2016 is due to see the release of Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter, the next entry in Frogwares’ long-running series of Sherlock Holmes adventure games. As a fan of 2014’s Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments — which I called an “interesting, ambitious example” of thematic puzzle design — I reached out to Frogwares to find out more. Read on for my interview with Wael Amr, Frogwares CEO, in which we chat about The Devil’s Daughter and the broader adventure genre:
Hello, and welcome to the site!
Frogwares is perhaps best known for its Sherlock Holmes series of adventure games, most recently 2014’s Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments. How did you come to work on these games, and how has the series evolved?
We started to work on the series in 2001. Our first game was a very traditional adventure game at that time.
Every game we made since was different, in technology, scenarios, control scheme and gameplay.
The versatility of Sherlock Holmes allows to have more than one kind of gameplay or controls scheme.
Our last game, The Devil’s Daughter features probably the wider range of game mechanic we ever created.
The next Sherlock Holmes game will be The Devil’s Daughter, due for release in 2016. What can you tell us about its new features, and which do you consider the most significant?
I would say that the most significant is the rhythm of the game, that is rather dynamic. It is due to new mechanics of course, but not only, the new character controller, the removal of loading, make the overall pace more dynamic and active. Focus tests showed it was a very welcomed change. The heart of the game is cases investigation and it remains so.
One of the most distinctive elements of Crimes and Punishments was its emphasis on player choice: it was up to us to assess the evidence and deduce who committed each crime. How will this be handled in The Devil’s Daughter?
This part of free choice, possible failure and personal moral compass over blind justice remain in the game. With this mechanic, the game successfully mirror the emotion of the players, and keep many thinking after playing the game, about whether they were right to make such or such decision, not only at the light of the facts, but also given the circumstances in which crimes were committed.
Many people react differently, and while at the beginning of the game, players opinions are rather clear about how to judge the suspects, they tend to blur with cases accumulating.
Besides Sherlock Holmes, Frogwares’ projects include Magrunner, as well as other games inspired by 19th century literature (Dracula, Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Centre of the Earth). What are your plans for future games?
We announced a new project based on HP Lovecraft writings. Something new in term of style and gameplay, it was announced here https://www.facebook.com/frogwares/
I feel that adventure gaming has evolved significantly in recent years, both from a commercial standpoint (it’s regaining popularity) and in terms of game mechanics (designers are emphasising dialogue and player choice, instead of traditional inventory puzzles). What do you see as the most important developments?
I would phrase it differently. With 3 factors.
1.Adventure games have three main components. Puzzles, control mode and Narration.
The puzzles and control mode (point and click) didn’t evolve much and they interest few players today.
On the other hand, Narration, with modern technologies and possibilities given by engines like Unreal, allow us to create games that are far more immersive and emotionally involving than before.
2. While playing games, you live what you do, not only what you see. And Action games, with very exclusive mechanics, like fighting, shooting, driving leave very little space for narration embedded inside the gameplay. So those AAA games, with huge budgets can create great narrative movies (cutscenes), but the players don’t live the narration with the same emotional level than the action mechanics. Narrative is left apart or aside.
3. The audience of gamers today is an expert audience, no more wii fit and DS titles for gamers. Gamers are playing on Steam or PS4, they bash average titles and reward heavily great ones. They want quality, on all levels. Opinion leaders have been playing for 15-20 years and don’t easily accept marketing crap or overused game design. But you can say the same about TV series, they are getting better and better because the audience ask for better.
So it’s not adventure games that are living a new golden era. The audience requires better content, on the narrative level and this narrative being integrated in the gameplay.
The Sherlock Holmes games have been released on several platforms, including PC, console, portable, and iOS. How have you found these markets, and where do you see future opportunities?
We have been working on different business models at some point, that was a necessity to make our studio live. We learned a lot from it.
We are dedicated today on one game at a time, trying our best.
The “expert players” market of today fits us well, we have been here for 15 years growing from a tiny game to do some AA+ game quality. We are our own audience and it’s very pleasant to work this way.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Thanks for having us and we hope you’ll like Devil’s Daughter!
Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter is due out in Spring 2016.