Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Consulting Detective - Are You My Mummy?

Written by Joe Pranevich

Elementary, my dear Watson!

Our story begins bright and early one morning in the Baker Street residence of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, presented to us in a brief introductory movie. Watson is reading the morning paper and is livid at the Times for printing a story that “play(s) upon people’s superstitions”. Holmes recognizes the case immediately: a so-called mummy’s “curse” that has resulted in the deaths of three men. In fact, he’s been making inquiries already because he believes that the murderer is considerably younger than 4000-years old. The video ends and I am free to start my investigation.

Don’t most Holmes stories start with a “client”, someone that consults with Holmes to set him off on his way? It seems slightly out of character for him to just be picking crimes out of the newspaper. It’s possible that this sort of thing happened often in the original stories and I’ve just forgotten. Three murders to solve-- this should be fun!
A veritable trove of very small print.

Since Watson is reading about this in the Times, that is probably where I should start as well. At first, I try to refer to the in-game newspaper, but it’s almost impossible to use. The interface doesn’t give you any way to scan the paper quickly or search, you just need to select each article one at a time to read it. Since there are so many articles, using the paper copy instead is the way to go. My guess-- and this is only a guess-- is that this could have served as a light form of copy protection. You could play the game without it, but at significant disadvantage.

I read the first newspaper, expecting it to relate to this first story, but can’t find the article that Watson is referring to. It takes me only a couple of minutes to work out the problem: the newspapers are all dated and in order that way, not by case. The introduction movie didn’t give us a date, but I find it in the manual: April 12, 1889. Looking around that date rewards me with several articles that have pertinent information:
  • Dr. Ebenezer Turnbull was an archeologist, but he was murdered in Egypt, in a tomb that he was excavating, back in March. 
  • While bringing back finds from Turnbull’s expedition, a second archeologist was murdered en route. They were traveling by ship on the Eastern Empress. That murder happened around April 5, about a week before the present action of the game, and was investigated by two crewmen, Herman Ramsey and Luthor Tenney. 
  • A third archeologist, James Windibank, was killed in the British museum. He was strangled by mummy wrappings. Scotland Yard is investigating his death. 
Someone really doesn’t like archeologists!

We should build some sort of wall around Britain!

Most of the articles in the paper have nothing to do with this case. They may be red herrings or pertain to other cases, or perhaps I’ll find connections later. There are some less serious articles including a letter to the editor from “John H. Watson” where complains about the paper’s supernatural coverage. Even better (worse?), there’s an article where someone is blaming all the recent crimes on foreigners. Look at how far we’ve come since then!

But I’m not done with the paper quite yet… I get the idea to search back through the previous issues to see if any of the other murders were covered by the paper at the time. That searching is rewarded by several more clues: Turnbull was also strangled by bandages, plus his body was discovered by Weatherby-- soon to be victim number two. Going back even farther, I find a small note that the Eastern Empress was leaving Calcutta and that it is owned by “Jardine, Matheson, and Co.”

It’s been twenty minutes since I started this adventure and I haven’t even started to play the game yet! That has to be a record of some kind…

The first place to look might be Holmes’s personal files, but that doesn’t accomplish much. I learn that Turnbull, the first victim, was the third son of the Earl of Downey. Not that important. I also learn that Windibank was a professor at London University. None of the others have dossiers in our files, so we’re going to have to start hitting the pavement and finding clues.

Another video!

The approach I am going to take is to research the murders in order. They are clearly all related so this way I might be able to work out the original motive and suspects. I remember that one of my “Baker Street Regulars” is Henry Ellis, the foreign news editor for the Times. He might have been aware of the murders in Egypt and could have more information for me. Clicking on him in the directory and selecting the “carriage” icon causes Holmes and Watson to arrive in his office for a little video chat.

Unfortunately, Henry wasn’t working on this story, but he knows the man who was: Philip Travis. He was the Times’s Cairo correspondent at the time of the first murder but has been transferred back to London to continue covering the story from here. Since he’s in London, we can look him up next!

Only a murderer would wear that vest.

Travis turns out to be a piece of work. He believes that the crimes are the work of an ancient Egyptian god-- and he has a list of which ones he thinks it could possibly be. He’s a trained Egyptologist (hence his posting to Cairo), but also a loony. He believes that the Egyptians discovered the secret to immortality and they were, in fact, more advanced in science than we are. (Well, he was in the 1890s. They didn’t have Pokemon yet.) As his final trick before Holmes leaves, he tries an ancient ritual to bring a mummified monkey back to life that he happened to have been keeping around. The ritual fails, but he shrugs it off. He offers to try again, but Holmes says his goodbyes.

