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Video Game / Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents "Detective"

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This page concerns two Interactive Fiction games, one of which includes the entirety of the other but plays off of it in a wholly different manner. It's a bit complicated.

To begin with, Detective was an early text adventure game written and released by one Matt Barringer. The player, the titular detective, is told that the mayor has been murdered and entrusted with the job of finding out who did it. The author was just 12 years old at the time, and it showed – the game quickly became infamous for its poor writing, confusing navigation, unfair and un-telegraphed deaths, and other basic logical inconsistencies. A review in issue 5 of SPAG (a long-running Interactive Fiction e-zine) noted that it was So Bad, It's Good enough that it could easily be used as fodder for the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000

...which gave one of his fellow IF authors an idea.

Christopher E. Forman found himself with some free time after finishing co-writing The Path to Fortune, and (after gaining approval from the review author to flesh out his idea) decided to enter the 1995 IF competition with a conversion of the game featuring added riffs by the Satellite of Love crew, with the story taking place during the show’s allotted point, sometime between when Mike replaced Joel in Season 5 and when Frank left in Season 6. In four days, he created Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents "Detective", which packages the game like an episode of the series (complete with introduction, conclusion, and stinger) and lovingly mocks several of the game's shortcomings.

One year after its release, the author uploaded the Silver Screen Edition, which slightly alters some parts of the game (largely aesthetic changes) and adds several essays regarding its creation, Detective, and Mystery Science Theater. It also includes a postmortem for an abortive sequel (riffing on The Caverns of Chaos) and an interview with Matt himself, who regarded his game as an Old Shame and was not bothered by Foreman mocking it.

You can play the game for yourself online here. The source code can be found here.

This game contains examples of:

  • Act Break: The prologue includes one:
    [It's once again time for the wacky exploits of Mentos, the Freshmaker!]
  • Alcohol Hic: One part of the game has the player encounter a drunken man whose only line is followed by a hiccup.
  • Alien Geometries:
    • Poor programming leads to Detective frequently indulging this by accident. As just one example, early in the game you stand on the street and must go west. Upon doing so, you're suddenly told that the mayor's house is to the east.
    • After another example, Mike comments "I don't think this author quite grasped the concept of a two-way door."
  • Anachronism Stew: The game mentions Franklin D. Roosevelt as though he were still president, yet features things like McDonald's burgers, a prisoner who was caught with three ounces of crack, and a reference to Jurassic Park.
  • Anti-Climax: The bots feel this way about the game's ending.
    You enter room 30...after a harrowing gun battle you conk [the murderer] on the head and take him in.
    Tom: What the...?
    Crow: That's IT?!?
    Tom: We sat through the whole game for THIS?!?!
    You enter room 30...after a harrowing gun battle you conk him on the head and take him in.
    Mike: Yep, this is the kind of ending that you want to read twice.
  • Ass Pull: invoked
    • The riffers react this way when, after spending the entire game failing to find any clues towards the identity of the mayor's murderer, one room near the end features this description:
      You are outside. It's bitter cold and you pull your jacket around yourself. To the north is a nice, warm Holiday Inn hotel, where the killer is rumored to be staying.
      All: WHAT?!?
      Crow: Where did we hear THAT?!
      Or you could go to his favorite hang out, the Wall, to the west, or to the east is the place where he is supposed to be working, the Doughnut King.
      Mike: Wow! And we figured all that out just by entering this room!
      Tom: That was first-class detective work!
    • Similarly, when the player character inexplicably manages to get pictures and secret Xerox copies of the drivers' licenses of every person at a Holiday Inn's fifteenth floor, the riffers respond with another collective Big "WHAT?!", followed by:
      Mike: Uh...folks, we're completely lost here too.
      Crow: At this point the game has finally thrown up its hands and said, "I just don't know."
  • Beige Prose: Lampshaded.
    You are outside. You can go north, south, east, or west.
    Mike: You know, it's the vivid descriptions that make this game come alive.
  • Better than a Bare Bulb: A good chunk of the game's humor comes from the characters pointing out the game's many strange aspects, including going through a door and being prevented from returning ("Sorry, folks, it looks like the door just vanished into thin air") and a dead end that inexplicably kills you ("Oh, I get it! It's a 'dead' end! See?").
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: invoked Lampshaded when a drunken man randomly tells the player character "Boycott FDR".
    Mike: What was THAT all about?
  • Bland-Name Product: One of the game's locations is a "Brickbuster Video" store.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Examining your gun states that it only has 10 bullets loaded, but the description doesn't change after using it.
    Mike: Oh, it must be auto reloading.
  • By "No", I Mean "Yes": From the "About the Silver Screen Edition" page:
    "This release is identical to the previous release, with a couple of exceptions that make it not identical to the previous release."
  • Call-Back:
    • One riff near the end of the game ("At this point the game has finally thrown up its hands and said, 'I just don't know.'") is nearly identical to a line from the episode riffing Red Zone Cuba ("See, the movie has finally thrown up its hands and said 'I just don't know!'").
    • Similarly, the final riff of the game is taken directly from the riff of "Junior Rodeo Daredevils":
      Mike: And the crowd goes wild!
      All: [subdued] Yaaaaay.
  • Classic Cheat Code: "XYZZY" gets a nod during the ending segment, as Dr. Forrester learns that it's a "special magic word" that forces TV's Frank to push the button and end the "episode".
  • Clueless Mystery: The player very rarely finds any real evidence hinting towards the murderer's identity (aside from a note early on where the villains inform them of their next target) up until near the end, when the narration abruptly mentions several different clues out of nowhere.
    Mike: Okay, guys, at this point we need to start piecing together the information we've gathered. So let's make a list of what we've learned.
    Tom: Well, we've learned that the mayor has been murdered.
    Mike: Right. Anything else?
    Crow:, I think Tom pretty much covered everything.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Cowboy Cop: The player character suddenly acts like one near the game's climax, putting some "suspicious guys" at gunpoint to learn the floor the murderer is staying before shoving them away.
    Tom: Geez, now you ARE acting like Mitchell!
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    • The game makes a habit of this, particularly redundant descriptors (most infamously "wooden wood").
      It is a note. With writing on it.
      Tom: Any questions?
      Mike: Yeah. Could it technically be considered a note if it didn't have writing on it?
    • It gets exaggerated by the MST crew during one particularly noticeable instance:
      You are in the hallway of the large house of the mayor. It is an amazingly large house.
      Crow: The house is so large it is amazing.
      Tom: You are amazed by how large the mayor's large house is.
      Mike: The amazing largeness of the mayor's large house amazes you.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: Invoked if the player (a law enforcement officer) visits Doughnut King.
    Mike: COPS is filmed live on location at Doughnut King!
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Played for Laughs in one riff, commenting on how going to the mayor's favorite restaurant leads to two men killing you instantly while going to a McDonald's prompts no such violence:
    Mike: Those thugs probably find fast food franchises to be too low class.
  • Fake Difficulty: The game has a number of rooms that will invariably kill you with no warning whatsoever.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The history included in the Silver Screen Edition discusses a review of the game that went off-track on a tangent about MSTing and IF satire in general, then goes on to say this:
    "People do that sometimes. They start talking about one thing and just go off on some irrelevant tangential topic. My grandmother (on my mother's side) does that sometimes. We'll be having dinner, and she'll just say something completely off-the-wall. Like this one time, when the rest of us were talking about some friend of theirs who was in the hospital, she blurted out some nonsense about how wiggly the Jell-O brand gelatin dessert was. Old people are weird. Just thought I'd point that out."
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Taking a wrong turn at one point will lead to you to "the so called 'Murderers Lounge'. Unfortunatly, there ARE murderers here, and when you check around, they get angry." Cue instant game over.
    Crow: But it's nice to know that this city has establishments that cater exclusively to criminals.
  • Lame Pun Reaction:
    • When the player visits a music store:
      Tom: So, was that man behind the counter the STAFF of the music store? Staff? Get it?
      Mike & Crow: [groan]
    • After the game ends:
      Crow: So, do you think this game was hard-boiled, like Dr. Forrester said?
      Tom: No, I personally thought it was over-easy!
      Mike: D'OH!!
      Crow: Lemme at him, Mike! Lemme at him!
      [Crow tries to attack Tom, but Mike stops him]
  • Mathematician's Answer: A stock one is used among the SOL crew when the player eats a hamburger:
    Tom: So how many hamburgers can you eat on an empty stomach?
    Mike: Only one. After that your stomach isn't empty!
    Tom: D'OH!!
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Quitting the game prompts it to respond "KEEP CIRCULATING THE GAME!", referencing the original series (at the time) ending several episodes' credits with "Keep Circulating the Tapes".
    • One joke references the lengthy transitions to and from the theater segments:
      You are in the hallway. You see many doors...1...2..3...4...5...6...7
      Mike: [looking behind him] Huh? Are the theater doors closing?
  • Non-Indicative Name: The player character is a police officer, not a detective. He doesn't do much actual detective work, either. The ending lampshades this:
    Tom: So did either of you guys see anything here remotely connected to detectives?
    Mike: Nope, can't say I did.
  • No Sidepaths, No Exploration, No Freedom: The game railroads you fiercely, with many rooms allowing for exactly one correct path to take – with the others either being dead ends or instant death.
  • Orphaned Reference: Depending on how thorough you play the game (it can be completed in as little as 27 turns), later riffs and the ending segment make references to moments of the game that are completely skippable. For example, leaving the McDonald's or visiting the drug house both result in the bots making a reference to the restaurant you could visit at the beginning of the game before entering the mayor's house.
  • Padding: invoked Many of the rooms in the mayor's house serve no real purpose, and it begins to wear on the riffers (Crow in particular) as it goes on. In fact, the only rooms that have anything necessary to continue are at the very start!
    You are in a closet. There is no reason to be in here.
    Tom: There is no reason to have this room in the game, but we put it here anyway.
  • Political Overcorrectness: Serves as the basis for one riff:
    It is a small black pistol.
    Crow: Hey, hey, hey! That's "African-American pistol!"
  • Rage Breaking Point: Crow hits it after the game's over, going on a long, almost entirely capitalized rant about the game's flaws.
  • Review Ironic Echo: Frequently occurs in the riffs, such as when the player enters one of the mayor's many closets:
    get out.
    Tom: Of this game.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: Typos are common in Detective. The very first line of dialogue sets the tone:
    The mayor was murdered yeaterday night
    Mike: Yeaterday? Is that like Veterans' Day?
  • Running Gag: After an unnecessarily lengthy and dull segment traversing the mayor's house, the riffers (particularly Crow) start to dread any and all of the game's hallways.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Mike nicknames the Mads "Duncanthrax and Dimwit Flathead" in the introduction. Forester later sarcastically calls Mike "Michael Berlyn" (a famous Infocom implementer and creator of Bubsy).
