Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Consulting Detective - Revenge of the Egyptology Nerd

Written by Joe Pranevich

Inspector Lestrade, I presume.

Last time, we started our investigation into a series of “mummy murders”, three dead archeologists all connected to the excavation and transportation of a mummy to London. We had looked at two of the murders but were just starting to investigate the third. So far, we have one very good suspect (a strange reporter) but no motives. The game is afoot, as they say!

Just to recap, what we know so far:
  • Murder #1 - Dr. Ebenizer Turnbull. He was murdered in the tomb he was excavating in Egypt in March, but I have very few details.
  • Murder #2 - Andrew Weatherby. He was murdered en-route to London around April 5. He and Windibank were transporting some archeological finds on board the Eastern Empress at the time of his death. He was very seasick on the journey and spent much of the time in his cabin while his wife and a suitor (Mr. Uruburu) may have used that time for some indiscretions.
  • Murder #3 - James Windibank. He was killed in the British museum, strangled by mummy wrappings.
Time to figure out how poor Mr. Windibank died…
Way back in the introduction video, we learned that Windibank’s murder was being investigated by Scotland Yard so my next stop will be to see Lestrade. He is such a prominent figure in the Holmes canon that I had hoped he would be a “major” character here, but he doesn’t seem to be acted or presented much differently than any of the other “Regulars” that we’ve seen so far. To add insult to all the Lestrade-lovers out there, the Yard has made nearly no progress at this point. It’s a waste of our time.

Up close and very personal with a mummy.

With the authorities being no help, our next target is the scene of the crime itself: the British Museum. That turns out to be very fruitful:
  • Windibank was strangled using mummy wrappings but not the mummy’s wrappings. They were similar, but care seems to have been taken not to damage the mummy that was returned from Egypt.
  • Windibank’s body was discovered in the mummy’s sarcophagus, but the assailant didn't move the mummy first. The two bodies were stacked on top of each other.
  • The museum was open at the time of the murder, but the new exhibit was closed. However, security was not tight enough to say that no one got in or out of the restricted area.
  • Henry Witherspoon, a guard, discovered the body. Strangely, he is not in our London directory so we cannot talk to him directly.
There’s some good details to chew on there. The bit with the mummy’s wrapping suggests that the assailant was respectful of the mummy and wanted to keep it intact, but then why would he have stuffed the bodies together like that? Was that improvised at the last moment? This detail furthers my conviction that Travis did it, especially as we know he keeps mummified animals around his house.

The final detail I learn also inspires my next stop: Windibank was an employee of London University, not the museum. Time to talk to his bosses.

To be… or not to be.
We head to the university next and we find ourselves talking to the chairman of the Egyptology Department. He gives us a treasure trove of details about the expedition: Turnbull (the first victim) was the organizer, with Windibank (the third victim) as his second-in-command. This was the first time that they had worked together, but Windibank was a popular lecturer at the university. A third and final slot in the expedition was to be given to a student and three of them applied for the job: Weatherby (the second victim), Peter Smith, and Philip Travis (!!). Weatherby was selected, but Smith and Travis traveled to Egypt via other means. Smith joined a competing expedition, while Travis went as a reporter. Finally, we have a motive! Travis may have been jealous that he was not selected for the expedition. I’m adding Mr. Smith as a suspect as he may have the same motives as Travis, not to mention a stake in the failure of the now-competing expedition. But when we pay him a visit, we find that he won’t be back for nearly a year. Even if he did the murder in Egypt-- which is possible-- he wasn’t in the right place for the other two.

Mr. Watson visits an ordinary forensic scientist.

