Deadline: Clues in Negative Space   3 comments

The two most significant clues I gathered since last time were from things I didn’t find.

Deadline runs into a design paradox when you look at the outside of the Robner house.

The official map of the Robner Estate, from the Invisiclues for the game. I carefully avoided the maps of the inside but I figured the outside was safe.

You want realistic terrain, like above (as drawn by Steve Meretzky, who spent time in the construction industry) and you want to not have many superfluous rooms, like Time Zone did. How would you make the map so as to not be confusing? Well, not like this:

Given I was getting lost trying to make sure I had every outdoors room accounted for, I really did need to figure out how everything was tangled. In multiple cases there are one-way exits, so you can go from (for example) Among the Roses to the West Lawn but not back again.

Another spot with confusing one-way directions. I got lost here figuring out how things were oriented.

Even if the obvious “glitches” are fixed, it’s unclear what you’d do for a circumstance like this:

Yes, if you’re West of the Front Door, it should be possible to move, SW, S, and SE, and yes, the South Lawn is the only logical room to send the player to, but it still is confusing. You could add more South Lawn rooms so the convergence isn’t quite this heavy, but that would go counter to the goal of not having many superfluous rooms.

I remember when I first played Infocom games with a map like this I would simply ignore most of the “extra” exits — just connect the South Lawn to the Front Door and be done with it — but that leads to potentially missing something, and indeed it took me a while to realize that West Side of House was a reachable room (it can only be entered in two different ways).

There’s a fence to the north which is the reason for the restriction.

I mentioned last time the “tool shed” which has a ladder in it. To get to the library window you have to go to the garden area, and it appears that the window is directly over some roses.

In the distance you hear “Hey! WHAT? You, there!” and other choice words muffled by a strong Scottish burr and a stiff breeze. Now, standing at the edge of the garden, can be seen the person of Mr. Angus McNabb, the gardener. He advances, looking crazed and gesticulating wildly. With each carefully chosen step in your direction, a barely visible wince of pain comes to his deeply-lined face. He regards you as you would regard the man whose car just ran over your little puppy dog.
Among the Roses
You are among rows of roses. The ground is soft, and your footsteps leave a rather bad impression as many poor seedlings are trampled underfoot. A safer place to admire the flowers lies to the north. A window to the south allows a view into the house.
There is no way into the house from here.
Mr. McNabb is here. He seems pretty angry about something.

That’s the gardener, Mr. McNabb. As the game kicks off he’s tending to the North Lawn, pulling weeds. He liked Mr. Robner — they’d “talk for hours” about gardening — but didn’t care much for any of the other residents of the estate, and says “I barely know which is which”.

McNabb will happily talk about gardening with you if you ASK MCNABB ABOUT ROSES, but will get upset if you’ve done a visible bout of squishing:

“I dinna give a hoot about you or your questions! Now, begone! Steppin’ all o’er me roses. A crime, it is! I’ll call the police is what!” He seems pretty angry.

If you wait until 9:59, he’ll move to the East Lawn. At around 11:10 he’ll shift to the Garden Path and start cutting flowers. If you keep hanging with him until 11:20:

All of a sudden, Mr. McNabb starts talking to himself quite loudly about his poor roses being ruined. He walks up to you and says “You canna believe the holes someone’s made. Crushed my roses. It’ll take me plenty a time to set it right. I just canna believe it!” He shakes his head dejectedly.

You can then request MCNABB, SHOW ME THE HOLES and he’ll lead you there. Since he’s leading he doesn’t get furious at you for entering the rose area, but rather:

McNabb grabs your arm and leads you to a spot deep within the garden and near the house. You might never have found this place alone. He points at the ground, where you see two holes in the soft earth.

The holes measure two by four inches and are three inches deep, rather like there was a ladder placed there! SEARCH HOLES yields nothing unusual, but SEARCH NEAR HOLES yields paydirt:

You are making quite a mess, but you do run across some tiny pieces of a hard, shiny substance, which drop from your fingers and back onto the ground.

I think I know what the substance is, but I’ll get back to that later. I think this is a good time to pause and talk about Deadline’s special commands, as I’ve already been using some, and there’s a lot of them.

Deadline essentially invented a large number of new “standard commands” wholesale.

ACCUSE (someone) OF (something)
ARREST (someone)

ARREST will end the game (if you have enough evidence) and show the result. I’m curious what possibilities (something) has other for accusing other than murder: theft, perhaps?

ANALYZE (something)
ANALYZE (something) for (something)
EXAMINE (something)
FINGERPRINT (something)
SEARCH (someone) FOR (something)
SEARCH NEAR (something)

Lots of analyzing and searching commands. If you ANALYZE an item, Sergeant Duffy (who otherwise doesn’t appear in the game) will come scoop it up.

>examine saucer
The saucer is hand-painted with a mythological scene. It has a couple of small areas of brown discoloration.

