Sherlock Holmes and video games, a love that never fully blossomed

Sherlock Holmes and video games, a love that never fully blossomed

Sherlock Holmes and video games

Deerstalker hat, Calabash pipe and magnifying glass. These three elements are probably enough to make many people think of the image of the most famous detective in the world: Sherlock Holmes. His adventures have accompanied us for more than one hundred and thirty years, yet the legendary investigator of 221B Baker Street continues to invade the most varied media. But how does a character manage to live so long without losing his polish?

A little more than a month after the release of the new video game developed by Frogwares, let's retrace together the videogame history of Sherlock Holmes in search of his "fountain of youth". Will the most famous detective in the world manage to have a game that lives up to his irreproachable fame?

Sherlock Holmes in video games

Sherlock Holmes: a long and troubled story The story of Sherlock Holmes all inside the videogame panorama has "ancient" roots. It was, in fact, 1984 when the first title dedicated to the great investigator was released on Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. It was simply called Sherlock and it was a very ambitious text adventure. In fact, it was presented as a video game in "real time", with events that occurred only at certain times (for example, the departure of trains from the station or the meeting with certain characters) and with the possibility of interacting with the various NPCs by doing specific questions or even showing the evidence gathered, to then convict or acquit a particular suspect.

Despite its aspirations, the title is mainly remembered for the large number of unlikely and peculiar bugs, but it is also a prime example how the franchise can be exploited at a videogame level without changing its basic characteristics.

In 1987, in addition to a new text adventure, Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels, the first real graphic appearance of the character in a video game was released, also on Commodore 64, 221B Baker Street. br>
After a period forgotten by many, but quickly become a cult, which saw the detective protagonist of three games in full motion video, and a couple of graphic adventures signed by Electronic Arts, then came the long series of titles developed by the Ukrainian development house Frogwares, which since 2002 has been working with the world created by Arthur Conan Doyle, reshaping it and adapting it to the videogame medium, often also proposing quite daring variations on the theme.

The story of this "collaboration" , which has eight main video games (not counting the new Chapter One and the four casual games released from 2008 to 2012), starts with Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Mummy (released in 2002 on PC and returned in 2009 with a port on Nintendo DS), evolving in an increasingly mature way until arriving at the 2012 release of The Testament of Sherlock Holmes. However, the Frogwares series probably finds its most striking success in Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, a real turning point for the franchise within the gaming landscape, with gameplay capable of evoking the atmospheres of novels and a division into episodes that succeeds in enhancing the serial nature of Conan Doyle's stories.

Sherlock Holmes: with Crimes and Punishments, the series of Frogwares titles undergoes a turning point In 2016 it was then the moment of the less appreciated Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter, who is a bit lost in the desire to tie each case to a non-exciting narrative thread.

On the horizon, however, we begin to glimpse the new instance of the series, Sherlock Holmes Chapter One (of which we have already given you some additional information in our tried), intending not only to take us to the origins of the legend, but also to open up spaces, launching into an open world adventure that, if on the one hand worries, on the other hand it also manages to intrigue.

The Frogwares team has already had the opportunity to test the possibilities offered by the open world in another investigative title with a literary theme, The Sinking City, collecting, however, one little success both from critics and audiences. We just have to wait until November 16 to find out if the game will live up to its name.

Inspiration and copyright

Sherlock Holmes: different variations on the theme for avoiding copyrights The more a narrative element (be it an object, a universe, a specific place or a particular character) makes its way into the mind and cultural memory, the greater its influence will be within the current media landscape. Just as Jules Verne inspired the conception of a natural world that is always changing and waiting to be discovered, between constant danger and the purest wonder, so the suit of Sherlock Holmes has infiltrated common thought, giving life to a whole investigative vein. which has been able to spread like wildfire between one medium and another in the course of more than a century of history.

If it is difficult to take into account the literary and cinematographic variations of the character, at the level videogame the situation is less critical, but still not to be underestimated. On the borderline between homage, inspiration and copyright infringement (although most of the works are now in the public domain), the development houses have been able to adapt the detective character to any need. A trend, this, which took place mainly in the East, where several titles have taken with both hands since the creation of Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes: the "animalistic" variation in Wizard101, Sherlock Bones We find an example minor in a game like Wizard101, where a character named Sherlock Bones appears. But perhaps the most relevant events are represented by The Great Ace Attorney and Professor Layton. In the first case, within two chapters, The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures and The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve, a character clearly inspired by the original Sherlock Holmes appears, so much so that he also shares his name, at least in the Japanese version . In fact, due to some copyrights not yet expired in other countries, for the international release of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (collection containing both chapters) the name of the character was changed to Herlock Sholmes, in honor of the homonymous investigator (also a clear reference to the protagonist of Doyle's novels) appeared in Arsène Lupine against Herlock Sholmes by Maurice Leblanc.

