Monday, 13 November 2017

The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes - “Murder,” He Wrote

Written by Joe Pranevich

It’s very strange coming back to graphical adventures after playing so many text ones, but it is time to take a look at my next main-line game: The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes. Based on your score guesses, this is a fairly well-regarded game and I am curious how my experiences will stack up to yours. Mythos Software is such a “young” team in 1992 without any major game credits; if they could have come out of nowhere to have a top ten game, I will be very impressed! Last week, we watched as a young woman was assaulted behind a theatre by an unknown assailant. Scotland Yard is investigating her murder, but they have requested the assistance of Sherlock Holmes to help crack the case. That is where we come in! As the game begins, Holmes and Watson are in their flat on Baker Street ready to head off into the world and explore.

Before I run out, I spend some time familiarizing myself with the interface. The game is clearly Lucas Arts-inspired with a small set of clickable verbs on the bottom of the screen. Names of objects appear as we mouse over them, which is a nice touch, but even just poking around the flat I can already tell that some things will be a pixel-hunt. My starting inventory consists of a stack of Sherlock Holmes business cards and the letter from Scotland Yard requesting help. The most unique feature that I see so far is the “Journal”, but I’ll have to explore it more later. As best I can tell immediately, it logs conversations and events that Holmes has in the game, plus it is searchable and printable. Since the only thing in there is the introduction, I will have to come back to it in a few hours to see what it looks like when it has more stuff in it. I’m awfully impressed by it, but let’s play the game!
Watson has already started recording the case for posterity.

If I have learned one thing from playing adventure games all these years, it’s “explore your starting area no matter how dumb that seems to be”. You live there, right? Why would you need to see if you have a really important item in your dresser drawer? In that spirit, I check our our Baker Street flat. As I search through desk drawers and stuff left on tables-- even a hidden stash of cigars hidden behind the coal skuttle!-- I’m left with the impression that I am missing a ton of references to Holmes stories. The “VR” in bullet holes, for example, come from a fit of boredom during “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual” (1893). Beyond that, I am certain I am missing ten references for every one that I get. If we have any readers playing along that can comment on the lore, I would appreciate it very much. (Plus, there will be plenty of delicious CAPs in it for you!)

I talk to Dr. Watson next and find that the game has dialog trees with multiple options to choose from. I wish there had been voice acting, but the animated character portraits are a nice touch. I ask Watson if he read anything about our case in the papers, but he has not. When I talk to him again, that option has changed to a different color to show that I already talked about that. It seems like a good system so far.

Holmes and his deerstalker. 

Outside our flat. 

With nothing further that I can find to do inside, I head out to the London streets. Wiggins is hanging around outside; in this version, he’s a young man. As you might expect, he is one of the “Baker Street Irregulars” and when I talk to him, he tells me that he has eight guys all ready to go to wherever Holmes needs. We reply that we don’t need them quite yet, but it is good to know this option exists. There is also a newspaper stand outside, except this one sells both current and old papers. That sounds like it will also come into play later! The proprietor is thrilled about all the Jack the Ripper murders because they are moving a lot of papers; murder is good for his business.

Baker St: A short walk from two parks; great for young couples.

At first I am confused, but walking off the side of the screen takes us to a map of London where I can find both Holmes’s residence as well as the alley where the murder took place. The map is huge and there is plenty of room for new places to explore to be added later. I’m not very familiar with London, but I will have to check later how historically accurate it is. I select the theater and a little representation of Holmes and Watson in a carriage travels to the scene. Nice touch!

Lestrade greets us at the theater and asks Holmes for his opinion of the murder. We set to work examining the body and its surroundings. The poor young woman had her jugular slashed, plus she had non-fatal wounds on her abdomen, abrasions on the back of her neck, and scratches on her left ring finger. She smells of cheap perfume. We discover a key in her handbag, but it’s evidence and Lestrade won’t let us take it with us. How… accurate? How many detective stories have you seen where the amateur just walks off with police evidence without thinking twice? A closer inspection of the woman’s neck suggests the she was wearing a necklace which was ripped off. The same goes for the now-missing ring. Lestrade provides us with further details: the woman was an actress named Sarah Carroway. She had a sister, although she lived by herself. Lestrade does not know how to find the sister. One disappointment: despite being a doctor, Watson has absolutely nothing to add about the body’s medical condition. Shame.

In some nearby crates, we find a common brand of cigarette butts. We can tell that he waited there, but his preference won’t narrow our suspects down. Holmes deduces that the man wore heavy shoes or work boots and judging my how many cigarettes he worked through while waiting, he probably has fingers stained by nicotine. Nothing in the crates themselves appear to have been disturbed, although there is a playbill on the ground. Did the attacker watch the show? Or was that just blown in by the wind? I read it more closely and discover that it was not for tonight’s show, rather an older playbill containing a message for “S” from “B” asking her to meet outside for important news. “S” is probably Sarah, but who is “B”? Did she know her attacker?

