Murder on the Zinderneuf Review
Developed by Electronic Arts
Review By David & Diana Stone
Computer Gaming World Volume 4 Number 1 (February 1984)

They Call It Murder, Baby!

Basic Information
Name: Murder on the Zinderneuf
Type: Who done it
System: Atari
Format: Disk
# Players: One
Authors: Robert Leyland, Paul Reiche III, Jon Freeman
Price: $40
Publisher: Electronic Arts, San Mateo, CA

At 5000 feet and 12 hours out of New York one of the sixteen passengers of the Zinderneuf Luxury Zeppelin is missing. On board a dirigible that can only mean one thing. Murder!

Your objective in Murder on the Zinderneuf (MURDER), one of the premiere games from Electronic Arts, is to expose the murderer through the character of a "famous" detective. Your methods of operation include interrogating suspects, "shadowing" them, and searching for clues. Unlike Spade, Marlowe, Hammer and other famous detectives of the Zinderneuf era, you don't carry a "rod". This is a discovery, intuition, logic game, not a shoot-em up.

Principle restrictions include confining your movements to the passenger deck and accomplishing your mission before the Zinderneuf lands in 12 hours (about 36 minutes of real time).

The same sixteen characters are in each scenario. Their basic personalities do not change from game to game, but their temperaments do. The documentation describes the personalities of the characters, their kinship, the color of their hair, and whether or not they smoke or wear glasses. These basic characteristics do not change from game to game. The murderer and the victim are always two of the sixteen. Each game presents a different plot, a different victim and murderer, and a different challenge for you, the detective.

You might be wondering if you can 'beat' the game by learning the plots. We doubt it. There are a set number of "confessions" (the exact number we haven't determined), however, we have played the game over 20 times and recall seeing the same confession only twice.

To begin MURDER, you select one of the eight detective to play. Their names suggest that each is based on a famous fictional sleuth. There's Harry Hacksaw, Chief Inspector Emile Klutzeau, Miss Agatha Marbles, HuIhbolt Hause, Lieutenant Cincinnato, Charity Flaire, Achille Merlot, and Jethro Knight (also known as "the Angel"). Each has his own personality and his own unique crime solving style. That personality and style affects how you may interrogate suspects and how quickly you find relevant clues.

After you have selected your detective, he appears in the dining room of the Zinderneuf and you are told who is missing (read: murdered). Your case officially begins and the clock begins its twelve hour count down.

The Zinderneuf is colorful - very colorful. Your Atari must have a GTIA chip to play the game. The main screen display, where you do all your sleuthing, is a cut-away, birds-eye view of part of the passenger deck with a four-line text window at the top. Your detective appears as a unique full-figured character that you move about with the joystick. The sixteen passengers. appear as person-shaped figures. Each has its own special shape, color, and style of walking. After a few games, you will recognize each instantly as they scurry about.

As you move your detective, the screen smoothly scrolls vertically revealing more of the passenger deck. The very front of the ship is the dining area, the rear is the lounge, and in between are the individual passenger cabins. As you approach the back of ship, the drone of the engine increases slightly in volume. Nice touch.

You move from cabin to cabin interrogating passengers about other passengers. Where the passengers go may be revealing, especially if passengers with no previously known relationship are seen entering one another's cabin. For example, you would not find it unusual to see Felicity Sucrose enter Margaret Vandergilt's room, Felicity is Margaret's daughter. However, finding young Felicity in dark, handsome Aldo Sandini's room may suggest intrigue, and more.

On a few occasions while playing MURDER, we witnessed passengers disappearing when the detective entered the room, and when he stepped out they re-appeared. This minor program bug did not seem to affect the play of the game but it was annoying.

Actual interrogation is begun by touching your detective character to the character you wish to interrogate. The text window offers you the choices: QUESTION, IGNORE, or ACCUSE THE SUSPECT. Under joystick control you make your selection. Don't be too quick on the button here. A slight movement of the joystick may cause you to accidentally ACCUSE when you only meant to QUESTION.

Then, using the joystick you select HOW you wish to interrogate. Each detective has his own personal approaches to select from. Hard-boiled detective Hacksaw Harry, for example, can be VIOLENT, COOL, FRIENDLY, PUSHY, or STUPID, while the insightful spinster Agatha Marbles can be STERN, SYMPATHETIC, CHATTY, POLITE, HELPLESS.

Selecting the right approach is important. It can make the difference between being told to "get lost" and getting good answers to two or three questions before the suspect decides he has no more to say for now. Getting to know the detectives, and each of the sixteen characters, will enable you to avoid hostile replies.

The game designers encourage you to be creative in imagining how a question might be asked by your detective. For example, if you select POLITE as your approach you may imagine your character saying "Excuse me, but could you tell me what you might know about so-and-so"; or when selecting a "forceful" approach you might imagine your detective growling"Tell me everything you know about so-and-so, and nobody get's hurt!". It's fun, but not required, to read the questions and responses out loud, in character.

