Cancelled Project - "spiritual successor to Deadline, Witness etc" - May be of interest to someone

Hi all,

Hope everyone is well.

As 2021 continues to be the gift that keeps on giving for me (I won’t go into details on this one, long story!) i’m continuing to try and keep my project stuff to a minimum. With that in mind I wanted to make this available to the community, it may be of no interest but you never know.

Background: Around a year ago I was in a Facebook messenger chat with Marc Blank, it was pretty much just two Dads chatting about kids, COVID and camping. Out of the blue however Marc suggested that it might be interesting to look at a Kickstarter for 1-2 of the original Imps to create a new IF game using ZIL and in the Z-Machine format. I was my typical low-key self… :slight_smile: … By which I mean I was very enthusiastic! To cut a long story short there were email conversations with Marc and Dave Lebling over a couple of months. The rough idea was a sort of spiritual successor to Deadline, Witness etc but that was grittier and covered multiple overlapping plots and murders to be solved.

Various aspects of the project were captured at least in loose note form including marketing & promo, who would do what etc I also drafted a game plot which was your standard Poirot type stuff.

For various reasons it didn’t come off. I think to be fair Dave is still super busy and Marc’s interest cooled, then with the start of the year that I had (with my son, COVID and hospital) it proved to be the right decision to stand it down. I felt bad enough having to step away from ParserComp so in a sense this would have been another commitment I wouldn’t be able to manage. I asked Marc if he was ok with me doing “something” with it at a later date and he was but in all honesty i’m out of steam and just want to make it available in case anyone else is motivated to take a look.

I’ve uploaded what I have to a Google Drive directory. I’ve included a couple of chat screenshots just so people can be reassured that it’s legit, also my plot notes and the marketing notes.

Hope you find it interesting.



Hi Adam,
That is an excellent foundation. I wish I had the coding expertise to help keep it going. Maybe it will take form again.

I have it in mind to add Zil as a supplemental addition to the Winter 2022 TADS Jam that starts (hopefully) in January. I have been experimenting with Zil off and on for several years. Your Youtube videos are a help.

I don’t see any reason that Parser Comp cannot continue next year. It has a good foundation and was very successful this year. I am happy to keep that ball rolling. I will do whatever I can. Hopefully you will be able to continue in as much capacity and your are able. Parser Comp is still yours.



I always liked those games. Not specifically for being mysteries, but more because they were people oriented rather than with objects.

Was there any fundamental reason to be tied to Z-machine? I wouldn’t mind having a go at building perhaps the first bit, but it wouldn’t be in ZIL. I’d need someone to help with the writing. I also think there should be pictures and audio.

Oh, and if you did want the Kickstarter route, you’ll need a demo anyhow.

Hey. If you want to then go for it! This is me basically filing it under “abandonware” or “abandon-project” so people can ignore it or be interested in it. :slightly_smiling_face:



I’ve created a public repo here, reformatted your overview doc into md/pdf for easy reading & editing. Also added some comments/notes.

Next I’ll have a think about a basic location map and scene/flow breakdown.

Then I’ll get a bit of it working in a web browser.

If anyone else is interested in collaborating, please let me know.


From a commercial point of view, I have a gut feeling that the Enchanter series would be a better starting point. I personally love dem murder mysteries, but they require paper+pencil, a properly functioning memory and an eye for details, which might act as a deterrent for the already small target audience outside our bubble.


For books at least…

At $1.44 billion, Romance and Erotica are #1 in sales. That figure includes self-published romance as well. With 30 million dedicated readers, it’s hard to miss if you write in this genre. As anyone in advertising knows, sex sells.

According to Bookstr, Crime and Mystery novels come in second at $728.2 million. People have a fascination with murder, whether it’s a “cozy” murder in the Cotswolds or “torture porn.” The fact that most murders are relatively mundane crimes committed against family members, neighbors, and friends does not lessen the appeal of hunting for “who dunnit.”

whether this is true in games is another thing. Nevertheless i agree with @Grueslayer that you don’t want a game that’s a brain-ache and certainly not a pencil-and paper whodunit puzzle.

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When I looked over the Google Drive material, I recalled the third installment of the Chinatown movies that was never made (due to the abject failure of The Two Jakes): J. J. Gittes, now semi-retired in 1960s Los Angeles, is about to hang up his hat because California’s no-fault divorce laws has gutted his line of work.

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A wonderfully vast number of detective videogames have been written since Deadline. Many of them incorporate some kind of auto-journal or clue-tracking system.

(Quite a few then incorporate this clue-tracker into some kind of solving interface, where you have to connect up clues correctly.)

You have a lot of possible models, which is good, but also a lot of territory to survey if you really intend to write a detectiving game. Some games force the player to connect up information and make deductions – they can be merciless about consequences if you guess wrong. Other games are more about the clue-hunting; once you find the correct clues, the game leads you to the correct solution.

Deadline was very much on the “force you to figure it out, and if you accuse the wrong person, you lose” side. This is even more brutal when you have several interlinked crimes! Do you want to track consequences across several scenes? If a witness gets angry at you, maybe they never want to speak with you again – good luck getting any clues out of them about the next murder! (I’ve seen games that are gleeful about this.)

The story outline here is single-threaded. Can there be different outcomes from each chapter? Does that affect the next chapter? If you screw up, can a character die early? What then? Lots and lots to decide.


I should mention some examples.

The Frogwares Sherlock Holmes games (particularly recent ones like “The Devil’s Daughter”) have a mind-map interface where you must combine pairs of clues to draw deductions. Then you combine the deductions with more clues. Eventually you can reach a conclusion which allows you to complete the case. There is a right answer but the game allows you to select a wrong one if you combine clues that don’t work together.

