Monday 22 June 2020

Missed Classic: Moonmist - Getting a Clue (Won! Once!)

Written by Joe Pranevich

Welcome back to Moonmist, the Nancy Drew mystery with a bit less Nancy Drew and a bit more Clue. The more I think about it, the more likely it seems that Galley and Lawrence were inspired by the 1985 film starring Tim Curry and based on the board game. (Our international readers may know both by their foreign titles, Cluedo.) Both the game and the film relish in mystery tropes including the all-important “dinner scene”, but the genius of the Clue film comes in its multiple endings. When you went to the theater, you were randomly selected to get one of several possible endings with different murderers and motives. The whole film had to be set up to support the multiple endings and, for my money, it is one of the great comedic twists in film. Moonmist’s multiple endings, plucked from a seemingly-random question of color at the beginning of the game, might not really be based on Clue but I cannot help but think there is a connection. Later releases of Clue included all of the endings, one after the other, at the conclusion of the film. We will return to Moonmist after we beat it once to see how the other threads play out.

We left off last week just after the critical dinner scene. The pre-recorded voice of the late Lord Lionel Tresyllian invited the assembled guests to participate in a scavenger hunt for a missing piece of his fortune. Lord Jack, Lionel’s nephew and the new owner of the castle, is a prime suspect in his uncle’s death due to his inheriting the estate. His ex-girlfriend, Deirdre, also recently died in mysterious circumstances. (She fell down a well!) Meanwhile, our friend Tamara believes that someone is trying to kill her and the mysterious “White Lady” ghost has resumed haunting the halls. How are all of these details connected? We just have to solve the mystery to find out.
Wilton Castle in Cornwall might be built in the same style. Notice the
circular tower region separated from a more “modern” manor house. 

All In The Brochure

Now that dinner is over, I need a strategy. My initial plan is to run down the two leads that I have so far and then join the family’s scavenger hunt. At some point, I will need to break to explore the castle and grounds to build a map. Although a fine map came with the game, it does not include the whole castle and certainly does not document all the nooks and crannies that we may need to explore to solve this mystery.

The first clue to follow up on is the maid’s note. Last week, we intercepted a note from the butler to Lord Jack that stated not only that the servants were preparing to leave for the night, but that one of the maids had decided to quit. She left a resignation letter on the desk in the sitting room. As all of the guests were ushered into that room as soon as the meal was over, so it’s easy to look! Before I get there, I commented on one aspect of this game already but it bears repeating: even though I know there is a desk in the sitting room, we cannot “see” it. All we get for the room description is this:
> look
It looks even lovelier than it sounds in the brochure.
This is perhaps explicable because they were trying to cut down on the amount of text in the game, but no other Infocom work to this point required such extremes to depict a fully fleshed-out world. This is the description in the brochure:

From that, we can learn that there is a desk, window seat, and many other objections in the room that merit our investigation. I find flipping between the game and the manual (even in PDF form) to be annoying but at least the game only does this for a half-dozen rooms in the brochure.

Enough about that, let’s read the note:
Today, while cleaning the room of a certain person who shall remain nameless, I was SHOCKED to discover SUMMING DREADFUL!
I hope I knows me place, Your Lordship, but I was brought up to be a PERFECTLY RESPECTABLE young woman, and I cannot go on working under the same roof where such WICKEDNESS takes place.
I am not the type of girl given to idle gossip, so I will only say this. Maybe there is more reason than ANYONE SUSPECKS why that so-called ghost prowls about the castle at night, if you know what I mean.
I am not the type who peeks through keyholes, either, but maybe it is high time someone did!

I dislike the fake “accent” writing and misspellings. If she had been an American servant, I would fear that Lawrence and Galley were channeling some vaguely racist southern slang, but as it stands it just reads as off to me. This may be a great approximation of a working class Cornwall accent! Unfortunately, the note doesn’t tell us much.That she saw something while peeking through a keyhole suggests something illicit, perhaps an affair by Lord Jack himself, but I hesitate to connect that to the ghost. This clue may make more sense later and I was planning to ransack all of the bedrooms anyway.

Another game with gratuitous nudity.

