Gabriel Knight... there are destinies we cannot avoid


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The infamous Cat Hair Moustache puzzle

Warning: this page contains a SPOILER for Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned.

The infamous “cat hair moustache” puzzle is outlined here. Spoiler Gabriel is staying at a hotel in the small isolated village of Rennes-le-Château, and in order to carry out his necessary investigations, he will need a bike so that he can follow various suspicious people around. There are tour bikes reserved for the use of the tour group, of which Gabriel is not a member. Hence, in order to hire a bike, he must disguise himself as a member of the tour group. That seems reasonable so far... The person Gabriel ends up trying to impersonate is his old pal Mosely, a police officer from New Orleans (an important character from GK1). To achieve this impersonation, Gabriel must obtain some photo ID, a jacket, a hat, and a fake moustache.

Well, there’s nothing illogical about any of that... except for the moustache. Mosely doesn’t even have a moustache. Deducing that Gabriel has to diguise himself as Mosely WITH A MOUSTACHE does not exactly leap out as a likely course of action. In fact, when Gabriel swipes Mosely’s passport (luring his attention by the judicious use of yummy mint candies which Mosely can’t resist), he actually has to draw a fake moustache onto the photograph in it with a black marker pen. The jacket is easily obtained from the coat rack, and the hat is claimed from the Lost Items box at the Museum Saunière. But the moustache...? Ohhh, it’s a tricky one.

Gabriel cannot snip off a few locks of his own hair to create the fake moustache. He cannot find a joke shop or costume shop from which to buy a fake moustache. There is no wig-maker from which he can buy a toupée from which to snip some hair for the makings of a fake moustache. No... none of these are the answer. Instead, Gabriel must observe a cat near the church of St Mary Magdalen, and attempt to pet it. This causes the cat to hotfoot it into a shed via a hole in the shed door.

If only Gabriel could get hold of some cat fur... but all attempts to grab hold of the cat in order to get a bit of its fur will fail. So why not try somehow to obtain some fur in a more roundabout and crazy way? All it takes is some searching of his hotel room (where he finds a piece of masking tape), a look around the hotel dining room (where he takes a sachet of maple syrup from a bowl on the buffet table), and an instructive view of Abbé Arnaud misting his plants with a bottle of spray mister in the cemetery on the grounds of the Church of St Mary Magdalen (where Gabriel waits until the good Abbé has left, and then grabs the spray bottle).

Gabriel now heads back to the shed. He applies some masking tape to the hole through which the cat entered. He sees that the cat is now on a high ledge, and he aims the nozzle of the spray mister at the cat. The cat leaps down and streaks through the hole in the door. Aha! Gabriel takes the masking tape and observes that it has a considerable amount of black cat fur now attached to it. By picking up the masking tape, the fur is transferred automatically into Gabriel’s inventory. Applying the sachet of syrup to the fur makes a sticky moustache. Adding the cap and the sticky moustache to the borrowed jacket completes the making of the disguise, which Gabriel can then wear in order to fool Bigout, the man in charge of hiring out the bikes.

Veterans of the classic adventure game will well remember this puzzle, as it’s often been held up as an example of a crazy, senseless and illogical puzzle of the type that gives adventure games a bad name. In fact, this “cat hair” puzzle has been charged with having caused the demise of adventure games. Old Man Murray’s scathing conclusion was – and I quote – “Who killed Adventure Games? I think it should be pretty clear at this point that Adventure Games committed suicide.

Those who haven’t played GK3 may well have heard of this cat hair moustache puzzle. It’s become the gamer’s equivalent of an urban legend. It’s infamous, and Jane Jensen was given short thrift by the same Old Man Murray in another oft-quoted snippet from that same article. “So in order to even begin formulating your strategy, you have to follow daredevil of logic Jane Jensen as she pilots Gabriel Knight 3 right over common sense, like Evel Knievel jumping Snake River Canyon. Maybe Jane Jensen was too busy reading difficult books by Pär Lagerkvist to catch what stupid Quake players learned from watching the A-Team: The first step in making a costume to fool people into thinking you’re a man without a moustache, is not to construct a fake moustache.

Is this a fair assessment? Did Jane Jensen, too engrossed in pouring over obscure foreign novels, fail adventure games miserably by constructing a puzzle that is insanely difficult by reason of its own senselessness?

Before you answer, you might want to know something rather interesting... Old Man Murray was working on an assumption which is wrong.

Jane Jensen did NOT create the “cat hair moustache” puzzle.

As has just been revealed by Scott Bilas (technical lead for Gabriel Knight 3) in a recent interview with Adventure Classic Gaming, the cat hair moustache puzzle was created by Steven Hill, the game’s producer. I’ll quote the relevant section: “We had to drop a number of Jane’s designs due to lack of time or because of technical limitations. For example I remember an action sequence in the game where you had to stomp on rats and whack bats, or something like that. We just didn’t have time to make the game engine support action, so it had to go. There were many other things like this, though it’s been so long I can’t remember most of them.

“There is one that sticks in my mind, though. Jane had a puzzle that we had to kill which was unfortunately replaced with the famous “cat hair mustache” puzzle that the game’s producer designed. The gaming site Old Man Murray gave us an award for killing adventure games because of the cat hair puzzle, as I remember. The team hated that puzzle, but we were trying to ship a game, and so we just let it go. Funny to think about it now.

That’s a stunning bit of information. It leaves us with many questions, of course... one of which has got to be: What was Jane’s original puzzle which had to be killed?

Perhaps Jane Jensen can remember the original puzzle. I for one would love to find out what it was. I’m sure it would have been more, shall we say, logical than the task of creating a fake moustache from the fur of a black cat. Because... yes, the cat hair puzzle is about as logical as using a collander to carry sesame seeds. C’mon, confess... If you’ve played the game, did YOU use a walkthrough for that section? And did you clench your hand into a fist of outraged disbelief at discovering how you were supposed to disguise yourself as Mosely (who, as we all know, doesn’t have a moustache) with the world’s worst fake facial hair? AND to top it off, did you scream “Why, why, why?” when you found that the puzzle illogically insisted on you obtaining that fur in such an unrealistic way?

I think the conclusion is inescapable. Adventure games didn’t commit suicide. They were set up in a way, taking the rap for their own injuries. Not, I hasten to add, by Steven Hill, who was under enormous pressure to get the game out in the face of serious technical difficulties... but rather, by that very pressure imposed upon all the members of the team to complete and ship GK3. To reiterate the admission by Scott Bilas, “The team hated that puzzle, but we were trying to ship a game, and so we just let it go.”

In other words, the cat hair moustache puzzle was a symptom, not a cause, of the underlying corporate problems that had already begun to affect computer adventure games. Had the pressure not been on within a situation of overwhelming difficulties (caused primarily by technical problems outlined by Scott Bilas in his famous Postmortem article, with team members working desperately to attempt to create patches to fix one problem after another within the resulting confines of that situation rather than to realise the design of GK3 to comply with Jane Jensen’s full vision), that cat hair puzzle would never have been created.

Ironic, isn’t it?

But don’t let that stop you from enjoying the masterful storytelling and engrossing atmosphere of Gabriel Knight 3. Even given the constraints of the game, it’s still a remarkable work, well worth playing, and I believe it shows very clearly the incredible potential of the Gabriel Knight series, and the story that drives the game bears Jane Jensen’s trademark richness of detail and vividness of imagination.

Oh, and just to drive Old Man Murray mad... don’t forget to read something foreign and surreal as well, hmm?





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