Friday, 15 December 2017

The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes - Fer-de-Fléchette

Written by Joe Pranevich


Grab your magnifying glass, it’s finally time to get back to The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes. Last time around, I ended on a down note: I was stuck after tracking down the name of Sarah Carroway’s, our murder victim’s, boyfriend “James”. Even with that, I wasn’t able to figure out which James he was on a rugby team that seems to have been filled with them. I also discovered that her sister, Anne, was a famous opera singer and may have gone missing or worse. I had many leads to follow, but none that the game particularly wanted me to follow and I was stuck. After failing to get anywhere, I asked for help and a few faithful commenters set me on the right path. I didn’t even need to look at their rot13-clues, it was enough to know that I needed to focus on the flowers from Sarah’s “secret admirer”.

My breakthrough came when I tried to study the flowers in Holmes’s private lab: we discovered, to no surprise at all, that the flowers were artificially dyed. However Mr. Holmes was also able to identify that they were dyed using an industrial cleaner with an iodine base. Armed with that analysis, we were able to ask Wiggins to focus in on flower-sellers that used that technique around the theater where Sarah worked. In almost no time at all (just had to leave the screen and come back!), he located the florist in question and we have a new destination on our map. Will this let me track down the “secret admirer”? Let’s find out!

I’m saving those for paper and string.

Before I go on, I’d like to pause here for a second. I am having some difficulty pacing these posts because the game doesn’t quite play like a typical adventure. I’ve sunk around six hours into the game so far and have found tons of clues and a few puzzles. Yet, I have no idea how far along I am. Am I still in the beginning section? Or am I on the verge of discovering the murderer and reaching the endgame? I have no idea. At least thus far, the game doesn’t provide a sense of rising tension, just a cycle of places to explore and conversations to be had. This isn’t a criticism, but it means there are few natural breaking points. I am just going to play until I get stuck, find something that seems like an “act” change, or just decide to stop.

The flower-seller that Wiggins identified for us is just a few blocks east of Baker Street. It’s on a block with two other stores, a “palmist” (which I suspect is a fortune-teller) and the Moongate Pub. Eagle-eyed players may remember that Sarah’s secret admirer asked the stage manager to meet him by the “moongate” if he had any information, so I think we are on the right track. Shame that we couldn’t just have looked up the name in the local London directory and found it that way instead of having to track down a flower-seller by what industrial cleaning agents she uses. It seems like that wasn’t the easiest approach somehow. I have Holmes chat up the vendor, a very young girl named Leslie, and he buys some flowers for Mrs. Hudson with a generous tip. The girl agrees to talk to us, but she doesn’t know Sarah Carroway. She asks for a description of the man that bought the flowers, but we do not have that yet. We show her the signed card instead and she immediately recognises her own writing and remembers the incident. She says that the man purchasing flowers for his crush was quite strange, hitting on her even as he was buying flowers for his girlfriend. He even tried to convince Leslie to go to the pub with him-- what a pervert! When she turned him down, he dropped any polite veneer and swore at her, flicking a cigarette into her barrel before seeming to get angry at his sleeve for some reason. Did he get some of the dye on it? Is that how I will track him down?

Crap-baskets?

My dream that Sarah was secretly a lesbian is quashed since it is the flower-seller’s handwriting on her “secret admirer” card, but this exchange asks more questions than it answers. It doesn’t seem like a real admirer would be trying to score a date with a flower-girl while wooing his beloved. What was the point of that charade? Was he trying to get Sarah to trust him? To come outside at a certain time? Something is missing here.

I turn my attention to Leslie’s barrel, where she dyes her flowers. If we can find out what brand the man smokes, we may be able to compare that to what we found in the alley. There is a basket of flowers being dyed on top of the barrel, but we remove it and search. Nothing in the flowers themselves, but there is a shiny thing at the bottom of the barrel that we can’t quite seem to reach. I assume that Holmes refuses to reach in himself because this is an iodine-based industrial cleaning agent, but the game doesn’t say that directly. We’ll have to get the shiny thing some other way. A cork in the side of the barrel seems promising, but Leslie gets mad at us when we consider emptying her barrel. It takes me some trial and error, but I eventually work out that you can “use” the flower basket on the barrel: Holmes fashions the wire basket into a hook and uses that to fish out whatever is on the bottom. It’s a cufflink! Even better, it’s a cufflink with the initials “G. B.” on it. That gets us farther, but we don’t know any “G” names.