Garden of Eden

After reading the note, I explore the rest of the sitting room. I barely get farther than noticing that music from A Prairie Home Companion (already twelve years old when this game came out!) is on the piano before Jack gets up and leaves the room. I quickly abandon my plan and follow him through the castle to see where he is heading. He leaves the sitting room and heads west to the old “tower” part of the castle before ascending the stairs beyond the limits of our tourist brochure. I discover him searching in a disused chapel next to a stained glass window depicting the Garden of Eden. Vivien’s clue from last week read:
Forbidden fruit tempted the very first lass,
‘Twas once in a garden, but now in a glass.
It looks like we are in the right place! Since the brochure didn’t mention the chapel, I doubt I would have found this location quickly. All the more reason why I need to map! I search the window and discover a note taped to the apple. Jack catches me taking it but seems strangely happy about it. It’s not like his family fortune is on the line, right? Or does he get to keep the treasure if I find it?
> examine window
Stuck on the apple of the stained-glass window is a third clue.
“How nice! You found a third clue!” says Lord Jack.
This is another moment where the prose feels “off”. At the very least, there is too much “the” in there, but even so the text in this game feels more stilted than in some of Infocom’s previous works. It says:
Despite its appearance, the fruit was quite sour.
One bite of the apple drove Eve from her bower.
I do not know what to make of it. “Bower” seems to be the key word, but where did Eve go when leaving the Garden of Eden? There’s not an easy answer to that question, but I may work it out as I explore more of the castle. (As a guy that spent years blogging about bible stories, I can tell you that the answer is complicated as pre-flood geography is implied to be different and subject to debate. Mormons believe that the Garden of Eden was in modern day Missouri.)

I follow up on the butler’s clue next. He told me that he had seen the White Lady searching for something on the floor in the drawing room. She ran off when he saw her, but he could not work out where she went as the doors were still locked. I bee-line for the sitting room next-- it is in the eastern end of the new section of the castle, according to the brochure-- and search for myself. I discover a small red jewel in the carpeting! The jewel is otherwise unremarkable, but it may help me discover the ghost’s identity.

Yes, the game came with a map, but...

Mapping, Mapping, Mapping
Since I have no more clues and every other guest is vigorously lounging in the drawing room, my next step is to map out the castle. I would not have known about the chapel if Lord Jack had not led me there; I expect there are many more such surprises. To get ahead of myself, the process of mapping the castle will take hours of both real and in-game time. By my count, the castle consists of 56 locations and a web of secret passages. My plan is to map out everything I can, notate anything interesting, and come back to key locations after I am done.

The castle can be broadly divided into three areas:
  • The “main” tourist part as well as the bedrooms and private living spaces for the family. Those are anchored off of an “Old Great Hall” in the west that rises like a tower, and a “New Great Hall” in the east with more modern construction.
  • The servants’ spaces in the kitchen and basement. This area can be accessed through a hidden stairwell in the dining room (leading down to the kitchen) as well as a pair of stairs at the base of the old tower.
  • Secret passages! There are a lot of secret passages in the game; nearly every location can be entered or spied upon by one of these hidden hallways.
Starting at the ground floor, I have already explored the dining and sitting rooms. I head outside and am relieved that the hedge “maze” is not an adventure game-style maze and just a quick jaunt to a fountain in the center. I discover my first interesting thing in the foyer: a strange cane in the umbrella stand. It barely looks like a cane at all, more like a club with faceted bumps all over it. A closer examination reveals that it has been recently painted. I hold onto it as it may be a clue.

Above the New Great Hall is a block of bedrooms, including my own. Does it seem odd that everyone has their own room, even those that presumably live just down the street? I suppose they planned to party all night long and staying in the castle was just more convenient for all involved. I search the rooms and find nothing incredibly suspicious although (lucky me!), only my room has an attached bathroom.

Jack and Tamara’s (separate) bedrooms are located on the western side of the castle, in the tower. Lord Jack has a nice telescope in his room which I try to use, but doing so opens up a secret passage. Unfortunately, the interior was dark and I’ll need to return to explore once I find a light source. Jack also chooses now as the right time to go to bed and he catches me snooping around in his room. He’s not happy, but neither is the game. I try to leave, but he blocks my exit:
> enter secret passage
Lord Jack blocks your exit!
[ Foo!! This is a bug!! ]
This freaks me out and I restore my game to an earlier point. The last thing I want is to trigger a bug and end up in a walking dead situation. I cannot recall any other Infocom game that had a bug message like this. Am I just unlucky or is this game not as well-tested as other Infocom products?

Other than the secret passage, I find nothing of note in Jack’s room. There is an inkwell that we can grab in his office.

King Dingane ka Senzangakhona Zulu, also known as King Dingaan

Zulu Research
The final room on that floor of the tower is the library where Tamara does her research into Lord Lionel’s expeditions. There are comfy chairs and plenty of books all around. Someone kindly left one of Lord Lionel’s journals open on a table and I read it to discover the nature of one of his treasures from Africa: a war club that once belonged to Zulu “King Dingaan”. It’s diamond-studded and must have been smuggled out of Africa under dubious circumstances. I’m sure we’re supposed to think of Lord Lionel as a rugged adventurer in the mold of Indiana Jones (whose first movie came out only two years before this), but now I just think of evil colonialists who robbed Africa of her heritage. He didn’t even donate it to a museum, he just added it to his private collection!

