Thursday, 26 October 2017

Game 92: The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes - Introduction (1992)

Written by Joe Pranevich



Greetings, friends! It’s time for me to brush off my mouse skills and play a game that requires clicking: The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes. Despite being released at the height of my youthful game playing, this one is completely unknown to me. I really was a Sierra-snob growing up, but I got better. I reviewed the first game in the Consulting Detective series almost a year ago and I am looking forward to seeing another approach to adapting the characters.

Like so many of these licensed games, the developers do not have a strong adventure game pedigree. This is the first adventure to be developed by Mythos Software, a studio only two years old and thus far dedicated to arcade-style games. It was founded in Arizona by James Ferguson in 1990. James’s team was joined by Electronic Arts team members R. J. Berg and Eric Lindstrom, for game design and story respectively. Mr. Berg and Mr. Lindstrom were both new to their careers with their highest profile work in narrative games being documentation for FairyTale Adventure and Keef the Thief. One potentially shining light on the team was Christopher Erhardt, the producer. We haven’t come across him yet, but he was a former Infocom employee who was brought in to help the company adapt to graphical games. He also produced the Infocom release of Quarterstaff. It’s a new team, but I have high hopes!

Notice: No subtitle.

Before I get too far, I want to address the question of the game’s title. Many sources, including the left navigation bar on this very site, lists the subtitle as The Case of the Serrated Scalpel. That subtitle does not appear either in the manual or the game itself and I suspect that it was retroactively added to distinguish the game from its 1996 sequel. It doesn’t matter much, but I am crazy and pedantic about such things.

It seems silly to recap the origin of Sherlock Holmes, but I will be brief. Mr. Holmes is the creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first appearing in print in A Study in Scarlet, a novel published in 1887. The character exploded primarily due to a series of short stories published in The Strand magazine starting four year later. Mr. Doyle had a love-hate relationship with his most famous character and killed him off in 1893, only to resurrect him again in 1901. Additional Holmes stories continued to be published until 1927. In these stories, Holmes is treated as something of a deductive genius, able to observe situations and make seemingly impossible conclusions from what he finds. Holmes is also an excellent actor and boxer, but tries not to fill his mind with topics (such as the sciences) where he cannot relate it to his crime-solving work. Mr. Holmes is also frequently depicted as a drug addict, falling into drug-addled stupors when not confronted with interesting cases. Most of the time, Holmes is a private detective, but occasionally assists Scotland Yard with the help of his companion (and biographer) Dr. Watson. It is supposedly through the fictional Dr. Watson’s writings that Mr. Holmes’s cases have been broadcast to the world.

Mr. Holmes has even by this point appeared in many text adventures and I hope to eventually play the two most famous examples, Melbourne House’s Sherlock (1984) and Infocom’s Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels (1987). We have covered his first graphical adventure, Consulting Detective, already on the blog. There are no end to Sherlock Holmes games and after this we will have at least the two sequels to Consulting Detective (in 1992 and 1993) and a Lost Files sequel in 1996. More recently Frogwares has produced a whole sequence of Holmes adventure games starting in 2002 and continuing to this day. I have no doubt there are many more that I don’t even know about.


Mythos Software circa 1992.

The manual is fairly typical of the era: some basic scene-setting and an extended look at the interface. The control scheme appears to be Lucas Arts-style with verbs on the bottom of the screen and an overall third-person view. Reading through it all, two features stand out: an “auto help” that clues you into what verbs are useful for clicked-on objects and a “journal” which purports to record all conversations in the game. I’ll have to play some to see how useful those will be.

At the end of the manual are two well-written epilogues. The second is just a brief history of Sherlock Holmes, but the first describes the real-life (as far as I can tell) history of Jack the Ripper, a serial killer that murdered six prostitutes in 1888 in the Whitechapel region of London. The manual discusses several real-life suspects (The Duke of Clarence, Montagu Druitt, H. H. Holmes, and an unnamed foreigner), but then adds a Holmesian touch by suggesting that Moriarty (Holmes’s supposed greatest adversary) may have aided the Ripper and helped to keep him hidden. If this is a Jack the Ripper game, that is also in a long tradition of Sherlock Holmes / Jack the Ripper crossovers. Without searching too hard, I found three unofficial Holmes novels, a Consulting Detective expansion set, and even one of the Frogwares games all feature Holmes and the Ripper in some way. There is obviously deep material to mine here, but I hope the authors were careful to not overly fictionalize the all-too-real murders of young women in 19th century London.

The game’s opening cinematic sets the scene: “London, England; November 1888”. It’s a beautifully rendered scene of horse-drawn carriages moving realistically through foggy streets, a clock tower in the background.


Just imagine everything in this scene moving through realistic fog. 

The opening then transitions into an alley behind the Regency Theater. A cat jumps off of a dumpster, knocking a bottle to the ground. A man dressed in a long cloak and hat enters the alley and hides behind a crate. Moments later, a woman in red emerges from the stage door. The man pounces on her, a scalpel outstretched. Moments later, she is dead. Another woman, this time in gray, steps out and discovers the scene. The villain looks up at her then flees.









The following day, we watch as a letter arrives for Sherlock Holmes from Scotland Yard. They would like assistance with the case! There’s some great voice acting here, giving us a real cinematic feeling. (As best I can tell, the voices are in the original edition of the game. Bonus!) The scene changes to Holmes and Watson enjoying their breakfast; Holmes seems to know already that someone came to the door and that they will shortly be receiving an interesting new case. This next part of the opening is rendered much less well and feels out of place against the very beautifully composed scenes a few moments before. Holmes and Watson read the constable’s letter and agree to take the case. The game is afoot!







