- Waël Amr (Englisch)
Waël Amr (Englisch)
Gesprächspartner: Michael 'Feuer' Feuerstein
Adventure-Treff: "Hi Waël, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us. First things first: Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself, your job and position at Frogwares and your involvement in Sherlock Holmes: The Silver Earring."
Waël Amr: "Hi Michael, my name is Waël AMR and I'm the president of the company Frogwares, we started our work in 2000 and worked on various software projects until the end of 2001, when we started 'The Mystery of the Mummy'. We began the development of this first real game from zero, no experience, no advices, no help, and it was a real challenge to do it at that time! Then we released this first game and it sold pretty well. After this detective story we wanted to work on something more based on discovery and fantasy, and we did 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' released as 'Der Verborgene Kontinent' in Germany speaking countries, it brought a lot of fun doing it, working on "Art nouveau" and "Art deco" style for architecture and furnishing, exploring Jules Verne inventions, and creating a world at the same time very close to us and completely different. After the release of 'The Mystery of the Mummy' we launched the game design of our second game based on Sherlock Holmes universe: 'The Silver Earring' which is to be released in September 2004."
A-T: "Sherlock Holmes: The Silver Earring is only the third game developed by Frogwares, but already the second one about this bloody good detective. Why is that?"
Waël: "Sherlock Holmes is extremely fascinating, for different reasons, but they are all coming from one main:
Sherlock Holmes is a brain, 'I'm a brain, Watson, the rest of me is a mere appendix' as he likes to say to his friend. From this fact different elements can be deduced:
If you take into consideration that humans are thinking animals, and the most successful of us are supposed to be the most intelligent too. Then some of us envy Sherlock's capacity of reasoning and deducing, as some women envy the beauty of others women, or the some people envy the purse of others.
Having Sherlock Holmes' brain, you can deduce, the work, the family situation, the vice, the disease of people that you meet. So you can know the past of these people, and in extenso, their future. Sherlock Holmes is, in a certain way, clairvoyant. He has a status of an extraordinary person, close to be a magician, spite he has no tricks, he is above the others.
Sherlock Holmes is a brain, but he is not working in a circus, he is working against the crime, into the most civilized and wealthy society of the whole world at his time: England and London. He is looking for the truth and find it, wherever it could be, "however improbable" it could be. Spite he is looking for the truth, he is not a part of any institution, and choose to tell the truth or not to the authorities, depending on the morality issue of the current affair (the second stain), Sherlock Holmes becomes a hero in these cases as he is not an employee of the crown.
Sherlock Holmes is a brain, oriented to the crime solving, he is harming himself, stopping to eat, when he doesn't find a solution, and he is sick without activity, pushing him to fill his empty time with dangerous substitution products (the sign of fours). Sherlock Holmes remains fragile and human, and so accessible, then lovable.
Sherlock Holmes is a brain, so he is an artist, in his profession and in his hobbies. He dramatizes the truth into a perfect way, shedding the light only at the time he chooses and the way he chooses, revealing elements in a certain order to get a spectacular result and so get admiration from the others (the silver blaze). He loves music, plays violin, his granduncle was French and painter from the Vernet Family (which had at least 3 generations of painters), and strongly believes that artist taste and talents are hereditary.
Sherlock Holmes is a brain, but he is alone, he has only one friend, the doctor Watson and a brother, Mycroft, he cannot reproduce himself and there is no way he gets a heir, the consequence is that he is becoming immortal, as well as a deity and can be worshipped..
Then does a person who is the most intelligent person working in his category, a hero, lovable, an artist both in his work and life, and who is subject to worship, deserve a good game based on his character? I think yes.
Sorry for this long demonstration, but I couldn't resist. (smiles)"
A-T: "I am very curious about the fact that Eastern Europe seems to be the new centre for producing high quality adventure games. How would you explain that? How did the team in Kiev formed? Was it the classical story of some friends starting up a company in a garage, with nothing but a good idea?"
Waël: "I'm French and spite I travelled a little bit before going to Ukraine, I'm not a specialist of central or eastern Europe.
The element of answer I can give is that we are a team of 30 people and spite we do a very good game, with 30 minutes of movies, 40 characters, and based on the most well known detective in the world, adventures games are not selling as good as before. And I cannot do such a game in France or Germany, it will be too costly, or we would do a cheaper game, or we wouldn't finish it.
