Sherlock Holmes Like You’ve Never Seen Him
Every superhero needs an origin story, and that holds true even if the character in question is a stiff-upper-lip eccentric Englishman with an uncanny knack for solving crimes and mysteries. Frogware’s upcoming Sherlock Holmes Chapter One attempts to illuminate us about the famous detective’s formative years, while also significantly changing up a well-loved franchise that has produced eight prior games. The team behind Chapter One was kind enough to answer some questions about their game, which releases in a few weeks.
When I played a bit of the game a few months ago, it was clear that the developers were intent on giving players a fresh experience, while still keeping Holmes at the center of the story. “The first and certainly biggest difference is that for the first time in Sherlock Holmes, Chapter One the game is set in an open world. This gives the player the freedom to play in his or her own style. They will decide where to go to find clues, with whom to talk, and above all what mystery to solve first and what can be left for later.” In addition to the new disguise system that allows Holmes to change his appearance to others, Chapter One includes combat, a first for the series. “However, we know that Sherlock is not a superhero, gun wielding maniac. He’s more of a glass cannon. Although Sherlock is armed, his wits and skills of observation are his biggest weapon, even in combat.”
A Combination of Quirky Geniuses
Speaking of wit, Holmes’ acerbic tongue and verbal virtuosity are one of the pleasures of Chapter One. “Sherlock Holmes is a genus and he definitely has his own quirks. So, we started with tons of research about the personalities of genius people and their features. We’ve analyzed the famous behavior of Albert Einstein, Alan Turing, Coco Chanel, Salvador Dali and many others. It helped to define and understand Sherlock’s behavior and features better. It also affected his style of speech.”
Arthur Conan Doyle’s books were another, obvious source of information and inspiration. “We were also re-reading many novels by Arthur Conan Doyle, paying more attention to the behavioral details of Sherlock Holmes. We’ve made a list of features and divided it into two parts: a) the ones we wanted to see in our young Sherlock and b) the ones we want to explain – how they will appear in the personality of older Sherlock. That’s a short way of explaining how our Sherlock was “born”.” That kind of mindful character building comes through in Chapter One.
Although friend and assistant John Watson doesn’t appear in the new game, Holmes does have a partner-in-solving-crimes in the form of Jonathan, who is sort of a origin story prototype for Watson. “Sherlock’s character shines brighter when the great detective has a sidekick, a partner. Contrast between the two personalities makes the story alive and more dynamic. That’s another reason for the presence of Jon in the story. And the last reason – Jon gave us the possibility to show the hidden, not obvious parts of Sherlock’s character. Thanks to Jon, we were able to extract a side of Sherlock that otherwise would be closed off. The personality of Jon was formed later – it had to be complementary to Sherlock’s, yet still contrasting. Eventually, Jon became a reflection of Sherlock’s personality, his emotional, empathetic part, with bright imagination and desire for adventures. A bit of a mirror image, you might say.”
The open world of Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is set on the fictional island of Cordona, and the environment is a beautiful rendering of the Mediterranean at its most lush. “In creating Cordona, we were inspired by existing real and historic locations. The word inspiration is key here, because we did not go in the direction of reproducing cities or buildings one-to-one. We only took inspiration from them to create a unique and one-of-a-kind atmosphere of the island. So you won’t find replicas of buildings or cities in Cordona. Our architecture models were Greece under Ottoman rule, Gibraltar, Malta with its beautiful capital city Valletta, and some of the colonial influence places in India. Those and many other places with unique atmospheres, they all played a part and influenced the Cordona that we created.”
Open World Beauty
Part of the exotic, melting-pot atmosphere of Cordona — and the game itself — comes from the music by composer Viacheslav Pakalin. Musically, a lot of thought went into keeping the score both appropriate to the hero and underlining the location. “The music had to still be “Sherlockian”, so the players would definitely understand what kind of character they are controlling right now. However, we did add a dash of Mediterranean flavor to the soundtrack, because our protagonist is in this unusual, for him, detective playground. We had to consider which part of the city had more British or Turkish influence, rich or poor, so the music would set a correct tone while we are wandering through the streets of Cordona. And because we are telling in “Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One” a very personal, tragic story, music definitely had to be on the same emotional tone no matter where we are experiencing it, gameplay event or some dramatic cutscene.”
Mystery and puzzle games tend not to be replayable, because once players have solved the crimes, there is little incentive for returning to the scene. Sherlock Holmes Chapter One is looking to change this. “As the game relies on the player’s deduction and moral choices, we feel it’s the cornerstone for replayability. Perhaps the person that you accused on your first run isn’t the actual perpetrator. Plus, aside from the main story, there are dozens of side cases to solve, as well as collectibles to find, and more.”
Exploring new aspects of beloved fictional characters, especially those so well represented in film, television, novels and games, is a tricky proposition that risks alienating fans who insist on seeing their heroes in one way. Chapter One seems to be both mindful of this, and willing to take some chances with Holmes for the sake of making him even more interesting, intellectually and emotionally nuanced, and multi-faceted. “We definitely wanted to show Sherlock from a new side and explore his character a bit deeper than usual. We didn’t want to seriously change the canonical character for the sake of freshness, so the choice was not very wide. One of them was to tell the story of a young Sherlock. It gave us a bit of freedom, but still we tried to stick to the canonical timeline. We had to match the ending of our new story with the start of the world-known one.”
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One releases on November 16, 2021 and I’m looking forward to diving back in to the story and characters.
Special thanks to the developers Antonina Melnykova, the narrative team lead, and Andrey Pitometz – Urban Architect. for their responses.
Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.