Murder By Numbers: Please Hire Me


Yes, this is part 2 of my non-review of murder mystery nonogram puzzle adventure Murder by Numbers. First, I spent an entire post explaining why the game’s so-called “90s fashion” not only didn’t reflect the 1996 setting, but also didn’t really reflect…any time in particular. My conclusion was that the developers had no idea what 90s fashion was.

Well, turns out they don’t seem to know a lot of things. Obligatory Big Spoiler Warning and all that.

Open Up, It’s the LAPD!

I could spend a chunk of time proving to you that the Los Angeles Police Department is the most (in)famous police force in all of television. And movies! So much media about cops takes place in LA and inevitably involves the LAPD. I had to double-check recently that Detective Columbo is LAPD, because of course he is! Anyways, I won’t present the evidence, because I doubt you’ll disagree with me on this point. I bring this up because Murder by Numbers is, without a doubt, a crime procedural involving the LAPD, and yet it certainly doesn’t feel like it. It’s not that the writing is bad – except for the first chunk of Case 3, I felt that the characters were written well enough. But given the decades of LAPD crime procedurals that exist in the world, often it felt like the scenarios were written by someone who had somehow not seen a single one.

Ray: Tell me, Joe -- what's an actor from out of town doing with an LAPD badge on his coat?

I’ll give a specific example. In every case, bodies are routinely left uncovered and unattended at the murder scene, sometimes ostensibly for hours after police have arrived on the scene. But in the first case of the game, after sneaking past the on-scene LAPD detective into the office where the murder took place, not only is the body still there, but also the medical examiner’s report? Which you find lying on the floor? I understand some suspension of disbelief is needed for a game like this – I’ve played my fair share of the Ace Attorney franchise. But I spent all that on the flying talking robot, not the police precinct with seemingly only one employee.

Outside of a gay bar, where a giant shoe parade float has crashed into the front. There's a man lying dead on the sidewalk, having been run over.

According to Detective Cross, at this point forensics have ‘been and gone’, but no one took the body with them…

The Part of the Post where Kelp Works for Free

Okay, so maybe the wonky depiction of crime scene investigation is an unfair critique. I already fully admitted that often, the way the police operate in these sorts of murder mysteries has to be unrealistic or overly contrived to make the plot work. Nitpicking the clothes characters wear, the overworld map that looks nothing like LA, the LAPD station that never has anyone staffing it…does it really bother you that much, Kelp?

Maybe not. But the unedited dialog sure does.

My background is in linguistics, and over the years I’ve had various jobs in editing. And I will prove to you that no American edited the script, let alone an LA native. You see, Mediatonic is based in the UK. Only one of the characters in the entire game is meant to be British. And yet, the script is absolutely littered with Britishisms. (I also found several typos, but I’ll leave those out of this. Except for the one that’s gonna show up in the table below.) Here’s some lists of dialog that I remembered to document while playing the game.

Original DialogSuggested Edit
“…and The[sic] CCTV footage clearly shows I was in the parking lot!”
“How’d you get the CCTV so fast?”
“About the CCTV…”
security (camera) footage

This one in isolation doesn’t seem so bad – I definitely watched a Columbo episode recently where he was talking about “the CCTV” – but it got increasingly ‘…’ with every subsequent mention.

Original DialogSuggested Edit
“It contains the same whiskey as we found at the crime scene.”that we found
“Forensics have already been and gone…”come and gone
“I’ve even been having therapy.”going to therapy
“Then to have you two looking in every corner of my business, finding my failings, and then bringing me up on them…”taking me to task over them
“…why don’t you come back to mine?”to my place
“…they’re going to get back once they have more info for me.”to get back to me once they have more info
“Hi, is that Aart Janssen?” (phone call)is this Aart Janssen?
“So, on balance, pretty far from your standard hit-and-run.”all things considered,
“Doesn’t seem like she’s about…”like she’s around
“I don’t think that’s strictly true…that’s entirely true…
“He may reveal more under the pressure of this new evidence.[see my note below]

Are these all Britishisms? Maybe not. I’m not British. But most of them definitely are, and they all made me pause for a bit. A couple of these are also just a little awkward; for example, I would want to rewrite the fourth one entirely. It’s not terrible as written, but it could be better – we were definitely ‘snooping around’ moreso than ‘looking in every corner’, for instance. As for the last one, my main issue with it is that it’s uttered by the robotic yet childish SCOUT…if it was Detective Cross, I might not have highlighted it.