I was hoping this would be The Blue Boar.

With nothing left to explore outside and Leslie not having any new answers, I resolve to finish exploring the area, starting with the Moongate. Since we know the admirer (or whatever he is) told the stage manager to meet him there, he might be inside right now.

The bar is a dirty joint with a bouncer at the door and drunk men sitting at the tables. The “publican”, a fancy British way for saying bartender, is behind the bar. I explore a bit first, grabbing a white feather off of the floor, and looking at the bartender’s pictures. On the bar, he keeps a picture of himself and his mother from 1867 at Queen Victoria’s jubilee. Behind is a picture of the same man in 1865, as a newly-joined member of the First Bangalore Fusiliers in India. Holmes helpfully provides that the regiment was famous for having long tours of duty where the soldiers would be unable to return for years except in “death or disgrace”. The alcohol in the bar seems of dubious quality and it looks like someone may have been stabbed against one of the pillars at some point in the past, but Holmes doesn’t find too much else interesting so I turn my attention to the barman.

I have Holmes sidle up to the bar and order himself and the publican a drink. We ask about the feather and learned that one of his customers runs an exotic animal shop; he must have brought it in on his clothes by accident. I show him the cufflink and he recognizes it immediately as a customer named “Blackwood”, the so-called “best taxidermist in London”. Aha!! Way back when we started, I said that I thought the serrated scalpel might have been used for taxidermy, and I will be thrilled if I guessed correctly. Is he the murderer? Even though he’s the best, the bartender has no idea where his shop is or even the name of the shop. We have no way to find this “best taxidermist”, but the tavern-keeper tells us that one of his specimens was recently sold to a nearby tobacco shop. Maybe someone there will be able to tell us where Blackwood’s shop is?

After that, the tavern-keeper refuses to say anything else but we have a few options: Holmes can tighten the screws on him by accusing him of some crime or we can play him in darts. I accuse him and immediately see what he is trying to hide: the picture with his mother was too soon after the picture from India. He was a coward and returned to London before his tour of duty was over. He relents when we threaten to tell his patrons of his disgrace and will tell us about Sarah’s admirer. I expected to hear about the taxidermist again, but instead he says that her admirer is a delivery boy for a chemist (pharmacist) that works on Hattington Street. What? That makes no sense. We already established that the admirer was the taxidermist that lost his cufflink, so who is this delivery boy? If they are different people, is it the biggest coincidence in the world that they both admired (or pretended to admire) Sarah and they both drank at the same pub? Something doesn’t connect yet. Did I misunderstand one of my clues?

Practicing throwing doesn’t work as well as in QfG1.

Even after wringing out the information through coercion, I still get the option of asking for information after a friendly game of darts. Just in case I would get different information, I challenge him, but he refuses. He says that before he will play me, I will need to win three rounds against three different bar patrons. They all look pretty drunk, so that should be easy! I have to talk to each to figure out who will play me first (one guy demands that I know his name first and the other is too superstitious to be the first challenger), but it’s simple enough. I’m shocked that when we play, it really does open up a minigame! I was expecting Holmes to just be an expert on darts like everything else, but we’re on our own. You might remember that I have very mixed feelings on minigames after the disasters of Operation: Stealth and Star Trek, but I grin and bear it.

