Sunday, 29 May 2016

Cruise for a Corpse - Gambling Debts and Hidden Affairs

Written by Joe Pranevich

A very expensive clue!

Last week, Raoul and I dug deeper into the death of Niklos Karaboudjan, the wealthy patron who invited us on to his cruise only to die before we even met him. We found some interesting leads: that Suzanne and Niklos had a difficult relationship, that Tom made a shockingly expensive purchase even though he is having financial difficulties, and that Father Fabiani has a gambling problem. I do not know know how all of these clues will connect, but I can say one thing with confidence: the butler did it.

As the game settles into something of a routine, I am going to divide this post into two parts: first, I will discuss the routine and the way the game plays then document my play as usual. The game is extremely linear and new leads are revealed slowly through dozens of conversations, but the plot is pretty interesting and I’ve found it fun to try to keep track of all of the relationship and disputes that surround Niklos and his extended family. Some of the rest… is less fun.


Playing the Game

Exploring the bathroom… again...

While I am enjoying the plot, the gameplay so far is mechanical and occasionally unfair. It may look like an adventure game, but I have seen only one puzzle in the last nine hours of play. (This post covers the first 4.5 hours; I’m as bit farther ahead than that.) Instead, the plot is driven ahead primarily through conversation and searching for clues. It also involves walking. Lots and lots of walking.

I quickly settled into a routine:

  1. Locate each of the passengers that I can and ask then all of the new interrogation questions. Learning new information can unlock new questions so I have to cross back and forth until I ask every question to every suspect. Usually, one of the questions will trigger the clock to move forward and I start the process over again.
  2. When there are no more questions to ask, I do a bottom-to-top exploration of the ship to find rooms that were locked before but now open, items out of place, or a scripted event. Just about always, that advances the clock and I start over.
  3. When neither of those work… I’ll get to that in a minute.

Since interrogation questions are as important here as items are in a traditional adventure game, you collect a lot of them. To keep track of which questions that I asked to which suspects, I started a spreadsheet. Here’s a tiny part of it:

Keeping track of my conversations.

I also keep notes on every conversation and a relationship chart. It’s pretty big at this point and I’ll try to link it at the bottom of the next post.

The biggest flaw in the game is the monotony. I run around in the same circles, talking to the same people over and over again. The slow unpeeling of the plot is aggravating and I can play for an hour to uncover the next magic thing that progresses the clock forward. I like the plot! It’s well-thought out and full of false leads and motives and I’m not sure who the murderer is at this point (hint: the butler), but I’m not enjoying this game. I gave some serious thought to calling the “six hour rule” and just throwing it out. I think if they had mixed some real adventure game elements in, I would be enjoying it more, but this session was nine hours of repeating the same tasks over and over. I found it exhausting.

So, I need to cop to this right away: I eventually started to cheat. I know, I know. I owe it to you to complete the game straight or come back to you all asking for answers. (We’re less strict on this with “Missed Classic” posts, of course.) That’s part of the fun of playing the game together. I hope I made the right choice, but I do not think it would be interesting to you to read a half dozen boring posts where I get almost nowhere then ask for help. And frankly, I just want to reach the end.

But when I did allow myself to bend the rules, I discovered something even more frustrating:

Nothing of interest at 9:50 AM!

Party invitations at 10:00 AM!

The game has hundreds of objects to interact with-- it’s very dense for an adventure game. But that exploration is partly pointless-- objects will just appear in places with no plot-reason. So not only did I have to do all of the above each time the clock moved forward, but sometimes the game would force me to re-search hundreds of objects all over the ship to find the one thing that changed. There’s no hint, no change in the way the room looks. Only now there’s invitations in a silverware drawer, a locket in a laundry basket, or an incriminating letter in a pile of sheets. I was happy to explore the whole ship end to end the first time, but to do it over and over again… My hands literally hurt.

To add insult to injury, I also have found bugs where my “spreadsheet” approach to dialog doesn’t work. Only by consulting a guide did I discover that I don’t only have to ask all the questions, but once in awhile they have to be asked in the right order. The answers don’t change, but just checking them off my list isn’t sufficient. How the heck anyone could solve this game on their own, I have no idea.

Could I have brute-forced the game to find everything? Certainly. Should I have gone back to the blog every time I was stuck? Probably. But I hope you agree this is a sensible compromise because otherwise I don’t think I could ever finish this game.

