Celine Kalante (kjorteo) wrote in videogame_tales,
Celine Kalante

The Dagger of Amon Ra, Part 15: Storytime

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Pencils down! If you haven't already submitted your answers in the last update, time's up.

Actually, no, it's not. You can just click back to the last entry and leave them there even retroactively. I don't care if you're going back and rereading this old entry in some archive from way in the future; go ahead and comment. It's not forum necromancy if it's not a forum.

Once you're done with that, though, let's go ahead and wrap this thing up.

Mr. X has been defeated, and Act 6 is upon us.

Okay, I admit it; that one's actually pretty good.

So f... I just beat the game. Why...? Well, at least it isn't another copyright test, I guess. And there is still the final exam.

Actually, that reminds me. That unwinnable count I was tracking in the last update? That's just to defeat Mr. X and make it to Act 6. If you want the good ending, you need all the evidence, too. To quote one of the walkthroughs I've been using:

"In order to survive the night in the museum, Laura needs the following inventory items: lantern, snake lasso, snake oil, smelling salts, magnifying glass, water glass, wire cutters, and dinosaur bone. In order to fully support Laura’s accusations, she also needs to the following: Dagger of Amon Ra, notebook, Pippin’s notepad, carbon paper, police file, bifocals, red hair, animal hairs, grapes, garter, woman shoe, ankh medallion, skeleton key, and pocket watch. Note that these are the items that are left at the end of the game. Other items necessary for survival, like cheese and wire, can only be used once during the game, and therefore, no longer in the inventory."

I find it odd that some of these pieces of evidence are required, since they're either red herrings or actually go against Laura's case, but we'll get to that in a moment. Meanwhile, a part of me wants to go and add +14 to that unwinnable count right now because I absolutely believe Sierra would be that spiteful, but... I can't be sure on that. This game has two endings, which the game treats as basically all or nothing. I suspect there is some sort of internal score for evidence items and correct answers in the upcoming inquest, and you get the good or the bad ending if the total is above or below a certain threshold. That's my complete wild guess, anyway. In my first attempt at the inquest, I missed a few questions, and the game proceeded to act as though Laura had bumbled her way throughout the evening without collecting one single piece of evidence and then left the entire exam blank. It even lamented how the Dagger was never found even though Laura had it in her purse.

So, you need a perfect score for the perfect ending, because Sierra is evil, right? Well... the motive questions get really nebulous, particularly the distinction between "financial gain" and "cover another crime." Everyone who died because of one or the other really died because of a mixture of both, and the game is pretty forgiving in accepting either answer in those cases. I even flat-out disagreed with the walkthrough in one occasion (it blamed Dr. Carter's murder on financial gain, but I said cover another crime) and I still got the good ending on that run. So... I don't know. All I can say is you will probably need all that junk but I haven't done enough testing or data mining to see where exactly the boundary is.

(Edited-in postscript: While working on collecting the screenshots for this update, I accidentally discovered that there is an Okay ending if you ace the murder portion of the exam, but botch the questions about the forgeries and the Dagger theft.)

All that said, we have an exam to take.

And no guessing! (Spoilers: we will be doing a lot of guessing.)

Also, if something goes wrong, you'll be failing in front of your boss and newspaper staff, the police, and the spirits of all your disappointed ancestors. Good luck!

The final exam commences at this point, and it brings up another unfortunate issue I have with this game. I haven't read enough murder mysteries to know whether this is is a common complaint within the genre, or this game is uniquely bad in this regard. Maybe Sierra messed up badly, here, or maybe I'm doing the equivalent of complaining about a romance novel that focuses on relationships. If someone with more familiarity with the genre could provide their insight on this, I would be most appreciative!

Anyway, my problem with The Dagger of Amon Ra's central mystery is this: there is no good, clear way to figure it out.