Talking to the guy at the university filled in details about the circumstances of the first murder, but we’re no closer to solving the third. My next stop is to Scotland Yard’s crime lab; H. R. Murray there is one of Holmes’s “Regulars” and might have some evidence from the crime scene that will be helpful. Mr. Murray confirms that the fabric around the victim's neck was thousands of years old but was not the real cause of death! Windibank was strangled the old-fashioned way, with the wrappings put there afterwards for effect. He also discovered monkey hair on the wrapping. I think we all remember who was trying to resurrect a monkey mummy not too long ago… Murray is also looking at the murder on board the Empress, although this may not be in his jurisdiction. In that case, the mummy wrappings had dog hair on them. That could point to Mrs. Fenwick being the second murderer, but that seems unlikely. We know her dog was in the cargo hold; it could have left hair around the scene.

At this point, I know it was Travis. He did it because he wasn’t selected to come to Egypt with the group and was jealous of the success of their expedition. Let’s take it to the judge!

Not Judge Wapner.

This is the first time I’m seeing the judging interface, so I’m not sure exactly what’s involved. I’m first asked to select who committed the first murder; I have to pick that person’s name from either the directory or my notebook. I select Travis and the judge seems happy about that!

Next, the judge asks me to select his motive from a brief list:

Oooh. Difficult questions.

And honestly, that has me stumped. None of the motives match up with the jealousy angle that I theorized. It’s possible that he felt that the tomb should be left undisturbed given his love of Egyptian culture and “science”, but then why would he have volunteered for the trip? We haven’t heard anything about press access being an issue, nor about questioning the doctor’s credentials. We also haven’t heard anything about Travis ever meeting Clarissa Weatherby, though it’s not impossible that she slept with all the archeologists on the trip. I’m stumped. Rather than guess wrong, I select to leave and Holmes apologizes to the judge. Back to the investigation!

Unfortunately, I’ve reached a bit of an impasse. I know the killer of (at least) the first murder but not his motive. It happened in Egypt weeks ago and the two guys that might be witnesses are dead. It’s a perfect little crime, so how do I crack it?

Watson is off finding clues by himself now…

In desperation, I start to run through the rest of Holmes’s “Regulars” to see what they might contribute to the case:
  • Jasper Meek, the Chief Medical Examiner for Scotland Yard, reveals that the murders were committed with strong but bare hands. In each case that he looked at, the deaths were instantaneous as the trachea and vertebrae were crushed. The wrappings were added later to mask the real cause of death.
  • Quentin Hogg, a local crime reporter, tells me more about the two Arab men on board the ship: Fahmi was an importer while Al-Saud was an agent of the Ottoman empire. It’s interesting, but doesn’t seem to connect to the case.
  • Porky Shinwell, a bartender with his ear to the underworld, tells me that someone was smuggling in some kind of bird artifact on the Eastern Empress. Is this whole subplot just an extended Maltese Falcon reference?
  • Langdale Pike, the expert on the London social scene, provides some details on two of the murdered men. Turnbull refused to marry and “take his place in society”. Windibank did marry, but he once caused a scandal by autopsying his deceased dog and had a run-in with the “anti-vivisectionist league”, whatever that is. Louise Fenwick-- one of the passengers on the ship!-- threatened to kill him over it.
  • The Somerset House, the mysterious “S.H.” in the introduction, is a hall of records for things like wills. We learn that Turnbull left all his stuff to the Egyptology department, but Windibank and Weatherby both willed all of their possessions to their wives. That seems unsurprising.
The other Regulars either say nothing of value or aren’t around. What did I gain by taking the “try everyone” approach? Not much. We have a motive for why Louise Fenwick might have committed the second murder-- and the dog hair at the scene adds to that theory-- but I don’t believe it. She would have been unlikely to copy the M.O. of the previous killer. We also get the impression that the killer was quite strong. As Travis seems more like a 19th century geek, perhaps he wasn’t the killer for the rest of the cases? Can someone please ask him to open a can of toffee?

Hey! You can visit dead people.