Enough about how. Let’s get back to the mystery!

The Mystery Deepens

Look! There are new pixels on the floor!

When I get back to the game, I find that Julio is no longer in our shared room and has dropped a key. How careless characters in adventure games can be! I have no idea what the key opens, but it must be important because time advances and it’s now 10:10 AM. My first guess was that this was a key to Daphne’s room-- we found Julio there earlier-- but that wasn’t it. I tried the key in every door on the ship, but the solution turned out to not be a door at all: it fits the roll-top desk in Niklos’s office! How did Julio get a key to Niklos’s private desk? Suspicious!

Raoul loves his manicurist.

Inside the desk is a jewelry case containing the very expensive bracelet that we found the receipt for earlier-- forty thousand modern dollars of high fashion. The game knows that is well outside of Raoul’s league so we’re not allowed to pick it up, but we can examine it for clues. One detail is immediately apparent, a set of initials “RVJ”. Who could that be? We know a Rose and a Rebecca and my guess is that it will be a gift for one of them. But from who? Tom? Niklos? Julio? The plot thickens.

Your very devoted… murderer?

The desk also contains a thank you note from Father Fabiani to Niklos, but the note leaves vague exactly what he is thanking him for. We know it’s for his parish, but that’s it. Time to ask some questions! Father Fabiani had finished his breakfast, but we were able to track him down back in his room. He explains that Niklos had donated money to fix his church after it was damaged in a storm. That doesn’t tell me much about the murder, but time moves ahead to 10:30 so we must be getting someplace.

This line of questioning opens up new interrogation options for Tom and Suzanne and they provide more details: it was the church bell tower that was damaged in the storm. Afterwards, the priest arranged a charity event to raise funds for the repair which Suzanne and others participated in. But this is where the story differs: Father Fabiani claims that they did not raise enough money, but Suzanne claims it was a huge success. What happened? Did Father Fabiani embezzle the money? Lose it all gambling? In either case, Niklos stepped in to provide some extra funds and that is the source of the note. Case closed? Probably. Tom expresses his scepticism because he never knew Niklos to give away something for nothing. He might have had an ulterior motive. Is this what Niklos and the priest were talking about the night before he was killed?

Where did you come from?

Back to my routine of exploring the ship, I find that there’s now a man standing near our mysterious statue: it is Dick Schmock! He’s the other occupant of Father Fabiani’s room, the one with the teddy bear. (His name is more unfortunate than I realized at first as “Schmock” is also a Yiddish-derived slang term for penis…) Unfortunately, I do not get an option to ask about either his name or teddy bear, but I learn that he was an orphan and served in the Foreign Legion. What is his connection to the family? Why was he invited on this cruise? When I ask Tom about him, he sums up the mystery as “No one really knows Dick.” Indeed. And why was he standing in front of the statue? Was he listening to the code too?

In last week’s post, one commenter said that he is pretty sure that he read once that the code has nothing to do with the game, it’s how the folks on the hint line can figure out where in the game you are. That is fine, but wouldn’t it have been nice to at least hint that it wasn’t important?

The Miracle in the Silverware Drawer

This is the point that I get stuck, where the pattern I described stops working. I had asked everyone every question, I had explored every room, and I had poked and prodded all of the interesting objects. I found a handful of things I had missed before-- you can “throw” the soap in Niklos’s office, but I don’t find anything to throw it at-- but nothing that gave me new conversation options or items. Will the soap be a solution to a puzzle later or is the game just being funny. I am not sure.

Hours pass and I consider my options. Should I wrap up here and do a Request for Assistance? For all the reasons I mention above, I decided to take an offline hint. I probably shouldn’t have, but I did. The answer made me want to throw my laptop.

I hate you, game.

In the drawer in the dining room, there is a stack of engagement invitations for Julio and Daphne. How could I have missed those before? I know I had checked every drawer. I revert back to an earlier save, but there are no invitations there even ten minutes earlier. Am I supposed to think that Father Fabiani left those there after he was done eating breakfast? No. I don’t buy that. They must have been there the whole time, but only discoverable at the right time. I hate that, but time moves ahead to 10:40 AM so at least I’m not stuck.

