Sir Arthur Conan Doyle managed to publish nine books featuring the mercurial detective Sherlock Holmes. With Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, the Irish developer Frogwares are launching their ninth Sherlock Holmes game.
To celebrate that lovely synchronicity, we managed to corner Sergey Chervonnyi, Head of Productions at Frogwares, to interrogate him about how their latest game will go far, far beyond what they have done previously with the character.
Could you please introduce yourself and your role on Sherlock Holmes Chapter One?
My name is Sergey Chervonnyi, and I am the Head of Productions at Frogwares. I am responsible for the development of the game.
How would you pitch Sherlock Holmes Chapter One to someone who’s never touched the series?
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is a story-based open world detective thriller. It tells the story of a young Sherlock Holmes before he becomes the world’s most famous detective. The story starts just before Sherlock, together with his companion and best friend Jon, arrives in Cordona, a Mediterranean island on which Sherlock spent quite a bit of his youth. The reason for his travel? To find out what happened to his dead mother.
If you like mysteries, adventure, searching for clues, puzzles, and solving problems and crimes, and at the same time, you don’t like being led by the hand and being told what and when to do, then this game is just for you.
What is it about Sherlock Holmes that keeps you coming back? (Aside from the lack of copyright on the character!)
We just love this character. He is the antisocial genius personified. A character that seeks the truth, at all costs – even to himself. Everyone knows him as the great detective, but what’s really interesting about him is his personality. Here is a flawless genius with flaws in his character. And then the gameplay itself. We love solving mysteries, looking for clues, gaining all the information available to you, start deducting what you saw, and then add a layer of moral ambiguity to the whole recipe. All of this while still having the class, eloquence and cockiness of Sherlock.
How does young Sherlock differ from the older Sherlock from your other games?
Our Chapter One Sherlock Holmes is no different from any one of us. Young, inexperienced, he is discovering the possibilities that lie ahead of him. I’m not sure if you ever felt lost, not knowing what it is that you should be doing with yourself? If you have, then there is a strong chance that you’ll relate to our young Sherlock.
In Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, Holmes leaves the comforts of his home in search for answers about his mother’s death. As he starts digging through the past, past that he perhaps tried forgetting himself, he will have to face some uncomfortable truths and situations. The way he overcomes them and deals with them could shape the character of the famous adult detective that we all know.
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One feels so much more ambitious than others in the series. There’s the fully open world, for one. How are you making sure that players concentrate on the case in front of them and don’t get lost?
Well, getting lost for a bit is not necessarily a bad thing. We did create this open world so that players can venture off the story and see what other secrets the island of Cordona holds. Being curious is a positive trait – it gets you into trouble 😉
You even have side quests. Is Sherlock going to be saving cats from trees?
Yes, there are side quests in our game, and some are more evolved than the others. We don’t want to give away too many details so as not to spoil the fun for our future players. However, there will be plenty of tasks for young Sherlock Holmes to take care of around the island. Some will be related to Sherlock himself, while others are good favours for the good citizens of Cordona. For example, one of the quests will have Sherlock track down a stolen violin that as we all know will become an iconic attribute of his…
The Mediterranean island is beautiful, and looks fantastic on the Xbox Series X|S. Would you say this is a step up visually from anything else you’ve done?
Yes, most definitely. I guess with each game we want to take it up a notch, and improve on the last game that worked on. Thanks to the power of the new consoles and the tech available to us, we can make better looking worlds. We’ve also been playing around a lot with art direction and lighting too, which also adds to the beauty of the scenes. I guess it’s people and tech working together to create something pleasant to look at. Video games are a visual medium and both graphics and art direction can be incredibly important for immersion.
We love how you’ve removed the training wheels from a detective game. Players can make the wrong conclusions and accuse innocent people. Are you scared of what players will do with that power?
Not at all! In fact, we’re looking forward to it! This idea of greyness in morality is something that really interests us. It’s a bit of a common theme in our games. Be a judge and an executioner too. And the idea that the future most famous detective can make mistakes – how exciting is that! We’ll be watching closely and seeing how people will react in their playthroughs.
It feels like, from your games so far, you’ve been narrowing in on the perfect deductive game, trying to put the deduction into the player’s hands, rather than leading them by the nose. What have you learned on that journey?
Quite a few things actually! We learned that in order for people to figure things out for themselves, we need to test, test, and test our cases, writing, clues, narrative over and over again. Any unintentional doubt or ambiguity can create confusion, which leads to frustration. And frustration is a killer of games. Over this time we learned what to look out for, what mistakes to avoid, and how to engage people’s intuition. It’s a long learning process, but it’s an exciting one too. You always learn something new along the way.
The emphasis on disguises, and choosing the right outfit for each situation, feels very new. Where did the inspiration come from, and what does it bring to the game?
It’s a mechanic that felt natural. We have had the ability to change costumes in our previous games, but they impacted gameplay only in a handful of situations – such as the exorcism scene in Sherlock Holmes The Devil’s Daughter! Now in Sherlock Holmes Chapter One we have a lot more of these moments, dozens and dozens more, along with a lot more disguise options available. Adding this costume mechanic felt like a natural step in deepening our gameplay. It’s another way of making players think, use their wit, and engage their intuition. It’s about making them feel rewarded for experimenting and using their brain cells.
Have the contractual events surrounding The Sinking City changed how you approached Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One?
This time around, we are self-publishing our own game, meaning that we had complete freedom of development. We believe that players will feel that freedom. They’ll see it as a positive change.
‘Chapter One’ feels like it’s inviting future chapters. Is that the case, or is this your ‘Steven Spielberg’s Young Sherlock Holmes’ – a one-and-done exploration of the younger character?
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is a full game that has its beginning and a conclusion. A story set within one game. Players don’t have to buy any additional content to see how the story ends.
If this young Sherlock Holmes were alive today, what would he be doing?
In my personal opinion, if Sherlock were alive in the present day, I can see him being lost in the world of social media. Not so much as an influencer/active participant per se, but more of an analyzer. However, being a young confident, borderline-arrogant man from a wealthy background, I can see him engaging on the platform. I have a feeling that he would both love and loath what the internet has bought us. I feel that he would have a large following, and I can see him being part of the celebrity machine.
Huge thanks go out to Sergey for his time.
Unfortunately there is no news yet on a release date for Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, outside of it being queued for ‘2021’ and release on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5 and PC. Know that, when it comes out, we will be first in the queue to don our deerstalkers, enter our mind palaces and deduce a score.