This week, I was pressed for time due to several days spent with visiting family. So I'm going to play and write about 9:05, a very short but clever piece of interactive fiction published in 2000 by Adam Cadre. The game was written in Inform and compiled to the older .z5 format -- it can be played with any of the Frotz interpreters, I'm playing using Windows Frotz here.
I always encourage interested readers to play these games before getting into my playthrough notes, and 9:05 is freely available for download at the Interactive Fiction Database. This one doesn't take long at all to play, and there's one huge spoiler involved which I really hate to give away. But I'm trying to capture my own experiences of these games for history's sake, and as a result, my comments are certain to contain...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
We wake up after too much time asleep, with the phone ringing, in our messy, spare bedroom. Answering the phone earns us a chewing out by a coworker -- our name is Hadley, apparently, and someone named Bowman is about to fire us, as we've missed an important presentation that started about five minutes ago.
There are a few items of interest on the end table. Opening our wallet reveals our identity as a Brian Hadley, working for Loungent Technologies. We can also acquire a key chain with house and car keys.
EXAMINE ME establishes that we're covered in mud and dried sweat after an exhausting night." So we probably ought to head south into the bathroom for a shower -- but we should REMOVE CLOTHING, REMOVE WATCH and drop everything before we TAKE SHOWER. Then we can return to the bedroom, open the dresser and put on clean clothing. We can't BRUSH TEETH or SHAVE in the bathroom, as the verbs aren't recognized, yielding a precise but reality-breaking message: "[!; Verb error. (This generally means that the first word of your command was not recognized.)]".
Heading east into the living room, we see the front door to the south and a kitchenette to the east. Outside the front door is our driveway, in a rather seedy neighborhood, and our parked car. We can't UNLOCK DOOR -- The locking mechanism seems to be broken -- but we can UNLOCK CAR, ENTER CAR and wind up Driving.
The on-road navigation is implemented as a choose-your-own-adventure system -- I opt not to get on the first freeway onramp, a good decision as it seems to be blocked by maintenance work. Our second option leads to the Loungent Technologies parking lot.
We have to GET CARD (out of our wallet) before we can INSERT ID CARD IN SLOT to enter the secured building. We find our cubicle just inside the entrance, as well as a hallway leading north to reception; a door to the west is marked "MATTHEW BOWMAN," whom we might want to avoid.
Let's GO CUBICLE and see what's up -- a note, apparently from Bowman, requires us to sign an F209 form and return it immediately. We take the pen, sign the form, open Bowman's office door, walk in smiling to hand him the form...
And now it gets interesting, as Bowman asks, "Who the hell are you?" and we are immediately wrestled to the ground by security. It seems we are not, in fact, Brian Hadley, and there's more to this story than we have discovered so far! This is not so much a case of an unreliable narrator as an adventurer's standard assumptions proving to be way off base as the story develops, and a clever play on the customary amnesia that afflicts most adventure game characters. After we're arrested, a newscast epilogue tells the real story -- we are apparently a vicious burglar who killed Brian Hadley, then -- chuckle chuckle -- tried to assume his identity, enter his workplace and do his job. "An insanity defense is deemed likely." Very funny, Mr. Cadre!
Starting over, we explore the kitchen a bit, though the room description advises us to limit our time here. This time, with knowledge gained from my first attempt, I think to LOOK UNDER THE BED, discovering the corpse of the guy who owns his house. If only I'd thought to do that! But of course, we had no reason to look under our "own" bed when we thought were late for work. EXAMINE CORPSE confirms that we're not normally violent -- you generally don't even carry a weapon on these jobs -- but we broke the actual Brian Hadley's neck after he attacked us on our burglary job.
So our real objective is to clean up and get out of this place. Action doesn't vary much with this new insight, but intent does -- and now we have a reason to drive past the Loungent building, continuing until we merge onto the second freeway ramp available. And with that, we're away from the scene of the crime, vanishing without a trace into a victorious ending!
9:05 is a very, very brief game, and there aren't any typical puzzles to solve. But it's an interesting little interactive fiction experiment that toys with the player's perceptions -- following the normal adventure game rules and taking the story at face value produces a completely different tale than a second go-round, without a lot of variation in the actual gameplay. Good, clever, quick fun from Mr. Cadre, and I think I'll be exploring some of his other works in the future.