Despite the tragic war that's ravaging their country, the Ukrainian developers at Frogwares are holding fast with the development of Sherlock Holmes The Awakened, a remake of the first installment in the adventure game series.
Sherlock Holmes The Awakened was recently funded via Kickstarter with € 252K in pledges. Ahead of the February 2023 release window, we caught up with Frogwares Communications Lead Sergey Oganesyan to find out more about the studio's current situation and the game's main features.
First of all, how are you doing amidst the war scenario? How would you rate your current development efficiency versus the pre-war one?
Our team is doing what it can to find some sort of normalcy and routine. But we still regularly need to adapt based on individual team members' situations changing quite regularly. One minute you are in a meeting with someone, the next they need to move to a shelter because an air raid siren goes off. Or they have to block out half a day to deal with something personal that under normal circumstances would take maybe an hour. So as you can imagine, this has drastically changed how we work and how long things take to get done. But everyone on the team is extremely understanding. We’re all in the same boat so, despite the horrible situation, it feels this has all brought us all closer.
Are you also having to deal with less manpower than you previously had, or did you hire new developers to compensate for those directly engaged with the war?
We haven’t hired people to fill those roles. Everyone who is fighting or is helping humanitarian aid organizations are still being paid in full by us and we told each of them that when this war is over, their places with the team will be waiting for them. So we have adapted our workflow in some places and in other places, other team members have stepped up to help fill that void. The Awakened is also not a project that, under normal circumstances, would ever require all 90 of our team to be assigned to it. So we have also been able to not get overwhelmed by the game and missing key people in certain roles compared to if we were making say an open-world game from scratch.
In your most recent video, you mentioned some new features coming to Sherlock Holmes The Awakened. Can you provide some details on those?
The most notable addition is going to be the insanity puzzles. Given the Eldritch, cosmic horror theme, we’re going to try and create playable puzzles that convey the feeling of mental decay.
Each puzzle will present a clear goal (i.e., open the metaphoric door to get out), but the rest is up to you to figure out. The puzzles will be getting progressively more difficult and madness-inducing as the story goes on. Furthermore, Sherlock’s appearance will also gradually change to portray his mental state which keeps getting worse.
Playable Watson is also a new feature entirely being added for the remake. And then, of course, we are, in essence, taking a lot of the mechanics we created for Chapter One and adding them into The Awakened, which back in 2009, it didn’t have. Things like the Concentration Mode, Sherlock’s ability to see additional clues and elements that can be of use to the investigation. The Imaigion mode where we piece together the possible sequence of events to a key moment/clue in a case. The more intricate Mind Palace system where we piece together all the collected clues to try to create our final deductions/theories. In essence, we’re taking almost every mechanic from Chapter One into The Awakened and rebuilding the existing puzzles to work this way. How the original game was played has been totally scrapped. So even if you played the first Awakened, how you’ll be getting through the cases will now be very different.
You've announced that Watson will be playable. What kind of differences will players notice compared to playing as Sherlock?
To be honest we are still working out the exact details of it since we truly didn’t have this set in stone until we passed the funding for this on Kickstarter. But one of our main motivations for a playable Watson is that it could really help amplify the connection players feel as they see the bond between Watson and Holmes forming, 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 even more with them as a duo is probably going to increase.
For sure, there will be moments where you as Watson can decide how you’ll speak to Sherlock. There are parts of the game where you as Watson need to help Sherlock get out of some tricky situations. And you will also be able to provide a different perspective on certain parts of cases as you will be investigating as Watson instead of Holmes.
The next stretch goal mentions realistic physics for in-game objects. Could this be used to improve puzzles?
In some places, they will add a little bit to the feel of the puzzles, but since these quests already have a set structure and solutions, realistic physics never really had much room to influence them in general. Rather the realistic physics system is there as something we’d be working on anyway, and now we have a chance to implement it. For The Awakened, it's more of a nice touch or quality of life feature so the game feels more modern.
How long do you expect Sherlock Holmes The Awakened to last for the average player?
We expect the remake to be around 14 to 18 hours of play, give or take.
Is this remake going to be a one-off, or do you plan to remake the whole Sherlock Holmes series over time?
It’s hard to say. We picked to remake The Awakened for a few reasons. We knew it was one of our most adored titles from the earlier Sherlocks. It works extremely well as a way for us to easily continue our young Sherlock arc in an interesting way. And we needed to work on a game with an already set structure, features, and story to make it easier on the team. So a lot of thought went into why and how we do this remake. What will happen after this is very much up to how the game performs and when the war will end. But since we own the rights to all our games, the path to do more remakes is solely up to us and our fans if they want them.
Since this game features Lovecraft inspirations, is it a bridge to your other IP, The Sinking City? Can fans of that franchise still hope for a sequel?
As far as stories go, the two are not directly connected. But if you are a fan of The Sinking City and the way we approached Eldrich horror then The Awakened should also float your squid-god-loving boat. It’s considered one of our best Lovecraftian stories in any game by a few fans and critics even.
As for a sequel to The Sinking City, since we own the IP, I think people should rightly expect something in that vein from us again at some point. If not by name direct name, then at least an open-world Lovecraftian horror investigation adventure. We know the lore, and people really seem to enjoy our creative takes on it, so this is not a genre we will likely step away from soon.
Will Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened support ray tracing on PC and/or next-generation consoles?
We did a few preliminary tests but decided this isn’t something we’re going to be able to properly implement on top of all the other things we have to finish if we want to reach our Feb 2023 release date.
Will the game support AMD FSR and/or NVIDIA DLSS on PC?
A few of our programmers have toyed around with both technologies, given they are both quite easily accessible to us via Unreal 4. But they still haven’t made a final decision on whether we will have the time to properly test, implement, and QA either of these tools for The Awakened. We might also end up supporting one and not the other, depending again on our final tests.
Are you considering using Unreal Engine 5 for your next game after Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened?
Our team is, of course, looking at what UE5 can do with awe, and the goal is at some point to move over as we are Unreal Engine developers through and through. It’s what our team knows the best and where we have most of our expertise. But to switch over to UE5 now for The Awakened is not a wise move. There is always going to be a learning curve to deal with and a lot of experimentation to find what can be done now versus before. We simply don’t have that luxury now and we wouldn’t want to burden our team with such a thing now. We have enough unknowns and surprises going on in our daily life as is.
Is there anything else you want to share about the remake?
I think the main thing that comes to mind is how proud we are that we have even been able to make this game. The Russian invasion hit at a moment when we were in the early stages of developing our next game. The situation and the early state of the project made it nearly impossible to continue, so we had to put it entirely on hold. From there we had to regroup, rethink and totally adjust how we work and on what. As we said, we had the idea for an Awakened remake floating around for some time, but within less than a month, we were able to assess and turn an idea into a feasible and worthwhile project.
Thank you for your time.