“20. It's a Capstone game, so I'll be shocked if it even works.”
Well, the game worked, after a fashion, in that it loaded and I could choose my character—in this case, Victor Sifuentes as portrayed by Jimmy Smits—and get started at my first day at the prestigious firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak!
|As chosen by YOU, The Adventure Game readers!|
|Imagine this . . . forever!|
After futzing around with different versions of DOSBox, I hit upon the solution of just turning the sound off in the game’s option menu. Without the boops and beeps of the phone, I’m stuck with the one bit of looping music. I probably should have turned that off too, but the deadening silence would have been a bit too close to an actual attorney’s job.
Anyway, I actually got the game running, messed around with Attorney Sifuentes’ first case, and I think I’ve got a handle on how the flow of the game. As this is the first gameplay post, I’ll go over the interface, game environment, and locations before delving deeper into the case at hand and how I handled it.
After the intro, all told via digitized stills from the show, we’re plopped in Victor’s office. On his desk is a folder and a phone. You’ll also notice a time in the screen’s upper-left. I learned that this was the countdown to trial.
Every action you take makes the timer tick down a bit; too much if you ask me. Each phone call shaves off a bit more time than is really plausible, but that’s a minor gripe (so far).
- Leland McKenzie
- Douglas Brackman
- Stuart Markowitz
- Grace Van Owen
- Arnold Becker
- Tom Mullaney
|Yep. We’re simulating working in a law firm, folks. Doesn’t this kind of life look fun?!|
There’s also the firm’s law library where you can do legal research.
Good Lord, games are supposed to be fun. They’re not supposed to give you flashbacks to law school.
I’m sorry, what’s that? You didn’t go to law school? Well la-dee-dah, aren’t you the smart one?!
Actually, you are. Life Lesson Number One, boys and girls: don’t go to law school.
Making this even more horrifying is that this is in the pre-Internet days, where instead of having Westlaw or Lexis online, you’d have to go through all the case and statute books by hand. Kill me now.
|You and me both, Larry.|
From what I gather, the game has you (a) get assigned a case; (b) gather the facts; (c) prepare for trial; and (d) try the case. Yes, it’s a law simulator. Each day reminds me of my prior job as a civil litigator. For that, I can only say: Thanks, The Adventure Gamer administrators, for assigning this game to me. I actually volunteered to play it, but I’m having misgivings and I need to take them out on someone.
But I digress.
Victor’s first case has him defending Timothy Murdock against, accused of running Edward Bennett off the road after engaging in a drag race, against a manslaughter charge. Seems the two men were at a bar arguing about something, got into their cars, and sped off. The Defendant claims that Mr. Bennett swerved into his car and then drove off the road and over the cliff. But the D.A. ain’t buying it.
The last page of Victor’s notes tell me that Tom Mullaney recommended Joe Spanozi as a P.I. to check things out. “Manslaughter,” for those of you who aren’t familiar with the American legal system, is broadly defined as killing another person without any “malice aforethought”—this is the key phrase. Some States in the U.S. call it “2nd degree murder” as opposed to “1st degree murder,” which is killing with malice aforethought. In a state that calls the unintentional or negligent killing of another “manslaughter,” “1st degree murder” is just called “murder.”
Manslaughter is also where “crimes of passion” fall into play: sure, you murdered that guy you caught abusing your child, but you didn’t sit there and plan it out.
Anyway, in criminal law generally and murder cases in particular, cases hinge on the mens rea of the defendant, their mental state. So for a manslaughter charge, the D.A. clearly thinks it has enough evidence to convict Mr. Murdock of killing Mr. Bennett, but not that Mr. Murdock planned out the murder.
The prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the crime. The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard can be roughly thought of as “the jury is 95% certain that the defendant is guilty.” This is higher than the civil standard, “a preponderance of the evidence,” which can be thought of as “51% certain.” The idea is that, in cases where the State is about to deprive a citizen of their life, liberty, or property, there has to be a higher burden of proof.
