Wednesday 3 August 2016

Game 73: Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective - Introduction (1991)

Written by Joe Pranevich

The butler did it! (Again.)

I think it’s become something of a joke how excited I get when I’m about to start a game, but I am excited! I’m not sure that I’m about to play a fantastic game, but I am sure that I am about to play an influential one. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective will be the first adventure that we’ve played that is firmly on the CD-ROM and “full-motion video” bandwagon. Other games have included a bit of video here or there or audio narration (although the latter often enough only in a subsequent update of the game), but this one is-- I believe-- video from end to end. I only know this from brief research, but we’ll be finding out soon enough.

ICOM Simulations, the game designer, has a history of making influential (but not necessarily good) adventure games and we’ve already played four: Déjà Vu (1985), Uninvited (1986), Shadowgate (1987), and Deja Vu II (1988). The clearest way to see how industry-leading these games were is to look at their numbers: Déjà Vu and Uninvited are games 4 and 9 on our blog, respectively. Will this one live up to those legacies? Or will this be a speedbump on the way to the 7th Guest (1993) and the CD-ROM adventures yet to come? I have no idea! I honestly had never heard of this game before volunteering to play it.

This is what I do know: this is a game, based on a gamebook, based on a fictional detective, and created by an influential game development house. It’s probably going to be a long introduction...

I wear a deerstalker. Deerstalkers are cool.

Let’s start with the stuff you probably already know: Sherlock Holmes is one of the earliest and most influential fictional detectives, inspiring generations of authors and real detectives. It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that modern police forensics owes more than a little to this fictional forebearer! Holmes was created in 1887 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; his first novel was A Study in Scarlet, published in Beeton's Christmas Annual. In all, fifty-six short stories and four novels were published between 1887 and 1927. Doyle’s works have been adapted into stage, screen, and television as well as dozens of computer games. While this is the first Sherlock Holmes game that we have played for the blog, I’ve found at least eight reasonably professional text or illustrated adventure games that preceded this one that we might get to cover some day as Missed Classics. Of those, Melbourne House’s Sherlock (1984) and Infocom’s Riddle of the Crown Jewels (1987) are the most famous. I had given some thought to playing both of them before this game, but time slipped by me.

I should mention that I am not coming into this blind. While I am not a card-carrying Sherlockian, I have read nearly all of the short stories and novels and have a very nice collection with the original Sidney Paget illustrations on my bookshelf. I’m a big fan of Steven Moffat’s recent Sherlock adaptation, but I haven’t seen Elementary yet. In other words, I know enough to know who Mycroft and Moriarty are, but also enough to know that Mr. Doyle hardly ever had recurring plots; elements like these-- so common in adaptations-- are almost completely absent in the original stories.

Original 1980s game cover.

Until I started to dig, I did not realize that this is a double adaptation. The original Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective was a series of gamebooks, the first of which was released in 1981 by Sleuth Publishing. Calling it a “gamebook” doesn’t quite do it justice and it is very difficult to describe. The whole package arrived at my house in a three-ring binder with pockets. The main text looks a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure with sections that you can jump to easily, but there is a separate smaller rule book, a clue book, newspapers, a map, and other things. My copy came with ten separate Holmes adventures, three of which appear to be the same as in the computer game. I’ll take a look at the pen-and-paper game later, once I experience what the software version has in store. The original game was designed by Raymond Edwards, Suzanne Goldberg, and Gary Grady-- although I can’t quite tell whether those are the original designers of the concept, whether they contributed some of the initial cases of the game, or both. The gamebook series released several updates with new cases over the years, but they are exceptionally rare today. West End Adventures, Mansion Murders, and The Queens Park Affair are all selling for upwards of a hundred dollars each on the secondary market. Ystari Games purchased the rights for the original books a few years back and released an updated version in 2012. I’ve ordered a copy and will compare it to the original at some point down the road. New material and reprints of old modules are still being released, but Ystari is releasing them in French first and translating them to English later.

Our first acting credits in an adventure game?

