Ukrainian developer Frogwares talks to Sherlock about switch and community solidarity

Image: Frogwares

The Switch library has most genres and game types covered, including titles that encourage us to slow down, assess tracks, and solve mysteries. Frogwares is a well-known developer in this field for its Sherlock games, although it made its Switch debut with the very solid port of original IP The Sinking City in 2019. In recent months, the company has been busy bringing two Sherlock Holmes- titles to system, a series that has done much to establish the studio for over a decade.

It was not until February that we had Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, and now the latest arrival is its sequel Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter; in terms of game entries from the last few years, Switch now only lacks the studio’s latest work – Sherlock Holmes Chapter One. Here and now, there are plenty of crimes to solve for Holmes fans on Switch.

Frogwares is a company with a large part of its team based in Ukraine, although it has been busy despite the current conflict in the country. With some of their teams located elsewhere in Europe and with the support of partners, The Devil’s Daughter arrived on the worrying background.

We asked some questions to Sergey Oganesyan, the studio’s Community Manager, to learn more about The Devil’s Daughter, the work of Switch, and the challenges the team is currently facing.

SHerlock connector
Image: Frogwares

First of all, you can tell a little about the company’s long history with Sherlock Holmes games; what inspired you in the early days to work on the character?

Well, there are a few reasons for that. The first is that we have always been fans of adventure, mystery and exploration games. It’s a genre combination that we love. There is no better buzz than putting the pieces of the mystery together and throwing your accusation and deduction against the suspect. Did you miss some important clues? Something that you missed in conversations or did not intercept? In one moment you have put your reputation at stake and soon you will find out if you were right or not. And if you add a splash of gray moral realm, you start to get a bit of an internal riddle. The law is not always fair. So what do you do when laws and ethics collide? Yes, it’s a topic we love to explore. Let’s not get started with it!

And if you’re a fan of mystery, investigation, and detective thrills, well, it does not get any bigger than Sherlock Holmes, the world’s most famous detective. Working with that character is a dream and also a challenge. After all, with such a big fandom, you want to make sure you get him “right”. And sometimes it can quite mean a lot of different things to different people. Having said all that, it also helps from a business point of view to have a recognizable name. It helps you get noticed. Nevertheless, you still have to make a good game, a good adventure and a good mystery. The name will only take you that far.

Working with Sherlock is a dream, and also a challenge. After all, with such a big fandom, you want to make sure you get him “right”.

Creatively, what do you think have been the most significant changes and adjustments while working on IP in recent years?

The technical possibilities are certainly a change that made a huge impact. When we started 20 years ago, technology was so limited compared to what we have now. We had to work with 2D plains, and one can forget about large expanses. As consoles became more powerful, we were able to bring Sherlock into the 3D sphere, allowing us to bring in a first-person mode that really opened up more design choices. It helped make people feel more immersed in the story they were playing. And of course, it allowed us to create more graphically rich games with larger locations, more content, and higher production values.

However, it is not just technology that is changing. People’s expectations of games as a medium are also changing. We as developers and as players are influenced by our culture. By playing other games and being opened up to other forms of thinking, we ourselves become inspired, which in turn pushes the internal benchmark for what is a good game and what it should be, further and further in different directions. Heck, even the audience is changing. Players 10, 12 years ago, yes, their habits have also changed. Maybe they have less time to play like they did, so they are looking for different experiences? And it’s hard not to have your own thoughts and personal experiences to influence the games you make. For example, during Sherlock Holmes’ The Devil’s Daughter, many of us in the studio became parents, and it also filtered through to the game itself.

The Sinking City is an original Lovecraftian IP from Frogwares
The Sinking City is an original Lovecraftian IP from Frogwares (Image: Frogwares)

Switch owners will also know you for The Sinking City, can you discuss how your Holmes games affected the approach to that title?

If you played The Sinking City and you start playing our Sherlock Holmes game, you will see how our own definition of game has evolved over the years. In our Sherlock Switch game you will see familiar mechanics like exploring crime scenes, taking notes in your case book, interviewing topics and collecting all the clues in Mind Palace. If you liked the mindset of gaming in The Sinking City, you will also enjoy our Sherlock titles.

