Suspect was the 15th game released by interactive fiction pioneers Infocom. It was their third entry in the "Mystery" genre.
The game designer/programmer (or as Infocom called it, "implementor", or "imp") for Deadline was Dave Lebling. Lebling had previously co-written the Zorktrilogy and Enchanter, and written Starcross.
In Infocom's first murder mystery, Deadline, the player character is a detective brought in to solve the crime after the fact, in classic "Sherlock Holmes" fashion. In its second, The Witness, the player witnesses the crime. As Suspect's title implies, it features yet another type of protagonist: This time, the player character is the prime suspect of the crime, and must solve it in order to clear their name.
Suspect is set in the Washington, D.C./Maryland area, where Lebling grew up.
To promote the game, in January, 1985 (coinciding with the annual Consumer Electronics Show convention), Infocom invited 5,000 people to a "murder mystery party" in a Las Vegas mansion. Although the extravagant event symbolized Infocom's dominance in the software industry, it was later that very same month that Cornerstone -- the doomed database software which would herald the rapid decline and fall of the company -- was released.
Suspect sold approximately 50,000 copies.
Lebling would later write Spellbreaker, The Lurking Horror, and James Clavell's Shogun for Infocom.
The player plays as a reporter for The Washington Examiner newspaper who is a friend of a wealthy socialite, Veronica Ashcroft. The player is invited to Veronica's Halloween costumed ball, and arrives in a cowboy costume. It isn't long, however, before Veronica is found murdered... and moreover, strangled by the player's "cowboy" lasso. In order to clear their own name, the player must deduce which of the other costume party guest(s) is the real murderer.
Evidence collected by the player must then be given to the investigating detective. It may be necessary for the player to clarify to the Detective why the evidence is significant. If not enough evidence is provided quickly enough, and/or if the player acts in what is viewed as an incriminating manner, the Detective will arrest the player.
The Detective and Sergeant Duffy can be asked to bring objects to the police lab for fingerprinting or analysis. The object will then be unavailable until Duffy returns with the lab results.
The player can also ask the Detective to make an arrest. In order to get the best possible ending, not only must the proper suspect or suspects be arrested, sufficient evidence must also have been acquired.
If no arrest has been made by midnight, the player is arrested for the murder.
Suspect combines both the timed events seen in Deadline and the random elements seen in The Witness. Suspect also features a large number of potential suspects, who move around the grounds at a much more rapid pace than in the previous murder mysteries. Furthermore, the game has a tight timeframe (the murder takes place at 10:45 pm, and must be solved by midnight.) For these reasons, Suspect is generally regarded as a difficult game, requiring many replays to solve.
The game contains many references to other Infocom works. In the most blatant example, there is a location at which a player can move a rug and be told there is a trap door underneath, as occurs at the beginning of Zork I. The game then adds "No, sorry! That’s another story." There are more subtle references as well; for instance, Veronica owns a horse named "Lurking Grue".
As had become traditional for Infocom, Suspect's packaging contained collectibles (or, as they were referred to, "feelies") to help set the mood of the game. Suspect's"feelies" were:
- The invitation to the Halloween party.
- A receipt from "Costumes Unlimited", received by the player when the cowboy costume was purchased. ("Costumes Unlimited" is placed in Rockville, MD. Although this is a real city, it may also be a reference to the "Rockvil, SD" of A Mind Forever Voyaging.)
- A business card from William Cochrane, one of the party guests. On its flip side, the card also contains an urgent message for Veronica.
- "Murder and Modern Manners", an 8-page-long (including cover) archly satirical booklet, detailing the "polite" ways to behave before, during, and after a murder. The booklet was illustrated by Alan E. Cober, a distinguished (and distinctive) artist, who also produced the game's cover art.
- A 2-page-long excerpt from "Maryland Rambler" magazine, providing some backstory on Veronica and the area in which she lived.
- A letter from the player's newspaper editor. The editor encourages the player to attend the party and to write an article about it, referring to the "Maryland Rambler" excerpt as a possible "angle".