Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Suspect: Won!

The first thing I discovered, on re-searching the house, the crime scene in particular, was that in Veronica's mask, a single dark hair was caught in the silver mesh. Only the women show their hair at the party, but Veronica's is blonde, Linda's red, and Alicia's, as I suspected might be, dark. The detective would analyze this when asked, showing that it matches Alicia's, and had been pulled out, not cut. This evidence, along with suspicion cast on Cochrane from showing the incomplete P&S document in the office and his threatening note, took the detective's heat off me, and he'd spend the rest of the night and morning mulling over things in the ballroom as the party died down.

Asking him to arrest Alicia causes an acquittal, and not too subtly hints that you're on the right track but failed to discover/prove a motive. Curiously, in the epilogue, the detective solves the case and makes the correct arrest despite the double jeopardy clause - is Alicia innocent after all, or is this just a scripting oversight?

Further evidence-based interrogations:

  • Michael is totally uncooperative. On showing him the page he tore out of the trust folder, with his name on it, he protests "I have no idea what this has to do with me."
  • When showing Ostmann the P&S agreement, he confirms its authenticity, that Veronica wished to move further upcountry to more suitable land for raising horses, and adds that she surprised him by insisting on putting off the signing until after finishing some business.
  • Marston says the same concerning the agreement. When confronted about the trust folder, he remorselessly admits to fleecing the Ashcroft estate, threatening a libel suit should you print anything.
  • Cochrane all but cackles at Ostmann's misfortune, certain that Michael will sell now. He confirms the business card warning is his own, delivered under the door at 7:45, but denies any malicious intent. For now I believe him.
  • Alicia only responds to being presented with her own overcoat and hair sample, and only with righteous indignation.
  • The detective happily accepts the trust folder and missing page as evidence, but isn't impressed with Alicia's wet overcoat. He will not fingerprint the lariat, bullet, or fairy mask when asked to, bizarrely stating that it wouldn't reveal anything.


The fact that the command to fingerprint items is even recognized, strange as it may be that he can't be bothered with the actual murder weapon, told me this ought to be useful somewhere. This wouldn't have occurred to me at all if the command had worked on the lariat and bullet but revealed no prints but my own. When I asked him to fingerprint Veronica's broken glass, the results were productive indeed.

...partial prints were recovered from a dry area. These were compared with prints of Veronica Ashcroft taken by Sergeant Duffy at the beginning of his investigation. It is our conclusion that the prints on the glass are not those of Veronica Ashcroft."


Ah ha! Things are taking shape - before 9:00, Michael killed Veronica with my lariat, taken from the closet, and ransacked the room, taking the accountant's papers. Either he or Alicia pickpocketed a costume bullet to plant as evidence. "Veronica," seen at 9:00, was really Alicia, either wearing Veronica's costume or a nearly identical one. At 9:02, she spills her drink, retreats to the office, plants her mask by Veronica's body, and gets out, ditching the costume for her coat and whichever pieces of the harem costume couldn't be worn under the fairy queen gown. Then she shows up soaking wet at 9:18.

A few things still don't make sense to me, though, but I suspect these are nitpicks unimportant to the mystery's solution:

  • Veronica must have been killed after the party started, but why was she in her office and not hosting the party?
  • Alicia, I assume, must have arrived at the house before the party started, but how could she have avoided being seen by anyone? And her coat must have been on the premises or else she'd be wet from the rain, but where could she have kept it, unseen and retrievable?
  • Alicia can be seen in disguise on her way to the office by 9:09pm. The rain slows at 9:10. What time did she leave the house and get her coat soaking wet?
  • How could Michael have ensured nobody saw Veronica's body too early, especially with Asher sitting right there outside the office?
  • Why did Michael leave the P&S alone while ransacking everything else?
  • Why did Veronica put off the signing of the agreement?