Sherlock Holmes: the series dedicated to Professor Layton is clearly born from a great passion for the detective by Doyle As for Professor Layton, however, the name has been left aside in favor of an "easier" transposition of some of the characteristic features that the image of Sherlock Holmes has made become a constant in many investigative-themed productions , finding, however, a square that has allowed the game to achieve wide success and to be able to shrug off the shadow of the English detective. This is also probably thanks to its release on the Nintendo DS, perhaps the best place for the proliferation of such a title during the early 2000s.

The historical context

Sherlock Holmes: one of the first illustrations depicting the detective Why, after so long, Sherlock Holmes continues to have all this success? How did he manage to adapt to every single visual medium that crossed his path? To answer these questions we must go back in time and analyze the historical context, when the character made his first, true appearance.

It was 1887 when A study in red was released, the first of a long and prolific series of short stories and novels starring the Baker Street investigator. They were special years of growth and development for the Western world (and beyond). Years that historians identify with movements of expansion and colonial possessions. At the center of this swirling and chaotic nebula of modernity stood the British colonial empire, with its cultural and economic capital: London. Holmes and Watson stroll through the streets of the nascent metropolis in the adventures created by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes: two icons of late nineteenth-century London, children and the panorama of the City The London of the second industrial revolution was a literally fragmented place. If at one corner you could find the most sumptuous meeting points of the upper class, at the other you could see slums (in English "slums"), overpopulated and infested with the most dangerous diseases of the modern era (the living conditions were such that, as various testimonies tell us, it was not unlikely to find corpses on the side of the roads).

During the 1880s, the humanitarian crisis afflicting the city and its suburbs was the order of the day at British Parliament, so much so that in the same period a process of redevelopment of the urban environment was being worked on. Thus, we have more than one feature that can help us shed light on Sherlock Holmes' origins: the creation of a modern place, where masses of individuals flocked every day in search of fortune and fulfillment; a cleaning process that led to a consequent close by the police (the famous Bobbies were born in the nineteenth century, the policemen with the typical black uniform that we all know), with the result of a renewed attention to high crime rate, which had already crept into the city fabric at the beginning of the century; the new discoveries in the scientific field, which brought the empirical world to common attention and raised the prestige reserved for anatomy, botany, chemistry, psychoanalysis and a myriad of other sciences, the relevance of which found an outlet in newborn coffee , circles and clubs.

Sherlock Holmes: a London alley in a photograph of the late nineteenth century Finally, the growing schooling and expansion of printing and publishing, which allowed more and more people to detach themselves from the bombastic world citizen through fictional stories, both to inform themselves and become aware of the most disparate events that concerned both the national and the international context (not without a sensationalist push, which the publishers had noticed attracting more audiences and, therefore, greater revenues). br>
Sherlock Holmes has its roots in this "hell on earth", an ambiguous character, almost an anti-hero due to his lifestyle, to the limit i acceptable for the aristocracy, but extremely fascinating for the middle class. Its investigative character gave voice to the desire for scandals and unsolved mysteries that invaded the London news through a process of deduction that was easily understood by the relevant public.

What makes Sherlock Holmes so special?

Sherlock Holmes: an illustration signed by Sidney Paget The origin of Sherlock Holmes is perfectly established within that particular historical context. However, it does not explain how the character managed to break free from the Victorian shackles and get so deep into the social fabric that he survived into the information age and beyond. The answer, probably, in this case too, must be found in the perfect temporal location from which the phenomenon originated. In fact, when Conan Doyle "brought into the world" the legendary detective, the images had already taken their first steps within the Western cultural universe. Only eight years after the release of A studio in red takes place in Paris the famous screening at the Salon indien du Grand Café by the Lumière brothers (considered by many to be the "birth" of cinema, even if the question is much more complicated than that. but we don't have time to deepen it here; just know that it can be considered a birth of cinema, but intended as a social event with a paying audience).

Sherlock Holmes: his birth is contemporary to that of the cinema This relative proximity and the regular cadence with which the character returned to everyone's lips (the legendary "riot" following the character's death, which Conan Doyle was forced to bring back to life after countless threats) allowed Sherlock to reach a renewed visual iconicity (already built through the illustrations by Sideny Paget and some theatrical representations of the detective's adventures).

Such a visceral bond with the iconographer ia has certainly contributed to affirming the character as one of the narrative pillars of the nascent society of images. From the successful film career, which has reached new levels of kineticism with the most recent adaptations directed by Guy Ritchie, to the various television transpositions (which with Sherlock and Elementary launched Holmes in the contemporary), up to the videogame world, a territory still to be explored , where the malleability of a character like the one created by Arthur Conan Doyle's pen can truly be inextricably linked to the medium. In fact, the detective's adventures have always given ample space to the involvement of the public, something that the interaction granted by the medium leads to a completely different level, transforming the user from a passive spectator to an active player. In video games, Sherlock Holmes can find not only a powerful ally, but also a new creative impetus towards the next innovations in the field of visual communication.

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