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In the 1st Degree is an interactive legal drama adventure computer game released in 1995 by Brøderbund in which the player plays the role of a prosecutor attempting to convict an artist for grand theft and the first-degree murder of his business partner. The player must first examine evidence, then interview witnesses, and finally go to trial to secure a conviction.
Tagline: Someone's dead. Someone's lying. Can you prove Murder One?
James Tobin is a struggling artist in San Francisco who owns an art gallery with his business partner, Zachary Barnes. For some time, the gallery is a lucrative business. However, after a new series of Tobin's paintings fail to sell, the gallery struggles financially. Tensions rise further when a burglary occurs at the gallery and Tobin's new series of paintings are stolen. During this time, unrelatedly, Barnes and Tobin's girlfriend, Ruby Garcia, have a one-night stand. One morning a few weeks later, an incident occurs between Tobin and Barnes at the gallery and Tobin shoots Barnes dead.
Tobin claims that he killed Barnes in self-defense following an argument and a struggle. The police do not accept this claim and believe the killing to be an act of premeditation. They believe that the burglary several weeks before Barnes' death was carried out by Tobin himself, that he stole his own paintings to gain the insurance money to save the struggling gallery. Saying that Tobin killed Barnes not only to cover up his crime but also as an act of revenge for Barnes' affair with his girlfriend, the police arrest Tobin and charge him with grand theft and murder in the first degree.
The game is played through the eyes of San Francisco District Attorney Sterling Granger. The game begins with a video clip in which the homicide is announced on the news. After that, police detective Inspector Looper briefs the player on some of the facts of the case that have been discovered in her investigation. (Like all character interactions in this game, the briefing by Looper is full motion video, with the player having a first-person view.)
The player is then taken to Granger's office, where the player can choose to examine various evidence documents and photographs; view videos from Looper's interrogations of Tobin, Ruby, Barnes' wife Yvonne, or gallery employee Simon Lee; interview each of them (except Tobin) directly; or go to trial.
The main gameplay is the pre-trial interviewing and the direct or cross-examination of witnesses at trial. During interviews (and during the trial), the player is given a choice of questions to ask, each of which elicits a different response from the witness. Based on these questions and their responses, new questions become available. Only if the player asks the proper questions (and, sometimes, in the proper order) will the necessary information come out during the trial to secure a conviction against Tobin. (For example, if the player fails to make Ruby comfortable about discussing her affair with Barnes during the initial interview, she may deny ever having the affair when asked about it at trial.) In asking questions, the player also has to deal with the witnesses' different personality types and their relationships with Barnes, with Tobin, and with each other. (For example, Barnes' widow Yvonne, who works as the press secretary for San Francisco's mayor, speaks in a relatively calm and dignified manner, whereas Tobin's girlfriend Ruby is quick-tempered and can become very hostile.)
During the trial portion of the game, a video clip of a local newscast follows each witness' testimony. In those clips, reporters analyze the prosecutor's performance (and, thus, the player's performance) in the examination of that particular witness. The player's examination of a witness also can have an effect on the kinds of questions asked by Tobin's attorney and the witness' response to them.
Based on the player's overall performance, there are several possible outcomes to the game. The worst possible outcome is that the case is simply dismissed. The game may also end in Tobin's acquittal or with Tobin being convicted of lesser crimes (i.e. manslaughter or second-degree murder), with or without a grand theft conviction. The best possible outcome is a conviction for both grand theft and first-degree murder.