I still needed some more proof, though. At this point, asking the detective to arrest Michael and Alicia works, and the detective says the evidence is almost enough for a conviction, but not quite, as Alicia wasn't present until after the murder.

I've got to digress again. How does he know when the murder happened? The body isn't discovered until after 10:00, well after Alicia showed up. And if he does know precisely when, thanks to the detective's magic portable crime lab or whatever, then shouldn't he know it happened before "Veronica's" last sighting, therefore blowing up Michael's alibi?

Anyway, I was pretty sure that the solution to Alicia's alibi involved her wet coat, even though this seemed unsatisfying. Just because her coat was wet doesn't prove she had been here before it stopped raining - maybe a car splashed her driving through a puddle? Maybe it got soaked getting into her car at home?

Unable to figure out how to work with the limitations of Infocom's parser communicate this to the detective, I looked at a walkthrough for the first and only  time, which confirmed my thoughts. The solution is to first observe the rain slowing, and then tell detective about the weather; a conversational verbiage which hadn't occurred to me given the mechanical nature of commands that typically pass as valid in these games.


The game was pretty much over, but just for completion sake, I used trial and error to determine precisely what evidence is required to convict Michael and Alicia:

  • Show the detective Alicia's coat to cast doubt on her alibi.
  • Tell the detective about the weather, having observed it earlier, to establish Alicia's opportunity.
  • Fingerprint the glass to establish Alicia's means.
  • Get the investment sheet from the fire to establish Michael's motive.


The rest of the clues are required too, just because:

  • Alicia's hair analysis
  • The trust folder from Michael's BMW
  • The manila folder in the office
  • Cochrane's business card, for some reason


If you have all of the evidence from the first list but fail to produce even one of the items the second, the detective will tell you that you don't have enough evidence, but provide no other hints. Get all the evidence, and you can have him arrest both.

Sergeant Duffy seems to read your thoughts, as he appears with Michael and Alicia in handcuffs. "Let's not have any trouble, now," says Sergeant Duffy, in his unique way. They head for the driveway, where a police car waits with engine purring.

Congratulations! Your testimony as star witness for the prosecution secures the conviction of Michael for the first degree murder of his wife, and of Alicia as his accomplice. Not only are they sent to prison with the proverbial key thrown away, but Colonel Marston is convicted in a parallel case of embezzlement and grand theft for his role in the milking of the family Trust.

Best of all, your syndicated twelve-part story of the tangled plot and its aftermath wins the Pulitzer Prize, and the book is number one on the bestseller lists for 42 weeks! (Not to mention the movie and book club sales.)


A further epilogue explains the who and how, but nothing I didn't already know.

GAB rating: Good, but it could have been better, and though I enjoyed the game, the conclusion still left me dissatisfied, and I fear I must dwell on Suspect's shortcomings more than its merits.

I really like the concept of Infocom's mystery games, and have to be impressed with how well realized the concept works in an engine meant for a game about treasure hunting and puzzle solving. Zork, like Adventure before it, was about exploring static and mostly hermetic puzzle rooms in search of treasure. All three Infocom mysteries have natural locations to explore, close integration between gameplay and plot, and multiple characters who walk around the place and react to ingame events, to you, and to each other.

But each game has its problems. The first, Deadline, is easily the best of them in terms of the actual mystery. The sequence of events is well thought out, evidence is tricky but logical, and puzzling out what happened is challenging. The critical path, though, feels arbitrary, obscure, and narrow, requiring very unintuitive actions to secure a conviction even if you've more or less figured the mystery out. The Witness is much more reasonable to solve, and even offers multiple solutions, but goes too far in correcting Deadline's faults and becomes rather trivial to solve (and personally annoys me by designating the less complete solution to be the correct one).