Although this is our fifth ICOM game, it is the first made without the collaboration of their founder/designer/CEO, Tod Zipnick. He passed away in 1991, before this game was released, and his name does not appear in the credits. Instead, the three leads on this game are Ken Torolla, the director; Laurie RoseBauman, the scriptwriter; and Kathy Tootelian, the designer. All three of them would return for both sequels, but at that point they started to go their separate ways. Ken and Kathy would work together on Dracula Unleashed in 1993, but only Ken would remain in adventure gaming after that point. We’ll get to the rest of his games in 1994 when we close out MTV: Club Dead and Are You Afraid of the Dark: The Tale of Orpheo's Curse. Most of Laurie’s game credits from here will be educational games, while Kathy will make her career in large part building Scooby Doo games. The lead actors in the game, Peter Farley and Warren Green, have only worked on this series, according to IMDB. The only “famous” actor that I am aware of that participated in this game is Bill Corbett, Crow and Brain Guy from Mystery Science Theater 3000. He plays a character named “Philip Travis” and I will watch for him with anticipation!

Consulting Detective marks another turning point for ICOM. After this, they will take the Adventure International route and concentrate almost exclusively on licensed properties: two Consulting Detective sequels (in 1992 and 1993), Dracula Unleashed (1993), MTV: Club Dead (1994), and Beavis and Butt-Head in Virtual Stupidity (1995). All except the last of those appear to be FMV-based adventure games of some sort and I look forward to seeing how the company progresses. ICOM will be acquired by Viacom New Media in 1993 and a number of team members will transition onto their games. (Orpheo's Curse, for example, will be a Viacom game rather than an ICOM one.) Viacom will spin them back out in 1997, but their independence will be short lived as they closed in 1998. In more recent news, some of the original developers managed to acquire the rights to this and other ICOM games in 2012 and formed a new company, Zojoi. Remastered editions of Consulting Detective and a reboot of Shadowgate (2012) have been released and are available on Steam and other platforms. I’ve been in contact with Zojoi and I’m hoping they can shed some light on the development of this game and its remake.

The Manual & Introduction

Mirror, mirror, on the wall… who is the greatest detective of them all?

The game features a fairly vanilla manual as well as a great video introduction. There’s a lot in there about the interface, but I’m not sure I understand it yet as it’s not like any adventure I’ve played before. I’m sure it will make sense when I’m actually playing, so I’ll cover it when we get there. The intro begins with a short message from Sherlock Holmes himself, explaining that, “London is not a beautiful city… four million souls just trying to survive, mostly off of each other.” It sets the stage, then transitions into Holmes discussing his most important resource: the London Times. He claims it has an “unbiased eye and razor-sharp accuracy”-- if only we had such wonderful newspapers today! Other than the newspaper, Holmes says that we will need to take advantage of two groups of individuals in the city: the Baker Street Irregulars and the Baker Street Regulars. The former appeared in three of the original stories, but the latter seems to be an invention for the series.

A cast of original characters!

The Regulars appears to be a group of NPCs that I can turn to in my investigations. Inspector Lestrade is the only one I immediately recognize from the stories (he appeared in thirteen); all but two of the rest are inventions for the series. The two real characters from the canon are “Porky” Shinwell (a criminal-turned-informant from “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”) and Langdale Pike (a gossip from “The Adventure of the Three Gables”). The rest of them are:
  • O’Brien - Contact at the Office of Records 
  • Ellis - Foreign news editor for the Times 
  • Murray - Scotland Yard criminology lab 
  • Hall - A young barrister, whatever that means. 
  • Hogg - Crime reporter for the Times 
  • Meek - Chief Medical Examiner 
There’s also the London Library that I can visit and some place called “S.H.” that has records such as wills and deeds.

Unbiased journalism!

The final element of the game is a set of newspapers that represent Holmes’s personal archive. They aren’t just “feelies”, they contain critical clues for the plot! Just reading them straight-through would be tricky as there are nearly 300 mini-articles in there spread across eight “days”. The date range on the papers go from 1888-1890.

One final bit of clarification: I will be playing the final patched version of this game (“Release 4”) from 1993 rather than as it originally appeared in 1991. The upgrade appears to be limited to bug fixes and adding “VCR-like” controls to allow you to pause, fast-forward, and rewind the in-game videos. The manual addendum with that version clarifies one other thing: the “score” to the game is essentially backwards! The goal of the game is to complete each mystery with the lowest score. The score is really just a timer; the faster you solve the case, the better.

With that, it’s time for me to make some predictions and for you to guess the score. To help you out, here are the scores for the ICOM games so far: Deja Vu (45), Uninvited (30), Shadowgate (35), and Deja Vu II (33). That gives us an average score of 36, but a trendline that is not quite in the positive direction.

