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January 2011

1936 Edition Dennis Wheatley Crime Dossier


I happened to be in a small dusty used bookstore a few weeks back, the kind that are becoming rarer and rarer.  I was killing time before a business reception and thought I might find a couple of Robert Goddard paperbacks.  As the owner was ringing me up I looked around and noticed they had a few old first editions and miscellaneous old books from the 1920s and '30s amidst paperbacks and long-gone hardback bestsellers.  I asked the owner if he ever ran across any old Dennis Wheatley Crime Dossiers from the 1930s.  

It's hard to explain to people what these are.  They're generally quarto, softbound ribbon-tied detective stories.  Though instead of a traditional linear narrative, it's a dossier of printed evidence, police reports, interview transcripts, photos, telegrams, and other evidence, such as matches, a strand of hair, etc all bound together.  As I explained he was giving me the usual blank look and I figured this conversation would end as it usually does with the owner smiling politely and saying he's never heard of such a thing.  

But instead he leans behind the cash and reaches for a book and says "You mean, like this?"  He's holding a 1936 William Morrow hardback edition of crime file number one "File On Bolitho Blane" the US title of "Murder off Miami."

Holy sh*t!  I thought to myself.  And actually, I said it out loud.  I've got the 1970s reprint editions, but not the orginals.  Heck, I'd never even seen one before.  This is something I'd expect to find in some rare book museum or private collection somewhere.  He'd just bought it a couple of days earlier and hadn't gotten around to shelving it and probably wasn't even sure where to put it.  

The long and the short of it is, I walked out of there with a fantastic find which set me back less than a decent bottle of wine.  While it's not the Guttenberg Bible, it's still pretty rare.  And for those who know their history of Interactive Fiction or have seen the brilliant documentary film Get Lamp, Dennis Wheatley Crime Dossiers were the inspiration for the creative packaging and props that Infocom debuted with Deadline.  

Sometimes you just get lucky.

Below are some photos from the book.  The last photo is the cover of an even more rare ribbon bound, 1st US Edition that I was able to find online recently. So now that I've got two, I'll have to figure out where to donate one of these. Perhaps an upcoming IF competition?

If anyone has an original Wheatley dossier or similar Crimefile books from the 1930s in good condition that they'd like to donate please let me know. 

A Few Inform 7 Tips

I'm still a newcomer to Inform 7, the language I'm using to write a murder mystery story.  For those who haven't tried it out, Inform 7 is a fantastically rich environment for developing Interactive Fiction (IF).  But, much like IF itself, there's often an element of "guess the verb" in trying to figure out how to do something.  So here are a few simple discoveries I've made.  I've not broken any new ground here, these are all documented somewhere.  But sometimes the question is where.

  • You want to have scoring, but omit the automatic score messages 
    When play begins: silently try switching score notification off.  
  • You'd like to have some introductory text before the game banner
    When play begins: say "From Hollywood, it's time now for..." 
  • You'd like some text after the game banner, before the first room
    After printing the banner text when not requesting the story file version : say "...Yours truly, Johnny Dollar."  
  • You want to display exits in the status line
    Include Exit Lister by Eric Eve. 
  • You want the status line to display time of day and score
    When play begins: change the right hand status line to "[score] / [time of day]".
    When play begins: now the time of day is 9:41 pm.   
  • You want to give the player some help when they make mistakes
    There's a command called Understand as a mistake which is a great way to give the player some help without having to code a whole lot.  Here are some examples pulled right from the commands Alpha testers tried.
    Understand "consult [something]" as a mistake ("Try CONSULT notebook ABOUT something."). 
    Understand "pour [someone] [text]" as a mistake ("Try POUR liquid INTO glass.").
    Understand "pour a drink" as a mistake ("Try POUR liquid INTO glass.").
    Understand "leave lobby" as a mistake ("You can go EAST or WEST or you can wait for Sgt Duffy.").
    Understand "read notebook about [text]" as a mistake ("Try CONSULT notebook ABOUT something.").
    Understand "talk to [Monica Robner]" as a mistake ("'Johnny, what do you want to ask me or tell me about?'").   
  • At rules shouldn't be used in a condition 
    At rules will always fire, even if they are placed inside a condition.  So if necessary, place the condition inside the At rule.  e.g. 

    [ Message will be displayed at 10:30 regardless. ]
     if the player is not in the Lobby:
        At 10:30 pm: say "Maybe you should go to the Lobby."

    [ This works properly.]
    At 10:30 pm: 
        if the player is not in the Lobby:
           say "Maybe you should go to the Lobby." 
  • Ask / Tell dialog rules don't work the way you think they do 
    It's relatively easy to create simple conversations with Ask / Tell rules like:
    > Ask Monica about Cabeza Plana
    > Tell Monica about accident 

    Unfortunately, Ask / Tell rules only work with generic text "topics" and not with strings that happen to be objects in your game, which is probably what you want most of the time.  Additionally, the text has to match exactly.  So asking about "accident" is different from asking about "the accident". 

    Luckily Jim Aikin in his work The Inform7 Handbook covers all of this.  You need to write an Understand rule to make different terms synonymous.  Aikin also shows how to write new rules called Quizzing and Informing that act like Ask and Tell for objects in the game.  

Admittedly, these are not the most complicated code snippets, but when you're stumped you're stumped.  I found these by searching the Intfiction forum, the forum, the Inform 7 manual and Jim Aiken's and Aaron Reed's excellent books on Inform 7.  If you're just getting started in Inform, I hope these tips will save you some time.

Infocom Classic Text Adventure Masterpieces

I was in college during Infocom's glory years and though I was aware of their games, I had neither the time to play them nor the money to buy them.  Years later I was able to pick up some of the "grey box" versions of games like Border Zone, Deadline and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  But even these became quite hard to find in the pre-internet era.  And unfortunately, I tossed these some years later during some misguided spring cleaning.

Lucky for many, in 1991 Activision re-issued many of the Infocom games in the Lost Treasures of Infocom with 20 games in the first collection and another 11 in the second.  In 1996, Activision published the Classic Text Adventure Masterpieces collection with 33 titles on a single CD ROM.  

The only downside of these collections was that instead of getting the great Infocom props or "feelies" you got cheap black & white printed book with Lost Treasures and a PDF version in the Masterpieces collection. Still, for the price, it provided a good introduction to Infocom for a new generation of games. It's well worth picking up if you can find it on Amazon or eBay.