Lacking any other good ideas, I pick the victims’ names from the directory and discover that you can still visit their homes even if they are dead. Turnbull seems to have been quite boring and only owned books and maps, but we are reminded again that he is the son of an Earl. Windibank’s wife tells me that her husband was excited for the trip and did not believe in curses because he was a man of science. Yet again, none of the leads get me anywhere.

I search through the paper again and find some articles that I missed:
  • Feb 6 1888 - Letter from the Earl of Downey, Turnbull’s father, complaining that the Times said he was not qualified to unearth antiquities.
  • Aug 17, 1888 - Article about Turnbull’s lecture series. Windibank and Weatherby were both mentioned in the article.
I also find a marriage announcement in there for Mary Moristan & John Watson! That has nothing to do with the case, but it’s another nice little detail. I only wish I wasn’t floundering here, then I might be able to appreciate the nice details more.

With no more leads, articles, or ideas, I decide that trial and error is my only recourse. I head back to the judge and make a guess: “C”, that the victim had questioned Turnbull’s credentials. That worked!

More questions!
The judge is satisfied that we solved the first murder, so he pushes us on to the second. Who killed Weatherby? I pick Travis again. Louise and Clarissa may both have had a reason for killing him, but I trust that only the same killer would use the same M.O. That turns out to be correct! Travis also killed Weatherby. Now, I need to report on his motive.

This one is again very tricky. We know that Travis and Weatherby got into a “war of words” on the ship about his beliefs and that seems the most likely cause. We don’t have any evidence of Weatherby even having an interest in journalism nor anything about their dissertations to suggest it could be either of the middle options. It might possibly be the jealousy issue again, but Travis was much more likely to kill Turnbull for that reason (because he made the selections), rather than Weatherby (someone who was selected instead). I select “A”... and am disappointed. The judge tells me that I’m wrong and we have to start over again. Rather than go back and dig up more clues, I re-play to that point and select “D”. I don’t quite buy that argument as a great motive, but the game says that it’s right. Onward to the third murder.

It’s like taking the SATs...

Once again, I select Travis as the murderer and am correct. Since he did the other two, it was nearly impossible that he wouldn’t go for the hattrick. The judge says that we are correct and asks us to pick his motive. This time, I know exactly what to pick: “B”. He wasn’t picked for the expedition, but Windibank was. That is correct! I completed the first case!

I am pretty sure that I suck.

With the case closed, I am given my score: 646 points. Remember that the score is based on how long it took you to solve the mystery and a higher score is worse than a lower one. Since Holmes managed to get it done in 26 points, I have to assume that I sucked. I did end up talking to a lot more people than I needed to, especially once I started scrambling to discover a motive.

… of the first chapter.

Thankfully, I’m also given a little denouement video where Holmes explains how he solved the case. He was a lot more efficient than I was:
  • He immediately deduced that it would be the same person doing all three murders. Since one of the murders was on a ship, that limited the number of possible suspects.
  • He saw from the newspaper that the Empress was in Bombay at the time of the first murder, so the murderer was not a member of the crew.
  • Since he knew the murderer was on the Empress but not a crew member, he got the passenger list. Travis was on the list.
  • He then realized that Travis was the reporter who wrote about the first murder.
  • Clarissa Weatherby was another suspect, but she only had a motive to murder Weatherby and not the others. The whole bit where Holmes asked her to open a jar of toffee was to test her hand strength. She wasn’t very strong, so she couldn’t have strangled all those men.
  • Travis studied under Windibank at London University and wanted to be chosen for the expedition. He was furious when Weatherby was chosen instead.
  • Travis had written a “vicious” article questioning Turnbull’s credentials to lead the expedition, to which Turnbull wrote a “harsh” response. This very public war-of-words in the London Times might have been enough to drive Travis to kill.
Looking over this, I missed a couple of details. I did not notice that the Empress was in Bombay at the time of the first murder, but it never occurred to me that the killer might have been a member of the crew. I also overlooked that Travis wrote the article about the first murder himself, allowing him to set the seeds of the “mummy’s curse” in the public imagination as well as turn away suspicion.