I look over everything once again. I pick up a rusty iron bar-- no idea why I want that. This time, I also notice that there is white powder on the victim’s coat next to her first wound and that she was killed by a serrated scalpel. Lestrade is convinced that this means that is a copycat crime rather than an original Ripper one. The criminal stole jewelry to mimic what the Ripper did. Lestrade will now let us in to interrogate the witness and he also provides us the address to Sarah’s flat. We head into the theater through the back door.

Despite being given directions by Lestrade, the scene shifts directly into the women’s dressing room. There doesn’t seem to be any way to explore the rest of the theater. Waiting inside are Shelia, the witness to the murder, and Henry Carruthers, the stage manager. Unfortunately, now I do not know if the “S” on the playbill was for Sarah or Sheila. Tricky!

Before talking to the pair, we look around the room. Sarah must be fairly popular because there are two gifts for her on her dressing table: a bottle of perfume and a bouquet of pink carnations. Holmes is very interested in the perfume for some reason. It still has a ribbon on it, so it may have been a recent gift. Was it the perfume she was wearing tonight? There’s also a label with the manufacturer’s address if we wanted to check that out for some reason. The flowers on the desk have a card from a “secret admirer”, but Holmes thinks the card is written by a woman given her handwriting style and because guys apparently don’t draw little hearts as the dots about the i’s. The card has the “rose by any other name” line from Romeo and Juliet, but it gets it wrong. That could just be an error in the game or it could mean that the admirer isn’t an actor (or actress). Since it’s about roses still smelling as sweet, could it connect to the perfume bottle? That makes sense if they are both gifts from the same admirer. Holmes snags the card and one of the flowers for later analysis. The rest of the chest of drawers is locked, but it looks like someone tried to pry it open. Henry doesn’t have the key and suggests that Sarah probably kept one someplace. My guess is that is the key in her purse, but Lestrade won’t let me borrow the evidence to check.

While we were exploring, Henry has been hard at work doing something with the door. I finally head over to talk to him and discover the lock on the dressing room door has been forced. Lestrade seems to think that the attacker came inside and dragged Sarah out, but that is contradicted both by the cigarette butts outside and the opening cinematic. Then why would someone have broken in here? Did someone break in during the show looking for something, fail to find it, and then confronted her after? That would explain the attempt on the lock on the drawers as well. Searching further, the clothes in Sarah’s wardrobe have also been ransacked. Someone was looking for something. Did they find it? Something doesn’t seem quite right about this explanation because we also find a stain on the door jam where someone hit their head. There’s even a black hair there and hair oil! How did that happen? Did the attacker remove someone else from the room? Was he just careless and hit his head somehow? This doesn’t connect yet. In my searching, I also find a spring from the lock on the ground and hand it to Henry so he can finish his repair.

Hurry, hurry, hurry before I go insane.

We finally finish interrogating Henry. He doesn’t have much to add except that there was a boy outside asking about Sarah’s address. He had refused to give it to the boy, but the young man offered the stage manager money for the information and told him he could be found at the Moongate. Is that an Ultima reference? A real bar? A real bar that Lord British used for his Ultima series? I have no idea. We cannot really talk to Sheila because she is too hysterical, but Dr. Watson gives her a sedative (because that seems like a good idea…) and she calms down enough to talk to us. She claims that she saw a man in a cloak run away and then she saw Sarah’s “insides”. Shelia also tells is that Sarah had recently received a pendant from her sister, named either Anna or Hannah. She’s not sure. She also tells us that she doesn’t know Sarah’s secret admirer but it is someone that Sarah had in the room before. Finally, Sheila reveals that the note in the playbill was for her and from her fiance.

With that, I think I’ve found all that I can find tonight. Next time, I’ll leave the crime scene and try to check out Sarah’s apartment if I can.

A few theories for me to be embarrassed about later:
  • Is Sarah a lesbian? That would explain the “secret” admirer and the flowery handwriting. Or was the admirer really just Sarah’s sister (Anna/Hannah) and she was being cute?
  • Was Sheila lying about the playbill being for her or was she involved somehow? She was the understudy and stands to gain with Sarah dead. She also said that she saw Sarah’s “insides”, but her wounds didn’t really let you see in. Was she just exaggerating?
  • The whole crime was probably just a ruse to steal the pendant. The attacker searched the dressing room during the show and couldn’t find it so he waited outside. He pounced when he could and stole it off of her neck, making the whole thing look like a Ripper killing. (Alternatively, he didn’t get the real pendant and I can find it when I unlock the dresser… eventually.)

Before I close for tonight, I want to give the game some serious credit. While researching the map, I realized just how historically accurate the game designers are trying to be. This game was created by an American company in Arizona in 1991 with no access to the internet as we know it today. And yet, someone bothered to look up a reasonable idea of what Baker Street might have looked like in the 19th century. There was no real address of 221B Baker Street in Mr. Doyle’s time, but thanks to tourists you can go there today. Take the look, the comparison is shockingly close:

221B Baker Street in 2017. (From Google Maps.)

