SHCD: Scoring and Progression

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective doesn’t simply expect you to solve cases for the pleasure of figuring them out. No, that stuff is gamified. When you’re satisfied with your investigation — and only you can say when this happens — you turn to the back of the case booklet and answer a series of questions, including “Whodunit?” but also including other pertinent details. Each correct answer scores a number of points indicated with the question, with tangential questions scoring lower. Then you subtract five points for each location you visited over par. (Equivalently, you could say that every location costs 5 points, but you get a certain number of points for free.)

In three cases, I have yet to score above zero, and have not once correctly identified whodunit.

It must be said that this may just be the result of a solo attempt at a game intended for a team. More eyes means fewer details go unnoticed, right? Except that the one time I did attempt the game with a team, it didn’t make a lot of difference.

There’s another factor, though. The text casts the player(s) not as Sherlock Holmes, but as sundry unnamed Baker Street Irregulars, former street urchins led by the now-grown-up Wiggins, studying under Holmes to learn his methods. When the optimal solution is presented, it’s presented as the solution Holmes came up with. His solution is always worth 100 points by fiat; it is this that establishes par. So, you can see the player’s failures as an essential part of the Holmes story. The point is not to equal Holmes, but to stand in awe of him. To get it wrong so he can impress you by getting it right. The main difference from conventional Holmes stories, then, is that a conventional story presents you with all the information the author wants you to have, while SHCD lets you miss crucial data entirely, and what’s worse, implies that it’s your own damn fault. Someone will make an offhand mention of going to the theater, and if you don’t take this as a cue to visit that theater yourself, you won’t see the thing that makes sense of the whole case. Sometimes the questions at the end will reference characters you’ve never heard of.

So it’s something of a guessing-game, and something of a maze — each node leading to other nodes, some of those nodes being dead ends. But it’s a peculiar sort of maze, in that there’s no exit, no definite goal. And yet, I do have a sense of progression.

In case 1, I failed because I went for the solution too soon, hoping to maximize my score by minimizing locations visited and falling for what I now see as a fairly flimsy red herring. In case 2, I corrected and even overcorrected that mistake, but still failed to interpret the clues correctly. In case 3, even though I missed a crucial turning, I at least managed to see the significance of all the physical evidence at the crime scene, figure out one of the story’s major revelations, and answer fully half of the questions at the end correctly. The points from those questions were entirely wiped out by visiting too many locations, but I’m less worried about that: once I actually solve a case, I can start thinking about maximizing my score. The point is, I’m learning how the whole thing works. If it’s still too dependent on reading the author’s mind for my liking, at least I’m getting better at reading the author’s mind.

This kind of progression also fits the narrative frame well. You are, after all, supposed to be learning. I’m not sure I believe any of this is entirely deliberate — it seems to me quite possible that the author(s) intended each case to be solvable but underestimated the difficulty and didn’t do enough playtesting. But the possibility makes me wonder what else today’s narrative designers could do with the format.

2 Comments so far

  1. Xogón on 29 Dec 2021

    My main gripe with the game is that you need to minimize your interaction with the hints to maximize your score. And that seems wrong in a non replayable design.

    You might already know it, but there’s a newer game with the exact same mechanics named “Arkham Investigator”. It’s based on the Lovecraft mythos and I’ve got some enjoyment from the first two cases.

  2. Merus on 30 Dec 2021

    I’ve found that Holmes’ optimal solution ends up taking some quite extraordinary leaps of logic at times; I’ve found my enjoyment of the game is enhanced by trying to piece together enough of what happened to answer every question correctly, and possibly some of the supplemental questions not connected to the case, while still getting a positive score.

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