IFComp 2014: Missive   1 comment

“Oh, Netflix,” you say out loud, while pouring bourbon into a hopefully-clean glass. “My one true love.”

The whiskey, your evening, and three episodes of No Reservations disappear.

Missive by Joey Fu is in a way another “dual game” like Raik, but instead of simultaneous surrealism two tales are intertwined. It’s the main character’s birthday and they receive a typewriter as a present which includes a stash of mysterious letters. The PC’s relationship with their ex-girlfriend (and liquor) mixes with a tale as told by reading the letters.

The letters also contain hidden messages, and for each one the player gets to pick from three resolutions to prove they’ve decoded the hidden message properly.

But love is a beautiful place. And I can’t help but imagine exploring its shores with you.

Your sunshine girl,
Lily Clarke

Three envelopes catch your eye, each one marked with a different symbol. One appeals to you in particular—the solution to a puzzle?

> XO
> -13
> &8

There are six of these puzzles, and the player is told at the end how many are solved correctly.

Also, the author of the letters is dead, and as a final task the player is asked to finger the killer.

The experience was lovely the first time through. The writing is solid and I was only keeping a tangential eye on the mystery, assuming on a replay I would be able to clear things up. Multiple replays, alas, led to disillusionment. More detailed analysis after the spoiler jump–


–first and most obviously, since the replay included the relationship story and the mystery story, any replay in an attempt to crack the mystery also involved replaying the relationship, which led to a lot of tedious and repetitive clicking through things I had no desire to reread.

More fatal is how the mystery unraveled. Quoting Dan Shiovitz (from back in 2007):

Mystery games are like romance games and action games in that everyone wants to write them, but nobody knows how to capture the genre properly. With mysteries, for instance, you have a combination of three hard things: the PC needs to talk to a lot of NPCs, the player needs to make an intuitive leap to solve the case, and the player needs to communicate their solution in a way that proves both that they have discovered the right solution and that they aren’t just guessing.

Thing #1 is essentially jettisoned by the mystery being embodied in the letters. Missive makes a run at Things #2 and #3 but fails at both.

“Just guessing” is somewhat addressed by the player not being told if the “puzzles” were actually solved right away, forcing at least a bit of thought into making sure the answers are right. In practice I still did a lot of guess-adjusting. For example, in the excerpt I quoted above the correct solution is “&8” because of (according to the hints) the line “And I can’t help but imagine exploring its shores with you”. I can see why “and” would be ampersand, but exploring shores being represented by an “8” only makes marginal sense after the fact.

The intuitive leap at the end in particular involves an extra option being unlocked in fingering the killer if enough of the “puzzles” are solved. There doesn’t seem to be any extra information from the letters to suspect the true killer (I still have no idea what justification the mystery solution has) but I picked the option because it was new and it meta-suggested to me it had to be the right answer.

Finally, the entire setup which seemed tidy on first glance is illogical to me when in focus: why is the player only allowed to open one letter per set? Each letter only takes a few minutes to read. Why is opening the a set number of “correct” letters a necessity for fingering the killer? How is it the player knows the association between letters and the three choices? Why is there one “correct” letter combined with two “decoy” letters in the first place?

Posted October 21, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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One response to “IFComp 2014: Missive

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  1. I didn’t understand some of the other puzzles, but the &8 I’m pretty sure was because there were eight and’s in the letter. (I didn’t figure that out the first time through either.)

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