It doesn’t take me more than a moment to realize that the “odd cane” that I picked up by the door is a repainted war club. I scratch away some of the paint to confirm. I found the treasure by accident!

Let’s pause for a bit of a history lesson. Dingaan was a real king of the Zulu, ruling from 1828 until 1840. He overthrew his brother, the much more well-known King Shaka. I don’t know enough about Zulu history to put that into context. Zulu warriors fought with several weapons, one of which was a mace-like war club called an iwisa. It appears that our club is likely intended to be a ceremonial version of that. The right-hand picture above shows one, but here is a better view:

Yes, I can see how that could be mistaken for a cane.

Good on Infocom for doing a bit of research here, but shame that there was not more commentary on the inherent evil of stealing artifacts like these and hiding them away in manor houses where no one will ever find them. Even by the 1980s, I thought those sorts of practices were frowned upon. I’m not done because the game tells me that I still need to “collect evidence and identify the ghost.” To do that, I resume exploring.

The third floor of the tower contains the chapel plus a game room and lumber room, both of which appear to be primarily used for storing junk. There’s a giant stuffed rhino in the game room, for instance, and a birdcage and treasure chest in the lumber room. (“Lumber room” appears to be a British term for storage room, so it is unsurprising to find junk in there.) The treasure chest isn’t interesting because it contains a treasure but rather because there is a small opening under the chest that looks down into Tamara’s bedroom. Is Lord Jack spying on her? Alternatively, maybe the peephole was built hundreds of years ago and he doesn’t even know it is there. At the top of the tower is the fighting deck. There’s a bell up there that you can ring; we are told it can be heard throughout the whole castle.

An example of a servants’ staircase in an old British house. Not very posh.

Dungeon Crawling

That is it for the public parts of the castle. I head back downstairs and duck into the servants’ area through the “backstairs” tucked away behind the dining room. Not surprisingly, this is a real thing: it was not uncommon to have separate entrances and hallways for the help such that they would not need to interact with the gentry more than necessary. Just beneath the dining room is the kitchen and an old-timey brass lantern. I grab it immediately. I don’t know how many adventure games I’ve played through by now, but a brass lantern is always comforting.

The game does not let us explore the servants’ quarters, but we can proceed west into the basement and wine cellar. There, we grab a bottle of wine and look over Lord Lionel’s stored adventuring gear, but I find nothing of interest. The well that Deidre fell into is also in the basement, I do not find any clues there to her fate and the well itself is too dark even with the lantern.

Further west is the castle’s disused dungeon, although an iron maiden is just calling out to be used on someone. A “priest hole” leads out of the castle and onto a cliff path behind it, offering a means of escape for someone that didn’t want to use either of the castle’s front doors, but it’s too dark even with my lantern to explore it. From my understanding of priest holes, I believed they were hiding places for clergy of whatever faith was being persecuted at the time; this seems more like a secret exit. If we climb (warily) into the iron maiden, a hidden mechanism is triggered and we are taken down in an elevator to a secret tomb. I was ready to be amazed by the treasure or whatever it is that we would find there, but it’s nothing more than an empty coffin. Very disappointing!

An illustration of a priest hole.

It’s A Secret to Everybody

With my lantern in hand, I return to Lord Jack’s room and enter the castle’s warren of secret passages. I’d love to tell you that they were interesting, but I’m only willing to go as far as “annoying to map”. In the western side of the castle, the passages wind up and down stairs between levels and it’s easy to lose track of what floor you are on. In contrast, the eastern side of the castle is neatly organized with a tidy loop of passages hidden in the outer walls. I clearly did a poor job of pushing and pulling objects in every room that I went to because it turns out that nearly every room in the castle is connected to a secret passage somehow. No bedroom is safe from an intruder that knows the system, nor is the library, drawing room, or anywhere else. Peepholes let you spy on the Great Hall. Someone went to a lot of trouble for this.

The one exciting thing I thought I found wasn’t exciting at all. At one point in one of the passages, you find a door that is high above you which calls out to be explored. Elsewhere in the warren, you have to ascend and descend using a ladder, but it’s not mobile and cannot be used to access the elevated door. I thought for sure that it would be a hidden room that could only be accessed by solving a puzzle, but the reality was more boring than that. In the sitting room, there is a secret entrance that requires you to sit on a window seat and manipulate one of the nearly wyvern statues. This is a one-way drop into the passage below. Instead of being a clever puzzle to find a mystery room in the castle, it is nothing.