When I ended my last update inviting speculation about who might have murdered whom, some of the people who responded missed what I had thought were the more painfully obvious questions. At first I was disappointed, but then I started to look at it more deeply. Why was it so obvious to me and not to them? These same people had also correctly figured out some of the ones that had stumped me, and I can only wonder if I was flailing around helplessly on something that was just as obvious to them.

The problem, I think, comes down to the evidence: based on this or that piece of evidence, the killer would have to be this person... if this or that piece of evidence is real. Now, yes, I know red herrings are common in the genre. That's not the part I'm wondering about. The problem, to me, is that this game does not provide any sort of means by which you're expected to distinguish them from the authentic evidence. I could claim almost literally anyone in the cast could have done it and have some overheard conversation or discarded memo or something to back my theory up, with comparatively little way of knowing "yeah but that evidence is fake." This means that I have no leads at all and may as well be throwing darts at a wall, because a point in every direction is the same as no point at all.

As an example: To me, it was obvious that Detective O'Riley murdered Ernie Leach, mostly because of the alcohol connection. There were people who missed this one, much to my utter astonishment. My first reaction was something like, "How did you miss dead giveaways like that!?" Then I thought about it and realized that perhaps they had simply assigned different weight to those giveaways. After all, to me, it was also painfully obvious that Yvette murdered Dr. Carter with the equally clear giveaway being the latter's notebook (which is included in the evidence you allegedly need for the good ending, by the way!)... and yet that entire train of thought was completely wrong.

You can solve every mystery in this game, but not objectively, and not by rational analysis of the facts. Instead, even though the coroner just warned Laura against unsubstantiated guessing, that is precisely what the vast majority of our case is going to turn out to be. This game has it set up so that's the only thing our case can turn out to be. The key is to take the more obvious murders toward the end of the game, find your culprit there, and then go back and assume that killer is the killer for every murder in the game. Needless to say, this is a very big assumption to make, especially since there actually is one murder he didn't do (though at least that case is one of the more obvious ones.) Do you have evidence that can pin every crime in the game on this person? Well, sure, technically, though that could be said about almost anyone.

I have issues with this for the same reason I utterly detest those "lateral thinking" puzzles like Albatross Soup: This isn't a riddle; it's an open-ended creative writing prompt. I could come up with thousands of explanations that could explain the subject's actions, and there's no reason at all why any of them would be wrong. You just want to be a smug show-off know-it-all because you've heard this one before and you know the "official" answer.

No, in the end, the only way to crack this case is the way young-Earth creationists approach the scientific method: start with a conclusion, loudly and heavily lean on any scrap of evidence you find in favor of your conclusion, and assume everything in direct contradiction is God testing your faith a red herring.

That can't be how the mystery genre as a whole is supposed to work, can it? Please, someone set my mind at ease about this.

In the meantime, before I reveal the answers, let me tell you a story. This is pulled largely from the walkthrough's answers and my own ass (in a very flimsy attempt to explain the walkthrough's answers,) but once you somehow accept that this story is the truth, then converting it into in-game answers should be fairly easy and straightforward from there.

This story begins with an impoverished cop who slowly became crooked.

Detective Ryan Hanrahan O'Riley started out with good intentions, but the more he worked his thankless police job, the more he saw how much better the criminals he chased and the other officers they bribed had it. Crime did pay after all, and over time, he became corrupt.

One day, something very interesting happened, and the no-longer-good detective got an idea. The head of the Leyendecker Museum, Sterling Waldorf-Carlton, had just passed away under "mysterious circumstances." If Detective O'Riley had still been an honest cop at this point, it probably would have been a fairly easy open and shut against his obviously scheming widow, the Countess Lavinia Waldorf-Carlton. (Laura would go on to see through her about five seconds after meeting her, after all, even before she found Sterling's diary.)

O'Riley wasn't an honest cop anymore, though. Instead, he looked at this situation and saw an opportunity. It would be a grand heist, involving several accomplices in the right places, but the ill-gotten riches would leave him and his minions set for life.

The detective most likely took one last look at his meager paycheck and shabby office, and thought, "I'm in."