But the last bit with the “vicious” article and “harsh” response has me scratching my head. This is clearly where I was supposed to get the information from for the first set of questions, but I still can’t find what I might have missed. The closest I can find is this article in the paper:

Not the (Duke, Duke, Duke) Duke of Earl

This article, from the February 6, 1888 paper is a request for a retraction to a previous article that questioned the Earl’s credentials. We have to assume the previous article was written by Travis, but it doesn’t say. It was written more than a year before the present action of the case-- was Travis even a reporter at this point? More importantly, the retraction is requested by the “Earl of Downey”, Turnbull’s father and not Turnbull himself. We know that he’s the third son of the Earl, so even if his father had died since Holmes put together his files, he wouldn’t have become the Earl. Unless there is another bit of evidence that I’m missing, I’m going to end this case deeply frustrated. It’s put together so well, and yet I just don’t feel we can make the final intuitive leap that seems required for the story.

Did anyone else find a clue here that I missed? Is it a missing article? Or is this a “bug” in the case? Is this bug (if it is one) corrected in the remake?

Is this an “Adventure” game?

So, having played through one case (and probably one-third of the game), I want to pause for a second and ask the obvious question, “Is this an adventure game?” And… I think it is but just barely.

Adventures mean a lot of things to a lot of people and they vary considerably from the earliest days of Adventure to the most recent titles. But I think they have three things in common:
  • Adventures reward exploration. Adventures take place in every possible locale and every possible genre, but they always reward exploration. Maybe you need to explore every room to get to the end of the game or maybe there’s just a fun detail that the developers put in, but exploration has been a part of the genre since the beginning.
  • Adventures have a progression and usually a rising of tension. You unlock more of the world as you complete puzzles; your actions matter in cause and effect.
  • Adventures have an emphasis on thinking over action. While many titles have arcade-style minigames, the primary thrust of an adventure is to use your quick head instead of quick fingers to proceed to the end.

Almost done with my rant. I swear.

Fantastic games play around with these aspects, but Consulting Detective violates two of these rules in a number of ways. Exploration is punished in this game, resulting in a lower score. And that is too bad because the subplot with the Ottoman agent and the smuggled artifact was one of the high points of this case. The “correct” way to solve the game ensures that a player would not find those details. The game barely has progression: you can talk to anyone at any time and no dialog changes because of clues you’ve already picked up. Want to ask a suspect about a new lead? Well, too bad. There is some progression as you have to talk to people to get names of others to talk to, although you could in theory just pick randomly and stumble onto a lead. The judge acts as another gate; he will only accept the case after you’ve seen a certain number of clues. (I’m not sure exactly how he is unlocked, but I checked and you can’t go to the judge immediately after starting.) This is absolutely a thinking game, so I have no complaints there. But one out of three-- does that make it an adventure?

I am going to keep playing through the end. There’s enough here that it counts as an adventure in my book but just barely. I almost want to just ignore the score and talk to everyone that I can because the little side details are so charming! But for my next case, I’m going to try to play it “by the book” to solve the case with as few clues as possible just like Mr. Holmes. Off to the next case!

Up next: more murder!

What do you think about my three rules for adventure games? Am I missing something big? Am I off the mark? Especially as we get out of the Sierra era, do the old rules still apply?

Time played: 1 hr 35 min
Total time: 3 hr 25 min

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!


  1. Great post, I loved reading it. :)

    Just a couple of things:

    He wasn’t picked for the expedition, but Windibank was.

    Weatherby. :)

    was much more likely to kill Turnbull for that reason (because he made the selections)

    Windibank. :)

    I agree that the motive for Turnbull's death is very hard to spot (I had to use trial and error).

    1. It's... so... hard. Sorry about the wrong names, especially after I commented a few times on how difficult it was to keep them straight.