I have no car so no garage, and I went to Ukraine alone, but we started to work seriously with Sergei Herashenko, project manager or Victor Blagomir, lead animator. Sorry for the lack of nice story telling, but I first considered that making games is a real serious matter which admits no amateurism."
About "The Silver Earring"
A-T: "I have to admit, I never read one of the Sherlock Holmes novels. Will I still enjoy playing the game?"
Waël: "I think yes, everybody knows Sherlock Holmes, so everybody has an idea of who is he.
Then just take into account that this game has an excellent and devilish detective story doubled by a main character of with a very deep and complex personality, I guess that mystery fans will really enjoy the game even if they know little about Sherlock Holmes."
A-T: "What is Sherlock Holmes: The Silver Earring all about? What mystery does the British mastermind of investigation have to solve this time?"
Waël: "Sherlock Holmes has only one main interest: crime, so you can expect to face and fight it!
Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. John Watson are invited to a birthday party; Sherlock agrees to go there not because of the birthday, but because of the singer who is performing there that very night. Just after arriving to Sherringford Hall, and a brilliant deduction demonstration of Sherlock Holmes, the host of the day, Sir Melvyn Bromsby, begins his welcoming speech, when he is shot dead. For the first time, Sherlock Holmes is present at the very moment of the crime and begins the investigation immediately.
The investigation will bring four more murders and reveal a story with old roots, where vengeance, love and money are involved."
A-T: "When compared to your first Sherlock Holmes game (The Mystery of the Mummy), the changes in graphics and gameplay are overwhelming. From 1st person to 3rd person, interactive characters, different locations... Were you not satisfied with how the first game turned out?"
Waël: "The first game worked very well, it's a good middle range game, and it sold extremely well.
I have nothing to regret about it, we did it under very hard conditions, beginning from zero and all the partners we contracted with made a bankruptcy during the time of the development and after the release (publishers and development partners). It was a very hard time.
As a result, there were some critics from both Sherlock Holmes fans and adventure players. So we had to admit that the games we did could be improved on three aspects:
1. The Sherlock Holmes personality and environment: we decided to use an existing story of Sherlock Holmes and adapt fully, the personality and environment of Sherlock Holmes:
- Sherlock Holmes' thoughts are never known from the reader in the books, either in the game, we play Sherlock Holmes, get the same hints, hear the same testimonies but you can draw your own conclusions, and he will deduce his.
- Sherlock Holmes has a special way of investigating and deduce, he based some of his discoveries on footsteps, cigarette ashes, bicycle tire tracks, chemicals analysis, dust analysis, he is disguising himself too and we will do so in the game.
- Sherlock Holmes lives in 221B Baker Street, and the base of the adventure is there, where we start and finish every of the five days of the investigation.
- Sherlock Holmes is a detective and we play as a detective, gathering hints, interrogating witnesses, bending the law when necessary. At the end of every day of investigation the player will have to answer Sherlock's questions to go to the next level.
- Sherlock Holmes is the best detective ever, and likes to demonstrate his skills to the poor Inspector Lestrade, and sometimes to his friend Watson. We have three hours of dialogs and more than 30 minutes of movies to be delighted by the rhetoric of the trio.
2. Following this orientation, we had to change in second the gameplay to make it correspond to the story and our expectations in matter of gaming experience. Spite the Sherlock Holmes behaviour and the gameplay are linked, they are different elements.
3. The third elements we had to modify were the graphics and the technology, the WARP technology used in 'The Mystery of the Mummy' or games like Myst didn't bring us a lot of satisfaction, completely blurring the sets and disappointing many players. We decided to change, using the technology we created for 'Journey to the Center of the Earth', improving it for the pathfinding, lighting, weather elements and character animations. We also used photorealistic elements for the sets. We went to London to make few thousands of photographs to recreate original London atmosphere in the late 19th century."
A-T: "In the first Sherlock Holmes game, an old, empty house was the only location of the game, something I thought was really a mistake. Now in Sherlock Holmes: The Silver Earring Sherlock will travel quite a bit. Where will his quest for truth bring him this time?"
Waël: "The Silver Earring will bring the player into a dozen of locations. Baker street is the base for the investigation, and the player visits Sherringford Hall, a cement factory, a forest, some private houses also. We can go there at different time of the day, day or night for example. All the locations contain their part of mystery so I wish not to say too much about them."
A-T: "I saw on one of the screenshots that part of the game will play in a train. I don't know why, but a train is my most favourite place for an adventure game. I don't know why only so few games have trains in it. I think every adventure game is required to have a train in it. Trains and adventures are almost synonyms, don't you think?"