    • Tom reacts to a mention of the FBI with "Tonight, on 'The X-Files!'"
    • Returning to the Chief's office leads to Mike questioning if he's Commissioner Gordon.
    • Reading the note in the mayor's house leads to this:
      "We have acclaimed Justice! The Justice of the future! Our next hit is the governer! You CAN'T STOP US!"
    • Going into the mayor's closet prompts this riff:
      You start to get claustrophobia.
      Crow: Klaustrophobia? Let's play that instead!
    • Mike reacts to the player entering two adjacent closets from one direct and then being told to exit it from the sane direction by remarking "Beam us up, Scotty."
    • Going into Brickbuster eventually leads to this exchange:
      Crow: Wonder if they have Caligula?
      Mike: Crow!
      Tom: Or maybe Mandingo.
      Mike: Tom!
    • Dying instantly to a man who shoots you on sight causes Crow to comment "Once again, the social effects of listening to Ice-T's 'Cop Killer' song."
    • Once you shoot the man in the music store, this exchange follows:
      Crow: Oh, so he was the thief from Zork!
      Mike: Or maybe the troll.
    • Entering a "Mob House" or a "Drug House" prompts Crow to follow up with "Of pancakes.".
    • Revisiting the police station leads to two of these: Crow reacts to the repeated description with an imitation of Rocket J. Squirrel ("Again?!"), and all three respond to one prisoner's Funetik Aksent with "DA Bears!"
    • One riff at the Doughnut King ends with Mike dipping into a Coffee Guy impersonation.
      "Coffee? I like coffee!"
    • When the woman at the Holiday Inn's registration desk gives the player character the "master ring", Crow replies "One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them!"
    • Visiting "the Wall" prompts the riffers to immediately sing "We don't need no ed-u-ca-tion!"
    • During the ending segment, during a list of the game's many flaws, Crow mentions "closets that TELEPORT YOU AROUND LIKE THE STARCROSS DISKS]]".
    • The legal disclaimer at the beginning of the Silver Screen Edition spirals off into a brief tangent that's partially cribbed from a Calvin and Hobbes strip:
      "A number of brand names and/or trademarks are used in MST3K1, but most of them are not identified as such. So I'm offering a plea to those big heartless corporations to just once NOT be big heartless corporations, and don't go suing me trying to wring out money I haven't got. Really, I'd think you'd welcome and appreciate free advertising of your products. I mean, some of you sell people those T-shirts bearing your product name and logo — and people actually PAY for the privilege of becoming a walking billboard bearing your product! Is that stupid or WHAT?! The only difference is, I'm doing it for free."
    • After the game proper ends, one of the final lines (after TV's Frank pushes the button to turn off the signal) include another shout-out to Zork:
      Frank: It is now pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
  • Take That!:
    • Examining what the game calls a "food hamburger" prompts this exchange:
      Crow: Is that anything like "wooden wood?"
      Tom: No, "wooden wood" is redundant, whereas calling a McDonald's hamburger "food" is an oxymoron.
      Crow: Ah.
    • Later in the game, Tom references another infamously poor IF game by noting that Detective "makes Space Aliens Laughed at my Cardigan look like Trinity."
    • At the end, Mike and Tom agree that Detective was still better than Leather Goddesses of Phobos 2.
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay: The only way to know which screens will kill you (and many will, without warning) is to keep restarting (or reloading a save).
  • Updated Re-release: The Silver Screen Edition primarily adds several new essays about the game's creation, MST3K, and Detective.
  • Viewers Are Morons: Detective assumes that the player doesn't know what vigilantes are and tells them to look it up. The MST wastes no time in pointing out the irony:
    Crow: Right, this from Matt "Restraunt" Barringer.
  • You Can't Get Ye Flask: Parodied throughout the game.
    • The introduction touches on it when Mike attempts to play Gypsy's game Richard Basehart Adventure. He's unable to EXAMINE or TALK TO RICHARD BASEHART, and Gypsy has to tell him that the solution is to KISS RICHARD BASEHART (which is the only puzzle in the entire game).
    • The Invention Exchange directly spoofs it with the Mads' "Fictionary", which circumvents the problem by sending the game's vocabulary directly into your brain. Naturally, the demonstration goes awry:
      Dr. Forrester: Frank?
      Frank: Sorry, but I don't know the word "Frank."
      Dr. Forrester: [A little alarmed] Frank, what's happening?
      Frank: Sorry, but I don't know the word "happening."
      Dr. Forrester: What the...? [Opens the computer case and looks inside.] Frank, you numbskull, you wired it all wrong! [Explanatory, to Mike and bots.] It's sending the parser itself into his brain. Right now, Frank thinks he's a ZIP interpreter.
      Frank: I don't understand. Please try rephrasing that.
      Dr. Forrester: [A little embarrassed] As you can see, we still haven't gotten all the bugs worked out...
      Frank: I can't go that way.
    • The game itself has an example almost exactly like the Trope Namer: one room outright tells the player they see a knife, yet refuses to allow them to interact with it.
      >examine knife