Gamescom has passed and many developers are settling in for the final slog to get their games polished and finished. One of the games we here at AotF are keeping our eyes on is Crimes and Punishments: Sherlock Holmes. I was fortunate to be able to get a quick interview with Olga Ryzhko, who works for Frogwares Studios, the people who are making the game.
Some of the interesting things we’ve learnt, among other things, are some of the canonical stories to expect in the game, some gameplay mechanics and a release window.
I’ve decided to embolden things I thought were extra interesting (all of it is interesting after all), but it wouldn’t hurt to read the whole thing. Enjoy and read on:
Danny: Frogwares has had a long history of making Sherlock games. In fact, at this point, it’s been over a decade. What are the kind of things that Frogwares aims to capture about Sherlock Holmes in the games? In other words, what are the most important aspects of Sherlock Holmes that Frogwares aims to bring to the games?
Olga: The studio was indeed started back in 2000, while the first Sherlock Holmes game, The Mystery of the Mummy, was released in 2002 on PC. Since then we have added 6 large file and 2 casual games dedicated to the famous sleuth. So it is quite obvious that we are fascinated by the character.
A decade ago we offered players a mystery in a true Sherlockian style and we gave them means for solving it. However as time passes by our games change. If you are familiar with the latest The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, you know it was an investigation on Sherlock himself and on his dark personality. With the new game, Crimes and Punishments, we aim to immerse the players into the game; not to play aside Sherlock Holmes but to truly be him, to make your own deductions and to be responsible for the choices you make inside of the game.
So for the past several years we are moving more into exploring the character of the world’s most famous detective, into investigating on him, with him or like him.
DV: Historically, Frogwares has used original plots and stories in the games. Is there a reason for this?
OR: Right, we base our games on the Canon of Sherlock Holmes written by the talented Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While novels are not really comfortable to work with – they are too big for a case and at the same time they are too small for an entire game. On another note, Conan Doyle’s novels take place in the past and at the very different locations, like India or America. So novelettes work much better for us.
If speaking about more detailed things, Crimes and Punishments will feature two canonical cases in the game. Those players who are familiar with the character by the books and not Guy Ritchie movies may sigh like ‘Wait, but I know the killer!’ while we still promise an exciting investigation even if they already know the case. As for the players who just heard of Sherlock Holmes and his talents, maybe the game will make them thirst for more.
DV: Is there any potential for seeing some fan favorite stories from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle like the Hound of the Baskervilles making its way to the games or perhaps even references?
OR: I suppose you do not really play the hidden-object games, so you can see what we did with The Hound of the Baskervilles on the main casual games portals. It was ranked # 1 and stayed in the Top 10 for something like a month there. It was also awarded the Best Story of 2011 among the casual games. So overall the game was and still is a huge success among its genre.
Aside of the Adventure of Black Peter there are also canonical characters and other references in the new game which I don’t currently mean to reveal.
DV: In the past, Frogwares have used their own proprietary engine for its games, but now you will be utilizing the Unreal 3 engine. Is there anything, perhaps related to gameplay, that might potentially be lost from moving to a brand new engine?
OR: Crimes and Punishments will only obtain from changing the engine. Its not only the graphics quality that you might have seen already; if not – you’d better do it asap. The new engine also allows the development of new investigation mechanics: in total, the game offers something like 14 gameplay mechanics that are meant to give you the feeling that YOU ARE SHERLOCK HOLMES.
Unreal Engine also brings fantastic user interface, enhances shader settings, its scripting system is much wider. However there is one thing that we decided not to deliver into the new game, not that it’s a great loss but still – there is no point-and-click in Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments!
DV: The Sherlock games of the past were genuinely quite adventure game-like by the book with point and click. However, the previous game, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, really took that style of gameplay to a different level. How will Crimes and Punishments build on this, what kind of features are we looking at?
OR: I think there is a difference of perception between players and journalists concerning our games: we started to use 3D, first person perspective, dynamic puzzles back in 2005 or 8 years ago. Our players are used to these controls, this dynamism, we are enhancing game after game and Crimes and Punishments brings another level of accessibility and immersion to the series. The focus test we’ve done so far showed fantastic response from our core fans for the controls, gameplay, puzzles and they see all our changes as improvements. Some journalists, for some reasons, continue to think that we are doing Point and click games – something that we stopped in 2004 with the Case of the Silver Earring.