My Predictions:
  • Three episodes, but they will connect in some way. 
  • Mycroft, Moriarty, Irene Adler, or some other minor Holmes character will get a role. 
  • The butler will do it in at least one of the stories. 
At this point, I don’t feel like I know anything: I don’t know how this game will play, I don’t know how like a traditional adventure game it is, nor do I know how like the gamebook it is. The manual and introduction are a bit confusing and so the only way to see what happens next is to play. Onwards to the first case!

One more announcement: the nice people at Zojoi has suggested that they will provide a contest prize for our guess-the-score competition: a copy of the remastered game on Steam! We’re still working out the details, but all the more reason for you to think hard about your guess. Good luck!

Our first case! Looks spooky!

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 20 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.


  1. I'm going to predict that this game won't score terribly well on the PISSED scale, but will get a bonus point for doing things differently. It will be the second best ICOM game with a score of 41!

    I'll be playing along too, because I happen to own the remastered version.

    And on a personal note, if I ever become a butler, I'm not going to work at the Pranevich household. That guy has something against butlers!

  2. 52

    I bought the remastered version from Steam, so I will play that.

  3. 59

    Ahh, I was waiting for this. Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite characters (everyone does). This is one of my first CD-ROMs and I remember getting excited when I first booted up the game, seeing and hearing the FMV. Too bad, I've never finished the game because I was too young to understand the fine details (although I tried).

    I've been told that the video game is based on the award-winning boardgame and not the books. But since I never played this game or the boardgame, I don't know how accurate this is (but the game pieces looks the same).

    Here is a good video review of the boardgame ( Although, I don't recommend our dear reviewer to watch this as it might spoil their score.

    Now, a question I have to ask myself: Should I play the videogame first, or the boardgame? Playing the videogame would mean that I can play with the blog at the same time. But the boardgame (based on the review) seems to be a good experience in making you think like a detective.

    1. The version that I have may be the one you indicate, but I won't look at the video yet. It's a "book" in the sense that there is no game board and it's all in a big binder with one main book and a number of little ones. I think calling it a "pen and paper" game may be closer to the truth, but honestly I don't have the vocabulary for what the original game IS.

      No wonder it is so beloved by its fans. I have a friend that I mentioned the original game to and he GUSHED about how much he loved it in the 80s.

  4. A friend of mine has the board game, which I've never had the opportunity to play. I'll try to schedule a play session and report on how it goes (being careful about spoilers, of course).

    1. Voltgloss, I would love to hear about it! I have the game, but no one (and no time) to play it with.

      Do you have a score guess?

  5. Oh man. I don't think this game's going to age well. 47.

    (P.S., is there any way I can get my points shifted from "paulmfranzen" to "Paul Franzen" on the leaderboard? I don't know why I used my Twitter name when I started posting on here, but it's been bugging me.)

    1. I've changed "paulmfranzen" in the leaderboard to Paul Franzen.

    2. You are awesome, thank you!!

  6. Wish I had this as a kid when I was into Sherlock Holmes, I even picked up playing violin for 6 years... and now I can't recall a single note. Since I've never played it the dice says 37.

    And the Case of the Mummy's cure? And someone with a box? I'm gonna go with the most cliched answer and say the treasure itself is the perpetrator for the first case.

  7. Can someone explain to me what a barrister is? I do not understand the UK legal system at all.

    1. Isn't he the guy who wears a wig and performs in the court? Then you have the solicitor, whom the clients contact and who does all the boring paper work. (Then again, my knowledge of UK law stuff comes from detective novels, so I'm not really an expert).

    2. I think "barrister" roughly translates to "lawyer."

    3. Yeah. Ilmari and Fry both have it right.

      In Australia you have a solicitor who works in an office and who you talk to for legal advice, then if you have a court case, he/she recommends you a barrister, whose job is to go to court and argue with other barristers.

  8. Never played this, but let's say 50.

  9. I suspect this might be low on drug use, but make up for it with cliche cheeky cockney street urchins.

    I'm going to guess 53.

  10. Interesting, I didn't know there was a computer game based on the boardgame. I've heard a fair bit about the boardgame in the last few years. Particularly, some complaints that Holmes makes some completely insane leaps in his "logic" in some of the cases. There's one notorious case that is "bugged" in the boardgame where there isn't a real way to get to the correct answer. And at least one other case where multiple people report that they kept investigating long after acquiring all the evidence that Holmes felt was sufficient, because the evidence seemed flimsy.

