J. Robinson Wheeler's  Four in One
Groucho Chico Harpo Zeppo

Four in One 

"The greatest unwinnable game of all time!"   --Neil Cerutti

"Made me want to go back and watch the Marx Brothers' movies."   --Paul O'Brian


About the Game

The year is 1935. You are Sam Wood, the director of the four Marx Brothers' first picture for MGM studios. All you need to do is get one shot rehearsed and in the can before lunch, but the boys refuse to cooperate. Chico wants to run off to meet his bookie, Groucho wants to sit in his dressing room and read, Zeppo is working deals on the phone, and Harpo is just driving you six ways to nutsville. Thalberg's ready to fire you -- better call action, and fast!

This was my first released IF game, and I'm still fond of it. It does have a bit of a problem, in that Harpo's behavior is based on random numbers, which makes the game randomly difficult, on a spectrum from easily winnable to impossible. I've always thought I should nail down the seed value that would make the gameplay optimal and release that as a final version. However, the main fun of the game is not trying to win, but wandering around interacting with all of the characters. Ask the script girl about the script for the scene. Ask the brothers' father, Frenchie Marx, about all of the boys. Try to get irascible old Groucho to insult you in as many different ways as possible. That sort of thing.

As a huge fan of the Marx Brothers, this game allowed me to do something that I'd always wanted to do, which was present the off-screen characters of the brothers. Zeppo has a lot more personality than he ever did in the movies, for example. Harpo stays true to his screen persona, just because there was no way not to go that route. (However, you can make him talk if you say the magic word.)

Another thing I'm proud of, and I think it's an underrated aspect of the game, is that it contains a fully populated world. I would be willing to bet that Four in One contains a higher number of individual NPCs than any other IF game to date. (A good many of them are hidden in the studio cafeteria, which is only available as an easter egg.) I think it holds up as a rather bold piece of work by a green author.

---jrw 09-19-03


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