The game doesn’t tell you the rules of darts, but I didn’t remember them before I started playing. My first round or two were just trial and error, but I eventually give up and search Wikipedia for the rules. Essentially, my opponent and I start with 301 points and have to count backwards to zero without going too far. Each round we are given three dice and our score will be deducted from the target based on what areas of the board we hit: each region has a clear number on it, but the outer ring is a doubler and the inner ring triples the score. Hitting a near-bullseye nets us 25 points, while a real bullseye is 50. We “aim” by using the two meters on the left and bottom of the screen. We only get one shot-- the target area does not move back and forth like in some games-- and the dart will roughly land at the X/Y coordinate that we stop the cursor on. It takes a lot of practice: I find 6, 11, 20, and 3 to be relatively easy to hit because they are in the “middle” on one axis, but most of the other numbers are quite hard to hit. (By the nature of the game, it’s easy to see the middle of the meters and so stopping there and getting a bullseye ends up one of the easier things to do.) Incidentily, the game does not implement the “double to win” rule from real darts. I suspect that would make the game much harder than it already is.

It takes me more than an hour and about 30 games of darts to break through all three drunks and the landlord, but it was all for nothing since he just repeats what he knows about the delivery boy. At least it was fun!

I’m going to retire and raise bees in the countryside? Impossible!

Before I leave, there is one more place to explore: the nearby fortune-teller. We head inside and quickly discover that she is only interested in reading our fortune; she doesn’t seem to know or be involved in the murder in any way. Holmes seems to want to explore her office in the back room, but she won’t let us in there. Is that a hint that I will need to come back later? The house has a second floor, but Holmes deduces by the amount of dust that no one has gone up or down those stairs in some time. There seems to be nothing else of interest here so I pack up and head back to the main map.

A Møøse once bit my sister... No realli!

Just as I expected, I find two new locations on my map: Bradley’s Tobacco Shop and Hattington Street Chemist. Since I still suspect the taxidermist, I chase that lead first and go to the tobacco shop first. It’s a shame they haven’t invented the whitepages yet because this would be much easier if I could just identify how many Blackwoods have taxidermist shops.

We find the specimen immediately on arrival. In grand (Sierra?) adventure game tradition, the animal in question is a moose. The boy working the counter says that the owner is away on business and will not be returning soon and he cannot tell me anything at all about the moose-head. We find that there is a label on top of it, but Holmes cannot read it because the head blocks it from our angle. Do I need to use a mirror-on-a-stick or something? A ladder? Why is Holmes even letting this get in his way? It seems silly to give up on this now, but I leave. I’ll have to find a way to see that label some other day.

“How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love? ” ― Albert Einstein

We arrive at the chemist next. Once again, there isn’t much at all to explore other than talking to the owner. He seems nice enough, but time is money and we’re not allowed to talk to his delivery boy/stockboy. Just like every other time in this game, Holmes loosens the chemist’s lips through money, buying some medication we do not need. After that, he suddenly has no objections to us talking to Richard.

Unfortunately, the boy also appears to be a dead end. He claims to not know Sarah Carroway, but he does admit that he delivers regularly to Covent Garden. He denies everything up until we have Holmes tell us that she has been murdered. That opens his mouth to say that he was the secret admirer, but only from afar. He fell in love during a performance of Love’s Labour Lost, but now that she is dead he is completely heartbroken. He cannot even talk to us anymore. We leave empty-handed, except for some random medication that we do not need. Score?

With that, I am stuck again. [Note: Just got unstuck! You don’t need to give me hints.] I have no new locations to visit or any leads to follow. We cannot analyze (or have Wiggins search for) the feather or cufflink. I can’t even be sure I completely understand the plot because I was sure that the secret admirer was “G. B.” and not “Richard”. Was there two admirers? Was the “G. B.” admirer just pretending? If so, isn’t it an amazing coincidence that she also has a real admirer? And that they frequent the same pub? If this is what is going on, I hope they explain this because right now it makes very little sense.

She has a horcrux under her turban.

Before I close, let me update you on my predictions and thought process:
  • Richard is what he claims to be, a love-struck fan. If this is to make any sense, then I have to guess that he was talking about his crush at some point in the Moongate Pub at Covent Garden. Perhaps he mentioned Sarah’s necklace and it perked up the ears of the real criminal? Notice that the “secret admirer” note has a quote from Romeo and Juliet, not Love’s Labour Lost, further underscoring that he didn’t request the note. 
  • Mr. Blackwood knows that Richard is a fan and decided to use him as an alibi. By making it seem like the flowers came from Richard, Blackwood might have hoped to have escaped suspicion in her murder. That entails the police connecting the flowers with the murderer and I do not think that is likely at all. 
  • Sarah Carroway’s boyfriend, James, has nothing to do with any of this but finding him might lead us to Sarah’s sister, Ann. Her sister is in danger and possibly already dead. 