Return of the Obra Dinn goes deep into physical evidence. You must examine scenes and figure out who is who. However, the game is entirely about identifying bodies. There’s no question of motive, testimony, or lies.

A Case of Distrust has you collecting statements from people and then confronting them with other statements. Or combinations of statements. If you catch someone in a contradiction, that’s progress.

Paradise Killer is entirely about running around collecting clue objects. Once you have all the clues, the case pretty much solves itself. Fun ride though.

Disco Elysium is set up as a cop procedural. It plays out as an RPG where your skills are detective skills rather than combat skills. (Observing clues, interrogating people, making intuitive leaps, drinking heavily, bullshitting, smashing down doors, getting beat up…) (You know, the things detectives do in detective stories.)

The Flower Collectors has you sitting on a balcony watching a city square with binoculars. Watch everybody, spot what they do.

Lucifer Within Us and Unheard both feature a timeline that you can scrub back and forth, tracking suspects as they take actions in various locations.


Thanks for these, all most interesting. Here’s my feeling of how the detective mechanic should work:

You collect facts/clues and “you” or your sidekick makes deductions. Clues are conceptually combined automatically as you find them. Your side-kick (detective assistant in this game), will essentially be the online-help.

Challenges will be based on collecting information, mostly eluded from conversation with people. For example, you will learn of a fact that, at the time, appears of no relevance, then later find an object that makes that fact important.

A Case of Distrust has you collecting statements from people and then confronting them with other statements. Or combinations of statements. If you catch someone in a contradiction, that’s progress.

Yes, this sort of thing will be used. You can use facts discovered to confront or accuse people, which will lead to additional information divulged.

You won’t collect objects per se but facts. There will be very few objects you can pick up and manipulate. The case solves itself when you have enough facts, but to get sufficient facts you will need to use what you know already on people. eg show X to Y or tell X about Y. Although this won’t necessarily be done via parser input.

There won’t be any combat. I know some of the Sherlock Holmes movies had him doing “kung foo”. Maybe the sequel :slight_smile:

The Flower Collectors has you sitting on a balcony watching a city square with binoculars. Watch everybody, spot what they do.

Interesting idea, perhaps worth using for one clue. For example, you have to “hide” and observe or listen to learn something. A bit like Sherlock Holmes disguises.

Lucifer Within Us and Unheard both feature a timeline that you can scrub back and forth

Yes! There will be a scrubbable timeline. This is an general engine feature for all games. However, this won’t be used directly for the game mechanic. Its main purpose will be to “undo” to previous checkpoints.

Despite the plot being almost linear, there will nevertheless be short branch dead-ends, where the game stops, either because you die (murdered by the murderer?) or the game allows you to something that means you cannot continue.

These dead-ends can be a great source of levity, which even serious games need a small amount.

You will be able to scrub the timeline back to wherever you like.

Some points about parser input vs choices:

I see this as a parser-choice hybrid. You should be able to complete the game just from choices, although they will be highly context sensitive. You will also be able to do parser input.

Character interaction will be predominantly choice-based conversation, although you could also type > ask X about Y. etc. This will mostly provide more background information.

Any wild tangents will be parser based, eg > punch the sergeant.

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Also, nowadays there are a lot of misteries around. But fantasy games with a “proper” magic system like Enchanter, I can’t think on any of them.

So i made a start on this game concept. Right now, no story or even objects or people. I made a preliminary map of the main game area, which is Elliot’s grandiose mansion, and also whipped this up into a skeleton walkabout with, as yet, no content.

Skeleton walkabout

Map images:

I’m going to park this lot in my “ideas” folder. Anyone that wants to collaborate, write some or get involved, let me know, as currently I’m working on anther game that, coincidentally, does have magic :slight_smile:


Wow, keep up the great work! Hopefully a few of the community will support you. You’ve already got further than me. :slightly_smiling_face::+1:


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These maps are beautiful. I’m new here and I don’t want to look like some jerk, but I want to give a small note of feedback. I’m not too sure I buy the 2nd floor with the bathroom set-up. I think it might be more realistic to connect the bathrooms to the various bedrooms. Otherwise, the guests have to exit their room and walk down a bit of hall to get to the bathroom. This is unless I am reading this map incorrectly. Then just ignore me. Otherwise, I hope I’m making sense. Still, these maps and this project are very promising and I want to help but I have to finish up something for Ectocomp first.
Thanks for listening! I tried to send this as a private message but I guess I can’t yet because I’m very new.

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@Arlan, you are quite correct!

I don’t really like the bathroom layout ether. I might change these into other rooms and make the bedrooms all have en-suites.

The reason it is currently like this is because the plot overview calls for “secret passageways” that can connect the bedrooms. The secret passageways are the areas in grey (on both levels). These are actually meant to be servant routes.

Turns out that it is not actually possible to have these passageways connecting the bedrooms without ether crossing the main corridors or (somehow) being on the outsides, which would of course block the windows.

So if i made connections from the bedrooms to the existing bathroom layout, it would block the secret passageways. So instead the only option is either, how it is now (which is bogus as you’ve noticed) or change the current bathrooms into other rooms and invent new “en-suites”.

Out of interest if you’ve ever visited a house with servant passageways, it will have all the “normal” rooms connected together in a line, then the servant route down the edge away from the windows. The Royal Pavilion in Brighton UK is like this, for example.

Anyhow, you are more than welcome to get involved in this project. All resources are currently on gitlab. I am currently working on another project as well, so perhaps when we’re both ready!