Saturday 25 May 2024

Game 137: Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Vol. III - Introduction (1993)

Written by Joe Pranevich

Here we are again, for the third time! Video game history is filled with low-effort sequels, followup games built with the same engine for a fraction of the cost. Even the prestige studios got into the game. For all that the Ultima series was famous for building a new engine for every release, that didn’t stop them from releasing (or at least distributing) Ultima VII Part 2, Savage Frontier, Martian Dreams, or Ultima Underworld 2. Sierra, Infocom, and LucasArts were all made successful by building great engines and then making as many games for those engines as possible. This is pretty normal in adventure game history.

For Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, ICOM’s strategy can be best summarized by the ad blurb that they put on the box:

“What they said about Sherlock II, you'll say about Sherlock III."

This might not seem significant, until you realize that they used the exact same blurb on the second game, with just the Roman numerals decremented by one. 

In a way, this is completely expected: at some level, all three games in Consulting Detective are (quite literally) the same game. The 1981 tabletop game that ICOM licensed featured 10 cases to solve, three of which have been adapted each in the first and second games, and three more finally in this third game. (More on that “missing” adventure in a bit.) We’re treating these games like sequels, but even the box clearly says that they are merely “volumes” in the same game. As such, ICOM saved money by re-using many assets: the manual, game map, menus, help videos, and overall interface are identical between the three volumes. But unlike many low-effort sequels, they still needed to write, direct, film, and edit all of the new videos that made up the cases. A FMV game will be made or broken based on the quality of the acting and videography. We’ll have to see how this one fares.

Having said all of that, I must admit that it is all only partly true. Why did I just lie to you? Read on for more.

The original Consulting Detective title screen. It’s pretty bad.

What I just said about re-using the engine is not entirely true. While researching this game, I came upon a discovery: I have actually been playing the 1993 re-releases for the previous two entries in this series. These re-releases adjusted the games to be more like each other, and this might explain why so much care was taken for consistency. (In fact, ICOM would later release all nine cases together as a set.) In the interest of history, let me pause here to explain the differences:

Improvements since Consulting Detective Vol. I

  • The original game had a different title screen (a poor 3-D render of a casebook on a table) with the title presented as Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective only, with no volume number. 

  • The menus and other screens feel less polished; the fonts and icons can best be described as “annoying”.

  • The video player is less sophisticated, with no scroll bar to control the video, only a handful of buttons.

Improvements since Consulting Detective Vol. II

  • The second game appears to have had fewer (perhaps no) interface tweaks, but this may be a lie. All copies I have been able to locate of this game online are the 1993 re-release and I am not positive what the second game looked like at launch. 

  • Hidden hotkeys were added for controlling the volume.

  • A “demo” mode was included for display in computer stores.

  • Sound and CD-ROM hardware compatibility was improved, as well as support for running under Windows.

Few of those changes are significant, but I am disappointed that it took me until now to realize that I had reviewed the incorrect editions of the previous two games. Given the tweaks in the video player (especially the ability to rewind), it is plausible that I would have scored the first game a point lower in interface. I’m not going to worry about it now, but I wanted to set the record straight before jumping into the final game in the series.

My guess is the butler. Or rather, three separate butlers.

Consulting Detective Vol. III was the final game under the ICOM brand before the transition to Viacom New Media. It was developed partly in parallel, but released before Dracula Unleashed. (We considered swapping the two in the play order, but elected to keep Trickster’s original numbering.) Dracula will fully take advantage of what ICOM learned with this series and included several innovations, especially higher-resolution videos and an updated engine. 

We also know a lot less about the development of Sherlock Homes than we do Dracula Unleashed. Dracula was shot with a higher budget, on a different soundstage, with a larger cast. Dracula even had a brief “making of” documentary recorded while the game was being produced, and at least some of the cast have sat for interviews in the years that followed. Consulting Detective had none of that. I have reached out to Warren Green, the actor that plays Watson, for each of these posts and in three different ways. He’s never responded and presumably isn’t interested in discussing the game. 

What we do know is that this third game was shot in Minneapolis, like the previous two, with Peter Farley and Warren Green as the principal actors. A quick check suggests that most of the other actors for Lestrade, etc. also remained the same, but I don’t even know their names. No cast list has ever been released for the series. The only uncredited cast member we even know about was Bill Corbett; Mystery Science Theater 3000 was filming in Minnesota at the same time as these games were being created, but as far as I know he only appeared in the first volume. (Given the relatively small size of the Minneapolis theater scene, it seems likely that there could have been other overlaps.) Behind the camera, Ken Tarolla remained the director with a script by Laurie RoseBauman and Annie Fox. Kathy Tootelian was the lead designer and illustrator. 

He still makes a great Doctor Watson!

Since this is the last game in the series, let’s summarize what our principals will go on to do from here:

  • Peter Farley seems to have nearly disappeared after this game. I was able to find articles about theater work he was doing until 1995, but there are many “Peter Farleys” in the world. He may have died in 2017 based on an obituary that I found, but I cannot be certain.