If you were hoping for the grand finale to Sorcerer, don’t worry as that should be done in a few days. After that, I’m going to dedicate myself to playing this game while someone else does the Missed Classics for a few weeks. (We have a great one lined up!) If I possibly can, I will try to squeeze in Seastalker before Inspector Gadget, but we will see when we get there. And since I brought it up: has anyone played Quarterstaff and can advise if it is enough of an adventure that I should include in my Infocom marathon? Some sources call it a cRPG, but it seems to have the Infocom text engine parser around some graphics. I’m totally confused by it.

Since this is an introduction post, don’t forget that you can guess the score. I’m not sure what score I would guess for a game designed by guys who wrote documentation for two mediocre cRPGs and produced by the guy that was responsible for graphical games at a company renowned for not having graphics. Fortunately, I’m not the one that has to guess.


Time to play!

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.

25 comments:

  1. Alex Romanov here with alt account,

    One of my favorite titles, my first Holmes adventure. I'm guessing really high score for graphics, setting and story. Personally I love the soundtrack, but most people don't really think is that memorable.

    This is a 72 for me.

    Also, in case you like Holmes, don't miss the best interpretation ever done of him, by watching the Granada series from the eighties starring Jeremy Brett. Best Holmes series ever done, and very very loyal to the original material

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    1. When I played "Consulting Detective", I watched a few of those as well as "Elementary" and some others. I don't know if I'll have the time to really immerse myself in Holmes adaptations again, but I may try. (I'm still reading Jim Lawrence books for "Seastalker". Working on a Tom Swift book right now and it's amazing.)

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  2. This is one of the most underrated games of this era. 90.

    The last (and only) time I played this was in 2009 or a little earlier, so this may be a good excuse for me to replay it by playing along.

    I have played the sequel Rose Tattoo too, and while it wasn't exactly bad, it suffered from poor pacing due to a much larger and open narrative, and from being too easy (most obstacles could be overcome by simply examining everything thoroughly and going through all dialogue options, with few real puzzles).

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  3. I should also state again that DOSBox 0.74 has a bug which causes this game to crash when digitised sound effects are played. You can either turn them off or download a version of DOSBox that has up-to-date code, such as from here: http://blog.yesterplay80.net/dosbox-ece-en/

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  4. Its also working with minor bugs with ScummVM, thanks to Mythos or someone giving the source code to them

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  5. I am playing the original version from CD, bought second-hand. It has a later copyright date so probably a version with minor fixes, but does not appear to be different in any way. I am using Boxer 1.4 / DosBox 0.74.

    I have played an hour or two with no bugs or audio issues that I see so far.

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  6. Also more info for the fans.

    The 3DO version, is the only one full voiced, with different character portraits

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  7. I quite liked the game and I think it's quite faithful to the source material. Let's say 66.

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  8. "Many sources, including the left navigation bar on this very site, lists the subtitle as The Case of the Serrated Scalpel."

    Since you argued so well, I removed the subtitle :)

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  9. "[Holmes] tries not to fill his mind with topics (such as the sciences) where he cannot relate it to his crime-solving work".

    I think the stories are somewhat inconsistent in this and Holmes sometimes has information that seems not so useful for crime fighting. I think the worst example is in Scandal in Bohemia where Holmes makes fun of Watson seeing, but not observing things - Watson can't says how many steps the stairs to their apartment has, while Holmes remembers it instantly. I mean, how often in a crime fighting career you need to know such details?

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    1. Holmes stories are fairly inconsistent overall, but we can always blame poor Dr. Watson, Holmes' imperfect chronicler. He always liked to fluff up the stories...

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  10. I have fond memories of this one so I'd say 75.

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  11. Wow, some high guesses for the score already! It certainly looks good from the screenshots here, but will the game live up to this? The only Sherlock Holmes adaptation I have truly loved is the excellent Jeremy Brett version, and reading this intro does make me want to re-watch it yet again.

    I'm going to guess 60, but perhaps this will be something to break into the top 5-10 games? I look forward to finding out!

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  12. I remember playing this at my best friend's place and being impressed by the story (I love Sherlock Holmes) and the map of London (I love maps as well). I think we played off floppies, not CD though, but I may be mistaken. I also remember that there was some voice acting, but it was always cut short, probably due to the limitations of the medium.

    PS. I will not hazard a guess, as I have not yet introduced myself formally

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  13. Welcome! Please feel free to guess! Everyone that is here started that way once upon a time. We hope you'll follow along with us.

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    1. In that case I will go for a 67. I am following slowly and catching up with earlier posts. When I saw this one and Fate of Atlantis coming soon though, I had to follow in real time.

      PS. Linking accounts to the posts upsets me a bit, but that's really a first world problem :)

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    2. I admin-deleted the extra comment so it doesn't show up at all. Google account linking is one of the "features" that we get as a BlogSpot blog. (And why I use Wordpress for my personal blog.)

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  14. Oh man, may this be a good mystery game? I have great hopes so 74!

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  15. Hmmm... Never played this, but people seem pretty excited so I'll try 76

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  16. I'm guessing for an 80. I think Joe will enjoy solving the mysteries.

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  17. First post here :)

    Even after playing almost all Sierra and LucasArts adventure games, this is still my favorite adventure game of all time! Hope you like it too!

    Guess: 79

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  18. Sounds interesting. I'll guess 70.

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  19. Some high guesses here. I'm too late to the party to be able to guess myself, having been busy wandering through Spielburg, but I'm looking forward to reading about this game.

    My prediction is that the scalpel isn't really serrated - it's just that the graphics don't have enough anti-aliasing!

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    1. The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: Case of the Pixelated Scalpel

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