In recent months, you’re brought relatively new Holmes games to Switch, with Crimes and Punishments and now The Devil’s Daughter. With Crimes and Punishments, can you tell about the experience and feedback from sharing it with a new audience on Switch?

It’s been great! The response from the Switch community is greater than we thought … We will definitely keep the console in our future plans.

It’s been great! The response from the Switch community is greater than we thought. We had a hope that Sherlock would find his audience, but we certainly did not expect such a warm reception! It was great to see all the positive comments about our game come through and see people enjoy the mystery we created. There is a sum in seeing people enjoy what you have created. Bringing Sherlock Holmes Crimes and Punishments to the Nintendo Switch also exceeded our expectations financially as well. We will definitely keep the console in our future plans.

Can you outline what fans can expect from The Devil’s Daughter on Switch? It originally followed Crimes and Punishments, so does it develop or improve any particular ideas or gameplay?

With Devil’s Daughter, we’ve decided to open up the levels and crime scenes a little more and for the first time give Sherlock a semi-open world feel. We also played with the mechanics, but we still retained the essence of Sherlock Holmes games. We also wanted to dig deeper into Sherlock’s character by placing him at a not so familiar age and time of his life. Usually, our Sherlock game contained our favorite character when he was older, more mature – the finished product you could say. With the Devil’s Daughter, we experimented a bit here, and decided to show a younger Holmes. And by placing Katelyn in Sherlock’s life, we were able to see a different side of Holmes, one of a father figure. We love the cold, witty and almost antisocial side of him. But what about his softer side? His loving side? That’s why we introduced Kaitlyn so we can see what the different side of Sherlock could be.

Part of the team is based in Ukraine, although you remain as active as possible. Can you tell us about some of the challenges the team faces and outline how projects like The Devil’s Daughter on Switch have come together?

As during the active phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, our team has now switched to remote control due to the ongoing war. Currently, our entire team is spread across different safe corners of Ukraine, Europe and the globe, and continues to actively work on the projects. Now we trust each other more than ever. There are some team members who joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces, others are involved in voluntary assistance, and the rest of the team covers their other seedlings who defend our homeland. Such a wartime approach allows the studio to function as usual.

The Devil’s Daughter came as a natural extension of our strategy of transferring games to Switch. We love our players and appreciate their feedback, and we’ve heard so many times that “game mobility” is highly anticipated in our community when you can just keep playing on the go. We started with The Sinking City, then we had a very successful release of Crimes and Punishments, and now we hope that The Devil’s Daughter will also be accepted by the Switch community.

In these difficult times, how important has the team found support and encouragement from fans?

We are deeply grateful to our fans and appreciate the incredibly warm support from our entire community. Over the past month, we have received a large number of emails and comments on social media from our players from around the world. Some people expressed their support and encouragement, and some even sent us emails offering to host our employees in their homes in Germany, Sweden and other EU countries and beyond. We were deeply touched by their kindness. It was something we did not expect. It really cut through to our core.

We are deeply grateful to our fans and appreciate the incredibly warm support from our entire community.

Can you discuss your experiences with Switch in relation to the work with the hardware and the general reception of the games? Do you have any further plans to support the system?

Of course, when we started porting our games, we faced some challenges that we had not tried before. It’s not hard to guess, we’re talking about hardware details. Some difficulties are caused by the need to optimize games for current generation consoles, so in a way it is easier to work with next generation hardware. However, it is very exciting to transfer games to the Nintendo Switch and we enjoy working with the platform. In addition, we have partners who help us port games to the Switch with the highest possible quality, while preserving the original charm of our titles. In addition, Nintendo consistently provides us with solid information and marketing support, which always helps.

With regard to the additional plans to support the system, I can say that our team is actively considering this option and looks forward to further cooperation.

Thanks for your time, do you have one last message you would like to share with fans?

In these difficult times, I want to wish everyone peace. I send love to all defenders, men and women, who selflessly protect the Ukrainian people. I also share my love with all our players and would like to once again express my sincere appreciation for all their support and care. We will continue to make amazing games and put our soul, love, energy and culture into them.

We would like to thank Sergey Oganesyan for answering our question; we hope the Frogwares team and their loved ones can stay safe.

Due to the sensitive nature of this ongoing story, we have decided to unlock comments on this post.

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