Monday 7 March 2016

Maupiti Island - The Game Mechanics

By Ilmari

I really can't remember why Trickster originally moved
the game to 1991, but this picture says it's a 1990 game. Whatever

After the title graphics have disappeared, I am welcomed to the game by a question whether I want to load a saved game. This is actually the only time, when I am allowed to load a game. This is not just lazy coding, the manual says, but a conscious design choice - no one has the ability to tinker with time in real life, or if they do, the producers are willing to make a movie out of their life. I am still not sure, whether to congratulate the idea or curse it - I still have bad memories of a certain French game with no save games at all.

Then again, this decision does make sense in a game where time is of the essence. The game begins 31st of January, 10 AM, and ends 1st of February, 11 PM, with authorities arriving from continent and taking over the investigation. Every half an hour, the surroundings change - people move around and plot progresses. Every action moves the clock forward a bit, as does waiting around, doing nothing. There’s also a chance to wait for half an hour, and in your cabin you can sleep for an hour.

Failed again

Sleeping also restores your stamina, as does eating, which you can do at a proper meal time in the dining room. Yes, Jerome Lange needs to keep his energy up, although he can fast two days in a row, if he just sleeps a lot. Moving around the island and doing exhausting actions has a toll on a detective’s well-being. If his energy goes too low, then Lange dies unceremoniously.

The clock tells the time and date, and the word above it indicates
my health. Great is pretty good. The window below the picture shows now
a general description of the location.  At other times, it's place for important messages

Lange moves around in first-person perspective pictures - just click on movement action on the menu and choose from a number of places on the island, where the Lange can go from his current position. In some locations it is also possible to choose your destination on-screen, which usually appears to mean entering a building or a room.

Choosing on screen is sometimes a bit tedious - it took me quite some time to find out there's three places I can access here. Note that I am not alone on the screen, but Bruce is here with me.

Although there’s no animation to speak of, the locations are far from static. Obvious change is the lighting, which varies according to the time of day.

Same place during day...

...and night

There are also changes not represented graphically. At each location, it is possible to observe the place. Usually this command does nothing, but on occasion, depending on the time and the place, a message appears. Sometimes it is just flavour, but sometimes there’s more to it - you might get a piece of dialogue or observe something otherwise invisible.

Observations appear on the bottom of the screen. Now I am seeing the signs of insomnia

Moving around the island is not without its dangers, and Lange might stumble into something he isn’t supposed to witness. At such a moment, he is knocked unconscious, or even worse, outright killed. Of course, since these events happen at specific time and place, it is vital to make note where and when they happen, in order to truly understand what is going on.

This time I survived...

...this time I didn't

All the locations are full of items, which are usually not clearly on sight. Finding these hidden objects appears to be an important part of the game. Fortunately, it is not just pixel-hunting, since with Look-command I can ask Lange to use his magnifying glass to a certain part of the screen and to show an enlarged view of that part.

Looking at sailor's cap

You can then pick those items up, but Lange won’t be able to hold many objects at a time. Luckily, he can drop his stuff to different locations and make a knot to his handkerchief, so that he can remember where his stash was.

The items you can take appear in the lower right corner. As you can see,
there are other actions you can do with items, beyond taking them

Jerome's answer when trying to read the bible. I guess Mr. Lange is not a very devout man

Then again, clearly his interests lie elsewhere

In addition to looking, taking, dropping and observing, the game menu has a number of different actions for interacting with the objects: there’s turning, raising, putting etc. One of Trickster’s complaints about Mortville Manor was that there were simply too many actions, which also were not well differentiated. I am pretty sure the number of possible actions has diminished in Maupiti Island, but it is still somewhat tedious to go through all possible actions, just to see whether turning will produce a different reaction from raising.

It really doesn't help that the game insists on making
bad puns when you achieve nothing with your actions

Although collecting physical evidence is important for a detective, investigation of suspects is also essential. The right hand column of the screen tells whether there are any other people at that location. The positions of the suspects remain constant for half an hour, but after that, they might move their positions. There’s a possibility to follow them, although to be honest, I cannot really see why, since it is a lot easier to stay in one room and just wait and see who come and go during the two days. When you are following, on the other hand, there’s always a chance the suspect notices you and stops to demand what you are doing.

Following is the only time you'll get to see Jerome Lange's face
(he's the one at the bottom). It's also the only time you get to see the map of the island.

Although each suspect moves around the island, they all do have their own rooms, either in a ship or in a building. If you try to enter their rooms, when they are present, the suspects won’t let you rummage through their stuff, but force you to engage with a dialogue - except when they want to sleep and just throw you out. You do have the option to search their rooms, when they are not present - and even better, you can hide in their room and then wait them to enter and observe what they are doing.

