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Smokescreen Day#7 Part Two: Just the Facts

Back to the main characters for Mission 11, where we try to clear our friend’s name by putting together evidence about who might be framing him. The narrative makes an interesting twist that does a good job of teaching a key internet lesson (people online lie about their identities), but I have to say that the mechanic here does not really work. It’s another new game idea, but both the mechanic and the implementation have issues. Spoilers within.

So we start this one back in our familiar chat with Jo, Cal, and Melissa. They talk about Max’s arrest, and the website I’m on is a “Free Max” page.  Jo was last person Max texted, and she mentioned something about “blowing them up” in a reference to the conference, not the airport, so she feels guilty. I ask Cal why he’s here (again, I don’t have choice about what I say here) and he tells me that Jo’s in charge of Whitesmoke in Max’s absence and that she reinstated him.  They also mention that Billy is missing as well, or at least has not called Jo back.

Turns out the “Free Max” campaign is not going so well because too many people think that Max is guilty. The group decides that they need to clear Max’s name, but to do that, we need a sense of who might have framed him. This is the game part. There are between two and four columns on the screen, each labeled with an answer to a pressing question (what was the motivation for the framing? who had a reason to frame him?) and several slots below the header. At the bottom of the screen, there are a set of facts from the case. The game is to place all of the facts in the right columns and then hit a “weigh the evidence” button to cause meters to fill up; when one of these meters crosses a threshold, that column is the answer and the round is won.

Unfortunately, this game doesn’t work. There are some basic, obvious problems. The facts are underneath the mission info tab at the bottom, so you have to close it to play the game. The “weigh the arguments” button is actually hidden behind the IM client, so you have to think to move it to finish the round.  Each column holds five facts, but the last fact gets cut off at the bottom of the column. But the core issue here is much stronger. It isn’t always clear in what category a fact should go. What motive does sending police to Max’s house fit into? What is the difference between the motive “Jealousy” and “It’s Personal”? You basically get through a few answers and then you randomly place the rest and cross your fingers. Guessing and only seeing how right you were through a vague meter is not fun.  Also, the characters in the chat are treating my results like facts, which is dissonant to me considering how much I’m guessing.

In three rounds of this game, we “prove” first that Max was framed, second that the issue was “personal,” and that it was likely commited by Jaime’s (the kid who died in the car crash) girlfriend, Emma. We go to Emma’s Fakebook page, but Jo is awkward about talking to her, so I “volunteer” to call her. The call is a short branching thing where I get to choose between a couple of options when I have a chance to speak, but the two choices are always so similar that I don’t think it makes a difference. Emma is not happy to talk about Jamie, but she protests that there’s no way Max could have contacted Jamie on Whitesmoke for a ride, because Jamie wasn’t on Whitesmoke — he couldn’t get an invite.

She hangs up and I pass the conversation on to Jo. Jo says she knows Jamie had a Whitesmoke page. We go there, and I volunteer to look it over to see if there’s anything weird about it.  I have about five dialogue responses, but the thing that looks weird to me is that Jamie only has two friends: Max, who friends everyone when they join; and Billy. I chose that selection, and everyone finds that weird. The group then concludes for no reason I can see that Billy might be a made up person. I actually had the thought that Billy might actually be an alias for Jamie, but the story doesn’t go there.

Jo decides to check Jamie’s inbox for more proof and she gives us access. There are lots of messages from Billy to Jamie, and they are very flirty. I guess the other IM NPCs are reading this email before I am, because they jump to a gay relationship conclusion in the chat before I even open an email.  But Billy mentions some thing about being a girlfriend, so it seems more likely Billy is a totally fake identity. Jo points out how weird the wheelchair thing was (a little insensitively, to my mind) and how really strange it was that Billy kept avoiding her.  And if Billy is a lover of Jamie, she is one deeply psycho one.

That conclusion ends the mission. I get all of the achievements, but none of them seem to be anything but progress-based.  Two more missions until we’re done. See you tomorrow.

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