Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One, an ambitious detective game from kyiv-based developer Frogwares, launched on PS4 last week. It’s one of several major releases from the Ukrainian studio in as many weeks, with Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments also releasing on Nintendo Switch, and a DLC pack for the PS5 version of Chapter One rolling out as promised. Under normal circumstances, these releases wouldn’t be extraordinary, but considering the studio’s country has been under attack for the past few months, it speaks to the spirit and determination of the developer who continues to do what he loves most: making games.
We caught up with Community Manager Sergey Oganesyan to understand a little more about how Frogwares has been so productive under unprecedented circumstances. However, before entering the interview, everyone in thrust square we would like to extend our sincere wishes to the Frogwares team, and indeed to all the people of Ukraine, during this time.
Push Square: First of all, I was wondering if you could describe the situation at Frogwares over the last few months. You obviously live in kyiv, so I’m curious if you can elaborate a bit more on what your approach to work has been and how you’ve managed to finish Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One on PS4.
Sergei Oganesyan: To be honest, when the war started, it was a shock. The first thought was safety. Those who could, and wanted, went to safer places within Ukraine or to other EU countries. Once the shock gradually subsided, we began to do what we could to introduce some kind of normalcy into our lives. Work was one of those normalities. We started working on our projects remotely, which has worked out pretty well for us since the days of the COVID lockdown. Once we got into the rhythm of work, the projects started moving forward. And being able to talk to each other lifted our spirits; when one is down, the other lifts them up. With our team together online, so to speak, we were able to finish our projects and show them off to the players. And in all honesty, those pitches felt good.
From the outside, it looks like you were having trouble getting Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One to run on the PS4 anyway. Obviously recent events have made it even more difficult and ended up putting the Xbox One version on hold. Where does this project rank among the most challenging?
Every project we did had some kind of challenge: nothing worth pursuing in life comes easily. And as a studio, there are many challenges that you may encounter throughout your life: technical, commercial, strategic and many more. But as they say, it’s not about the problem you face, but how you face it. Optimizing a game from the current generation to the old presented us with some obstacles. Although the PS4 is a great console, you can feel the difference in power if you compare it to the PS5. How does the optimization of Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One rank compared to other titles in terms of challenge? That’s a bit hard to say. We’ve been around for over 20 years, so we’re used to seeing jumps from one generation to another. However, the war was undoubtedly a factor that marked us, and not only as a business, but as people. It is not something you experience much in your life. Actually, we hope that no one experiences it in their life, ever.
Can you talk a bit more about the compromises you had to make to get Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One to run on PS4? Is it the same experience as on PS5 or have you had to reduce your ambition a bit?
From the beginning when we talked about the PS4 and PS5 versions, we wanted both groups of players to experience the same story and content. So cutting dialogue, story, gameplay features, or cases was out of the question. The story and core experience must remain the same. What we needed to do was make the game more compact and optimize it so that those compromises are as inconspicuous as possible. One of the ways we do that is by optimizing the map, Cordona Island.
Now, the island itself is exactly the same as the one on the PS5, with all of its main landmarks intact. However, on PS4, there aren’t as many back alleys or shortcuts for you to wander through. Having fewer fairways allowed us to take some of the performance pressure off the system. We’ve also played around with lighting and draw distance. Little technical tricks like these helped us squeeze as much of the gameplay out of the PS4 as possible, while leaving the core experience the way it was intended.
It’s also released Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments on the Nintendo Switch and, we believe, a DLC pack for Chapter One on PS5 since the invasion began. To be so productive under such unprecedented circumstances is truly remarkable. Would you say it is a reflection of the pure spirit and determination of his studio?
That is definitely part of the puzzle. As you may have noticed, Ukrainians have a fairly high tolerance for challenges. What we did was not easy: it was quite extraordinary. We released games while we were in a war zone. Probably not many publishers can have that written in their history.
We are also quite adapted to being a remote studio. We have put systems and procedures in place for remote work for quite some time. When the war started and we spread out across Ukraine and Europe, we knew how to work together in a remote setting. It is a system that we know and are used to.
kyiv has an incredibly strong game development scene, with major global publishers like Ubisoft having studios in the city, as well as many smaller indie developers. Have you been in touch with your fellow game makers during this difficult time? How do you hope recent events will change the focus of game developers in your city moving forward?
To be honest, we haven’t been in contact. However, we have seen what the other studios are doing through their social media channels and we are very happy to see that they are doing well and continuing to work on their titles. Your success is ours too. We are all Ukrainians. Once the Russian forces are expelled from our country, maybe we can meet in person once again. That would be a great occasion to actually do it. And how will this war affect us and our industry in the future? Honestly, I don’t know. But pain and emotions have a way of coming out through the stories you tell. Who knows what stories we’ll share with the world once this is all over.
Once again, we would like to extend our thoughts to the Frogwares team and the people of Ukraine. We would also like to personally thank Sergey Oganesyan for taking the time to answer our questions. Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One is out now for PS5 and PS4, and you can also get Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments for Nintendo Switch.