The things people do when they think you cannot see them...
(The mask on the lower right corner tells I am hidden)

No detective game would feel true to its genre, if it did not allow questioning everyone, and this appears to be the central element of Maupiti Island also. You can ask everyone, where they were at some particular hour and what they happened to witness at that time. You can show items to people. You can ask suspects what they think of the other suspects and you can also ask their opinion on various other topics. The game begins with few set topics, but dialogues and investigation of physical evidence might open up new lines of questioning.

Here's Chris, the newcomer who knows nothing
(Yes, they all sound like robots)

Maupiti Island also has a curious possibility. Lange can memorize what a suspect has told you about something, and if you later find out that another person appears to say something against this previous piece of dialogue, you can contradict the second person with what Lange has memorized. Sometimes the second person then admits that she had lied, sometimes not.

Further possibilities in a dialogue are bribing and hitting the person you speak to, neither of which I have yet found particularly helpful. Too much violence towards the denizens of the island will also lead to Lange being kicked out of Maupiti.

Sorry, I didn't mean to hit you, I was just too clumsy

Having now familiarized myself with the controls, it’s time to begin serious investigation. I shall, firstly, speak with all the suspects, get their full opinions and their stated whereabouts during each hour. I might get few chances to contradict people, also, if their stories don’t match. Secondly, I will spend the whole time of the game in each location, making observations, noting the comings and goings of every character and especially marking down all times and places where I get mugged or killed. This will allow me to build a complete schedule of what is going on in the island. Finally, I shall go through each room and try to find all the items I can. Hopefully all of this will get me to the bottom of the mystery.

Session Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes


  1. Seems like one of those games which will require repeated playthroughs and copious note-taking.

    The time and location specific stuff isn't necessarily a bad thing, Colonel's Bequest having made a good case for it, but I do wonder if the lack of easy reloading will make this more of a chore than it should be.

    1. Luckily the game has a limited size, since there's only something like twenty rooms to observe over two days of game time. Even as it is, the amount of Excel-work to be done was a bit staggering.

      In the end, it didn't really matter that the game had no easy reloads available, since there wasn't that much of game play progress that could be lost and therefore no need to save it. There's very little puzzles in the game, and by the time I got to solving them, one save game was enough.

  2. So just to check - you can use the knowledge of where the game doesn't want to have you (the pier in the screenshot) and then hide there so that you can ambush the goings on at a later point? Like the Colonel's Bequest and its secret rooms? Full kudos if so.

    1. Not exactly. Hiding will help, if the owner of the room just doesn't let you in. If you get mugged or killed in a certain spot at certain time, it will happen even if you are hidden. Basically, you can observe people having sex, but you cannot see them committing a murder.

      Also, you will have to yourself show where you want to hide (under a bed, behind a curtain etc.) and every room doesn't have a good hiding place (especially outdoor areas don't really have them).

  3. The pixel art is gorgeous. @_@ Some annoying dithering due to a small palette, but great and bold use of colour nonetheless.

    1. I'll take your word for it. It does get a bit boring to watch the same pictures over and over again, especially as there's no proper animation to watch.

  4. From memory the files for the game were dated November 1991, and every DOS review I could find of it were published in either late 1991 or 1992. My conclusion was that the Amiga and Atari ST versions were released in about March 1990, while the DOS version was released in around December 1991. I don't know if there was anything different about the DOS version.

    1. I had an inkling it was something like that, but I wasn't sure. Perhaps they just left the 1990 copyright, because the Atari ST and Amiga versions were published that year.

      I checked briefly a longplay of an Amiga version. It seems the graphics were a lot different (lot of the characters seem very different) and there's even animation. Most of the text seems to be same as in the DOS-version. If anyone wants to make comparisons, here's the video:

    2. Yeah. Working out specific game release dates from 25 year old games is an exercise in pure frustration, as I discovered when I tried to do it for King's Quest V.

      All versions of trying to work it out seem to have problems - reviews may not be in the magazines as soon as the game's released, game files from a CD could be from a subsequent release with minor undocumented bugfixes, a game could be copyrighted a significant time before it's released, games were released many months apart in different countries, websites that seem to have inside information contradict other equally-well-researched websites... Aaah. The memories. The memories...

    3. I've had similar experiences, when trying to put the 1992 and 1993 adventure games into an order. I've been satisfied, if I have reasonably determined the quarter of the year when a game was published - and even that information is very conjectural with majority of the games. I wonder when we'll hit the stage when games in general will have some clear publication dates?