      I tried! :)

    2. I didn't remember them from playing the game, or anything. It's just that you explained them very well in this post and the one before, so when later in your post the names seemed to contradict what you said earlier, it jumped at me. :)

  2. I haven't played this myself, but online sources suggest there's a critical article about Turnbull by Travis at the top of page 2 of the August 17, 1888 newspaper.

    1. The paper I am using is this one: https://ia601801.us.archive.org/32/items/Sherlock_Holmes_Consulting_Detective_1991_ICOM_Simulations_newspaper/Sherlock_Holmes_Consulting_Detective_1991_ICOM_Simulations_newspaper.pdf

      I do not see TAHT article on the top of page 2, although there is one that is not a criticism. The only critical one that I found is the little one I embedded above which has the "Earl of Downey" signature which I think must be his father.

    2. My guess is that it's the article titled "Recent Excavations in Egypt". It's not signed, but it's implied to be written by Travis, the paper's "Egypt correspondent".

      It's not very obvious, but the article seems to passive-agressively attack Turnbull for being more concerned about "profitable excavations" and "find[ing] and keep[ing] treasure", than about "restor[ing] to life the monuments of bygone times."

      The letter from the Earl is probably a response to that (implying that the Earl is indeed Turnbull, not his father).

      I hadn't really realized this until now, though; like I said, I had to guess Travis' motive for killing Turnbull by trial and error (the others are far easier.)

    3. Yea. I think this is clearly what the game MEANT to imply. But I didn't read it as an attack, certainly not on his credentials. Not to the level that would have been necessary to spark murder. (Plus, the Turnbull vs his father issue still strikes me as being an error.)

      But all in all, this was a lot of fun. I hope I didn't imply otherwise! I feel bad that I had to go trial and error on this item but at least I am not alone in finding the evidence less than compelling.

    4. It didn't spark murder in Turnbull, just a letter to the newspaper. That letter's "Your reporter obviously has no appreciation for the significance of such a finding", on the other hand, DID drive Travis to murder. :)

    5. Researching more online, it seems like the game got off on the wrong foot starting with this case - I see quite a few other commenters finding Travis's motive to be weak compared to the murderers' motives in other cases, and observing that Holmes leapt to conclusions about certain articles having written by Travis.

      Also, note that the February lambasting article by the "Earl of Downey" (or, I guess, Turnbull using his father's name?) is *before* the August passive-aggressive article. We don't have whatever article triggered the February lambasting. But I guess the "important" part is for us to see "Earl of Downey lambasting reporter," and connect "Earl of Downey" to Turnbull and "reporter" to Travis.

      Fun fact: when the board game was recently republished (first in France and then translated to English), the solution to this mystery was changed. I won't reveal the changes, other than to note that (1) Turnbull was not killed by Travis; and (2) apparently the changes created a *different* kind of problem in the English translation, because the solution was still changed but the clues needed to deduce some of the changes did not get carried over in the translation. So players of the new English publication reach the same "Travis killed everyone" solution and wind up even more puzzled than we are right now, wondering how they missed out on [CHANGES TO SOLUTION REDACTED].

    6. I own BOTH editions now: the original as well as the recent reprint. I haven't even opened the latter, but the original game is very nice. I'm shocked if they changed the solution and may take a look at that later. I am considering doing a bonus (maybe with the rating) of the differences between the original version and this game-- but maybe I need to include the new one as well.

      My biggest surprise in the 10 minutes I've spent with the original is that you don't play as Holmes or Watson!

    7. There is unofficial errata available at boardgamegeek that is designed to fix the translation error I mention above for this case. There's also a fix for one of the other cases (similar problem - solution changed, clues didn't get changed to match up with it) included in that same errata.

      As I understand it, the issue is less "translation error" and more that when the new edition came out in English, they reverted to the already-existing English clue set - without taking into account that a couple of solutions, and accompanying relevant clues, were changed only in the French version.