Interrogating the suspects about the invitations, I find that they aren’t what they seem. Daphne and Julio are not engaged, but rather Niklos threw them a party to try to speed the engagement along. Daphne refused to even show up and everything collapsed, even her relationship to her father. On another track, I also learn that the bracelet was purchased for Rebecca and that she is Daphne’s step-mother. Why did Tom buy her the bracelet? Or is this all just a false lead and Niklos purchased it for his wife with no foul play involved? And how did Julio get the key?

Dick, by the way, claims to not know anything about any of this stuff.

Murder with a Side of Romance

But Rebecca… your husband has been dead for less than a day!

I don’t need to wait long to discover the truth behind the bracelet: I catch Rebecca and Tom making out on the upper deck of the ship. Her husband has been dead less than a day! This pretty much confirms that she and Tom have been having an affair and pivots the arrow of “likely suspects” right in their direction. Killing Niklos would presumably give Rebecca the remainder of his fortune, hence Tom would not need to worry about paying for the bracelet that he could not possibly have afforded. But in that case, how does he get Rose out of the way so that he can remarry to get access to the fortune? Once the PDA is over, the clock advances again and it’s 10:50 AM.

I do another round of interrogations, but there’s not too much new. Suzanne had been hanging out on the upper deck since the start of the game, but she had just relocated to the bar and did not catch the smooching. Surprisingly, Dick offers some solid evidence: he saw Tom and Rebecca talking last night and Tom was holding a large knife. That sounds plausible, but a bit too easy to be true. There must be a twist coming.

I also find Tom and ask him about the affair. Despite my eyewitness testimony, he denies everything. How dumb does he think I am?

Not the honeymoon suite.

The other big change is that Hector’s room is finally unlocked. This is the first time I’ve been able to interact with the butler since the beginning of the game. (Where is everyone hiding? Shouldn’t we be slightly suspicious that half the family is missing or behind locked doors?) Hector is in there, a bit less dressed than the last time we saw him, lifting weights. Just like in Tom’s room, we can’t do any snooping with him in the room, but we can interrogate. He has a ton to say:

  • He’s been Niklos’s butler for 20 years.
  • He got into some legal troubles in his youth. There’s a hint that he attacked a young woman, but he doesn’t clarify.
  • Tom is, as we have heard elsewhere, in terrible financial problems now because of some bad investments.
  • Father Fabiani has enough money to fix the bell tower, but he’s “not ready” to do it yet.

That opens up even more questions that I can take around to the other suspects. Some big things that I picked up include that Tom married Rose to be named partner in her father’s firm and that Niklos may have saved Hector’s life during World War I. I’m not sure I can picture Niklos fighting in the war; he seems much more likely to have found a way to buy himself out of it. And yet, it would explain Hector’s 20 year loyalty and why Niklos would trust him even with a criminal history.

A Mysterious Locket

I found a locket! With a person I don’t know!

And… this is where I get stuck again. After talking with everyone about everything and searching everywhere, I am stuck. Nothing new anywhere and I consult the guide again. This time, I find that there is now a locket in the leftmost bin in the laundry room. Just like before, there’s no clue that anything changed and I searched that area previously. I also still haven’t found a way to feed the cat, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled.

The locket contains a picture of someone that I do not recognize, plus the initials “DK”. Finding it moves the time ahead to 11:10 AM, but after that point I need to interview all of the suspects about what this new clue might mean. I learn that:

  • It was originally owned by Agnes, but was given to Daphne as a gift. (The DK is likely her initials, added as part of the gift.)
  • Dick says that Daphne is always wearing that locket, so how did it get into the laundry? Is she okay? I’m still concerned that Julio killed her at the beginning and we haven’t discovered her body yet.
  • Suzanne was originally Agnes’s maid and later became a friend of the family.

And, most importantly, Dick is Agnes’s son! That explains what he is doing on the ship. I’m not sure at this point whether he was adopted by Agnes or given away by her, but I suspect the latter. Perhaps they were only reunited in adulthood? All of these conversations really push the game along and before I know it, it’s 11:40 AM.

With this revelation, I think I’m going to close for this week. At this stage, we have two solid suspects for Niklos’s murder, Tom and Rebecca, but it seems just a bit obvious to be the answer. Father Fabiani is the next most likely candidate given his gambling habit and the possibility that he’s been embezzling money from his church. We still have several suspects left to interview, so plenty of time for a twist.