You next select which passenger you want to ask about. You will almost always want to begin by asking the suspect what they know about the victim. A text line presents the names of four of the sixteen passengers at a time. Joystick movement allows you to "leaf" through the list to make your selection. This way, the screen doesn't get cluttered up with character's names, and you are spared having to type in their names (and anything else for that matter).

Quizzing passengers reveals their relationships in the current scenario, but they don't directly spell out "who done it". The responses of the passengers are the stuff from which you piece together who is likely involved with the murder, who is a good suspect to question next, and whose room you should search for clues.

Each room contains one clue only, or none at all, with one exception. Somewhere on board, in one of the cabins, is the MOTIVE CLUE. This clue, when found, points a finger hard and straight at one of the suspects. Finding the MOTIVE CLUE is no easy task. The MOTIVE CLUE can be found only if you have met certain criteria: you must have significant information obtained from your interrogations, and you must have already found an ordinary clue in the room where the MOTIVE CLUE can be found.

Essential to every game, and to every mystery for that matter, is the illusion of winnability (or solvability, as the case may be). And, in the cases of defeat the player must perceive that failure was the player's fault (not the game's) but can be corrected by playing better the next time. MURDER lives up to this criterion admirably.

One reason for its playability is that the authors play fairly with the clues. The clues and the responses of the passengers seem logical and ultimately fit together as part of either the main plot or sub-plot. Yes, there are red herrings, these are to be expected (even demanded) in detective fiction.

The game designers incorporated a number of restrictions that facilitate game play and suggest some strategies. One restriction is that after you have either questioned or ignored a suspect, you can't question (or accuse) that suspect again until you have either found a clue or questioned a different suspect.

Another restriction that directly affects play and strategy is that if you accuse an innocent suspect, or if you accuse a suspect with insufficient evidence, that passenger will not speak to you again until the Zeppelin lands. Sufficient evidence means finding the MOTIVE CLUE, or gaining significant evidence from your interrogations.

As soon as you have the MOTIVE CLUE or sufficient evidence, you find the suspect and make your accusation. If you are right, the murderer blurts out his confession. We have guessed the right suspect too early with the result that he would not talk to us anymore. This was somewhat annoying since we were pretty sure that we had gathered enough "significant evidence" to make the accusation. This has made us somewhat shy about making accusations until we have found the motive clue and are positive who the killer is.

If you are on a particularly tough case, the Zinderneuf will land before you can positively identify the murderer. When this occurs you are given the opportunity to make a final accusation before the murderer is revealed by the game.

The computer then rates you as a detective. Factors that affect your rating include: how fast you solved the crime, the amount of evidence you obtained, and the number of false accusations that you made. Ratings range from Feeble Flatfoot to Super Sleuth.

The "human engineering" of MURDER is well above average and should serve as a good example for would-be programmers on how to allow complex input under joystick control. Speaking not as programmers, but as game players whose sofa is six feet from the computer, we're pleased with almost any game that can be totally controlled by the joystick (we resent having to get up even to press START to re-start on some games).

One reason that MURDER is fun to play is that the game designers have done their homework. Each of the sixteen characters is loosely based on historical characters or character-types from the 1930's. For example, Zinderneuf's Sally Rose is similar to real Sally Rand, the fan dancer; Buck Battle, an Olympic star turned movie star, is a cross between Buster Crabbe and Johnny Weismuller.

Many games nowadays have background information and stories about the characters in the games; some quite cleverly written. Zinderneuf, however, is the one of the few games that we have run across that provides character background information that is useful and actually applies to the play of the game.

MURDER is more than just a string of interesting characters carefully interwoven into random plots. Well researched historical context helps MURDER create a fictional world exciting and authentic enough as to become a reality of its own.

Good detective fiction follows certain conventions. As mentioned above, clues must be handled fairly so that a person of above average intelligence, or one with lots of experience, can solve the crime before the solution is revealed. Other plot devices of detective fiction are firmly established and well-known to all lovers of this kind of writing. MURDER incorporates, either directly or indirectly, some of the standard detective fiction, conventions and conveniently ignores others. A few traditional detective plot elements missing from MURDER include the murder weapon, the accomplice, and the corpse. Also, suicide is out of the question. However, none of these "omissions" take away from the play of the game.

In conclusion, MURDER ON THE ZINDERNEUF is in a class by itself. It is like no other game that we've seen on the market: it has animated graphics but it's definitely not an arcade game; you assume a role but its definitely not a role playing game; you piece together clues but it's definitely not an adventure (like Infocom's "Witness" and "Deadline"). It IS a good "who done it" that, if you like mystery fiction, you will enjoy playing again and again.


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