While I strive to generate an interest in games long forgotten, this week’s entry schools all my other entries in obscurity. While apparently listed as abandonware and therefore legally available for download, I don’t actually expect anyone to dig it out of the mothballs of the internet. Still, like a serial killer claiming trophies from his victim, I may as well write about it to proudly display my conquest. Even if it did require a walkthrough.
My family got its first computer, a snazzy, sleek state-of-the-art 386, probably around 1992 or 1993–right before everyone else started discovering Windows. Already cultivating a healthy addiction to Nintendo, I found this new, clunky electrical contraption absolutely adorable, even if I spent most of the time playing solitaire, Tetris, and drawing pseudo-impressionistic geometric figures using the paint program. Still, every so often a new game would appear, presumably brought home by my dad who got a lot of cheap, secondhand software from the computer teacher he worked with. Of these games which I played endlessly–prefacing that as a 10-year-old, I probably remember 10-minute chunks of time as endless–only one of them didn’t try to teach me how to read words I could spell for five years, math skills mastered in first grade, or extremely outdated geopolitical trivia on the vague pretext that one day I could capture Carmen Sandiego. Curiously enough, this one game–the one that didn’t try to teach me anything–required more brainpower than any of the rest. One that, even today, I couldn’t quite figure out.
See, The Scoop, a precursor to point-and-click adventure games released for Apple in 1986 and DOS in 1989, takes its plot from a novella written (in part) by Agatha Christie. It tells the story of either a male or female reporter at a down-on-its-luck newspaper that spies an opportunity to increase readership by capitalizing on a recent murder. Which, very shortly after the game begins, becomes two murders. The reporter travels to various locations in England, talking to people, spying on people, searching for physical evidence, and showing said evidence to said people in order to evoke interesting and insightful responses. The player has five in-game days to pilfer as much junk from the scenery as possible and locate the people who may find it interesting. If the player can show the proper items to the proper people, they’ll all converge on a single spot on Saturday afternoon to reveal the murderer’s identity. Oh, and presumably in order to accomplish this you have to solve the mystery.
However, before you figured out who went around England last weekend increasing the corpse population, you have to solve the mystery of how the game wants you to think. You can’t travel to all locations immediately; some of them open up naturally as you progress, others when an NPC talks about it, and for some you just have to wait until divine inspiration hits you and locations come to you in your dreams. Literally. Some locations open up only after you dream about them; adding to your time constraints, the game makes sure you get a nice, healthy…uh, seven hours of sleep each day. Should you fail at going to sleep (no earlier than your 12:00 am bedtime) a fit of narcolepsy will overcome you, and your current activity will screech to a halt. Nap attacks notwithstanding, you have to figure out which characters do what when and where in order to follow them for observation, interrogation, or just clearing out of their house so you can pilfer whatever seemingly random shit the game tells you to take. Since certain clues and items only become available after showing other items to specific characters, which the player must first locate, this could take several play-throughs.
And with the logic the game expects, you might play through the game hundreds of times. How else would you figure out that you need to show the picture of the murder victim’s former housekeeper’s former employer to said housekeeper in order to get her to point out the identity of the murder victim’s husband? Therein lies the problem with murder mysteries; the solutions rely on clues that the sadistic bastard of an author expects us to pick up and understand. And they write fictional characters. Characters who all seem like they have a motive for offing any other character within a 5-meter radius. Characters who appear like people and act like people, but could very easily have the predictability of a highly caffeinated squirrel. Not an issue in a book, really. You get to the end, find out some clue the author withheld or a new character she never wrote about, or you’d just see how the author wanted you to fit the clues together; murderer revealed, reader becomes angry or just feels a little stupid, then zip on down to the used book store to trade it in for another carbon-copy formula mystery. Or if you want to get really wild, one of those steamy books with flowing garments and half-naked men on the cover.
But in a game, the murder mystery format doesn’t work. Some times the clues simply don’t flow together logically and the player can only solve the mystery by trial-and-error. So while most games should have replay value, The Scoop forces you to replay it. Or, if you’ve solved the mystery, you don’t really have any reason to play it again. So with a bigger brain than my 10-year-old self and a finer understanding of mysteries (thanks to an amazing Neil Simon film, “Murder by Death.” Go watch it. Now. I’ll wait…) I zeroed in on the details I missed before, followed the people with the most likely motive, figured out that two of the characters conspired to murder over a bag of jewels…and then followed the walkthrough until a character with almost nothing to do with the story leaped off a building to avoid going to jail.
I give up. I can’t even think of anything worthwhile to say about the game. Play it if you want to learn urban English geography. Play it if you want to see artwork that makes riding on the train look like… like I don’t know what but people shouldn’t make that face when traveling! Otherwise, just take the reverse strategy of your high school English class–save time and effort and read the book instead.