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Pinball / WHO dunnit (1995)

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It's time to discover WHO dunnit!

Nick Spade: "And then, I was on the case."

WHO dunnit is a pinball machine designed by Dwight Sullivan and Barry Oursler, with artwork by Linda Doane and Paul Barker. It was released in 1995 by Williams Electronics (under the "Bally" label), and is best remembered for its melding of Pinball with Mystery Fiction, Film Noir, and Interactive Fiction.

The game is set in 1934, and the player is Nick Spade, a Hardboiled Detective who is investigating a series of murders at a hotel and casino. Interrogate various suspects, gather equipment to help your investigation, and search for vital clues. Ride the train around town, search the sewers, then catch a taxi back to Tony's Palace. Use the elevator to explore the different floors of the hotel, then take a break by playing Roulette or the Slot Machine. Discover mysterious notes behind secret passages, watch out for ambushes in the Basement, then get up to the Roof and confront the killer. Play well and you'll get a chance for a Penthouse Party, but only the smartest gumshoes will figure out just how the fates of Tony, Victoria, Butler, Bruno, and Trixie are all intertwined.

WHO dunnit was an attempt to create a pinball game that could simultaneously appeal to casual players and offer a larger challenge and narrative depth for experts. Passersby could simply bat the ball around and enjoy the various gambling minigames, while wizards could play it tactically, such as stretching out a case for more clues (and an extra ball) or quickly solving it for a chance to catch the killer. Players tend to be divided about the game as well; those who enjoy straightforward action are stymied by its measured pace and interruptions to advance the story. Those who take the time to understand the game, however, enjoy it for its intertwined plots, polished atmospheric presentation, and Film Noir charm.

A digital version was formerly available for The Pinball Arcade until the license for the Williams and Bally tables expired on July 1, 2018. Those who purchased it before then can still play it, however.

NOTE: While the game's murders are presented as stand-alone cases, there is an overarching set of Plot Threads that connect the five suspects. Spoilers have been marked where appropriate.

For the television series by the creators of CSI, click here.

WHO dunnit demonstrates the following tropes:

  • All There in the Manual: A complete timeline for the characters' histories is given in the operator manual, though it is also hinted at through the characters' various interrogation answers. The full details are available here. (contains spoilers!)
  • Badass Longcoat: Nick is always seen wearing one.
  • The Bad Guy Wins/Karma Houdini: It is possible for this to happen if the player fails to catch the killer, either by not picking the right suspect or by not completing The Roof chase.
  • Battle Butler: Butler. He's secretly Victoria's father and goes into full Papa Wolf mode when she is threatened.
  • Betting Mini-Game: Played straight with the Roulette Wheel, which allows players to bet a number of points on either Red or Black. Subverted with the Mystery Slots, which always give some kind of reward and offer a chance to turn a two-out-of-three match into a win.
    Nick Spade: "Come on baby, come on!"
  • Black Widow: Victoria, who's left two dead husbands in her wake before she and Tony conspire to kill Tex.
    Tony: "Tex and Victoria's honeymoon was short, just the way she likes it."
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Bruno is actually Victoria's ex-husband, Tex; after surviving the attempt on his life, he gets plastic surgery, then works as a bodyguard at Tony's Palace while awaiting an opportunity for revenge on Tony and Victoria.
  • Bookcase Passage: Nick finds a revolving bookcase that reveals a secret passage.
  • Building of Adventure: Almost all of the events take place at Tony's Palace.
    Nick Spade: "Sooner or later, they all show up at the Palace."
  • The Butler Did It: Since the killer for each case is randomly selected, it is possible for a murder to play this trope straight when Butler is the culprit. Also quite possibly inverted if he's the victim.
  • Cap: The score display rolls over at 10 billion points, which a good game can easily surpass. High scores are usually in the tens of billions.
    • The jackpot maxes out on the first jet bumper hit that takes it to 500 million or higher.
    • The bonus multiplier tops out at 25.
    • Roulette bets top out at 2.5 billion once your score is high enough.
  • Chalk Outline: There's one on the back-glass.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Tony has a tendency of betraying his business partners, such as Walter and Tex.
  • Clueless Mystery/Fair-Play Whodunnit: The game zigzags both tropes at the same time. The clues for each case are always the samenote  and don't have any specific relevance. On the other hand, interrogating a suspect or finding evidence will always provide a clue to the killer's identity,note  so attentive players can solve the case easily.
  • Collection Sidequest: Collecting all five clues in a case will light an extra ball, though they are not needed to solve the case. The four pieces of equipment aren't indispensable either, but they do help in various ways.
  • Combos: Comboing the right ramp gives various awards. 2 times in a row (1 "combo") lights Roulette, 3 times awards the Flashlight, 4 times lights an extra ball, and the 5th allows the player to attempt to be Loop Champion.
  • Consolation Prize: Getting three unmatching symbols on the slots will award 5 million points, which is worth almost nothing in this game.
  • Darkness Equals Death: Averted; when Nick goes into the Basement of Tony's Palace, he gets ambushed by an axe-welding attacker. Nick narrowly dodges the blow and gives chase, starting Basement Multiball.
  • Deadly Bath/"Psycho" Strings: If a case has a female victim, it will sometimes begin with a shower murder scene complete with "Psycho" Strings.
  • Death by Childbirth: Trixie's mother dies while giving birth to her.
  • Destination Defenestration:
    • Some cases begin with the killer throwing the victim's body off the roof of Tony's Palace, causing it to crash through a skylight.
    • Scoring a Jackpot during multiball shows a person being thrown through a plate-glass window.
  • Difficulty Levels: By default the game allows a selection between "Regular" and "Novice" difficulty levels at the beginning. "Novice" allows unlimited balls for 2 minutes and lasts until the first drain after the 2-minute period.
  • Easter Egg: "Midnight Madness", which occurs if a game is started or played at midnight. The machine pretends to malfunction, with the flippers going dead, the balls draining, and the game shuts down. After a few seconds, the game wakes up with MIDNIGHT MADNESS, all four balls are launched, and every shot is worth three million points.
    Nick Spade: "I was afraid of this."
    • Written Sound Effect: During Midnight Madness, every hit causes the display to show "BOOM", "BLAM", "DOH!", etc.
  • Economy Cast: Despite having a hotel full of people and a lifetime of business associates, all of the happenings in Tony's Palace revolve around the same five suspects.
  • Elevator Failure: During "Elevator Madness" multiball, the game shows a plummeting elevator car.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Victoria's butler, who is only ever referred to as "Butler".
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Done twice in the same incident. Tex overhears Victoria conspiring to murder him for his money (though he doesn't know who her co-conspirator is). When he confronts her afterward and threatens her, Butler overhears and plots to kill him in retaliation.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Trixie sees Victoria as a threat to her love for Tony.
  • Happiness in Slavery/Undying Loyalty: Butler has this to Victoria. Justified, as he is secretly her father, Walter, and treasures her as his only surviving link to her late mother.
  • Hardboiled Detective: Nick Spade, complete with fedora and trenchcoat.
  • Instant-Win Condition: If the three-reel Slot Machine has two matching symbols, the player has a limited amount of time to shoot a flashing "Spin" shot. Successfully doing so makes the third reel match and awards the result.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: Highly unusual considering this is a medium that normally doesn't have much more than Excuse Plots. Everything does wrap up well, but the characters, their families, and their relationships to each other are pretty complex and must be connected by playing many, many cases. The complexity of this game's story is evidenced in all of the spoiler tags sprinkled throughout this page.
  • Last Chance Hit Point: The outlanes can trigger the slots. If two symbols match as stated in Instant-Win Condition above, another ball is plunged so the player can attempt the Second Chance. The player gets to continue playing regardless of whether they succeed in that or not. Getting Multiball, Elevator Madness, or the Roof on the slots will also prevent the ball from ending.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Butler has this for Victoria. Not only does he put up with her constant abuse, but he participates in her Black Widow tendencies and attempts to murder Tex after he threatens her. Justified as he is secretly her father, Walter.