At one point, I stumbled on the White Lady in one of the passages! She runs away quickly and cannot be followed like the other residents. I neglected to make a note of when and where so I could not find her again right away. That was a mistake, but not a huge one.

My completed map of the game.

Solving Puzzles

I mapped the whole castle and found no more clues, so it’s time to take stock of what we know and what we do not know:
  • The three clues appear to lead us to the discovery of the war club, but I have not worked out the third clue and at this point it probably doesn’t matter. The first clue, the King of Spades with a sceptre, is obvious in retrospect as a way to suggest the war club as the prize.
  • There are plenty of suspicious things around the castle that seem like they should be used for something, but aren’t. There is a suit of armor in the great hall, a mounted rhinoceros in the game room, the well, and the secret passage out of the castle, not to mention the secret crypt and empty coffin. These might be for some of the alternate solutions, but right now they are just distractions.
  • I have not discovered the scandal that caused the maid to resign her position.
  • Why is there a peephole into Tamara’s room? I try watching Tamara through it and she’s either not there, getting ready for bed, or sleeping. I found nothing suspicious beyond that I was watching my friend sleep.
  • While we know the White Lady uses the secret passages, and can surmise that she uses the priest hole to enter and exit the castle, we don’t know who she is or what she is up to.
As I write this, it’s after 6 AM in game time and everyone in the castle has long since been asleep. Just for giggles, I wait a bit. The police arrive at 7 AM and take over the investigation, but I’m not even clear what crime they are investigating. Was there a murder or something overnight that I missed? As far as I saw, everyone was sleeping peacefully.

I start over and quickly retrace my steps for the clues, the war club, and the red jewel in the carpet. This time, I use the objects to interrogate Jack. When I show him the club, he announces that it’s the end of his search and then just walks away. I just saved the family’s financial fortunes and that is all the thanks that I get?
“That must be the hidden treasure! Then that’s the end of my searching.”
“That’s super!” adds Lord Jack. “We can’t thank you enough.”
Did I mention that the dialog in this game feels stilted and repetitive? Jack’s response to the red jewel is more telling:
> show jewel to jack
He flinches a little before answering.
He looks at it with interest. But he says he can’t identify it.
Lord Jack clearly recognizes the jewel but doesn’t want to admit it. I race back upstairs and search his bedroom once again. This time, I discover one of Deirdre’s necklaces in a “tallboy” that I missed before (possibly because I did not realize that a “tallboy” is a British word for a type of dresser). I compare the stone to the necklace and it is a perfect match! But why did the ghost have the stone and how did she lose it?

I interview the remainder of the guests to look for reactions, but none of them respond in an interesting way and many of the answers are repeated across guests. It another way that the game feels cheap and incomplete; a far cry from the tailored responses in a game like Deadline. The last guest I have to interview is the White Lady herself so I sit in one of the secret passages and just wait until she comes by. Shortly after midnight, I am rewarded with a ghost sighting. When I show her the necklace I filched from Lord Jack’s bedroom, I get a very helpful response:
> show necklace to ghost
She says, “Please don’t speak, just listen! I’m really Deirdre, and I’m alive. Jack tried to murder me, and I think he murdered Lionel! He pushed me down the well, but an underground stream carried me swiftly to the sea, where I was rescued by a yacht.
I have come back to Tresyllian Castle in disguise -- both to frighten him and to find some proof of Lionel’s murder. And to incriminate Lord Jack for my own ‘murder’ by planting the tiny red jewel from my necklace in the clothes he wore that night -- but then I lost it in the drawing room.”
She goes on, “But now that you’re on the case, I can leave the country with the yacht captain. Find proof of Lionel’s murder, and we can both rest easily!” She races off towards the priest hole.

(Congratulations, Ms. Doe, you’ve identified the ghost!)
Wow. I have so many thoughts. Why does she want the world to think she is dead? This isn’t the 1700s, you cannot just fake your death and live an otherwise normal life. She has bank cards and passports and so many other things to deal with. Even if she wanted to leave Jack, I cannot imagine that plan working. Since she also survived attempted murder, I think she would want to take that to the authorities instead of dressing up as a ghost. Speaking of which, where does she live? How is she buying the white makeup? How does any of that make sense? She is not Tamara’s attacker and we do not have anyone with a motive for that.

I wake up Tamara to tell her about the ghost, but that is useless. She complains that she is too sleepy to talk and goes right back to bed. The same thing happens when I wake up any of the other guests. I know that Jack did it; how do I solve the murder?

The ghost was Deirdre the whole time!