>test saucer for allergone
Sergeant Duffy walks up as quietly as a mouse. He takes the saucer from you. “I’ll return soon with the results,” he says, and leaves as silently as he entered.

Not every item can be tested, and sometimes an item can be too big or not portable (“With all respect, I don’t think I can take THAT to the laboratory!”). I oddly haven’t got a lot of hits from testing, although something important did come up once which I’ll mention shortly.

ASK (someone) ABOUT (someone or something)
SHOW (something) TO (someone)
SHOW ME (something)
WHERE IS (someone or something)

ASK was in Zork (kind of) but even it doesn’t get regularized until here. SHOW ME you got to see with the gardener; the fascinating thing with that command is I didn’t actually remember it was a special command, but just thought SHOW ME THE HOLES was the natural response to McNabb’s complaint, and the game responded appropriately.

WAIT FOR (someone or some amount of time)

Also fairly novel; you had time play a small part in Warp, and a big part in Savage Island Part 1, but otherwise needing this level of control was unheard of in 1982.

In an alternate universe where I didn’t spend the entire span of gameplay goofing about outside:

>knock on door
You hear footsteps inside the house. Mrs. Robner, dressed in black, opens the door and greets you.

“Hello,” she says, “I’m Mrs. Robner. Please come in. I’m afraid I really can’t help you much. This is surely a terrible waste of time, not to mention upsetting, having all these police marching around the house. This has been a trying time, as I suppose you can understand. As I told Mr. Coates and the other detective, you may look around but you must be out by 8 o’clock at the latest. Oh, I almost forgot…Mr. Coates will be reading my husband’s will at noon in the living room. You may attend if you wish.”

Mrs. Robner leads you into the house and closes the door behind you.

One of the interesting aspects is why we have a deadline: here it is given to us by Mrs. Robner. It’s odd we agree to this given Mrs. Robner is one of the suspects.

I do think it fair to say the “case will be closed” so to speak if the day passes without an arrest (given the death already got declared a suicide) but the deadline of 8 pm still felt odd and casual.

The realism-issue with outdoors doesn’t happen in here: everything at right angles. It’s curious how spare and simple everything is, and how the game is quite willing to even toss “useless” rooms on the map just for geographic integrity.

Upstairs Closet
The closet is rather shallow and has some shelves full of assorted linens, towels, and uninteresting toilet articles.

Downstairs, the first place of interest is the Living Room, where the will is read at noon.

Living Room
This is a large and impressive room, whose furnishings bespeak the great personal wealth of the Robners. The south side of the room is a large bay window, now closed, which looks out onto the front yard. A wood pile sits beside a huge fieldstone fireplace. A double doorway leading to the main hall is the only exit. Pictures of Mrs. Robner’s colonial ancestors line one wall. The room contains formal seating for at least fifteen people, in several groups of chairs and couches. Tables and cabinets, all of the finest mahogany and walnut, complete the furnishings. On one of the tables is a telephone.

I already described the will-reading last time — the fortune is split evenly between the wife and son, and George seems rather happy. Despite filling in the details above I’m unclear if anything else is important. It feels like someone might have tried to burn something in the fireplace (…or will try in the future) but nothing came up from searches, and the tables and cabinets have no further description. The telephone is notable; at one point there’s a phone call for Mrs. Robner from an unknown voice on the phone (you can listen in as it happens on a different line). Even if you aren’t listening, Mrs. Robner goes upstairs to the master bedroom to resume the phone call. You can try to HIDE there but it doesn’t work (the verb is recognized, the game just says there’s no good hiding place) and listening at the door is too muffled (although the game lets you try!) The way to hear is to pick up the line while the call is in progress:

>listen to phone
You can hear Mrs. Robner and a man whose voice you don’t recognize.
Robner: “…much too early to consider it.”
Man’s Voice: “But we couldn’t have planned it better. You’re free.”
Robner: “Yes, but it will…Wait a second…I think…”
“Click.” You realize that the call has been disconnected.

While we’re at it poking at incriminating material, there’s also a letter that arrives during the day, that you can snag and read assuming you are fast enough (first time around, I put the letter back in the envelope and returned it to its original spot, and later it was gone).

“Dear Leslie,
I am sorry to learn that Marshall has been despondent again. His obsessive interest in business must be causing you terrible anguish. It doesn’t surprise me that he talks of suicide when he’s in this state, but the thought of the business going to Baxter after he’s gone will keep him alive.
So George has finally gone too far? It’s hard to believe, after all those empty threats, that Marshall actually followed through. It serves that little leech right, if you ask me. This means that, should the unthinkable happen, you will be provided for as you deserve.
I’ll see you Friday as usual.


I’m not sure what to make of this; the phone call indicates a plan of some sort that was being carried out, but it would be to Leslie’s benefit if George was written out of the will (so her preference would for him to be dead after it was made, not before). Was it Steven on the other end or yet another third party?

