Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, A Lesson for Branching Story
Updated: Mar 7, 2019
For who hasn't played this game before, I highly recommend it if you are a detective game fan. This game takes the background of Sherlock Holmes and casts players as Holmes’ agents, working together to scour the streets of London and crack a succession of baffling cases.
In the game, the players will be introduced to the case through a brief introduction. Then they work as a team to decide where to look for clues and consult a booklet which tells the information found in the location.
After playing two cases of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (SHCD), the soul of detective in my body is lit up. I couldn't imagine I would actually enjoy a game that is pure words from a non-native language until I felt the sense of becoming Sherlock after playing this game. There are already too many compliments on how this game is great as a detective game, while I am going to talk about something different, the branch story.
There is always the main storyline that not only detective game but basically any game would provide for the player to follow, and besides the main line, there are several sidelines which provide branching story. I would even willing to explore all clues even after solving one case, and that's the ultimate state of a branching story from my perspective. Personally, I would define a good branching story in 3 standards after the lesson I learned from Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective.
1. Convincing Relationship
The branching story should come out of somewhere, which means there should be some relationship between it and the main line which indirectly leads the player to explore it. For example in the case 1 of this game, there is a branching story about a man who is fired from the conflicting project which has something to do with the main storyline, and also another branching story of a woman who happens to be the paramour of the victim. With testimony from the interviewee, news from the newspaper, and even language accent, it easily leads us to look into these branching lines.
Besides, I agree with another player whom I played within this game. He holds the idea that the branching story clues should somehow lead back to the main story. This conversation happened when we see another simple detective game which only has a picture with 3 pregnant women and a dead man in it for detecting which woman is the murder. We all agreed on who is the murder but the fact that the interference clues had nothing to do with the detecting process made us feel disappointed. It's okay for a simple game like that, but it would be definitely better if the branching story would wander a circle and still ends up supporting the original idea which will surely create a "WOW" moment. This relationship is well developed in SHCD, that the man from the branching story will end up being a strong proof of the real murder's lie, and the woman's appearance will eventually lead to a piece of suspicious news on newspaper.
2. Self-Contained Story
Sometimes there are also great branching stories that not lead back to the main line, then one needed feature for it I think is to have a self-contained story. It means that this story should also have the potential to be the main story. For example, in case 4 of this game, there is a mysterious death besides the main story which I once believed this should be the main case instead. There are many places involved in this lead and many suspects related which almost made this story a whole case. Even though this clue became a completely interfere of that case, but I still enjoy the process of digging it out, and more surprisingly to find out discussion on the Internet about the potential connection of this story and the main story. That's really a "WOW" moment.
I think this standard is so important because it makes the whole gameplay more realistic and immersive. From all the detective movie we watched, there were always this mislead to branching lines which still developed as an interesting story, and this is what I think actually makes a detective story great. From the video I watched talking about what makes a great detective game, I learned that it's important to make the player feel like they are actually making decisions and that's why it's so important to have well-organized branching stories. If the branching story easily leads to a dead end, then it would be disappointing and creates the contrary to what should be created for decision making. Using a word from the video, we want to be Holmes that solves the case by ourselves instead of being Watson and follow the game's offering.
3. Reward System
Another element of SHCD I love is the scoring system. The game's goal is to use fewer clues than Sherlock Holmes did which is very challenging and to be honest it will cut a lot of fun of diving into other clues to enjoy the story. However, there are this branching line points that players can acquire by answering the problems not related to the main case or at least not essential to it, which even Holmes didn't answer. This system provides such a great reason to do some branching exploration and produces the feeling that we actually know more about the case than Holmes, which, believe me, is really great.
I think the reward system for branching story is important as it is an initial lure for the players to try exploring it. For such a detective game, it is important for it to be different from a book or movie. What we players do should actually makes a difference. And that's how the reward system helps the whole game and makes the branching story interactive.
To sum up, the branching story of SHCD perfectly support the main story, making it more vivid and interesting. Attracted by the appearance of the detective game, and fell in love with the fascinating branching story. I will absorb the essence of this lesson and use it wisely for my future design.
I am prepared for my next case of adventure!!!