So… he’s the first “suspect” that I’ve met, but I’m pretty sure he’s the murderer. He just came back from Cairo, so I’d wager that he was on the same ship as the guy that was murdered. That places him in the region of all three murders. But what evidence will I need to prove that? I throw the Irregulars at him, but they just tell me that he’s a loony. I knew that already!

Some scenes interspersed old-style illustrations with the videos.

I don’t have any more leads for the first murder, so I continue onto the second and meet up with the two shipboard investigators, Herman Ramsey and Luthor Tenney. Ramsey gives me the overview: they had just come through a storm, so he sent Tenney down to the hold to check in on the cargo-- that’s when they discovered that Weatherby had been killed. Because nothing says good investigative practice like placing the guy that “found” the dead man in charge of figuring out who killed him, Ramsey put Tenney in charge of figuring out what happened.

I meet with him next and am given a much deeper insight into the voyage. He says that just having the mummy on board made the sailors superstitious, but having Travis spouting “mystic mumbo jumbo” made it much worse. I was right! Travis was on the ship as well! He and Windibank also fought a “war of words” on the ship. Beyond that, there were two other suspicious occurrences: a pair of Arab men with a mysterious box and some shipboard infidelity. One of the Arabs, Fahmi, had a mysterious box that the other, Al-Suad, wanted. But Tenney didn’t know what was in the box or why it was important to them. The potential affair seems more suspicious: Weatherby was trapped below deck and seasick for much of the journey, but during that time his wife was “galavanting” with another passenger, Mr. Uruburu. That could be a motive for his subsequent death, but it seems unconnected to the mummy mystery. Holmes drives the conversation back to the case at hand and Tenney reveals that when he discovered Weatherby’s body, the crate containing the mummy was opened. There was also a bowl containing ashes nearby, though the bowl subsequently went missing. Did the murderer come back to get it?

A view of the London directory.

This game keeps throwing names at you and, if you are like me, you’ve already forgotten who was Weatherby and who was Windibank. (Weatherby was the archeologist that died on the ship, while Windibank was the one that was killed at the museum.) Fortunately, the game gives you a bit of a leg up on this, but to explain that I need to talk about the core UI elements of the game: the “notebook” and the “directory”.

Consulting Detective isn’t an adventure in the traditional sense and exploration doesn’t work like any game that I’ve ever played before. At any time, you have access to the “directory”, a list of seemingly hundreds of people and places across London. We can-- in theory, at least-- visit any of them, but the vast majority have nothing to do with the case. Just for giggles, I pick a name at random and head there just to see what happens: we get a brief illustration of a London street while Holmes berates Watson for wasting his time. The “directory” is complimented by the “notebook”, essentially a list of bookmarks. By selecting names in the directory and clicking on the notebook icon, we copy the name there. It seems good practice to put in there every name that has come up in conversation. It doesn’t seem to be required-- you can do all the same actions with either the directory or the notebook-- but it’s a lot less pages to flip through. But while the “notebook” lets you remember all the names you come across, you can’t annotate it. If you want to take real notes, you have to do it with real pen and paper.

Once we have a name of a place or witness that we want to explore, we have a couple of options. From top to bottom, we can either send Holmes and Watson to visit the person, search for the person in Holmes’s personal files, or send the Irregulars there. When we do a visit, sometimes Holmes goes, sometimes Watson goes, and sometimes both. We don’t really have a POV character, although the game implies that you are Watson more often than not. One thing that confused me is that there is no icon for the “Regulars”, like there is for the “Irregulars”. Instead, you have to search the directory for their names just like anyone else. It’s not a huge deal, but if there are people you are expected to talk with frequently then it might have been nice to make it easier to remember who they were. The remaining two icons are the newspaper and the court. I’ve already showed you the former, but we’ll get to the latter when I’m sure I know who did it.

Only eight passengers coming back from Egypt? How do they make a profit?

While I was working my way through the directory, I happened to stumble on the Jardine Shipping Company and sent Holmes there to see what he could find. But “stumble” is entirely the right word: one of the things that works very poorly in this game is finding everyone that has been mentioned to you. I ended up flipping through nearly the entire directly to figure out that “Uruburu” started with a “U” (it’s pronounced closer to “a-ru-bur-rue”) and so found “Jardine” that way. (The Arab names also were a challenge.) It would nice if names were automatically added to your notebook when you hear them, although perhaps that would make the game too easy. Even just adding subtitles would have been a nice help. In any event, the Jardine company was happy to provide us with the passenger list. It confirms everyone we already knew was on the ship, plus one: Louise Fenwick. I add her to the notebook in case she saw something.