    Butler: "Miss Victoria bears an uncanny resemblance to her mother."
  • Luck-Based Mission: Normally the Slots and Roulette are this, but Tournament mode de-randomizes them. Slots will cycle through a pre-determined series of awards. Roulette will alternate between losses and wins, starting with a loss, however it must actually be played to advance in the sequence. The strategy is to only play small bets when it is guaranteed to be a loss.
  • Mad Libs Dialogue: Done with some of Nick's dialog, particularly during interrogations.
    Nick Spade: "Tell me more about [character name]."
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: After surviving his auto accident, Tex gets plastic surgery and adopts a new identity as Bruno. None of the people who knew him previously — his daughter Trixie, his ex-wife Victoria, or his former business partner Tony — catch on.
  • Missing Mom: Happens to both Trixie and Victoria. Trixie's mother died giving birth to her, leaving her to be raised by Tex. Victoria's mother died during her youth, and she grew up in a boarding school as a result.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: Tex/Bruno thinks Victoria tried to kill him by sabotaging the brakes on his car. In reality, it was Butler who did it.
  • Mysterious Note: Nick gets one inviting him to the Basement of Tony's Palace.
    Nick Spade: "'Meet me in the basement'? Hmmm."
  • Mystery Fiction
  • No Ending: Each case begins on the evening when Victoria and Butler return to Tony's Palace, where Trixie and Bruno are working. The randomly-generated murders means anything can happen, and the reasons why are left to the player's interpretation.
  • Not Quite Dead: Tex survived the sabotage of his car. He gets plastic surgery, adopts the new identity of Bruno, and is out for revenge against Victoria.
  • Offing the Offspring/Patricide: The randomly-generated murders make this possible, such as Bruno killing Trixie.
  • Old Retainer: Butler is this to Victoria; he used to work for her mother, and she hires him as her manservant. He's really her father, Walter, and stays with her because of his Happiness in Slavery.
  • Papa Wolf: Butler, who's secretly Victoria's father, Walter. He sabotages Tex's car after overhearing him threaten her.
  • Parental Substitute: After Tex dies in his auto accident, Trixie latches onto Tony as a substitute father and falls in love with him.
  • Pinball Scoring: Played ridiculously straight — even a billion points isn't enough for a Replay. The default replay value is 1.5 billion. Multiball jackpots can run into hundreds of millions, and it's possible to win or lose up to 2.5 billion on a single roulette wheel spin.
  • Police Are Useless: Despite all the high-profile murders at Tony's Palace, the police are nowhere to be seen. Arrest warrants are also nowhere to be seen; failing to tackle the culprit on the roof leaves the case forever unsolved.
  • Posthumous Character: Both Trixie and Victoria's mothers are deceased before the game starts.
  • Power-Up: The equipment has various effects:
    • Revolver: During multiball, increases the value of jackpots by 5M per bumper hit instead of 1M.
    • Magnifying glass: Eliminates a suspect if the Phone hole is shot with nothing lit on it.
    • Flashlight: Finds the map in the Sewer, or the magnifying glass in the Phone, if nothing else is lit at either shot.
    • Map: Gives a random award for shooting the Sewer.
  • Precocious Crush: Trixie develops a crush on Tony at the age of eight when he and Tex become partners to open the hotel.
  • Randomly Generated Levels: Each case has a randomly-selected killer and victim out of the five suspects.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: The game's main tune is Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn". Elevator Madness and Penthouse Party use a sped-up snippet of "Theme from A Summer Place."
  • Rooftop Confrontation: Occurs when the player correctly solves the current case — if he can quickly complete the Taxi Chase, Nick will go to the roof of Tony's Place and confront the killer. Chase and catch the killer before time runs out to end the case and start a four-ball multiball.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Skill Shot: Shoot the lit T-A-X-I target for points, a new clue, bonus multiplier, or to light Roulette, respectively. There is also a Super Skill Shot obtained by plunging into the hole below the "I" target, which awards points, a clue, bonus multiplier, and locks a ball for Multiball.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Nick is often seen with a cigarette in his mouth.
  • Spelling Bonus: T-A-X-I awards a clue, allowing a suspect to be interrogated.
  • Spinning Paper: Used to introduce each case. If you successfully capture the killer, another one is used to announce your success.
  • Spoiled Brat: Victoria, who treats everyone poorly.
    Trixie: "Poor butler was so devoted to Victoria, and she treated him like dirt."
  • Stalker with a Crush: Bruno is this for Trixie; he keeps a locker full of her pictures and news clippings. Justified in that he's actually her father, Tex.
    Butler: "Bruno had a disturbing fixation on young Trixie."
  • Swarm of Rats: Entering the sewer awards points for a "pack of rats" if you don't have the Flashlight or Map.
  • Take Your Time: Until the suspect is found, there is no time limit to solving the case. If you are close to collecting all the clues, it may be better to prolong the case so that you can collect all the clues to light an extra ball.
  • Timed Mission: Penthouse Party, the Roof Chase, and the Second Chance on the Slots.
  • Title Confusion: The stylized logo causes confusion over the exact use of case and punctuation in the title; variations include "WhoDunnit", "WHO?dunnit", "Who Dunnit?", and others. Fan abbreviations include "W?D" and "Wd?".
    • "WHO dunnit" is the official spelling, as used in Williams' advertising and marketing materials.
  • Title Drop: The insert that indicates the suspect can be chosen from shooting the Phone is labeled with the game's name. It also appears on the Spinning Paper that opens each case, and on the display when the player shoots the lit Phone.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: The brakes on Tex's car are sabotaged by Butler, after he overhears Tex threatening Victoria for conspiring to kill him. Tex drives off a cliff and the car explodes.
  • Whammy: Near the beginning of the game, it's possible to play Roulette, bet more more points than you actually have, and lose it all.
  • Worth Living For: Tex survives his Vehicular Sabotage accident only because of his love for his daughter, Trixie.

Nick Spade: "Get the phone!"

Alternative Title(s): WHO Dunnit