So our fans will be gladly surprised, and hopefully people will start using the word INVESTIGATION, instead of Point and Click.
DV: Many people, having seen the amazing summer teaser trailer, seem to have the idea that the game could turn out to be something like L.A. Noire, but set in Victorian London. A London Noire if you will. Any chance of seeing a little bit of free roam, perhaps on the streets of Victorian London, that were beautifully shown in the trailer, in Crimes and Punishment or even some sort of combat? Especially now, with the Unreal 3 engine?
OR: Thank you! We are really proud of that video, it’s an awesome job, I can watch it over and over again. London Noire, you say? I like the idea.
So the game features several cases for you to investigate, hence we are going to visit some very different locations there. If you remember, London during the 19th century was transformed into the world’s largest city and capital of the British Empire. The city was growing in wealth but at the same time it was also a city of poverty, where millions lived in overcrowded and unsanitary slums in the center of the city. It is kind of obvious that London was divided into classes where the wealthiest immigrated to the suburbs, leaving the poor to inhabit the inner city areas.
We already showed this difference in the previous games and will do it once again at Crimes and Punishments: both the richest mansions and the wretched hovels, both indoors and outdoors. All the locations are beautifully designed or recreated rather extensively for the game.
As for the free roaming in the city, I know this is something most of the players would like to have. Environment looks absolutely astonishing and it indeed raises the desire to explore every single piece of it. It could be possible to do so, but we don’t see the interest in terms of Gameplay. Sherlock Holmes works with clues, in his mind, travelling is not a key element of the investigation, except for some specific ones, that could require Sherlock to follow someone, but that’s the exception not the rule. In this case we would create a part of the level for this but not a full city based around a couple of secondary features that will be used from time to time in the whole game.
DV: Previous Sherlockian games have been made with PC in mind and then ported to consoles later. The Testament of Sherlock Holmes changed that by focusing and developing on console first. Is Crimes and Punishment doing the same?
OR: After The Testament of Sherlock Holmes we had an action-puzzle game released on PC in June this year, as we are speaking it is confirmed by Microsoft and it is under review at Sony.
So we expect the game to arrive to Xbox 360 and PS 3 in September.
We no longer see Frogwares games separately from consoles. We have an amazing team capable of working on the game for several platforms, so yes – Crimes and Punishments arrives for 3 or even more platforms.
DV: Let’s be honest here. Regardless of all the graphics and gameplay, the core to any Sherlock Holmes games is going to be the puzzles and problem solving. For The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, the difficulty of the individual puzzles were “dumbed down” so as to be more accessible. Will Crimes and Punishments be pursuing a similar course?
OR: Crimes and Punishments is an investigation game; I’d say there is a new genre emerging which we are absolutely happy about. And somehow the new Sherlock Holmes game is no longer an adventure game that you have previously played or that you may expect when hearing Sherlock Holmes or Frogwares game. The core mechanics of the new game are focused on investigation, exploration and deduction, that’s it.
Puzzles? Yes, there are puzzles in Crimes and Punishments; even if its too early to speak about its difficulty, I can say that we are going to reduce the overall number of puzzles compared to the previous games.
As for The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, I disagree about the difficulty of the puzzles being dumbed down, you’re probably too intelligent for our games.
OR: We hope so.
DV: When can we expect to see the game on shelves?
OR: We aim for Q1 2014 for the different platforms.
DV: Is there anything else about Crimes and Punishment that you might want to tell us? Perhaps something that hasn’t been released to the public yet?
OR: Aside that everyone should look forward to the game and play it on the first day of its release, there is really a lot if things I would like players to know about the game. While there is marketing involved and communication for the press is strictly rationed or gauged.
What I would like to stress is that for the first time we are giving our players and opportunity to fail in the game. Its you are the one to find the culprit and bring him to justice or not. You investigate on the case, whether you are a master detective or not, you interpret the clues one way or another, and you find the different suspects. I don’t know whether you will fail or you will succeed. It’s up to you to decide what exactly you would like to do with the information you obtained during your investigation afterwards. You will create your own path and your own experience with Crimes and Punishments.
And there you have it folks. Quite a lot of informative stuff. Thank you Olga Ryzhko and Frogwares Studios. For more coverage on Crimes and Punishments: Sherlock Holmes, look nowhere else other than AotF.
Did you like the interview? What are your thoughts on the new information available to us? Leave a comment below!