Another murder!

I start with the Arab men first, not because I think they are likely to be suspects, but because perhaps they saw something that I can learn from. I try Al-Saud first, but he’s not home. I then check Fami and find a gruesome sight: he’s been murdered too! That’s four!

Before I can dig at this, Holmes speaks up and says he’s solved this case already and this murder has nothing to do with the others. This guy has been stabbed-- not strangled, so it’s a different pattern. Holmes deduces that since he’s rich enough to have a butler, but that his butler hasn’t discovered his body yet, there can be only one answer: the butler did it. I win at least one of my predictions! Does this count? Either way, we move on because this is a literal dead end.

My next stop is Mr. Uruburu and he seems to still have a hangover. He claims that he didn’t kill Mr. Weatherby because he and Mrs. Weatherby were too busy “partying” from Cairo to London. Right. She’ll be my next target.

Clarissa doesn’t explain it all, or much at all.

We find Clarissa Weatherby at her home. She tells me that she and her husband, Andrew Weatherby, had not been married long but stresses that she loved him very much. She seems a bit evasive that she might have had an affair (which is natural, especially for 1890), but otherwise there’s not much new information here. Holmes asks her to open a tin of toffee for him, but she fails to do so. Why did he ask her that? Does he see something that we don’t? Was it a test?

The last of the potential witnesses was Louise Fenwick. I visit her house and interview her along with her husband, Merrill. It’s clear that the passenger list is wrong because he was on the ship with her, but he wasn’t on the passenger manifest. Is that a clue? Or a bug? They are immediately defensive, seeming to resent me for even questioning them. They returned to London after only two weeks in Egypt because their dog, Dickie, got sick. Even worse, the dog wasn’t allowed in her cabin and had to travel in cargo. Merrill seems quite mean to his wife and they may be having some marital problems, although I do not see how that might connect to the murder.

The Fenwicks are not very helpful.

I’ve now talked to everyone I know about for the first two murders, so it’s time to move on to the third. I think we’re sure that someone on the ship committed the murder, but there are motives for several potential killers. I have a feeling that the Arab subplot is a false lead, but so far there seems to be few good ones. Travis is clearly the most unhinged of the various characters, but yet I don’t see a motive (other than a love of Egyptian religion) for why he would kill those men.

What do you think? Do we have a serial murderer here or several killers all using the “mummy’s curse” to enact their various revenge plots? I’m going to have to keep working on this next week. WIll I be able to solve the case? Let’s find out!

Time played: 1 hr 50 min
Total time: 1 hr 50 min

22 comments:

  1. Ramsey? Almost like Ramses... he's our killer. Yes, detective Niklas strikes again:)

    A bit more serious, maybe the different murders are connected? What if Al-Saud killed the archeologist and stole Egyptian artefacts to hide in Fahmi's box and in the end killed Fahmi to get his hand on the box? Which would invalidate the butler doing it and Holmes be wrong, but I'm gonna bring that box into this mystery whatever it takes... preferably as a murder weapon.

    Also, gotta love the name Johnny Bulldog.

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  2. "Holmes asks her to open a tin of toffee for him, but she fails to do so."

    My first idea would be that Holmes has to know which hand she prefers to use - or then he just needs to demonstrate her lack of strength.

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    1. Since the murders were committed by strangulation, I definitely think Holmes is just checking that she doesn't have the raw strength required to take down grown men.

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    2. Yup. Related to this, bar bs gur Erthynef (rvgure Zheenl be Zrrx, V'z abg fher) jvyy gryy lbh gung gur zhzzl jenccvatf jbhyq or gbb sentvyr gb or hfrq gb fgenatyr fbzrbar.

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  3. Holmes obviously only asked her to open the toffee tin because he's storing his drugs in there, and in his feverish withdrawl state, he hasn't the strength to open it himself. (He can't ask Watson to open it, because he'd get lectured about how "drugs are bad" or some other sort of medical balderdash).

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  4. The bowl of ashes next to the opened container on the ship points to Travis (Travers?). Maybe he was trying to raise the mummy from the dead? The question is whether he then went on to commit murders in the mummy's name (maybe to drive newspaper sales?) or that's a red herring.

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    1. Travers. One of the challenges in this game is getting all the name spellings right and I know I had more than a few times in my notes that I call him "Travis". If I missed one more, I'll have to fix it.

      But I like your theory; I think he's been experimenting with raising the dead for a while. That means that he was around for the second murder, but doesn't give him a motive OR tell us whether he was involved with the first.

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    2. Huh. That's strange. I'm positive that it's spelled "Travers" elsewhere, but it's clearly Travis in that screenshot. I need to go back through my notes and see where the heck that error came from.

