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Make It Good

by Jon Ingold

Mystery
2009

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Number of Reviews: 10
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
The Next Time, Please Make ME Good, January 21, 2013
by ifailedit (arkansas)
Mr. Ingold's deservedly well-received "Make It Good" is a meticulously-crafted noir tale, with rich detail and difficult puzzles. Comparisons to "Deadline," the grand old dame of IF mystery, aren't the least bit exagerated, whether one is thinking of technical innovation, sleuthing technique, or even (initially, at least) structure. The player's assumptions, despite the similarities, are soon proven false--perhaps even naive. This story is ruthlessly faithful to the noir tradition.

Like "Deadline," multiple playthroughs will be necessary--beyond the challenges of the piece itself, different things will happen at different times in the story, and anticipating these events is, of course, impossible. Also like "Deadline," "Make it Good" is essential reading for mystery fans specifically, and IF enthusiasts generally.

With that said, the piece poses some interesting questions about what, exactly, one would like to experience in IF, and the answer will most probably be a personal thing. I know that I found myself taking a look at what IF does for me, and what I like about it.

I spoil indiscriminately throughout the rest of this essay. You absolutely should go have this experience for yourself before reading on.

By all means, find out what the fuss is about, post-haste.

(Spoiler - click to show)
Distance between player and PC is one authorial tactic that can, done well, greatly enrich the player's experience. Plotkin's "Spider and Web" is a shining example. "Make it Good" is as well, and, in fact, closing that distance is the REAL mystery the player will wrestle with--especially during the first playthroughs. The initial discovery of the PC's involvement changes the focus entirely. Being unhappily familiar with the conduct of problem drinkers, my first thought was that the PC was in fact the murder, but did not realize his guilt because of an alcohol-fueled blackout.

When I finally realized that the PC needed to frame one of the suspects for the murder, I had two responses. First of all, I was impressed at the author's faithful adherence to film noir conventions. I enjoy such grim tales. I particularly enjoy, for instance, the crime fiction of Jim Thompson, and the plot and tone of this piece would comfortably sit on a shelf next to Thompson's novels.

With that said, I remain uncertain that I would want to vicariously BE the central character of a Thompson novel, and while IF, with it's inherent opportunities for reader participation, can do things that traditional fiction cannot, I am not sure that I enjoyed framing for murder the most sympathetic (for me, at least) character in the story. I didn't particularly LIKE being motivated by a desire to keep my job and get away with blackmail, either. In this sense, the protagonist's freedom to, post-game, spiral into alcoholic oblivion seemed a Pyrrhic victory, to say the least.

Experiments with unsympathetic PC's are intriguing by nature, and can be done very well. Mr. Ingold's approach here, while ingeniously conceived and executed, very much left me wishing I could have done something else, instead. Of course, then, the conventions of noir would have been compromised, and "Make it Good" would seem a cop-out instead of #16 of the "Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time." The reader in me loved reading "Make It Good." The player in me hated playing it. It may seem starry-eyed and naive, but, at the end of the day, I'd rather just kick Krill's ass, or hit him with a good GUNCHO spell.

I realize that lots of folks like playing evil characters in RPG's and elsewhere. There is broad variation on player preference, I am sure. Your mileage may vary.

It is worth considering what we would like to spend our time pretending to be. Kurt Vonnegut suggested caution, lest we discover "we are what we pretend to be."

I did love reading the story, though, and can't help but be dazzled technically by "Make it Good." Hell, it's just a game, right?

Right?


Comments on this review

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forgepoet, February 26, 2014 - Reply
(Spoiler - click to show)I usually enjoy detective novels, but I think maybe noir isn't for me. I was left with mixed feelings as well.

It was disappointing that the only person I could frame had already been victimized twice (and worse, sending her to jail would make any sacrifices she'd made for her father useless ones). Why couldn't I "frame" Angela? I showed Joe the photo, had him analyze it, and I was still told there was no motive when I tried to arrest her. I even stuffed the worst of it in her suitcase and tried to get Joe to investigate. Still "no motive".

And then to find out the PC wasn't even the murderer was even more disappointing. He didn't even have to go through all those hoops; he could have arrested Angela on the spot and made up some story about being invited over by Jack, who then told him he was being blackmailed and he thought it was his wife.

I tried everything I could think of to frame someone else (or get the girl to turn on her boyfriend) but had no luck at all. I don't mind playing a bad or unkind PC, but I don't want to play a petty one. Wish someone would write an IF as technically proficient, complicated, logical, well-written, and strongly narrative as this one that isn't horribly depressing.
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