Time played: 4 hr 20 min
Total time: 13 hr 40 min

Inventory: Thank-you note, Paper, Engagement notifications, Pocket Watch, Envelope, Soap

Deaths / Reloads:
            4 restarts due to game crashes (6 total)
            0 deaths

9 comments:

  1. Regarding Niklos skipping the first world war, I think every man was expected to join for the patriotic cause, going so far as becoming shunned if you didn't meaning skipping out would have had consequences. I would also suspect that those with money saw this as a perfect chance to get more money since looting usually payed of if you were officer or closely connected with the higher ups (or at least during the wars of the 19th century). Basically the propaganda machines worked so well in the beginning that soldiers who questioned the war was shunned... and we should probably not talk about the germans side who couldn't believe they actually lost.

    And since he is greek I would also expect that joining the allies against the ottoman empire was a duty for every greek to protect their newfound freedom as their own nation again.

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    1. Also, many European countries had pretty much universal conscription of their adult male population at the time, so Nikos probably didn't have much of a choice in the matter.

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  2. plus the initials “DK”.

    Cool, Donkey Kong is in this game?

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  3. I really should have included a "Who's Who" reminder in this post. If you are confused:

    Agnes - Niklos's aunt, died before the start of the game.
    Dick - Agnes's long-lost son
    Suzanne - Agnes's maid
    Niklos - Entrepreneur and very dead at the start of this game
    Rebecca - Niklos's second wife.
    Daphne - Niklos's daughter from his first marriage.
    Tom - Niklos's solicitor/lawyer. He's cheating on his wife with Rebecca.
    Rose - Tom's wife.
    Julio - Wealthy racecar driver. Daphne's... something. Niklos seems to be trying to set up Julio and Daphne, but she wants nothing of it.
    Hector - Niklos's butler
    Father Faniani - Friend (lover?) of Suzanne and a family friend of Niklos.

    I'll have todo a cheatsheet at the top of the next post. It's getting confusing.

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  4. I quickly started consulting a walkthrough on my own play of the game, partly because I wanted to see where the story was going, and partly because of the drudgery you describe.

    The "catch Tom and Rebecca making out" moment is particularly annoying, because to see it (and advance the clock), you need to be entering that portion of the ship from a particular direction. If you enter from the other direction, they're not there. If you enter using the map, they're not there. Why? No reason I can discern.

    In the same vein, here's a question and related piece of non-spoilery advice: When you're checking locked rooms, make sure you actually walk to them "manually" and try the door - don't try to "warp" to the room using the map. There are multiple moments in the game where, to advance the clock/plot, you need to try to enter a locked room from the outside hall or deck - but mysteriously, if you try to enter that same room by warping using the map, you just get a "can't get in, it's locked" message and the necessary event will not happen.

    Good job spotting the clasp on the Kartier bracelet. When I played, I didn't find that hotspot, and just clicked to exit the Kartier bracelet close-up. As a result, the clock didn't advance; and I was never thereafter able to re-examine the bracelet. That's the "dead man walking" scenario to which I alluded in my post last week.

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    1. Whew! I'm glad I missed that dead end. I think at this point, I'm used to the game's strange version of pixel-hunting. (Though there is a moment coming up with a different object that had me stumped for a bit, but not dead-ended.)

      I also feel somewhat better about using the walkthrough knowing you had the same experience.

      Thus far, I have been very careful to visit every location directly and not use the map like you describe. There are some weird cases like Father Fabiani will scold you and kick you out if you fast-travel to his room at certain points because you're supposed to knock first. So because of that, I have had "knock on every door" and "look in every window" as the routine in my loops.

      I WAS just lucky to catch Tom and Rebecca though since I don't enter every room from every direction. That's just maddness.

      Thanks for sticking it out with me!

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  5. Out of curiosity, what "time" are you presently at in the game? I understand from your post that you've another four and a half hours of real-time play to cover in your next post.

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    1. The next post ends just before 3:00 PM (at least, as I have it drafted), but I've won the game now. Just have to get it all polished up.

      But don't spoil the ending without rot13! I'm going to recap all of the clues at the end of the following post so that blog readers can try to deduce who "did it" before I reveal the murderer on the Final Rating post.

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    2. You got it. My lips are sealed!

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