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    3. I replaced all of the uses of "Travers" with "Travis". That seems to be more used. I can only assume that I picked the the alternate and latched onto it instead of the correct spelling. Very strange.

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  5. I'm currently busy with Dreamfall (boring and linear) and Ever17 (the mysteries/twists in that one should warm me up to this game (BTW the puvpxra fnaqjvpurf are probably behind everything)), but once I'm done with those I'll join the mystery-solving!

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    1. Aaand finished both of them. Dreamfall was bad and boring, but Ever 17: The Out of Infinity was enjoyable with trying to predict the increasingly ridiculous plot twists, and somewhat bland but charming characters, despite repetitive and mediocre pacing.

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  6. Looking at some upcoming games...

    Deimar: Would you be willing to pick up WaxWorks if no one else does? That game is essentially Elvira 3, as far as I know.

    I'll also volunteer for Hook, if no one else wants it. I'm also interested in Ringworld because I'm a big Larry Niven fan, but I have too many games around that time.

    Is there any chance we can move "Dracula Unleashed" (1993) and "Consulting Detective Vol 3" to "Borderline" (from "Disregarded")? Two other spiritual successors to this game ("MTV: Club Dread" (1994), "Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Tale of Orpheo's Curse" (1994)) aren't even on our list. Can we add them as Borderline, for now?

    I'm enjoying this game and think I'd be interested in following up on what ICOM (and Viacom, when they get bought) do. Those games share a lot of the same team members that made the Consulting Detective series and look to expand on the format.

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    1. I seem to remember that TBD was also interested of doing WaxWorks.

      I've put you tentatively as a player for Hook.

      According to the rules, Dracula Unleashed would need either four more votes in Mobygames or an entry in the Wikipedia adventure game list to get to the level of Borderline (but when I think of the previous time, I'm sure it will be added to the list by some CAP millionaire). I changed Consulting Detective 3 into a Borderline game, since it was included in the Wikipedia list.

      I haven't yet checked on the 1994 games and I think it's best to do all of them as a group, before changing the status of individual games. They are categorised as adventures in Mobygames, so they will be considered, when the time comes. For now, they both have under 10 votes in Mobygames and are not on the Wikipedia list, so they wouldn't even be Disregarded yet - but things can change a lot, before we get there.

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    2. Yeah, I put my hand up for Waxworks - seemed only fair as I requested it to be played in the first place.

      But if Deimar's available and wants it, I'm happy to defer to our Horrorsoft expert!

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    3. Ah, I did not realize TBD had expressed an interest (or I forgot). Sorry about that. He and Deimar can fight it out.

      As for the later games, I'm sure we'll cross that bridge when the time comes. I think I personally have more of an interest in following specific flows of game developers and seeing how they develop. And if those games don't make it when the time comes, that's okay too. I just don't want to forget about them between now and them. :) 1994 is a long way away.

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    4. I think Ringworld sounds interesting (and not too difficult). It's sort of like Gateway in that it's based on a sci-fi book. But I'm probably going to have Journeyman Project two games afterward as the first 1994 game, so it's probably not good for me to take it either.

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  7. As I've already solved this case I won't make any predictions :)

    I will say that you definitely need to take notes to get the best score. A number of times I spent points doing the same thing multiple times due to not remembering names or details.

    What is most interesting to me is that three things you mentioned as weaknesses were addressed in the remake I've been playing:

    There are subtitles, a clickable directory of the Regulars and a scrollable readable Times newspaper.

    Good to see the developers have paid attention to your critique before you even wrote it!

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    1. Because of the nature of writing, I have been taking pretty good notes. I agree that it's probably impossible to win without them. Even with notes, I have had to go back and review things as I write because so many of the names are similar and the connections are complicated.

      I am glad to hear that they have fixed some of these issues! I have purchased but haven't played the new version yet, except for a couple of minutes just to see what they did in broad strokes. One major UI feature *missing* in the new version (at least, I wasn't able to find it) is that you can't pause and rewind a video while you are watching it. That has been essential to me to make sure that I get the details right. I know from the release notes that this feature was added in a patch to the original game, maybe the Zojoi guys felt that it made the game too easy.

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  8. It's clear Johnny Bulldog supported the Brexit. All those Europeans coming to our beloved isle to murder archeologists...

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    1. And now I will be very disappointed, if the murderer isn't a Polish plumber.

      (For non-Europeans, here's what I am referring to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_Plumber )

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    2. I have learned something today!

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    3. Johnny Bulldog is actually in the case's directory. Unfortunately, visiting him just gives a generic "nothing to do here" short video.

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