  • Warren Green stayed in acting, got a doctorate in theater, wrote several plays, and taught at Dominican University in Illinois. He is in some ways the easiest to track down of the developers, but he’s regretfully never answered my mails. My most recent email to his Dominican University email account bounced, so I suspect he’s no longer there (or they turn off email between semesters.)

  • Kan Tarolla would remain with Viacom and will be credited on their two 1994 adventures, Club Dead and Orpheo’s Curse before apparently leaving the industry.

  • Laurie RoseBauman will be making adventure games for children until 2000. We’ve already covered Putt-Putt Joins the Parade (1992), Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon (1993), and Fatty Bear’s Birthday Surprise (1993).

  • Annie Fox will follow RoseBauman on many of her games, but will branch out from time to time for more adult fare. She was the writer on 1995’s SFPD Homicide / Case File: The Body in the Bay which should win an award for most awkward title of an adventure game.

  • Kathy Tootelian will join Tarolla on Orpheo’s Curse before embarking on a career of creating Scooby-Doo adventure games until 2002. 

Why was this the last release? While the original game contained ten cases, only nine were adapted, leaving at least one more. But even so, that was the original game. Since the release of the 1981 tabletop game, at least 14 more cases had been released as expansions to the original prior to 1993. Some tweaked the format to move to a different city or have a more complex mystery with multiple “days” like Dracula Unleashed. (It is not impossible that Dracula was inspired in part by considering what it would take to adapt one of those Sherlock cases.) I have been unable to locate sales data from the period, but for whatever reason Viacom was not interested in continuing the series. 

Remember this?

ICOM couldn’t be bothered to write new ad copy for their game, so I’ll cheat too and repeat some of what I said the last time. Each case will have a brief introductory movie and then drop us off at the main investigation interface. Holmes and Watson can visit anyone they like in the London Directory (the “D” icon, above), presumably clued in from things said in the video. We need to take good notes because we’ll have to use the evidence that we find in each following video to clue us into others until we assemble the facts of the case for the judge. There are dozens of contacts in the directory, so just random guessing won’t get us anywhere. The game is non-stateful so in theory you can view the videos in any order, but in practice there are puzzles as you must watch certain scenes to know which ones to go to next. The judge also will not let you try the case until you have seen enough to get it right. 

In addition to the case-specific characters, Holmes has other resources at his disposal including the Baker Street Irregulars as well as a team of (occasionally unwilling) “assistants” ranging from Lestrade and other experts at Scotland Yard, newspaper reporters, a lawyer, the Chief Medical Examiner, plus a library and a Hall of Records. Although the game does not have a time limit, you are given a score based on the number of false leads or unnecessary paths you go down; the higher your score the worse you did. You can send the Irregulars to interview people instead of Holmes and Watson to save time, but then you miss out on the videos and often important clues. I mostly ignored the time limit because I like to explore and find all of the content. You can play as you like!

Unbiased journalism!

The final and most indispensable piece of evidence (as well as a nice “feelie”) is a set of newspapers that are included with the package. These are required to solve the cases, plus add plenty of period-appropriate color. They are not quite copy protection because there are browsable electronic copies in the game itself, but reading them that way is an exercise in frustration. In this case, the game came with 17-pages of articles with dates ranging from February 6, 1888 to June 10, 1890. I counted last time and there are nearly 300 mini-articles across the entire feature so reading them all is difficult, and yet they were absolutely required for the cases that we had to solve. Often clues weren’t just in the current day’s paper, but also in previous issues. One surprise is that the paper this time is identical to the previous in every obvious way, although I didn’t do an article-by-article comparison. This is likely because the papers were taken from the tabletop version of the game, but it does add to the sense of deja vu that you feel while setting down to play. It really is the same game over again. (And again.)

With all that out of the way, it is time to guess the score. The previous games scored 59 and 52 points respectively, leading to an average of 56 points. The average score for all ICOM’s games to date is 49 points. Good luck and good guessing!

I own an original copy.

The Adventurers Guild Plays… Consulting Detective!

As previously mentioned ICOM adapted only nine out of the ten cases in the original 1981 Consulting Detective tabletop game, leaving one remaining: “The Cryptic Corpse”. As we close out this series, I’d like to cover that in some way but I leave up to our community the best way that we can do it.

My first inclination would be to play it together! You might recall a few years back that we sponsored the first (and only?) global game of Fooblitzky and put up the video on YouTube. That was obviously an easier game to adapt to a video presentation, but could we do something like that again? Consulting Detective has gameplay rules for one, two, or a group of players working competitively or cooperatively. I propose that we could get a handful of players from the blog and record our playthrough of the final case for posterity. Exactly how we would do that is unclear and I’d probably need to purchase a GoPro and some equipment, but there are YouTube channels that play tabletop games so surely we could work out something. 

Alternatively, I can just play the final case as a solo-game and report on it… but that feels less satisfying, in small part because I didn’t cover any of the other cases that way and it’s too many years for the plots to be fresh to know the differences. 

