Murder at Lord Trent’s is a digital murder mystery game that uses physical feelies, typography and a deep love for British Mysteries. As a long-term fan of the whodunnit genre, I grew up reading classics like Enid Blyton (and all her mysterious ghost writers), Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, etc. As a former British colony, India has a fair amount of post-colonial baggage, and the mystery + food filled childhood of British youngsters was something I inherited quite young. The trope of the young person lost in a large victorian mansion is quite common (C.S. Lewis for example in the Narnia books), and young children solving mysteries because the adults always underestimated them, and while in this convenient blankspot, the young people use wit, vim and a whole lot of common sense to solve heinous crimes, thwart spy rings, and even break apart smugglers and pirates. All of these were common themes in the books of my youth, and I really wanted to share the love for *solving* a mystery, not just passively reading/watching the story unfold.
American mystery traditions don’t really allow the reader/viewer to *solve* the case, often relying on needless emotional development of side characters, deus ex machina plot devices, too many pointless red herrings, and an unnecessary amount of of sleigh of hand to convolute an already mysterious plot. I have always enjoyed trying to crack the case along with my literary heroes, be it the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, Hercule Poirot or the lovely Ms. Marple. I wanted to create a game where players could literally unearth clues and be required to piece it all together as a detective might.
I was a quiet child who would hang around the adults on the ships I grew up on, and quietly listen to what they would say. I often heard more than I should have, and got a weird thrill out of knowing all these things that I wasn’t old enough to understand, but still knew! I was excited to use the “young child in large victorian home” trope here in a similar manner. As a child, adults often over look and underestimate you. Likewise, folks are more likely to talk to you because of the same reasons. However, children often hear and see more than anyone guesses, and are uniquely placed to see and engage with various levels of social etiquette and link things laterally.
Another aspect that I was interested in using was the nature of old houses. Old houses are full of secrets, secrets that are almost visceral, like ghosts that haunt it for ever. What if the player could “see” all the secrets, all the stories that took place in the house? I decided to experiment with reading as a game mechanic, where the player would be given a large amount of narrative to read and experience, and be allowed to piece it all together to try and solve the case of the Murder at Lord Trent’s!
Once the murder occurs, the player can see all the furniture and objects in the house as layers of text, sometimes overlapping, often fading off. The player has a magnifying glass that they can use to unscramble the text and also input parts that they find vital into their Detective Notebook.
Since the player, unlike my intrepid heroine, was not actually a young child wandering the halls since they were little, I provided them with a box of letters, saved documents, photographs etc. that were all vital clues in the game. Using the stories in the game with the box full of documents and pictures, the player must try and solve the case and put the culprit to task. They are competing with the incompetent and pompous local village constable, who is chasing the totally wrong person, so the player must be quicker than the constable or an innocent person might go to jail!
Murder at Lord Trent’s was a project that I did for my Interface Studio in the spring of 2011, at Parsons – The New School, and it is currently at a proof of concept stage, and I am looking to collaborate on making an ipad version of it.