SCOUT: For a species with opposable thumbs, humans seem to drop things a lot.

Scout is understandably not afraid of jargon, but sometimes his voice wasn’t consistent…

Original DialogSuggested Edit
“For four out of the past five months, the club has made a loss.hasn’t turned a profit OR
has been in the red
“And you said that you had no float money.”you had no cash reserves
“There are many utility bills – water, electricity. All seem to be settled up to date.”to be paid up to date
“I wonder how she paid them, when the takings are so bad?”when business has been so bad?

One case has a lot of accounting jargon in it, the second of which I found myself googling. Then I remembered my family business is in accounting. You know that scene in Clueless where Cher helps her dad by looking for and highlighting a certain entry in books of phone records? I used to do that as a kid at the kitchen table, with bound dot-matrix printouts of billing records. Nowadays I make online courses explaining what the heck terms like “Modified Cash Basis” or “Billing Realization Rate” mean. Anyways. Britishisms strike again. I’m genuinely curious about the float money one. In the game it seemed to refer to having some sort of cash reserve, but that is not really what float usually means in an accounting sense…

Original DialogSuggested Edit
“It’ll take more than a few sweet words to get me to trust you and that bull hound of a detective.”bulldog
“Seems like Roz and the victim had some kind of bust-up.”big argument,
“Fran’s going on holiday?”
“…for her holiday to New York.”
“Was this a holiday souvenir?”
“Looks like we’ve finally got Kino by the stones…by the balls
“Can you give us the details of the hire company you use?”temp agency

My suggestions for bust-up might not seem very good, but I thought about it, and given the context honestly I think in US English ‘big argument’ is actually the way to go here. Kelp, a hypothetical exhausted reader asks, how many more of these are there? Oh, a few more actually! But I’ll just end with one I find super puzzling…

Detective Cross: Coast Guard had to chase them halfway round Santa Catalina, but they caught them eventually. Turns out the captain had a warrant out for their arrest.

I had to actually double check they meant Catalina Island, cuz not once in my three decades of existence have I heard someone ever call it “Santa Catalina”. (I’m not even going to get into the fact that this yacht was apparently docked at the Port of LA???, and not like, a marina or a yacht club???) To be fair, there are websites online that do mention the full name. Sites like “visit catalina island dot com”, “love catalina dot com”, or “catalina info dot com”.

But I didn’t make this exhaustive list to be mean-spirited, although I am genuinely mad. Why? Because this is work I could have been paid for! If I was given the whole script and a brief description of the characters, it wouldn’t have taken me very long to SoCal them up, let alone just…change the UK English phrases and fix any typos. I did some quick math, and I can’t imagine I would bill more than $500 for a very thorough edit. And I’m kind of expensive! You could definitely hire a fully qualified editor located elsewhere in the US for half my hourly rate.

Honor: His prime? He was, like, eighty years old.

This is from about a third of the way through Case 2. Why did I screenshot it? It’s the first appearance of intensifier ‘like’.

Once again I must ask, why on earth did the people at Mediatonic insist on setting a game specifically in 1996 Los Angeles and yet seemingly spend no Money or Resources making sure it read like a game set in 1996 Los Angeles? I just don’t understand.

SCOUT: Humans are so confusing...

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Obviously Mediatonic doesn’t need to meet my expectations. They’ve got Fall Guys. But I can’t help but look for answers, and the only thing I can come up with that explains the strange creative decisions is a serious lack of attention to detail. It’s not just the script, either. One recurring example involves character sprites, which are routinely flipped to face whichever way necessary for the scene. This means that Honor’s sash knot shifts sides, along with button plackets, suit jacket pockets, et cetera. The most egregious case is a kimono-wearing character – flipping her sprite results in her kimono being worn right-over-left instead of left-over-right, which is a violation of basically the One True Kimono Law. The obvious answer to all these questions, of course, is budget, but this game also a fully animated opening sequence with a vocal theme song.

Ryan: E-even if you did, you know it's not admissible in court. California law requires both parties to consent!

One of the few things they got right, weirdly. (Also the fact that a competing gay bar is located in West Hollywood.)

Anyways, after playing a straight-up unplayable nonogram game (that somehow also had screen flashing??), my relative opinion of Murder by Numbers has definitely improved. It turns out the bar is a lot lower than I thought. But also, please let me know if you need an American script editor for your American-set game.

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