Oh, The Games People Played Then

Some Early P.I. Videogames (1988-2002)

Imagine a world without broadband or cell phones. Where fax machines were cutting edge, and nobody had heard of Apple or Microsoft or broadband or even the internet. Floppies were king.

We're talking seriously old school here. Most of the platforms these were played on are long, long gone, but some of games are still lingering out there, waiting....

  • The Tex Murphy Games
    Mean Streets (1989, Access)
    Martian Memorandum
    (1991, Access)
    Under a Killing Moon
    (1994, Access)
    The Pandora Directive
    (1996, Access)
    Tex Murphy: Overseer
    (1998, Access; revised version of Mean Streets)
    Project Fedora
    We're talking serious old school here. A series of games, built around the adventures of hard-boiled tough guy private eye Tex Murphy as he navigates the post-apocalytic mean streets of a battered and bruised San Francisco, full of mutants, garbage and assorted scum out to destroy life as we know it, all heavily influenced by cyber punk and film noir, Blade Runner being the obvious touchstone. How old school? The first in the series, Mean Streets (1989) was written for MS-DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, and Commodore 64 only and billed as "An Interactive Detective Movie." But this was cutting edge stuff back then. The third installement, Under a Killing Moon, set new standards for the industry, and became one of the best selling videogames of all time, and one of the most influential, combining full motion video (FMV) cutscenes with a 3-D virtual worlds to explore -- heady stuff for 1994, and it was treated as such, with the big name vocal talents of Brian Keith and Margot Kidder along for the ride. Tex's voice, as always, was supplied by Access founder Chris Jones.
    In 2009, the original creators announced they had reacquired the rights to the series and plans to start re-releasing them for a whole new generation of gamers, and a sixth installment , Project Fedora, the first in fifteen years, was scheduled to be released in 2013.

  • Philip Marlowe Private Eye
    (aka "Private Eye")
    (1996, Simon and Schuster I
    nteractive/Byron Preiss Multimedia)
    Loosely based on Chandler's The Little Sister, players got to live out their Marlowe fantasies in this one.Good ol' Phil is hired to find an innocent girl's missing brother, but it soon leads to the usual trail of greed, blackmail, revenge, deceit and murder! Meet all the usual suspects: starlets, crazed mobsters, crooked cops, etc. "Hundreds of interactive decisions are yours!" in this fully-interactive, CD-ROM, which promises "state-of-the-art 3D graphics combined with 1940s-style cel animation...rich dialogue and fully-developed chacters in the authentic Chandler style...Original jazz score recorded live." The game was developed by Byron Preiss Multimedia, and was compatible with Windows® 3.1 and Windows® 95 compatible.

  • Noir: A Shadowy Thriller
    (1997, CyberDreams)
    In this one, billed as "a shadowy thriller," you got to be a 1940's LA private eye, and work on six non-linear cases that takes you through a 1940's film noir atmosphere, complete with smoky jazz score and thousands of archival photos and location shots, all in "glorious black and white." A beautiful looking game, aimed at film noir and crime fiction fans. Created by film veteran Jeff Blyth. A Mac version was to have been released but the company that manufactured this game -- and its web site -- soon vanished.

  • Duckman: The Graphic Adventures of a Private Dick
    (aka "Duckman: The Legend of the Fall")

    (1997, Playmates Toys)
    As the cartoon gained in popularity, a point-and-click videogame for Windows XP was developed, with Duckman, now a famous detective, facing off against an imposter who just happens to be bigger, better, and infinitely smarter than he is. The goal was to help the real Duckman defeat the impostor and reclaim his rightful place. Unfortunately, the game's publisher, PlayMates Toys, declared bankruptcy before the game could be released, and the game was only released in Germany and South Korea, making it a truly rare collectible these days.

  • A Stab in the Dark
    (2001, Murder To Go Productions)
    Written and directed by David Landau, and produced by Matt Clarke, A Stab in the Dark puts a new spin on the old Clue game with this live-action interactive DVD. You get to play homicide detective, Lieutenant Chester McFreedy, and actually examine the crime scene, visit the coroner, interrogate the suspects and check out their stories, trying to crack the case of a key witness who's bumped off while in police custody. Comes with suspect lists, maps, background files, and all sorts of cool stuff. Okay, you're not a private eye, but it'll keep you busy until they release Murder at the Café Noir. The producers of this game bill themselves as "the internationally acclaimed originator of the interactive mystery theater show."

  • Dollars N Dibble
    A controversial board game from the U.K., developed by Neil Bradshaw, that was scheduled for general release in the summer of 2002. If you can imagine Traffic as a board game, you've just about nailed the concept of Dollars N Dibble. Forget Boardwalk and Park Place, or who gets to be the milk bottle. Instead, picture yourself as a would-be drug lord, scrambling to make a name for yourself. Can you dodge the cops, rival players and too much of your own product, to become DA MAN? like the blurb says, it's "a world where only one thing is certain, there is nothing fair about this game!"

  • Murder at the Café Noir
    (2002, Murder To Go Productions)
    Another treat from the folks at Murder To Go. Keep an eye out for Murder at Café Noir, an interactive DVD feature film based on the popular and award-winning comedy mystery dinner theater play. The rough cut was an official selection of the AngiliCiti Film Festival in Los Angeles and Los Vegas in 2000. An off-beat mystery homage to the Bogart movies, it's also a genuine mystery which breaks the "fourth wall," taking full advantage of DVD capabilities.  Disenchanted P.I. Rick Archer is hired to find a blackmailing femme fatale, finds himself on a forgotten tropical island and the mysterious Cafe Noir, a place where the dishonest can be honest about it and where everyone and everything seems to have fallen out of a 1940s movie, including the color.  It is here that he finally finds a place where he truly belongs.  Guided by a sarcastic Humphrey Bogart narrator, the viewer helps Rick by deciding where he goes and who to question.

  • Death of a Dot-Commer!
    (2002, PC187)
    The blurbs for this at the timehigh-end murder game invited you to a "heart-pounding murder investigation" that "begins in the ivory towers of downtown San Francisco, and takes you through the city's drug infested dungeons of prostitution! Be the lead detective in a Real-Life brutal murder with all the dot-COM greed, sex, lies, and betrayal of an ENRON scandal! With the tools of the trade, money, drugs, threats of jail time, etc. you interrogate, persuade, bribe, and bully your suspects to learn the truth and nail the killer. During your investigation, you collect the necessary evidence to obtain warrants. Once you have a warrant you serve them at the actual locations." Includes a complete cast of characters and and actual San Francisco locations are used throughout, including the District Attorney's Office, Police Stations, Superior Court, The Embarcadero Towers, City Jail, North Beach Pizza, a real dungeon of prostitution, and many more locations." In other words, it's a high-tech interactive game that leaves no sleaze unturned.


Treasures from the Past

Some Cool P.I. Model Car Kits

Some Classic Private Eye & Detective Board Games

Puzzles and Other P.I. Games

Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Adam Bormann for his help with this page.

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