Becoming Hercule Poirot

 

The game I picked to analyze is “Agatha Christie- The ABC Murders.”  I picked this game for several reasons: I adore anything by Agatha Christie and I love puzzle and mystery games.  This is also a brand new game that came out in February of this year, which made it a bit of a challenge if I got stuck on something or in finding links for this paper.

The game opens with the standard creating a profile, and immediately launches into the opening scenes.   You can view this beginning from this link until 4:40 to view this.  Here the stage is set for the story line.   After the opening scenes, you are given your first instructions.  You play a third person Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgium detective.   As in other point and click games, the beginning is fairly straight forward, with the most challenging thing being figuring out what to click on.  Unlike other games, things that stand out in the background are not necessary what you can click on.   For example, when presented with this scene, one would think that clicking on the pots would be the most obvious thing, however, they are not what one should click on.

ss2

Screen shot one. The first murder scene.  Items in blue are items that look clickable but are not.

            In my experience with past point and click games, the items that stand out from the background are the items most likely to be clickable.  As you can see in screen shot one, several items standout from the background in terms of color and definition.  Yet, none of these items are clickable, forcing the user to look for items that are less obtrusive.  For example, the cash register on the left of the screen shot, practically blends into the wall, but it holds vital information that is needed in order to progress in the game.

This game has no tutorial, and like other good games becomes harder as you progress.   In the beginning, information appears in a red box on the top of the screen, as well as other helpful tips that appear in black boxes throughout the game.   You quickly learn how to question people, observe people, and observe locations.  One should usually observer people before questioning them, to help you as Poirot to get a sense of the suspect’s state of mind.  In the very beginning, we encounter Jap, the chief of Police, and we learn how to observe him.  The screen darkens when you land on a clue to match Poirot’s initial observation about the person.

While questioning people, you are allowed to choose from several different options.   The goal is to behave like the ‘real’ Hercule Poirot, while getting the information you need.   The more you act like him the more ego points you receive.  The opening scene gives you some knowledge of Hercule Poirot, but if you have read any of his books, you become well acquainted with his foibles.  He is incredibly vain, as such looking in any mirrors will give you ego points.  If you ask the wrong question, the game redirects you and takes control of the questioning.  Sometimes the game is more lenient than others, but such mistakes can cost you the control of Hercule Poirot.  Therefore, the learner is eager to see the +X amount of ego points that appears after asking the correct question.

Observing locations is similar to observing people, you must click or focus in on things that provide you with clues.   There is an opera glass on the side of the screen that lets you know how many clues you can find in a specific location, as seen in screen shot two.   I also circled the three items that can be observed for clues in this location.   Only one of them is important.

ss3

Screen Shot Two.  Observing a location.

            There are also a number of puzzles to solve throughout the game.   Puzzles are objects that you can interact with in a dynamic way.  Some are straightforward and require you to fix the scrambled pattern or input a code found on the puzzle.   As the game progresses, the puzzles become more difficult, requiring you to find keys and other observations from other locations to solve the puzzle.   The third screen shot shows one of the early puzzles.  All the pieces move except the middle piece, and you must guide the flower into the center.  If you easily recognize patterns, as all good linguistics should be, this puzzle is fairly simple.  If you are not as good at recognizing patterns, this game will be more challenging.

ss4

Screen Shot Three.  An early puzzle.

            Another way to become Hercule Poirot is you must use clues and facts that you have gathered or others have told you to construct a clearer picture.  In the novels, Poirot refers to his deductions as putting his ‘little grey cells’ to work.  The ‘little grey cells’ in the game are arranged in a neural network sort of way.   As seen in screen shot four, a number of options and combinations can be chosen until the player alights upon the right one, as shown below.  However, this is a much more passive type of learning, since you can easily reduce this to statistics, which bubbles fit with other bubbles, and for me the least fun part of the game.

agatha-christie-the-abc-murders-review-pc-499904-20

Screen Shot Four.  The deduction process.