Waël: "Train is a synonym of limited time travel and also creating a microcosm for a limited time with people who don't know each other and supposedly have nothing to do together.
But it is exactly why trains are interesting, as you don't plan anything but still know that you are in a train for a certain time, strange things happened, people tell their lives, the greedy ones can become generous, the good ones can become evil, during a short, precise, limited window of time only."
A-T: "Is Sherlock Holmes: The Silver Earring a sequel to 'The Mystery of the Mummy' or is it just situated in the same universe and time?"
Waël: "The Silver Earring is an independent story, spite it is inspired by the early writings of Arthur Conan Doyle 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes'. The universe of Sherlock Holmes is fully depicted as the specialist could appreciate.
We worked with the SSHF, which is the official French organization for Sherlock Holmes fans, for the sets, the atmosphere, the dialogs..."
A-T: "One thing I think is very interesting is that the story seems to be divided into five days or "levels", and on the end of each day the player has to make assumptions and draw conclusions of the hints he found during the day. Can you explain how this will work? Will the game become more difficult with each level?"
Waël: "The player is playing Sherlock and Watson, it means that the player is playing the investigation as the detective and his friend, they are gathering elements together of different sorts: Testimonies (after interrogating witnesses, reports (the hints noticed by Holmes, footsteps, smelling, ...), documents (letters, Lestrade declaration, ...).
At the end of every day of investigation, Sherlock Holmes asks some questions to Doctor Watson. The player has to reply them by Yes or No, and justify his reply with elements picked up during the investigation. Depending on the replies you can go to the next day of investigation or review all the elements to find the right replies."
A-T: "The end sequence of the game will be 23 minutes long. If my phone rings after, let's say 15 minutes, will I answer it?"
Waël: "Do you want to know the truth? This person will recall anyway (smiles).
Sherlock Holmes has a very specific way to dramatize the truth, and spite 23 minutes can seem long, the final demonstration is so well crafted that it will be hard to not listen to it till the last second."
A-T: "You stated that you will be able to play as Dr. Watson as well. Will the game be different when you play with Watson? Will you be able to chose, when and where you want to go with whom?"
Waël: "Watson is not the detective, so when you play Watson you cannot see the elements that Sherlock can see. You can choose who you play at some moments and not choose during others.
There is only one truth as you know, and a detective story with Sherlock Holmes is necessarily strongly scenario driven. Like in the books, Sherlock says to Watson what to do and where to go, Sherlock is the genius, Watson knows it and fully trusts his friend and does exactly what he asks, spite he doesn't succeed most of the time. Holmes and Watson are most of the time together, except few times, when Sherlock gets into disguise or need to explore a place following his own methods."
A-T: "We all know who Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes are. Can you tell us a little bit more about the suspects of the game? Who could be the murderer? It is the gardener, right?"
Waël: "No gardener, sorry.
Everybody has some motives to kill, or can think so in a special moment, the motives are always the same, but the triggers are different. What is sure is that guns are not shooting by themselves."
A-T: "Will we meet other famous characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels?"
Waël: "We meet Wiggins from the Baker Street Irregulars (BSI), which is the secret police of Sherlock Holmes, of more value than the official force for spying suspects.
We receive letters from Mycroft Holmes, the elder brother of Sherlock, who works for the government at the Diogenes Club."
A-T: "How will the Gameplay work? Do you have multiple choice dialogs and an inventory? Will the game be a classical adventure game or more like a real investigation?"
Waël: "The game is a real investigation. As I wrote above, you have to answers questions of Sherlock Holmes at the end of every day of investigation using the hints you gather during the adventure.
You don't have real multiple choices of dialogs, but the dialogs themselves are not answering obvious questions, as in the books. You have an inventory, and can grab items; you use the special items of Sherlock Holmes: the magnifying glass, the test tube, the ruler.
Sherlock Holmes is gathering hints which look like of not so much interest at a first glance."
A-T: "In the first Sherlock Holmes game, you could die on a regular basis. Yet in none of the novels the great detective dies (I presume) - how will you handle this in Sherlock Holmes: The Silver Earring?"
Waël: "You cannot die in The Silver Earring, but you can fail your investigation if you get caught bending the law or miss important elements. Making Sherlock die wasn't a good idea after all, it's too pretentious and it's not adapted to the character."