The artist is unlikely to have managed that on his or her own, so I am guessing that they had a photo reference. The balconies are different, but the ground-level architecture is nearly the same with the white archways, although the real street has more windows and the nine-paneled windows are on the first floor rather than the ground. I’m quite impressed!

The map of London is similarly well-done, even placing Baker Street in its actual location near Regent’s Park:

Lovingly borrowed from Google Maps

This is a fairly good representation of London, even if somewhat simplified. Of course, I have no idea what might have changed since the 19th century, but it’s likely the authors were working against modern maps as well anyway. You can see Regent’s Park just northeast of Baker Street, just as in real life. The Regency Theatre where the murder took place is right off of Regent Street, although in modern times there are no theaters there. I was just crazy enough to do some Googling and yes, that was a popular (if seedy) area with theaters and entertainment in the late 1800s. Someone did their research!

I don’t know whether I will keep cross-checking locations like this in future posts, but it makes the point just how much effort the developers are putting into this game. I am enjoying it thus far but it’s very slow to pick through all the clues and try to make sense of anything. If all of the rooms are this information-packed, it will be a challenge to describe everything. Onward! We have a mystery to solve!

Time played: 1 hr 5 min
Total time: 1 hr 5 min

Inventory: message requesting help, business cards, iron bar, perfume bottle, pink carnation


  1. I love this game! It's nostalgic seeing the graphics from it now. In particular, the music from it I remember was very good (besides the voice acting and animation).

  2. DefRussian here, you are in for a long ride, this is not a short game.

    This game had some steep requirements back in the day, that speeched intro was a way to know if you had a powerful computer, I used to have to horribly dubbed spanish version.

    The midis and the washed up graphics are so nostalgic for me, perfect game for playing on a rainy morning

  3. You think it's going to be a long game? Anyone want to guess how many posts for CAPs?

    I'm honestly not sure how I'm going to tackle this one. If I keep to this level of detail, it may be a lot of posts. Would you guys rather I try to lay out all the clues that I find? Or skim through? Since I don't know what's pertinent (because I'm hitting this completely fresh), I can't even selectively filter.

    1. It's been many years since I played the game, but there are maybe like 20 locations to explore. So yes, a somewhat long game. I think it's OK to be detailed in the first post or two (to describe what the gameplay is like) and then just write a summary of what you're found in each room.

      I'm guessing 9 gameplay posts.

    2. Please keep this level of detail! It's a long game indeed, but it will be totally worth it! This is really one of the best adventure games ever made.

  4. Game has at least 30 full locations, and the amount of description that each place has is huge, so if you are dedicated, and enjoy the London atmosphere, I think it's a long game.

    Now, you won't write about every description you find, but still, take your time, don't rush this game.

  5. Me again, a little off topic, but the list of adventure games of 1992 is missing The Dark Half, pure adventure game, no one is gonna play it ? =(

    1. If you haven't noticed, we have a strict set of rules determining what games gets on the "official" game list, based on a mix of a) some objective criteria on the "notability" of the game (for instance, number of Mobygames votes for the game), b) very slight and minimal amount of editorial digression on part of the admins and c) feedback from the community through "game yearly" held "sales", where people with CAPs use them to "buy" games from a preselected list of candidates to the official list. Once the list is done (at the beginning of each gaming year), it's set for stone.

      This doesn't preclude people doing what we called Missed Classics for the games that don't get on the official list. We even allow - heck, we even encourage - non-official reviewers do writeups for these games and send them to us for publication at some point (of course, it's good to have a chat with us, before starting to write, in order to get some info on the format of our posts etc.).

      As for The Dark Half in particular, I've played it years ago and didn't find it very inspiring - the most remarkable thing about it was the connection with the Stephen King novel. Still, I'd be quite happy to see anyone do a Missed Classic for the game.

    2. Yeah, I know about the rules, it just strike me as a little odd that a title like that was ignored. I mean, you people played far more horribles and unknown games in the past (which of course, were the best reads).

      Just a little surprised, thanks for your answer !

    3. Alejandro, it's tricky which games we play and which we don't, as Ilmari said. It does seem like a game that might have entered the 1992 "sale" and someone might have nominated it... but I don't think anyone brought it up then.

      I have a particular attachments to licensed games like this and I might even have played it! I'm not much of a Steven King fan. (Actually, I LOVE King as a writer. His "On Writing" book is one of the best ever written on the topic of writing. I just don't typically enjoy his genres.)

  6. I like the comparison with game locations and real life locations. I'm not sure why but it adds to it somehow - definitely shows the dedication of the development team in attention to details.

  7. >The card has the “rose by any other name” line from Romeo and Juliet,
    >but it gets it wrong. That could just be an error in the game
    >or it could mean that the admirer isn’t an actor (or actress).

    I just started to replay the game, and if you look at the card before picking it up, Holmes notes that it is indeed a misquote.