff that doesn't belong in the Ashcroft family, and she resents Veronica and Michael for how they treat her and Richard. She further accuses Marston of holding out on Richard's share of the inheritance.
- Alicia is a riding friend of Veronica and visits often. She thinks Veronica treats Michael poorly, and doesn't seem very approving of Richard dating Linda. Inviting a newspaper reporter to the party was her idea.
- Asher is a junior senator and is supported by Veronica and Michael, who hope he will be president one day. None of the guests have anything negative to say about him. Cochrane mentions that he used to date Veronica.
I'm calling it now - Alicia and Michael are having an affair. I won't yet go as far as to say one or both bumped Veronica out of the way and that Michael's clandestine business with Marston is for securing their future, or that Alicia got me invited as a patsy, but it wouldn't shock me if this weren't far from the truth.
As far as opportunity goes, Michael himself has an alibi - he is in the ballroom the entire time. So is Ostmann and Johnson. Smythe and Cochrane can also be seen prior to 9:15pm. This leaves Asher, Linda, Richard, and Alicia, though the question of how Alicia could have gotten out of the office unseen and to the circular driveway in only three minutes has no obvious answer. Her coat is soaking wet, and the rain slowed at 9:10, but that doesn't prove anything except that she had been outside somewhere before then.
As for means, whoever killed her was counting on Veronica being in the office at 9:15. My only explanation is that Veronica's spill was a ruse to leave the ballroom for the office for some reason, possibly having to do with the P&S, and the murderer or a confederate knew this would happen. The murderer also either stole or relied on someone stealing my lariat and bullet, but that could have been anyone, having presumably happened some time before the game began at 9:00.
So far I'm enjoying this, though I can't help but get the sense I've already done most of what there is to do, and solving the game is just a matter of stumbling onto the right bit of evidence and/or finding a way to communicate my findings to the detective. This hasn't been a problem yet, but please, no hints or spoilers, at least not any that aren't ROT13 protected, until I've beaten this game. My next plan is to search the rooms more carefully, and also try showing the evidence to everyone, including the detective, to see what their reactions are.