              After you have gathered all the facts from a crime scene, you must then reconstruct the crime scene.  This can be a bit tricky if you do not have a good memory.  During the reconstruction process you are not allowed to consult the notebook, filled with information about the crime and the people involved in the victims life, nor are you allowed to consult the ‘little grey cells.’   Luckily the reconstructions are not very long and if you make a mistake, you get to start over from the beginning of the reconstruction scene.   You can watch someone else play the reconstruction by following this link.  As you see in the video, the player makes a mistake and has to restart the reconstruction, but quickly gets it right the second time around.   I also made this same mistake the first time I played because I thought the option ‘turn around’ referred to the killer and not to the ABC guide.   The game sometimes has ambiguous sentences that can make it difficult to know if you are making the right choice or not.

From James Gee’s principles, I picked four: active, critical learning, committed learning, ongoing learning, and multimodal principle.  Since this is a mystery game, the player is always thinking and questioning clues, people, and observations.  You cannot just passively play the game without thinking about the problem.  For example, when you go into a new room, it does not behoove you to go to the puzzle(s) straight away.  Rather, it is better to examine the room at length looking for clues before attempting the puzzle.  You often find pictures or images in the room that will aid you, or keys to help you unlock a puzzle.  If you go straight to a puzzle, you will often have inadequate information to solve the puzzle.  This causes the player to question how everything presented fits into the game. While you may never have to solve a murder mystery, noticing your surroundings and drawing connections between seemingly unrelated things is a good skill to have for both life and learning.  This learning can also be critical as the player can develop their own style for observing a room.  Maybe they want to go straight to a puzzle, to discover what they need to find to solve it.  Or maybe the player takes my tactic and examines the whole room first.  In this way, the player manipulates their path to solving the mystery.   However, there is a passive element, the little grey cell section, so this game unsurprisingly is not perfect.

For committed learning I focus on the identity aspect.  The player must be committed to solving the mystery, but also committed to solving the mystery in an identity that is not their own.  I choose this principle over the identity principle, because the game does not want you to create your own identity.  The whole point is to mimic Hercule Poirot.  There are few options to customize and the game penalizes you for straying too far away from what Hercule Poirot would do.   The mystery cannot be solved unless you assume the correct identity.  This was a bit of a problem for me.  Even though I am well acquainted with Poirot’s identity, having read all the books and watched the movies and TV series, I still had a hard time taking off my own, more passive and non confrontational personality and putting on Poirot’s identity.   Knowing when to push a suspect for information or accuse someone of lying was difficult for me.  But I wanted to get as many ego points as possible, as well as get the correct information.  In the end I had to push myself outside of my personality and into Poirot’s personality, in order to achieve my goal.

In the beginning, the puzzles fairly straight forward.  You don’t really need any clues from the room or keys.  You can go straight to them and still solve them.  However, as you progress in the game, this soon becomes impossible.  You have to rethink your strategy, and learn to observe the room before going to the puzzle.  If you solve the puzzle before examining the room, you might be forced to move on to the next scene and might miss a vital clue.  This reflects the principle of ongoing learning.  You learn strategies and tricks to wander, as the game would like you to do.  I began with exploring the room strategy that I had acquired from past experience, but one time I did not fully explore the room before turning to the puzzle and lost my current opportunity to gather all the facts.  That was rather frustrating and I resolved to not do that again.

While a great deal of text is used in this game, not all knowledge is  communicated through text.  Like the multimodal principle, images, symbols, and sounds all build up the story line and the learning process.  The opera glass symbol lets a player know they can look at something.  The hand symbol means either going through to a next room, or pick something up, or move something.  As the player gathers this knowledge, they build up how this game is played, intermingling this learning with the text that is presented on the screen.  In the puzzle, sounds are very important, clicks let you know if something is correctly in place or something has opened.  Without these, you could not progress in the game.

Agatha Christie- The ABC Murders is a fascinating game filled with many of Gee’s learning principles, some of which are discussed here.   These principles can be extended to the real world causing people to notice their surroundings, make connections between ideas, and pay attention to multimodal sensory things.   Despite the game’s passive aspects, a lot can still be learned from this game.