The plan was ambitious, yet fairly straightforward in execution. With Sterling gone, the museum chose Dr. Archibald Carrington, III as its new head. Dr. Carrington had spent most of his career in Europe, and almost no one in the United States had ever met him in person. This was the critical weakness which O'Riley's team would exploit. Through his police connections, O'Riley found one Watney Little, a notorious impostor and con artist who had been caught and arrested, and was currently incarcerated in Scotland's Dartmoor prison. O'Riley would pull some strings to give Little the chance to escape. In exchange, Little would pose as Dr. Carrington, using his power as head of the museum to facilitate O'Riley's scheme.

Little was not the only member of O'Riley's team, though. The Countess herself aided Little, using what she'd learned about the museum and its culture from her late husband to coach Little on his new role as its leader.

Of course, even if Little had access to every exhibit in the museum, they couldn't just steal everything and not expect visitors, the police, or someone to notice. Thus, the group came up with a second counterfeiting scheme to replace the stolen exhibits. All they needed was someone to handle the murkier underworld-type dealings involved with cashing in on the stolen goods... oh, wait, they had someone for that, too.

As a final failsafe, if anything did become a high-profile disappearance--a certain Dagger, for example--the ringleader himself was still a police officer, and could take over and then intentionally bungle any investigations until they went cold and his minions got away.

Not only that, but his position also gave O'Riley leverage over the rest of his network. He had dirt and could send all of them to prison for their various crimes if he so chose, after all. Thus, they had every reason to keep him happy and make sure he had his cut. It was the perfect setup and the perfect plan... until things went wrong.

Everything started to unravel with the theft of the Dagger of Amon Ra. It was a near-priceless artifact and stealing it could make the entire network set for life, sure, but there were two fatal complications. First, the archaeologist who'd found it, one Pippin Carter, was a vainglorious narcissist who was in the middle of a world tour bragging about it. He really did possess a fair degree of clout and fame, he attracted a lot of attention, and he absolutely was not the type to go slink away quietly into the night after "his" discovery went missing.

His very presence shined such a spotlight on the museum burglary that it became a huge story. It was such a big deal that even a certain local newspaper sent a plucky young reporter to cover it, under the cover of pretending to write a society fluff piece.

As if that weren't bad enough for the conspirators, Dr. Carter brought an even bigger problem with him: He was the only person present who had met the real Dr. Carrington.

Little bluffed his way out of their first meeting, and Dr. Carter seemed to walk away none the wiser... that time. However, O'Riley feared that it was only a matter of time until Dr. Carter noticed, if he hadn't already. If he found them out, their entire scheme could fall apart.

Conveniently, their biggest headaches--the unwanted attention and the fragility of Little's disguise--both tied back to the same person. Thus, to keep the scheme going, there was only one thing O'Riley could do.

And take him down, he did.

They say that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. As anyone who has watched a Coen brothers movie can attest, once a criminal conspiracy has gone off-script enough that the first murder happens, all bets are off from there. Like most such schemes, this one went from zero to completely off the rails in a heartbeat--Dr. Carter's last heartbeat, to be specific--and a new, much more chaotic plan quickly formed. Sheer simple greed provided O'Riley the motive, and the narrative of "there's a murderer on the loose in the museum, killing everyone" provided the excuse and the opening. "Mr. X" went on a rampage throughout the rest of the evening, but his victims weren't random: with the exception of one person who had the misfortune of seeing something he shouldn't and another who triggered a spurned lover's jealousy, O'Riley spent the evening picking off his own cohorts.

Killing off the rest of the gang would ensure their silence and allow O'Riley to claim their share of the take. All that was left was to eliminate a certain journalist who was sticking her nose in everything, pin the whole evening on someone, and let the theft of the Dagger and other museum artifacts and exhibits remain conveniently unsolved.

And he would have gotten away with it, if it weren't for that pesky reporter.

And there you have it. This story got a little out of hand, so I'm going to have to continue with the actual in-game answers in the next entry.

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