Elementary, My Dear Watson

Sherlock the Game is Now

We interview Nick Moran, creative director of Sherlock: The Game is Now, to learn about a London escape game with a unique twist.

Nick Moran, Sherlock the Game is Now

As an avid video game enthusiast, a young Nick Moran dreamed of bringing that experience – as he calls it, “a reality operating on its own rules” – to the real world. When escape games started taking the world by storm, he realized that he finally had his chance.

Before we delve into the curiosity that is Sherlock: The Game is Now, let us step back in time a few years to reflect upon its predecessor, an unassuming little game called Time Run.

Running Through Time

The concept of Time Run was simple: time travel researcher Dr. Fox tasked your group with travelling across the various eras of time (hence the name), retrieving vital relics that are too dangerous for the good doctor to retrieve herself. As Moran puts it, each group of prospective time travelers who paid a visit to the doctor’s lab would become little more than glorified cannon fodder for her temporal studies. Each environment had its own distinct relic to find, with the ultimate goal being to gather them all and return to Dr. Fox’s research lab in one piece.

In a unique twist, each game had multiple endings depending on how well you performed. Collect all of the relics, and your adventure through time and space would have a distinctly positive result. But miss a few along the way, and your victory may come with a few kinks. According to Moran, the goal of having multiple endings was not to put the player down for a less-than-perfect game, but rather to encourage the player to try again and find what they might have missed out on the first time around, so as to receive a complete, unabridged experience.

Sherlock the Game is Now

The time travel theme ultimately gave Moran more freedom in terms of theming than a typical escape game. While there were two separate game options available in Time Run, each was able to retain the same basic concept, allowing for two completely different experiences without each needing a totally distinct story. It also allowed for a pervasive sense of anticipation throughout the game, as players would never know what to expect next. For example, they could go from exploring an ancient Mayan temple to rummaging through a medieval castle, and from there move on to plundering a pirate ship, all within the same game.

From Time Travel to Modern-Day Sleuthing

Just one day after Time Run’s grand opening, part of the creative team involved in the BBC program Sherlock decided to take Dr. Fox’s temporal adventure for a whirl. The experience so impressed the team that they immediately approached Moran with the proposal of creating an escape game based on the hit show. Moran jumped at the opportunity, and after a few years of meticulous planning and design, Sherlock: The Game is Now opened to the world in December 2018, becoming one of the exceedingly few escape games in the world tied to an existing IP.

The overall premise of the game shares a few similarities with its predecessor: groups are hired by a shadowy organization known only as “The Network”, which has taken to enlisting the services of ordinary citizens in order to help it with some of its extensive case backlog – namely, the cases that are too dangerous and/or time-consuming for the Network’s top agents to take on (starting to sound familiar?). Through extensive video segments, players work with various characters from the Sherlock TV show in order to solve the mystery at hand.

Sherlock the Game is Now

Designing Sherlock: The Game is Now entailed some unique challenges that weren’t present when developing Time Run. For starters, when designing Time Run, the sky was the limit in terms of theming, largely thanks to the game’s fantastic setting. Sherlock, on the other hand, is firmly grounded in reality, meaning that everything, from settings to puzzles, had to remain realistic at all times. This meant that some of the staple tropes of escape games, like randomly-placed combinations and overly elaborate puzzles, couldn’t be used, since they would break the immersion that is at the core of the Sherlock experience.

When designing each aspect of the game, Moran would frequently resort to the five W’s (Who, What, Where, When, Why), asking himself questions such as “Who put this here?” “Why is this here?” “Why is it this way instead of some simpler, less cryptic way?” If at any point the answer to such questions didn’t fit the world of Sherlock or was too farfetched to be believable, the concept in question would be immediately reworked if not scrapped altogether.

A Lasting Experience

Overall, all the hard work and dedication pays dividends, as it creates an escape game experience truly unlike any other. As Moran states, “Whereas the stories of most escape games are more or less throwaway – it’s present throughout the game, but more or less vanishes once the game is over – Sherlock leaves a lasting impression.” Part of its pervasiveness is the familiarity of the theme: fans with the TV show feel like they’re a part of something they already invested in outside of the game. By fine-tuning every aspect of the game to make it fit unequivocally with the setting, it helps players feel as if they’re fully immersed in a much larger experience. Incidentally, the theme also helps draw in players who otherwise might not attempt an escape game otherwise, making Sherlock an ideal gateway to the medium.

Sherlock the Game is Now

Overall, that immersion and lasting impression is the core behind every detail of Sherlock’s design, reflecting Moran’s design philosophy: if a game is low-tech, isn’t all that impressive visually, but it’s designed in such a way as to make players feel engrossed and truly a part of its world, they’ll come out of that game with a much more lasting and positive impression than if they were to play a game that’s flashy and high-tech, but does nothing to get players invested in the story it’s trying to tell.

What’s Next?

With as mammoth of an endeavor as Sherlock: The Game is Now has proven itself to be, Moran himself admits that thinking about the future can be daunting at times. However, whatever the future may hold, Moran’s ultimate goal is simple: to continue creating cool, fun experiences that participants can make lasting memories with.

And with that, consider the Case of the Enthralling Escape Endeavor officially closed.

To learn more about Sherlock: The Game is Now, visit www.thegameisnow.com.

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