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    I'll guess 53 for the rating.

    1. > There's one notorious case that is "bugged" in the boardgame where there isn't a real way to get to the correct answer.

      They are reprinting the boardgame with the bugs fixed.

    2. I've read similar complaints about the modern reprint. The threat of nonsensical solutions and the limited replayability are the main reasons why I haven't purchased the game, even when it sounds like it should be right up my alley.

      I predict a score of 44.

  11. Well, I was going to guess 47 (no reason - it just popped into my head), but I see someone has that. I'll take 45 instead.

    Watch Elementary - it's a terrific series with a wonderful reinterpretation of the role of Dr. Watson. Drug addiction is a major element, whereas it was minor in the original stories, but it works well here.

    The older BBC Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett is well worth watching - those episodes are very true to canon, unlike the many embellishments and liberties taken in the modern series.

    Lori and I were big fans of the paper/book version of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. If it is being reprinted, we recommend it. That game is best played in a social setting with a group of friends. However, I don't know how well it will translate to a computer game, so I went with a modest score prediction. I might try to find time to play along on this one - I got the games as a premium when I backed Shadowgate, but haven't gotten around to playing them.

    There was also a board game called 221B. Skip it - it isn't anywhere close to the standards of Consulting Detective.

    1. I've been watching Elementary too - I think it's much better than Sherlock. The characters sometimes exhibit very complex behaviour; I particularly liked when Holmes explained/rationalised why he wanted to keep Jane's apartment despite her moving away from there. And I love Miller's performance, although I think he's been phoning it in a bit lately. I've seen the series up to about halfway of season four, and currently it's on hold here in Finland before it continues on another channel for some reason.

    2. Jeremy Brett is my favourite Sherlock Holmes by a distance, so I would heartily agree with Corey! There's loads of episodes too (I have them on DVD).

    3. Just watched the first episode of Elementary. It was quite good! Not sure what I expected, but the mystery was fun and the characters were well-done.

      I'm going to look up some of Jeremy Brett's series as well.

      If I start watching "Murder She Wrote" next, someone please send help.

    4. Embrace the late night crime-series reruns Joe, it's the first step for becoming an Adventure Game detective :) But I agree with everyone else, Jeremy Brett is a great Sherlock Holmes. I also recall a TV-series, Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes where we follow Arthur Conan Doyle as he gets the inspiration for the detective. I wouldn't say it was good (since I haven't seen it since I was a kid), and I certainly don't know what was real and what was fiction, but Ian Richardson was good as Joseph Bell, the inspiration for Holmes.

    5. I'd also recommend that unless you are going to watch the whole Jeremy Brett series, you should concentrate on the beginning. In the later series, Brett was suffering from health issues, which affected his performance a bit.

    6. Also watched the first Jeremy Brett episode, an adaptation of "A Scandal in Bohemia". I also rewatched part of the first episode of Sherlock, but I've seen it enough times to not need to.

      There's quite a contrast between that series which tries to directly adapt Holmes stories, with the modern incarnations. You can tell very little from one episode, but Elementary didn't so much as have any Holmes easter eggs that I could spot. In contrast, Sherlock positively drips with Holmes references even as it takes some significant liberties with the canon. (Thus far, my favorite change is having Mary be a real character.)

      The Holmes of "Consulting Detective" is a lot more jovial than any of the other incarnations. I wonder why he's basing it on, if anyone? It's well done, but he's hamming it up for the audience a bit. (Not all of the acting so far is great, but it's all been pretty passable. But I'm hating the sepia which makes every scene seem muddy, plus some obvious green-screen work. More on that in a few days perhaps, if I remember to talk about it in the post.)

    7. I take my research very seriously. :)

      Btw, for anyone wondering about Tintin, the mistake was mine: I have a certain OCD that pushes me to do things in order and completely. Hence, why I'd be involved in a blog like this... But the early Tintin comics are SO AWFUL that I couldn't force myself to finish. I did jump ahead to "Tintin in the Congo" for a bit, only to discover that it was the worst bit of racist colonial propaganda that I'd ever read. All the "lazy black" stereotypes you can imagine, plus your friendly white man helping to civilize them. It was so tremendously bad.

