[1/3] Ant Farm Simulator 1984: Suspect

Suspect (1984)
Implemented by Dave Lebling

Packaging, Documentation, and Extras

Suspect, gray box (MoCAGH)
[for best results, open MoCAGH images in a new tab]
Suspect Invisiclues map (InfoDoc)
Suspect online Invisiclues (courtesy of Parchment and InfoDoc)
The Obsessively Complete Infocom Catalog: Suspect
Nathan Simpson’s List of Infocom Bugs: Suspect
My transcript (rather dull, a speedrun really)

Specifications

(Courtesy of the Infocom Fact Sheet and this forum post). For comparison’s sake, Zork I‘s specifications follow in parentheses (this idea comes from the excellent Eaten by a Grue podcast).

Rooms: 57 (110)
Vocabulary: 674 (697)
Takeable Objects: 43 (60)
Size: 118.6KB (76KB)
Total Word Count (outputted text): 20,431 (14,214)

Opening Crawl

SUSPECT: An Interactive Mystery
Copyright (c) 1984 Infocom, Inc. All rights reserved.
SUSPECT is a trademark of Infocom, Inc.
Release number 14 / Serial number 841005

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.

Ballroom, Near Bar
This is the south end of the ballroom, at the bar.
Elsewhere in this large ballroom, there are scores of other party guests dressed in all sorts of outlandish costumes, such as a short, cuddly-looking robot. On the dance floor are some of the older dancers. The band is playing "Breathless."

On the periphery of the room small groups can be seen, discussing everything from politics to local scandals.

The bartender is busy behind the bar, his only concession to the party a small domino mask.

Samuel Ostmann, enjoying himself hugely as a vampire, is here.

A sheik, whom you can recognize as Michael Wellman, and a fairy queen, presumably Veronica Ashcroft under her ornate mask, are discussing something with a small group of guests near the fireplace. The sheik notices you and waves for you to join them.

Never Go Back

Suspect is the last work in Infocom’s “Quantum Detective” series of games, and it is a bit of a disappointment. It is even a letdown as a follow-up to Stu Galley’s The Witness, itself a disappointing follow-up to Deadline. There is very little secondary and background writing on Suspect, and when authors are not talking about the shortcomings of the game, they tend to speculate about Infocom’s failure to deliver on the promises that the once-revelatory Deadline made.

Those criticisms are valid. There is something spent and exhausted about the incessant updates regarding character movement:

>go to office
(On your way to the Office.)
Front Hall
Alicia, off to the east, disappears from sight to the north.
Smythe approaches you.

>
(On your way to the Office.)
Front Hall West
The front hall runs south of the living room here, and a large doorway opens north into that room. East and south is the way back into the entry hall. Another hall intersects to the west.
To the west the Werewolf comes into view from the south.
Smythe is to the east, heading away from you.

>
(On your way to the Office.)
Hallway Intersection
Here a north-south hallway and a hallway to the east meet.
The Werewolf heads off to the east.
Smythe is to the east, heading away from you.

>
(On your way to the Office.)
Hall at Corner
The hallway makes an elbow bend here. In the distance to the north and west are doors leading outside. North of here another hall leads east.
Linda approaches you.

>
(On your way to the Office.)
Hall at Office
Off the hallway here are the office to the north and the morning room to the south.
Linda, off to the east, disappears from sight to the north.

Who, more than one player must have asked, the hell are these people? There is something impenetrable about learning to play Suspect. Its many characters are strange, rich people, sometimes masked, that make a show of going someplace, though they are often going nowhere. When you follow them, you go nowhere, too.

Comic character and billionaire Richy Rich and friends plummet through the sky riding a mine card. Richy is wearing his customary red v-neck sweater with a large, yellow R on the front.
Money Trouble

It Must Be the Money

Both Deadline and Suspect reflect Reagan-era fascination with wealth and privilege. Deadline is critical, or at least ambivalent, regarding such matters. Victim Marshall Robner was perceived as something of a human ATM by his survivors, who additionally demonstrated complete and heartless indifference regarding his mental illness. This is embedded in a story concerned with gender norms and classism. Deadline is a culturally rich game with a lot to say about its time and place, even if some of its messages are accidental. Suspect has a lot to say, too, but it may not be anything contemporary players want to hear.

Players might not have enjoyed hearing it back then, either. Suspect is primarily concerned with a bad element (read: poor, and perhaps not white) encroaching upon the sacred spaces of rich, white people who worry about losing places to fox hunt, of all things. The victim, it turns out, wishes to sell her land to developers so that she can put more space between herself and the unwashed masses. Beyond a basic objection to murder on moral grounds, few can identify with such a “problem” or its “solutions.” She’s no Marshall Robner, that new and self-invented man, preyed upon by parasites mostly born into privilege. Instead, she is a professional rich person who can’t even be bothered to count all the money she never earned.

I think that few people have written about Suspect without mentioning the massive CES party celebrating its release. It was a murder mystery gala with a simulated crime to solve and various tchotchkes for all 5,000 guests that was held in a rented Las Vegas mansion. This colossal overdose of irony happened in January 1985, the same month that a little program called Cornerstone hit store shelves. Never again would Infocom throw such a party.

Looking Forward

There are simultaneously so many and so few things to say about Suspect that it’s hard to know where to begin or stop. Next week, Gold Machine will take its customary look at paratext and narrative. Because of the way in which Suspect‘s mechanistic design overshadows its story, this assessment will have a greater focus on how the game functions. In a third and final piece, Suspect‘s wholly uncritical treatment of entitled classism and wealth, along with the massive party that celebrated it, will be examined as a temporal neighbor to that famous boondoggle, Cornerstone.

I hope you stick around! Get in touch via the contact form or Twitter.

[Note: ParserComp judging starts at the end of this week, and I’d like to cover some of those games. I will probably go lighter so that I can continue with scheduled Infocom content, but be on the lookout for some coverage of new text games!]

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