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August 2010

Review: The Witness


The Witness was one of Infocom's early games, following in the footsteps of Zork and the earlier mystery Deadline. Given Deadline's reputation for being quite difficult, some might find Witness too easy. I thought it was a good game with quite a few interesting twists. It's your basic murder mystery with several suspects, some interesting clues and a few red herrings. There are a few things that need to be pieced together and sometimes you have to wait for someone or something to happen. Still, I admit I was tempted by the InvisiClues! In case it's not clear, the inspiration for the title is that you're the witness to a murder that you then need to solve.

Given the relatively primitive state of computers back in 1983 when The Witness was written, it's an impressive game. Maybe by modern standards, it's a little sparse. Back then, Infocom games clocked in at 64k for standard games and 128k for the largest, so there isn't a lot of verbose writing. As a result the number of rooms, people and objects is limited. Still, Stu Galley does a good job of capturing the "hard-boiled" detective feel of '30s pulp-era fiction even if it's more of a novella than a full blown novel. Still, Witness and Stu Galley's later games defined the golden age of Interactive Fiction that inspired many more authors to come.

This game is available as part of the Lost Treasures of Infocom series. If you like mysteries, you should seek this one out. The "feelies" in the original game are quite cool including a telegram, suicide note, "Detective Gazette" a matchbook with a phone number and more. You can also find versions of the InvisiClues for download at


"The Witness" was written by Stu Galley of Infocom in 1983 using ZIL. It is part of the "Lost Treasures of Infocom" and "Classic Masterpieces" collections published by Activision in the 1990s.  

This review was originally published at the IFDB.  Links below provide more information.
If you have a copy of The Witness or other Infocom games you would like to donate, please let me know.