A-T: "Again, I did never read any Sherlock Holmes novel personally, however I could imagine that it is all about atmosphere. How do you make sure to catch that specific atmosphere of the novels?"
Waël: "If you want to make the comparison, you will have to read the 56 novelette and the four novels yourself. It's what I did, once in English and once in French. The movies with Peter Cushing, Jeremy Brett, Basil Rathbone are also a good source of inspiration. We worked also with the official French Sherlock Holmes association (SSHF, www.sshf.com) for the validation and the story, they are now testing the latest code version and they really love the game. We showed the game to the Sherlock Holmes society of London and they really appreciate the respect we bear to the character and his environment, they will review the game as well."
A-T: "I read that the game takes place in different times. How will those 'flashbacks' work?"
Waël: "There are five days of investigation, the game takes place during these five days. There is one flashback in the story, for scenario purposes. The roots of every complex Holmes story takes place a long time ago in various countries (The Valley of Fear, The Sign of Fours)."
A-T: "The music in the game will feature full orchestral music of Nicolo Paganini and Felix Mendelssohn, played by the Ukrainian Symphonic Orchestra. Why those two composers?"
Waël: "There are also other major composers, Dvorak, Grieg, Schumann and Tchaikovsky. Mendelssohn and Paganini are a reference to Sherlock Holmes taste in matter of music he loves technically complex music pieces and Paganini is a reference in this domain, the lied of Mendelssohn, not the nuptial march (smiles), are recalling his own state of soul sometimes. The music in our video games is an essential part as the dialogs or the graphics, for example in the 6 minutes intro movie of the game, at the beginning Watson is reading a letter, and after a few seconds, we see Sherlock looking by the window smoking his pipe, listening to Watson or lost in his thoughts, then the music begin and it exactly corresponds to Holmes motion at that very moment, half bored and half amused, listening distantly Watson's reading."
A-T: "In Germany, Sherlock Holmes: The Silver Earring will be published by dtp. Why do you trust them with your game?"
Waël: "I guess they did good work on Runaway and they are a good specialist for adventure games. They also engage themselves to make an excellent localization, which is a key point for this game."
A-T: "Are you satisfied with the success of 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth'? What lessons did you draw from it for future games?"
Waël: "I'm very glad of Journey, spite I'm disappointed with some points, that is what non independence means for a developer, two big points made me very angry on this game and both are coming from the publisher of the title which took these decisions:
The limited the amount of dialogs to 10000 words for cost reasons (we have 23000 in the silver earring) cutting any possibility to go deeper into the personality of the characters, and limiting many interactions with NPC to hello-help me-do that-thank you. The game will have gain in quality and interest if we could have done more detailed dialogs.
The second point is that we were forced to finish the game one month earlier, three months before the end, forcing the team to work day and night, and we didn't polish the game, so some features suffer from this lack of time. These are two typical mistakes of non professional game publishers, focused on immediate money and having no real interest in the developers and players concerns. I regret I didn't fight against them at that time to get a better product. Out of these two problems the game is very good and very enjoyable; I love the story and the atmosphere of the underground worlds. Ariane is a nice character, half lost in this world and as much impressed as the players of her unexpected discoveries and encounters."
A-T: "You are already working on another project. Will the adaptation of Jules Verne's 'Around the world in 80 days' be an adventure game? What is the status of production? What can we can expect from this game?"
Waël: "This game will be in Real time 3D, using Renderware technology. We will visit full cities in Jules Verne style, driving vehicles, riding elephants and camels, creating heavy cocktail with a disco CIA spy, organize a sado masochist contest, find back an actress form bollywood...
The usual stuff in conclusion (laughs). We expect a lot from this game as we would like to see if the convergence of adventure style is possible using latest technologies. The first pictures are planned for September."
A-T: "Back to Sherlock Holmes: The Silver Earring. The game is scheduled for a September release. Which novel should I read until then to be prepared best for the game?"
Waël: "Obviously 'A Study in Scarlet' and 'The Sign of Four' to have a good presentation of Sherlock Homes' character."
A-T: "What is the 'Silver Earring'?"
Waël: "A jewel, part of a group of other jewels, belonging to a missing theatre actress."
A-T: "Anything else you would like to share with our readers?"
Waël: "Frogwares team would like to thank you, Jan, and Adventure-Treff and all your readers for your time and interest in 'The Silver Earring', and we hope you will like it as much we do at Frogwares."
A-T: "Thank you very much again for taking this time and having such an interesting interview with us!"