VGB Feature: The Testament of Sherlock Holmes Q&A With Frogwares Business Development Manager Olga Ryzhko

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Good news: The Testament of Sherlock Holmes has been given a launch date today! You can pick it up on PC, PS3 or Xbox 360 on September 20th in Europe or September 25th in North America.

Double good news: We just wrapped up our Q&A interrogation with developer Frogwares. Read along for the results of our investigation.

VGBlogger: Testament of Sherlock Holmes appears to be portraying a much darker side to the famous detective than we’ve seen in previous games and stories, going as far as making him the prime suspect. What inspired this change in tone and direction?

Olga Ryzhko: The Guinness World Records has just recently honored Sherlock Holmes as the most portrayed literary human character in both film and television. It’s amazing, but more than 75 actors have played Sherlock over 250 times on screen!

All of them have brought something of their own to this iconic character. The same can be said of Frogwares’ games. All of our stories are inspired by and based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock, but we bring our own vision to them. With our previous games, players had the opportunity to take on the role of the world’s most famous consulting detective, whether it was the case versus Jack the Ripper or a Cthulhu idol. This time we’re going to find out who Sherlock Holmes really is. Is he the nice guy that we are used to thinking of…or is he really someone darker?

We have always wanted to make a game like this, and now that we have evolved through these other games, we can have Sherlock as the main suspect in a murder investigation as a kind of turning point.

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VGB: How faithful is this game’s storyline to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon works? Would you say this is the most original and creative Frogwares has been with exploring different aspects of Holmes’ character?

OR: With The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, we made a huge effort to stay loyal and faithful to the short stories and novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlockians will see and recognize some canonical characters, hints, references etc. in the game. Of course it is difficult to make it all the way through the true canon, through The Sherlock Holmes Bible if you wish.

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is our re-imagining of Doyle’s 60 stories. The game has its own plot. Some standards and rules still apply to certain elements of the canon but we have eliminated others.

VGB: From afar, it seems that The Testament of Sherlock Holmes draws some ideas from L.A. Noire? Was Team Bondi’s crime-solving adventure a source of inspiration, and if so, in what ways?

OR: L.A. Noire is a brilliant game and Team Bondi did an impressive job with it, adding a new trend to the genre. We have been very excited to play and discuss it here internally within Frogwares studio. Even so, I cannot say that The Testament of Sherlock Holmes was inspired by it. We started actively working on our game back in March 2010, and the first thoughts and ideas appeared even before we released Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper. By the time L.A. Noire was published, we simply couldn’t make any changes inside of the game while we were still polishing it.

VGB: How does the new deduction system function exactly?

OR: With the deduction board, players are going to draw the so-called large conclusions from the smallest observations they make while collecting the clues and questioning witnesses. We will see all the clues concentrated in one place. Then we will analyze and link them together to see where they can lead us.

For example, when the player finishes searching the first scene, collecting all the clues and completing the deduction board, he or she will come to the first leads in the entire investigation. He/she is then free to choose which lead to follow. The investigation will then continue in different locations, with different characters and suspects, with Holmes being the main suspect here.

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VGB: When questioning witnesses and interrogating suspects, what dialogue choices does the player have in determining what to ask? Are certain questions only available when specific clues have been gathered?

OR: Yes! To gather detailed information and comprehensive answers from the witnesses, the player will have to find the clues first. Apart from that, we also introduce “strategic dialogues” in the game: players will have to find the right approach and ask the right questions in order to gain the needed info.

VGB: Does the game’s new graphics engine, as it relates to the increased detail in character and facial animations, have any influence on gameplay? Is there an element of reading character reactions to your questions to figure out if they are lying or withholding information?

OR: The new graphics engine, lightning, technology and the level of graphic detail will immerse players in the story, surroundings, and environment and into the game itself. Players will live out this adventure in Victorian London, visiting both the sophisticated and more glamorous side of the city, juxtaposed against the seedier, dark Whitechappel streets.

VGB: Are there multiple outcomes/solutions to mysteries based on how a player questions NPCs, assigns guilt/innocence, and discovers clues or does each investigation have specific objectives that must be met in order to be completed?