So as the defense attorney, I don’t have to poke holes in every element of the crime. I only have to poke enough holes in enough elements to provide reasonable doubt as to whether my client did it. In a case like this, I have to prove that Mr. Murdock neither voluntarily (“crime of passion”) nor involuntarily (“negligent”) ran Mr. Bennett off the road. Another angle to attack this would be that maybe Mr. Bennett was the one driving dangerously and that Mr. Murdock bears no blame for Mr. Bennett’s death. I can do this in several ways: witnesses that testify to a different story as to the one put forth by the prosecution, impeaching the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses, introducing evidence to show that Mr. Bennett acted in a way that caused his own death, and so on.
|Welcome to your first day at The Adventure Gamer School of Law!|
Having no other leads, I give good ol’ Joe a call using the phone numbers that serve as the game’s copy protection. Apparently, dialing a seven-digit phone number can take eighteen minutes.
|Are they all, like, talking really really slowly or something?|
|Also known as Shawn’s dad on Psych!|
I go back to my office then, and get a return call from Joe. He gives me the rather unhelpful skinny about all three people he looked into. Now, though, I have the opportunity to have him look into Mr. Bennett’s insurance policy.
|The plot thickens . . .|
|Although it gets this boring part down right.|
Instead, when I get back, I’m informed that Joe is on the line. I don’t understand the timing on when he calls back, but the information he has is pretty interesting.
Anyway, the medical examiner doesn’t pick up his phone, but for some reason the medical examiner’s report is now in Victor’s file.
I call Joe back, figuring that since he’s the only useful person I can call, he might be able to look into this as well. Instead, the game gives me the option to ask about Mr. Murdock and Mrs. Bennett as a couple.
Seems like Mr. Murdock and Mrs. Bennett were having an affair! In retrospect, I wish I noticed Mrs. Bennett’s number in the directory at this point; maybe she would’ve had something useful to say. Oh well, some mysteries are destined to remain mysteries I suppose.
So now we’re getting close to trial and I really don’t know what to do or where to go or whom to call. I go back into the office screen and click around and what do I find?
|Screenshot from a later moment (note the time—when I found this menu the first time, I had about 30 minutes until trial.|
|The District Attorney.|
It sure would have been useful to know this before. So yeah, trial begins and I’m woefully unprepared. And this game is L.A. LAW, not L.A. MALPRACTICE. A quick restart will do the trick!
|I’d like to request a continuance, Judge, to . . . nine hours ago.|
Ahem, where were we?
Trial Prep, Redux
Armed with my knowledge of the future, i.e., how the game works, I set out to help Victor build his defense. As an aside, I wonder if this game is all defense, or if you get to sue anyone.
Anyway, armed with the magical power of hindsight, I ask Arnold and Tom their take, call Joe, and decide to check out the world outside of McKenzie and Brackman’s offices.
Anyway, I go to the jail next and ask to speak with my client. Mr. Murdock’s not too helpful, but he does consistently profess his innocence. I decide to see if I can talk to the detective working the case, a Detective Saleno, but he’s not in. How convenient . . .
A quick call to the medical examiner confirms that Mr. Bennett wasn’t drunk or on any drugs. All he has to say about Mr. Bennett’s abnormally high white blood cell count was that he could have been ill.
I decide to call the witnesses instead. Both of their numbers are listed in the game’s copy protection—I mean telephone directory.
I suppose this helps my client, though I don’t know how strong that evidence is. But every little bit helps, I guess.
As with the D.A., I can’t ask Ms. Michaels every question on the menu. I have to mention again that this is a feature I most emphatically do not appreciate in games of this type. Or any game with a time limit.
At a bit of an impasse, I call Joe again. This time, I can ask him to look into Mr. Bennett’s doctor and medical records. Wasn’t HIPPA a thing back in 1994?!
I got a message telling me I was due in court as I waited for Joe’s call. Joe called right after with a bit of a bombshell.
|Wow, this got dark fast.|
The Trial, Redux
So anyway, the trial proceeds like a real trial: The Prosecution makes its opening statement, the Defense makes theirs; the Prosecution calls its witnesses, the Defense cross-examines them; the Defense calls its witnesses and the Prosecution cross-examines them; the Defense makes its closing arguments, the Prosecution makes its closing arguments, the jury does its thing, the end.
|Oh, the fun we can have with this one.|
And you know what . . . it worked! I won’t bore you with how the rest of the trial went, since my witnesses—my client and Ms. Michaels, and Mr. Bennett’s doctor—were pretty useless save for the doctor, who corroborated Mr. Bennett’s sickness. The D.A. really didn’t cross-examine either one, but I guess my defense was enough for the jury to find the Defendant not guilty. It was also interesting that Ms. Bennett testified that she didn’t know her husband was sick.
|“Great!” he says, so nonchalantly. You’d think ol’ Timmy would be a little more excited that he just beat a manslaughter charge.|
. . . wait for it . . .
I’ll be with you next time for the case of . . . “The Blown Whistler.”
Session Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Total Play Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
This game is REALLY DRY. In the future, I don’t think I’m going to give a complete blow-by-blow for every single case; they’re not that fun to write, and I have a sneaking suspicion they wouldn’t be that fun to read. Let me know in the comments what you think about this proposal, and if you’re playing along with me, first, I’m sorry, and second, WHY?!