There’s (unfortunately?) less incriminating material on the business partner, Mr. Baxter (although interestingly enough, you can show the letter above and he’ll tell you “this fellow is quite off base about the business”. There’s a pencil and empty writing pad at the murder scene where you can RUB PAD WITH PENCIL and get something of a message…

…but Mr. Baxter says he doesn’t know what it is getting at, and I’m unclear as well. I’m most interested in the line

plica y Focus s

where “plica” could be… replica? replication? I don’t know what would make sense in the context here.

Speaking of the murder scene, let’s visit up there now:

I’ve marked it in red.

This has the most complex description of the game.

This is the library where Mr. Robner’s body was found. It is decorated in a simple but comfortable style. Mr. Robner obviously spent a great deal of time here. A wide executive desk sits before tall balcony windows which lie at the north of the room. A telephone is sitting on the desk. The east side of the room is composed of three large bookshelf units containing numerous volumes on many topics. The floor is carpeted from wall to wall. The massive oak door which blocked the entrance has been forcibly knocked off its hinges and is lying by the doorway.
A pencil is lying on the floor near the desk.
Beside the desk is a large collapsible tray.
Sitting on the tray is a bowl containing a white powdery substance.
Alongside the desk is a wicker wastepaper basket.
The wastepaper basket contains:
A bunch of crumpled papers
Lying on the floor, overturned, is a beautiful saucer.
Turned onto its side, lying on the floor, is a beautiful teacup.
Lying atop the desk is a pad of white note paper.
A desk calendar is here, open to July 7.
There is a bottle of Ebullion here.

The desk calendar has a July 7 appointment listed with Baxter at 2 pm, and on July 8, after he died, he has listed a 9 AM appointment to “Call Coates: Will completed”.

The wastebasket has a shopping list, stock prices, and start of a letter to the Board of Directors of the Robner Corp which has no details at all.

The carpet has no visible stains but has mud leading from the balcony to the desk (remember the ladder holes, also).

The bowl with a “white powdery substance” is sugar (and as far as Duffy has found, nothing else).

What’s quite interesting is the cup and saucer. They both have brown substances but I haven’t found (from testing, again) anything other than tea. The fingerprints, on the other hand, were very interesting: the saucer and fingerprints from Ms. Dunbar (who delivered the tea, according to her testimony) and the deceased. The tea cup, which should also have fingerprints from both had … absolutely no fingerprints at all.

This was the first negative space clue. It suggested to me that this was a different tea cup than the one Ms. Dunbar delivered upstairs. Maybe the Ebullion overdose was delivered in the tea where the capsules were essentially dissolved in beforehand, and the tea cup was swapped to hide this fact from analysis?

Where this gets to be more of a homerun is the second clue, from the kitchen back downstairs.

This is the Robner kitchen, quite large and with a full complement of appliances and labor-saving devices. On one wall, a beautifully-crafted shelf unit contains rare china, a unique hand-painted family heirloom depicting scenes from Greek mythology. The china consists of many place settings of plates, teacups, and saucers. There are several cabinets which likely contain silverware, glasses, and the like. To the east is a pantry.

Not much here to prod at, still, and searching the china was no use, but I remembered back from my Zork I days that COUNT was a word Infocom knew about.

>count china
There are eight large and small plates, seven saucers, and six cups.

We should expect the same number of saucers and cups, but there’s a cup missing!

I think the substance at the bottom of the ladder may have been slight shards of cup, but I’m not so certain. Even without that, this was my most promising clue. Alas, I haven’t found much else yet of deep value. There’s a newspaper delivery at some point — it just mentions philanthropy work of Mr. Dunbar. I feel certain I’m missing things but most of the rooms in the game are genuinely minimalist, so it’s hard to find things to pick at. There are a couple medicine cabinets with potentially hazardous substances…

Mrs. M. Robner
Take 2 tablets every 4 hours as needed for allergy symptoms. Do not exceed recommended dosage.

Rash Labs / Allergone Tablets

May cause extreme drowsiness. Do not use machinery or drive while taking this medication. Combination of Allergone with alcohol is dangerous. In case of overdose consult a physician promptly. Keep out of the reach of children!

…but I haven’t detected any of them in what I’ve looked at so far. Maybe the missing cup is still on the property somewhere and I can test that? I thought perhaps the saucer residue might have a clue (since that wasn’t replaced like the cup) but none of the tests I ran came up positive.

I still have to rigorously track everyone’s schedules and see if any more items like the letter pop up, so I’m not ready for hints or the like, but I’m still somewhat skeptical I’ll be able to beat this one without at least a few nudges.

Posted April 7, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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3 responses to “Deadline: Clues in Negative Space

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  1. My map for Deadline is a little less bristling with room connections, but then I didn’t test absolutely every single possible one.

  2. “but didn’t care much for any of the other residents of the estate, and says “I barely know which is which”.”

    Probably the best “I don’t know about that topic.” text I’ve seen in any text adventure.

    That is, this game is superbly written.

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