The only podcast with a rating system designed by a ten-year old.

Prime Factors

As I mentioned last week, my time is being split right now between playing games for this blog and learning obscure details of British history for my new project: Prime Factors, a podcast where we discuss and review each of the UK Prime Ministers

This is a passion project for my son (10) who has begged me to do a podcast with him. Since he is only little once, I am jumping in with both feet and have thus far produced a quick intro to the development of parliament, two episodes on Robert Walpole, and one episode on Spencer Compton. We’re doing Henry Pelham next and if none of those names are familiar to you… well, you aren’t alone. But my son can name every Prime Minister in order including service years so that’s what we’re doing. (He also has memorized all of the US Presidents, British monarchs, and is working on Roman emperors now. He likes history a lot.) 

If you are at all interested in hearing what I am up to, you can find our podcast on all major podcast apps or at our website: This is the only time I’ll mention the podcast here, but I am just so excited about it! 

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. My guess is the butler. Or rather, three separate butlers.
    Or, and hear me out, it's still the same butler who turns out to be a mastermind serial killer!

    52 for the score.

    As for the "Cryptic Corpse", I have played the boardgame version of it, so I can't really play. For what it's worth, I think that the reason they didn't adapt it is because much of the investigation is front-ended ol fbyivat gur plcure sbhaq ng gur ortvaavat bs gur pnfr, and so would not be very apt to this kind of videogame. But maybe playing all together would be fine.

    1. Not having read your rot13, my guess was either that it involves code breaking or that it simply wasn't good.

      If I had the time, I'd compare the original board game versions to the computer games ones, but I've forgotten too many details now of the previous games.

    2. Not having read your rot13, my guess was either that it involves code breaking or that it simply wasn't good.

      Something like that, yes.

    3. That comment above was from me, I don't know why it turned out as "Anonymous".

    4. You should have left him some more clues so he could deduce it on his own. Elementary.

  2. Like a flip of the coin, I'll guess a 50, now that the game is afoot.

    1. And without planning, both myself and Vetinati posted at the very same time, 00:50 blog time. This seems like an omen of sorts.

    2. Possibly, but will it be an omen for the score or not? Dun dun dun!

    3. For my score guess of 50? I imagine I have a 50/50 chance of winning.

  3. It's elementary, my dear Joe: I will go with the average score of the two previous games and guess 56.

  4. Extrapolating from the trend of 59 and then 52 PISSED score, I'm going to guess 45.

  5. I'll guess 53, I reckon it'll be similar to volume 2.

    Also Joe, for your podcast, there will probably soon be another name to add to your list! (for those outside the UK, we are having an election that will be finished in about six weeks time, the election is July 4th and results are usually almost all announced within a day of that).

    1. We are following the election and look forward to adding another name to our introduction! I mean, "let's bring National Service back" as a campaign platform? Doing a launch in the rain without an umbrella? It's a strange electoral strategy...

    2. And let’s give pensioners more money, despite the country being broke to the point that the second/third largest city went bankrupt. It’s going to be a really weird election season

  6. As Vol. II scored less than Vol. I, I'll continue the trend and guess 47.

  7. bigfluffylemon27 May 2024 at 12:59

    I'll guess 54

  8. I will shoot slightly higher with 62, I enjoyed the games, I have also played a more recent version of the board game and enjoyed it immensely

  9. I hated these games a lot, and that's being a huge fan of the Sherlock canon, and a big lover of Lost files of Sherlock Holmes 2 games saga, considering them in the top 10 of adventure games.

    I hope to see some comparisons to my favorite Holmes, Jeremy Brett.

    I will guess a 39

  10. I'll guess 60, it's a nice, round number. Maybe the cases this time will be more interesting than the cases in the previous entries.

  11. I'll guess 59. Congrats on your podcast, sounds like an excellent project for you guys. It's amazing fun to bond over stuff with your kid.

  12. SHCD 1 was the game my family got a CD-ROM for. I was so impressed by it on just every level. I can not imagine it holds up. Somehow, I never connected the dots and realized that this was a direct adaptation of the board game rather than just "Doing the obvious thing with the Sherlock license" (Though I do recall having a Commodore 64 adaptation of the similar 221B Baker Street board game). I'm going to go with 53.

    1. Unrelated tangent, I wonder what other people's first CD-ROM games were. I *think* mine was an early CD version of Monkey Island, which had audio tracks on the disc instead of using the soundcard. It taught me the important lesson of hooking up the think wire connector from the CD drive to the sound card for the music to play.

    2. That'd be the 1992 "enhanced CD" version of Secret of Monkey Island.

      I thiiink mine might have been King's Quest 6, which would be 1993, but I'm not 100% sure.

    3. Mine could have probably been "System Shock" in 1994, but I'm not 100% sure.

  13. The only podcast with a rating system designed by a ten-year old.

    As opposed to a blog with a PISSED rating system (briefly PISSEDOFF)?
    (Perhaps that's what happened to Trickster? He graduated middle school? :P)


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.