OR: The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a classic adventure game; there are no different endings here. It’s all about investigation, deduction and puzzle solving. Players will have to do all three to progress throughout the game.

Getting back to the “strategic dialogues,” players will obtain different info based on which approach he/she chooses. They won’t be able to replay the dialogue, and with the details that they receive, they will have to move forward with the investigation.

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VGB: How does the game transition playability between Holmes and Watson? Does the story alternate between the two from one level to the next or is there a set point in the story when player control shifts to the next character? Are the two characters playable in equal proportions or is Holmes still the focal point?

OR: With The Testament of Sherlock Holmes we are going to present and follow two investigations: the first one will start with the case of a stolen necklace and the death of the Bishop of Knightsbridge, led by the detective. While the second investigation concerns Sherlock himself, it is Dr. Watson leading the investigation.

Are they equal? Probably not. Holmes is still the main suspect and the main character in the game. Although when Sherlock dies, Watson continues the investigation himself.

VGB: When going through a crime scene or solving a puzzle, how much freedom does the player have in scouring the environment and how does the player interact with objects and clues?

OR: The player decides which leads to follow and which to ignore, what clues are important and which ones won’t add anything to the investigation. Some of the objects we can only examine, while we can take others. The ones that we take go directly to the inventory. We can then use them later in the game, we can combine them to invent something new or we can examine them more precisely in the laboratory at Baker Street.

VGB: The E3 trailer indicates that players will freely roam Victorian London. How open is the world to exploration? Is it an open world setting or is it a more linear progression of solving an investigation and then moving to the next?

OR: It is not an open world game; The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a traditional adventure game with a thorough investigation resulting in the linear progression. The player will browse an authentic London both indoors and outdoors in order to get the clues to find the witnesses or suspects, and then deciding whether they are important or not.

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VGB: Does the game offer hint or guide mechanics of any kind? If so, how are these balanced out so players can’t abuse them? Will there be multiple difficulty options that dictate the level of help a player has available to them?

OR: If they get stuck in the game, players can use the help system, or the sixth sense ability. It takes 15 sec to reload so you can’t constantly use it. This should help the wider audience of console players not familiar with adventure games, as our previous Sherlock Holmes games were at times incredibly challenging, and players quit the game to find a walkthrough on the Internet or at least some advice at the forums. They can also skip puzzles but the Skip button appears only after 5 minutes.

Difficulty options depends entirely on you: whether you use hints or not. It will be reflected in the achievements tab, as you won’t get all of them by using help and hints.

VGB: With The Testament of Sherlock Holmes being the first game developed with consoles in mind, how have you adapted adventure game controls most commonly associated with mouse and keyboard to feel comfortable and intuitive with a PS3 or Xbox 360 gamepad?

OR: We kept the classical keyboard and mouse controls for PC gamers presenting the traditional 2.5D game. We did this especially for the players who like this control scheme. The game is also playable with a gamepad on PC, as well.

As for the consoles, we did a lot of research on how to implement and introduce everything that we wanted; we have made a lot of changes to adapt controls and make it really intuitive. Our humble experience with Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper that was ported to Xbox 360 and PS3 helped a lot. This was probably the most significant part of the work.

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VGB: What led the team at Frogwares to focus development on consoles this time around?

OR: The Testament of Sherlock Holmes was specifically designed for consoles. It is our first experience in this field. In short, it was rather difficult to work with different hardware, as well as following all the guidelines and rules of both PS3 and Xbox 360.

In the end, though, we made it and the game arrives this September simultaneously for three platforms, different countries, and in different languages.

VGB: Games like Heavy Rain and Datura have shown great potential for motion control in adventure gaming. Will the game support PlayStation Move and/or Kinect? Were motion control options ever considered during development?

OR: We would love to implement OnLive, PlayStation Move, and Kinect, as well as any other features favored by the players. We would be able to reach a wider audience, although it will increase the time and resources needed to develop the game. Unfortunately we are a little bit short on time on this. We prefer to release something new rather than focusing on the same game for ages.

VGB: Thanks for your time!

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!