In conclusion: Mr. Blackwood did it in the alleyway with the serrated scalpel. Now, all I have to do is find him, find his motive, prove his guilt to Scotland Yard, and stand back. That should be easy, right?

Time played: 3 hr 15 min
Total time: 9 hr 30 min
Inventory: message requesting help, business cards, iron bar, perfume bottle, pink carnation, card, sample of powder, cigarette butts, analysis results, a brass key, a large key, opera tickets, a note to enter Anna’s dressing room, cufflinks, wire hook, feather, Catarrh Preparation

11 comments:

  1. You are around 20% in the game, it's a big game, with tons of locations. You are right that there are no obvious arcs (for now), the game is very open, and you can advance in many different directions. If you take the time to read every description (you should, since it's the best the game has to offer), it can lead to a very long and rewarding experience.

    Good, to be fair, I have always been very confused about Covent Garden items, why are the cufflinks in there when you are following another lead ?

    Maybe you will explain it to me after 25 years, when you win this game.

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  2. The trick with this game is that I keep getting stuck with one action to do to advance the plot, then I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what it is. So... not atypical, but I wish the game perhaps hinted a bit more.

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    1. You still have another lead of investigation which you didn't follow yet, I gave you a very vague hint in the previous post.

      But yes, this game opens too much and never cleans old locations, so it can get a little overwhelming to remember everything that's going on

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    2. I did actually use that hint and reached another "stuck" point where I am trying to prove something that should be obvious. I'm going to write about where I am currently up to and see if I manage to make any breakthroughs asap.

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    3. Yeah, in general if something obvious is blocking you, you probably missed speaking with Watson in that area or examining a very specific spot.

      Good luck unstucking yourself, and if you give up just tell us !

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  3. Putting on my deerstalker and pipe, I have a theory that's based on very little and probably wrong...

    Yrfyrl vf ylvat.

    Fur fnvq fur unq urneq gur zna phefr fbzrguvat greevoyr naq unq "arire urneq fhpu jbeqf orsber"

    Fb ubj qbrf fur xabj gur jbeqf ner phefrf vs fur'q arire urneq gurz orsber?

    Svther bs fcrrpu, lbh fnl? Onu, V pnyy vg n pyhr. Vs fur'f ylvat nobhg guvf fur'f cebonoyl n zheqrere! (Vafreg PFV zhfvp naq bcravat perqvgf)

    Also, nice way to incorporate both an Ultima AND a Monty Python reference in the same post!

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    1. Encoded reply with spoilers and answer to your theory:

      Unun, avpr thrff, ohg gbgnyyl jebat ! Guvf tnzr frgf hc n irel pbzcyrk naq vagrerfgvat cybg jvgu ybgf bs cbffvoyr fhfcrpgf, ohg va gur raq, zbfg bs gurz ghea hc gb or erq ureevatf be whfg jvgarffrf bs gur erny pevzvanyf.

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  4. I just finished my replay of the game, so I can read these with my memory refreshed.

    When I first played this game (in 2009 or so), I failed to make the connection of the pictures being only two years apart, so I brute-forced it... *after* beating the bartender at darts. Maybe I was too young at the time to fully comprehend English to understand the clues provided.

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    1. I just finished my play-through as well. And I remember being really frustrated with the dart game in my first game ages ago. Actually, I was also frustrated in this play-through as well and I did not beat the publican. I was almost dismayed that I would not be able to progress, but then I solved it the Holmesian way. One thing I know is that I don't like minigames in adventure games.

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    2. IIRC there's a dart minigame in the sequel too, but this time it's unskippable.

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  5. http://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=55622

    ReplyDelete