Despite the tragic war plaguing their country, the Ukrainian developers at Frogwares cling fast Developed by Sherlock Holmes The Awakened, a remake of the first edition in the adventure game series.
Sherlock Holmes Awakened Recently funded via Kickstarter With pledges of 252 thousand euros. Ahead of the release window in February 2023, we caught up with Frogwares Communications Lead Sergey Oganesyan to learn more about the studio’s current status and key features of the game.
First of all, how are you amidst the war scenario? How would you rate your current development efficiency versus pre-war development efficiency?
Our team is doing everything they can to find a kind of normal and routine life. But we still need to adapt regularly based on the regularly changing individual team member attitudes. One minute you are in a meeting with someone, and the next day they need to move to a shelter because of the air raid sirens. Or they have to set aside half a day to deal with something personal that would take perhaps an hour under normal circumstances. So as you can imagine, this has fundamentally changed the way we work and the time it takes for things to get done. But everyone on the team is very understanding. We’re all in the same boat, so, despite the terrible situation, this seems to have brought us all closer.
Do you also have to deal with less manpower than you previously had, or have you hired new developers to compensate for those directly involved in the war?
We haven’t hired people to fill those roles. Everyone who fights or helps humanitarian organizations is still being paid in full by us and we have told each and every one of them that when this war is over, their places with the team will be waiting for them. So we’ve adapted our workflows in some places and in others, and other team members ramped up to help fill that void. The Awakened is also not a project that, under normal circumstances, would require the recruitment of all 90 members of our team. So we were also able to not drown out the game and lose the main people in certain roles compared to what if we were saying an open world game from scratch.
In your latest video I mentioned some of the new features coming to Sherlock Holmes The Awakened. Can you provide some details on these?
The most notable addition will be the puzzles of madness. Given the theme of Eldritch, the cosmic horror, we will try to create playable puzzles that convey a sense of mental dissolution.
Each puzzle will present a clear objective (eg open the metaphorical door to the exit), but the rest is up to you to figure it out. The puzzles will get progressively more difficult and insane as the story continues. Furthermore, Sherlock’s appearance would also gradually change to depict his mental state, which was getting worse.
Playable Watson is also a new feature that has been completely added for reproduction. And then, of course, we’re, basically, taking a lot of the mechanics that we created for Chapter One and adding them to The Awakened, which didn’t exist in 2009. Things like focus mode, Sherlock’s ability to see clues and additional items that can be useful in an investigation. Imaigion mode where we group the probable sequence of events into a key moment/evidence in a case. The most complex Mind Palace system where we collect all the collected clues in an attempt to create definitive conclusions / theories. Basically, we’re taking just about every mechanic from Chapter One to The Awakened and rebuilding existing puzzles to work that way. The gameplay of the original game has been completely cancelled. So even if you played the first Awakened, the way you would handle cases would be completely different now.
You’ve announced that Watson will be playable. What kind of differences will players notice compared to playing Sherlock?
To be honest, we’re still working out the nitty-gritty of it since we didn’t really have this group in the rocks until we passed funding for this on Kickstarter. But one of our main motivations for playing Watson is that it can really help amplify the connection that players feel when they see the bond between Watson and Holmes form, which is a major part of our reworked story. By actually playing as Watson and not just having him as an NPC, the chance of you bonding with them as a duo is likely to increase even more.
Sure, there will be moments when you as Watson can decide how you are going to talk to Sherlock. There are parts of the game where you as Watson need to help Sherlock out of some difficult situations. You’ll also be able to provide a different perspective on certain parts of the issues where you’ll investigate as Watson instead of Holmes.
The next extension goal mentions realistic physics of in-game objects. Can this be used to improve puzzles?
In some places, they’ll add a bit to the feel of the puzzles, but since these tasks already have a specific structure and solutions, the realistic physics didn’t have much room to influence them in general. Instead, the realistic physics system exists as something we’ll be working on anyway, and now we have a chance to implement it. For The Awakened, it’s a nice touch or a quality of life advantage, so the game feels more modern.
How long do you expect Sherlock Holmes The Awakened to last for the average player?
We expect the new version to be around 14 to 18 hours of gameplay, whether that’s more or less.
Will this be a one-off remake, or do you plan to remake the entire Sherlock Holmes series over time?
hard to say. We chose to remake The Awakened for several reasons. We knew it was one of our most popular titles from previous Sherlocks stories. It works very well as a way for us to easily continue our young Sherlock arc in a fun way. And we needed to work on a game with a really defined structure, features and story to make it easier for the team. So a lot of thought went into why and how we are doing this new version. What happens next largely depends on how the game performs and when the war will end. But since we own the rights to all of our games, the way to do more remasters is up to us and our fans if they want to.
As this game features Lovecraft’s inspiration, is it a bridge to your other IP, The Sinking City? Can fans of this franchise still hope for a sequel?
As far as stories go, the two are not directly related. But if you’re a fan of The Sinking City and the way we dealt with Eldrich’s horror, The Awakened should also float on your squid-loving boat. Considered one of our best Lovecraftian stories of any game even by a few fans and critics.
As for a sequel to The Sinking City, since we have an IP, I think people should expect something in that vein from us again at some point. If not by direct name, then at least a Lovecraftian horror investigation adventure is open to the world. We know tradition, and people seem to really enjoy our creative approach to it, so this isn’t the kind we’re likely to give up soon.
Will Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened supports ray tracing on PC and/or next-generation consoles?
We did some initial testing but decided that this is not something we will be able to do properly as well as all the other things we have to finish if we want to get to the February 2023 release date.
Will the game support AMD FSR and/or NVIDIA DLSS on PC?
A few of our programmers have used both techniques, since they are easily accessible via Unreal 4. But they still haven’t made a final decision on whether we will have time to properly test, implement and quality assurance any of these tools for The Awakened. We may also end up supporting one and not the other, again depending on our final tests.
Thinking of using Unreal Engine 5 for your next game after Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened?
Our team, of course, is looking at what UE5 can do in awe, and the goal at some point is to move on because we’re developers of the Unreal Engine with it. It’s what our team knows best and where we have the most experience. But switching to UE5 now for The Awakened is not a wise move. There will always be a learning curve to contend with and a lot of experimentation to find what can be done now versus the above. We simply don’t have that luxury now and we don’t want to burden our team with something like that now. We have enough of the unknowns and surprises that happen in our daily lives as they are.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the new version?
I think the main thing that comes to mind is how proud we are that we were able to make this game. The Russian invasion occurred at a moment when we were in the early stages of developing our next game. The situation and the early condition of the project made it almost impossible to continue, so we had to postpone it entirely. From there we had to regroup, rethink, and completely adjust how we work and for what. Like we said, we’ve had the idea of reproducing Awakened for some time, but in less than a month, we’ve been able to evaluate the idea and turn it into a feasible and worthwhile project.
thanks for your time.