Suspect's difficulty falls between Deadline and Witness, as indicated on the box, but I felt it was still too easy, and the mystery is less mechanically interesting and more poorly thought out than either predecessor. Interrogating the wide array of suspects and hearing what they have to say about each other and the evidence is good fun, but turned out to be unnecessary to the solution. All you have to do is find all of the pieces of incriminati, two of them attained by the now tired convention of hiding behind an object while a suspicious character does something they don't want you to see - and present them to the detective. Consequently, it doesn't do that much with the angle of playing a framed everyman instead of a detective, and given that the detective will do whatever you ask him to, you might as well had just been playing as a detective again.

I wish that Lebling had thought out a precise pre media res timeline and committed to it better, because what's presented here is fuzzy and inconsistent. I'd have done more to ensure that Alicia can't be followed at the start, as it creates a big plot hole if you do. Even though ingame events will delay you for a few minutes, you can still follow her as far as the front hall and go into the office minutes later. It's even possible to get to the office before she does, causing Veronica's body to magically materialize one turn later. Maybe Alicia should have just been removed once she walks out of sight, and then have the southern office door locked from the inside, both delaying you and suggesting an escape route from the north door, and adding some evidence of this escape and costume change, which you'd need to find and puzzle out for yourself.

Suspect's shortcomings, unlike Deadline and Witness, didn't hurt my enjoyment so much as it made me wish for what might have been - I don't think Infocom ever truly returned to this formula even in their later mystery-themed games - and I still recommend it as their best categorical effort.

Also, can I just say, this might just be Infocom's ugliest cover art of all time.


  1. There are two other different "winning" endings available if you show enough evidence *to the killers* to spook them into trying to make a getaway; which of those two endings you get then depends on whether you also show the needed evidence to the detective (which has to be done *after* spooking the killers). If I recall correctly, you need to (ROT13'd) fubj gur gehfg sbyqre naq yvfg bs vairfgbef gb Zvpunry; naq fubj gur jrg birepbng, gur *nanylfvf* bs Irebavpn'f tynff (abg gur tynff vgfrys), naq gur *nanylfvf* bs gur qnex unve (ntnva, abg gur unve vgfrys) gb Nyvpvn.

    I do suggest seeing at least one of those alternate endings. There's a bit in them clearly tailored to delight the Infocom connoisseur.

    1. Got it! One thing - you have to show the sheaf, not the trust folder, to Michael. But showing the evidence to the detective afterwards doesn't seem to make any difference to the ending, unless I'm doing something wrong (Zvpunry trgf genzcyrq gb qrngu, Nyvpvn trgf neerfgrq vs lbh sbyybj gurz evtug njnl naq trgf njnl vs lbh qrynl).

      The only bit of evidence that actually provokes a non-generic response is the hair analysis, but they will retreat to the sitting room when sufficiently spooked, and try to make a getaway when both are there (spook only one and he/she just waits there all morning).

  2. "Curiously, in the epilogue, the detective solves the case and makes the correct arrest despite the double jeopardy clause - is Alicia innocent after all, or is this just a scripting oversight?"

    I don't think "double Jeopardy" applies here. A case and new trial can be opened when new evidence is found that casts the previously established conclusions in a new light. Which would be the case here, I think, though the epilogue doesn't establish that (probably to avoid spoilers). "Double Jeopardy" basically prevents someone from being tried again by, for example, just switching out judge and jury or moving the trial to a new jurisdiction until the trial has a different outcome.

    1. The double jeopardy clause states:
      [No person shall be...] subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb

      As with anything in case law, there's over 200 years of legal interpretation and precedence that I'm mostly unfamiliar with, so take my amateur opinion with a grain of salt, but it seems pretty straightforward to me that prosecutors would get one chance to convict, and if they don't find all the evidence the first time, too bad. I had been under the impression that the intent was to prevent "oops, we discovered (bribed) a new witness to testify against you" retrials post-acquittal, as the crown had done to harass citizens in the past.

    2. I believe the wiggle room here is that double jeopardy only applies to the same crime, but it might be possible to try her as an accessory even having failed to convict her of the murder itself.


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