      I know that the later stories get better. But the fact that anyone ever thought this garbage was fit for children is very disturbing. And I simply cannot force myself to read any more of it. Maybe someday.

    8. I feel for you, Joe - the early Tintin comics are superbly bad, and there's nothing redeemable in the colonialist attitude of "Tintin in Congo". "Tintin in America" might have been a better introduction - it's still far from the best Tintin comics, but at least it isn't so embarrassing.

  12. I'll guess 48. I have a thing for mysteries, and it looks interesting, but I'm not sure it will break the 50 mark. Y'all are a bit more optimistic than me. Adaptations can get pretty dicey sometimes.

  13. Nice round 40 for me. I have never played it but I remember reading about it back in the day.

  14. I'll guess 40. The board game is quite cool for parties, even though you can and will spend some hours to play. Sadly, the video game seems to be the same, so I going low since I doubt it will have too much gameplay or puzzles in the traditional sense. And I really hope Sherlock's logic deductions are less baffling than in the board game

  15. I picked up a copy of the board game at a yard sale knowing that it was an influence on this computer game, but I have never yet had occasion to crack it open.

    If anyone is feeling hugely rigorous, quite a while ago I documented a text-only MS-DOS game that plays a great deal like a cocktail napkin version of Consulting Detective -- anyone deeply interested in the ICOM adaptation might also be interested in it, which you can find at

    I don't know if I'd describe a Sherlock Holmes game as "licensed" as the whole point of the character is that he belongs to the public domain and can be used, more or less, for free. (As with Oz, Alice, and several other popular game subjects.)

    1. You hit something that I'm not sure about as well. Surely, Holmes must be in the public domain... at least in the US. But the game *is* licensed. It has a note in the manual that: "Use of the Sherlock Holmes characters by arrangement of Dame Jean Conan Doyle". I did some digging and found that ten of the short stories are still under copyright in the US because they are recent enough (and close enough to Mickey Mouse) that Congress has passed copyright extensions to keep them covered.

      So... I'm not sure. They sought permission to use the characters, so maybe something in the game is from the last books? I have no idea. Might just have been a courtesy.

      I love that this mystery has mysteries! Unfortunately, I'm not versed enough in the Holmes canon to be able to notice if they used something from the last ten stories anyway. Maybe someone else here is that good. :)

    2. There are undeniably grey areas -- The Wizard of Oz is in the public domain, but the ruby slippers are new business that was added to the film, and if you want to include them you are licensing from that film; Peter Pan is public domain in most of the world, but in the UK licensing fees are collected from it to support a children's hospital... Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft are in the uneasy position of having a portion of their tales fall before the 1923 "fair game" copyright date and a portion of them fall after. A liberal interpretation has been that as long as you don't make use of post-1923 elements, you don't have to pay anyone for anything.

      That said, there are estates and their attorneys who will quite vigorously present themselves as entitled to licensing fees for cultural works they no longer own. Warner Bros. bluffed the world into believing they owned "Happy Birthday" for 80 years.

      And of course, the (paid-for) stamp of approval of an estate may not in all cases be strictly speaking required, but still a useful marketing angle.

      (Bob Bates' grand pitch to Infocom hinged on his making games of three well-known properties -- Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur, and Robin Hood -- which would cost Activision nothing for them to use. Only two of the three ended up getting made, but they are three characters we have seen here before and surely will again for exactly that reason!)

  16. 42 is always a safe bet. Oldschool FMV comes in the category of 'good and memorable' and 'oh god make it stop'.

  17. I´m guessing 56.

    I played the boardgame in my youth (in German), struggling to finish the cases, as it was quiet a challenge then combining the clues to successfully solve the crimes. I rediscovered the boardgame a few years ago, playing it with a group of friends (English original this time), and it is in my opinion one of the best boardgames ever produced, a marvellous effort, meticulously researched by the producers, unbelievably detailed background stories etc.

    I glowingly recommend it. But of course you can play the 10 cases presented just once, thats the only setback in my opinion.
    I find the computer adaptation to be a solid transfer from the boardgame.

  18. No wonder it is so beloved by its fans.


Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of the reviewer requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game...unless they really obviously need the help...or they specifically request assistance.

If this is a game introduction post: This is your opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that the reviewer won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return.
It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All score votes and puzzle bets must be placed before the next gameplay post appears. The winner will be awarded 10 CAPs.