Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Unselectable Boots!

In the process of making games, it is easy to overlook issues, which seem small, but by doing so the small issues can compound into something much larger. This is the case with Sherlock Holmes Crimes and Punishment. Today we are going to talk about the fun in this game. Where is it? What is it? And how did the developers accidentally bury the fun?

Side note: As I mentioned from last week, I started to stream a little bit of the games I am going to write about. I have uploaded a full version of this stream to youtube if you have an hour and a half and you wish to watch the entire thing. It can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uo0xWtiZUH4 . If not, that’s not a problem as you can still enjoy this article without watching the stream.

Where’s the fun?

When you think of Sherlock Holmes, what do you think of first? Solving mysteries? Making deductions? Maybe you think of his hat and famous silhouette that is plastered to everything involving him? Regardless of what any one person may be thinking, we can agree that his name brings the thought of mysteries and solving cases. In Sherlock Holmes C&P, this is where the fun lies. The player is given a mystery to solve and they must explore a variety of environments to find clues to solve the mystery.  Sherlock even has a “Sherlock Vision”, which will highlight details the inspectors may have missed.

Notice how the footprints are highlighted and easier to see in Sherlock Vision mode.

Additionally, he can question other people for information and make accurate assumptions about them based on their appearance.

Ah ha! A rosary! She’s religious!

But all this pales in comparison to making connections. In Sherlock Holmes C&P, there is an interesting system resembling brain synapses that connect pieces of the mystery together.

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This screen shot is from a little bit later in the game so you can get a better idea as to how they connect. 

Players can select these and make connections, which will then influence their choices in the mystery.

The player can select two concepts and try to link them together.

After linking them sometimes they will be given the option of more than one possible conclusion to search for.

By using these mechanics, players are able to make connections and solve the case. This is where the fun lays, and my god; it is a lot of fun.

But sadly all too often in games we can see excellent mechanics like these buried under subpar camera and movement controls. As a designer, I know it can be easy to get caught up focusing on a couple of mechanics, making it impossible to notice other issues.

Side note: Don’t believe me? Look at my game Captain Bitz. I was so focused on the mechanic of reflecting enemy attacks that I didn’t notice the glaring issue of all the enemies coming from only two spaces, both on the right side of the screen. This is one of the reasons why now I always get as much feedback as possible as early on as possible.

Let’s take a look at this scene shall we:

Now here we can see a number of objects to interact with.

That is, when the player approaches them.

This is consistent throughout the game. You might say this isn’t that big of an issue. And it isn’t, if the objects were placed in a way that would make it easy to cover the room and make sure we have highlighted everything there. I’d like to turn your attention to this chest in particular:

Moments ago, it was closed. I walked up to it and was easily able to open it due to the prompt appearing while slightly tilting the camera down.

Now I am looking for a pair of boots, and I happen to notice them in the box.

But there is no prompt. This led me to believe that these boots were for whatever reason unimportant. So I’ll continue on searching the rest of the cabin and not think much of it. After doing a lot of searching around, it seems like the boots are finally selectable. If you’re watching the video, you’ll notice a brief flash of the prompt when I look down after I’ve searched the room. The boots are now officially important and I should be able to select them. But I missed the prompt because I wasn’t looking at them at the time, because I was still under the impression that they are unimportant. Later, I begin to get frustrated and crank the camera all the way down into the box. Only then does the prompt appear for me.

This is problematic because I was already under the impression that the boots were unimportant. I wasn’t looking for those boots specifically, and I have to crank the camera so far downward, to make the prompt appear, that they are incredibly easy to miss.

But Scott, part of the fun is discovering these items to help you progress through the mystery.

This is true! It is! The key terms are “discovering these items” and “progress through the mystery”. If you’ll turn your attention to the following clip, you’ll see my frustration at knowing where the boots are but not being able to bring them with me to check the size. This is all due to the information that the designers gave me leading me to think this pair was unimportant, alongside the camera control issue.

 

What I’m getting at is, that as a designer, it is part of our job to try and anticipate what a player will be doing. Now it is impossible to anticipate everything a player does, like in Halo 2 flipping the tank in Zanzibar to exit the map and snipe players from a safe spot, but simple actions such as this shouldn’t be hard to miss. It could have been easily remedied by adding a cursor on the screen. Or maybe if the player pulled the left trigger it would show all the nearby prompts.

 

Pulling the left trigger to see this could have saved me about 10 minutes of running in circles.

Tapping on the right bumper gives Sherlock the ability to notice things that are particularly amiss, so this isn’t far out of the realm of possibility. The way they did it made me think they were attempting to have a similar feel as one of those I-Spy apps on iOS. The only issue being that in the I-Spy apps there is a stationary camera and a player just taps on the screen to activate the items. Here, due to the 3D camera, it is making it difficult for players to activate the objects they wish to.

Sherlock Holmes Crimes and Punishments is a lot of fun, especially for someone like myself who loves a good mystery. Unfortunately, camera controls and prompts that only appear after the player has dismissed that option create an insanely frustrating experience. This is not to say that it is not enjoyable. If the player is willing to be patient with the game, they will find themselves in the middle of a mystery even Sherlock would be proud of.

Thank you for joining me in this look into Sherlock Holmes Crimes and Punishments. As of this writing, it is free on Xbox One, and I think it is worth trying out. I hope with this post I got you thinking about the little actions in your games, like camera angles, and you’ll be able to catch them before the players do. Next week I’ll be updating you on my personal projects as I have selected one to really push forward with.

I’ll see you guys next week,

 

Scott

P.S. For anyone who is interested or who wants to join the conversation while I stream these games, my twitch is http://www.twitch.tv/mrf1n3/. I usually stream a couple of nights a week, but I’m still setting up a permanent schedule. When I’m not streaming games for my blog posts, I might be streaming just for fun, namely Trials of Osiris or whatever other game I’m playing at the moment. I hope to see you there!