Taking a Hint

At this point, I am stumped. I have no idea how to prove that Jack killed Deirdre and no idea who wants to kill Tamara. After some further exploring, I took a hint: I needed to take the maid’s note a lot more literally. I was supposed to be looking through all of the bedroom keyholes, not just searching the bedrooms. If I would have done that, I would have discovered that there were wires in the keyhole to Lord Jack’s room. The wires lead to a microphone and hidden tape recorder, evidently set up by Lionel before his death. I believe the implication is that it started recording whenever someone opened his door, but I’m not sure exactly.

I play what is on the tape:
> play recorder
First, you hear Lionel: “This secret tape recorder should capture any sound in the master bedroom when I run it. Testing,… testing,...”
Then you hear Lionel tell Deirdre that he suspects Jack of coveting the inheritance and wanting to kill him.
After a pause, Jack tells Lionel, with a cold-blooded chuckle, that his time has come. Then Lionel’s voice is urgent and muffled, as if he’s being smothered! He calls out, “Jack! Stop!” and then… silence.
(Congratulations, Ms. Doe! You found evidence of the crime!)
Jack killed both Deirdre and Lionel! That doesn’t seem surprising, but wasn’t Lionel dying of a rare jungle disease anyway? Or was that a ruse? I’m also not sure how this maps to the maid’s note. If she found the tape recorder proving that Jack killed Lionel, she would not have explained what she found in a note to the killer. I just cannot map her screed about “wickedness” to what we actually found in the keyhole.

The clue says that I need to wake Jack up and accuse him of the crime-- as opposed to, for example, calling the local police. His bedroom door is locked and I have to pick my way there through the secret passages. As soon as I wake and accuse him, Jack attacks me but I am rescued by the butler Bolitho who appears suddenly. He didn’t leave after all! Maybe he even knew that Jack was the killer the whole time? The game is over and we are given the official summary:
Lord Jack murdered Lionel to inherit the title and castle. Deirdre was blackmailing Lord Jack to marry her, because she knew he was plotting to kill Lionel. So Jack tried to do away with her, too, by dumping her down the well.
But Jack was wrong in thinking he killed Deirdre. She survived and came back to the castle at night -- to play on Tamara’s nerves, since her arrival seems to be part of Jack’s plot; to hunt for proof that Jack murdered Lionel; and to try to frame him for her own “murder” by planting the tiny red jewel in his trouser cuff, until she lost it in the drawing room.
I am happy that I won, but it feels unsatisfying. It turns out that Deirdre was the one scaring Tamara after all, but is leaving a poisonous snake in a desk really “playing on nerves”? And where did she get the snake? The realization that Deirdre was blackmailing Jack makes sense as a motive, but if she wanted to be rich she shouldn’t be running off with the guy on the yacht. And finally, instead of going to the police with evidence she is alive, she wants to “get even” by planting evidence on Jack and hoping that someone sees it and puts it all together? Nope. I don’t buy it.

With one case down, we have three more variants to go. Will they be any better than this? My guess is that they will go a lot faster since I already have the castle mapped, but it may be more difficult than I expect to shift to a different mystery with the same players and setting; I could miss a clue because I do not think to search something again.

Time played: 4 hr 40 min
Total Time: 5 hr 25 min

As you are aware, Covid-19 has taken a toll on the lives and schedules of our regular reviewers. It is my sincerest hope that we will be able to return to a more normal posting pattern soon, however even my schedule is still more than a bit crazy and I may not be able to consistently write one post per week yet.

In the previous entry, I asked whether our readers would like me to continue to the next Infocom game (1987’s Hollywood Hijinx) or move immediately into Space Quest V, even with the understanding that there could be post delays. Thus far, we have two votes for me to play the Infocom game next. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.


  1. So, according to the dictionary a bower is "a pleasant shady place under trees or climbing plants in a garden or wood".

    So you should have sought the third clue in the hedge maze garden...

    1. Yeah. For some reason, I thought "bower" meant "bedroom". Or perhaps I didn't think about it enough at all.

    2. But I also didn't need it since I found the club by accident.

    3. Maybe because The Bowery is a New York neighborhood once known for low-cost lodging (the kind where they charge by the hour)?

  2. "even though I know there is a desk in the sitting room, we cannot “see” it."

    I can't see any other remotely likely rationale for this other than copy protection.

  3. Leo Vell├ęs23 June 2020 at 23:39

    Wow, reading this post made me think that my bet of a 37 score is way too high. This game seems like a ripoff of a company trying to do an Infocom game but not quite making it.
    About your schedule: i feel like in the last months the main list games are getting left way behind the missed classics (which i love, mind you) so my vote goes to Space Quest V