  3. Fun fact #2: the board game (well, the republished version at least) includes some "bonus points" to be scored if you run down subplots/subpoints in the mystery. In this case, the subplot/subpoint questions are:

    (1) Who killed Akram Fahmi?
    (2) What "object passed from one pair of hands to the other in this case?"
    (3) How were the victims killed?

  4. I gotta say I agree on the problem of penalising exploration and part of murder mystery is to get the whole picture (Laura Bow is probably the best in that regard as you gotta replay it to get the full story so to speak) and that includes getting side stories that are only there for red herrings. Although how another murder case and smuggling story is an unexplored side quest basically goes beyond me. Solving that at the same time would have been better than handwaving it. A thing I noticed though with FMV murder games (that I've played) is that it is really hard not getting maximum points (this of course where more is better and if you can solve the puzzles) since most points are connected to talking and who wouldn't go through every option?

    1. This is why I scored as high as well. I wanted to visit every lead rather than do the Holmesian thing of trying to deduce the solution as quickly as possible.

      And honestly, I think the game suffers as a result. When the objective is to miss as much of your produced content as possible, it's not a good place for a game developer to be. I would have liked a mode where you got scored BETTER based on how many leads you followed up on, rather than WORSE.

    2. I agree: if you rush to the solution, you miss more than half of the videos, and what's the fun of that?

      I think this really works better as a multiplayer game, either competitive or cooperative, which are both possible with the board game, but not in the computer adaptation, sadly.

      The computer game still has a lot of charm, though. I wish they would release Steam remakes of the old volumes II and III, which I'd surely buy.

    3. To be fair on the video game, this same criticism applies to the board game as well. Jump to the right points and only those, and you miss out on a lot of interesting scenarios and writing. So in that sense the video game is exactly aping the board game experience. And those playing the board game have come to the same conclusion as well - that it's better not to compete with Holmes, and just instead absorb the full atmosphere and enjoy the entirety of the ride.

    4. Agreed. Police don't stop when they have just enough evidence. They get as much as they can. When they have a motive and opportunity they don't call it case closed and stop looking for the murder weapon. Investigate properly, Holmes!

  5. I think it's completely in character that we stumble around, finally finding enough evidence, while Holmes gets a few data points and leaps to the correct conclusion. That's exactly what he did in most of the original stories. Mere mortals must work considerably harder.

    I recommend ignoring the score and focusing on the charm of the text and dialogue. Treat Consulting Detective as a "role-playing" game in the original sense of playing a role, and enjoy the experience. You are not *supposed* to be able to compete with Holmes on time - he also visits the right people first.

  6. I actually quite like the 'end summary' style. It was probably more enticing in Laura Bow to me, for the simple reason that the game didn't spoil everything immediately, just giving clues as to what you might have missed (for instance, if you shoot the wrong person at the end of the game it mentions that you might want to seriously look over your decision making process!) Still, it's understandable that a game with large amounts of FMV is going to be quite linear regardless, and the game was possibly always going to have this issue by virtue of not really being an adventure game and more an interactive video styled thing.

    1. I liked that too!

      The only thing that still bugs me a bit is that I wish the clues tied together better and I wish they didn't have the negative onus on the score. If anything, I want a medal if I find all the witnesses to talk to, not punished!

  7. You beat me easily, Joe. I got 795!

    I didn't keep notes, which is part of the reason, but I also didn't even get close to the proper motive.

    I may have seen too much Scooby-Doo in my life, but I thought Travis did it because they weren't respecting the Egyptian gods/heritage - and killing as the Mummy would give some god-fearing into the foreign graverobbers.


  8. I finished the case, guessed the suspect wrong many times, looked at UHS and now I am furious.

    I was ABSOLUTELY SURE I guessed Travis first. Then I got like a million minus points for going through the rest of the passenger name list.

    Did I hit a glitch? I hope I didn't misclick.