Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels

Posted by Francesco Cordella.
First posted on 01 January 2006. Last updated on 26 February 2015.
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Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels
This game is the first interactive fiction title Bob Bates writes for Infocom.

Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels is not the typical interactive fiction mystery title such as Deadline, Witness, or Suspect. In this game, timing is everything. Making the right move at the right time is the key. To succeed in this game, it is necessary to follow closely the suspects' trails. If you arrive too late, the game goes on but the solution departs. While it is clear from the very beginning of the game that the culprit is Professor Moriarty, this rendition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work differs significantly from its novel counterpart—there is now a deadline in reaching your goals, and the delivery now resembles more of a treasure hunt than a mystery.

The place is London. The year is 1887. The opening act is a classic scene taken right out from the pages of the novel—the reception of a host and the assignment of a task. Arriving at 221-B Baker Street is a herald from the Queen and Prime Minister. The Crown Jewels have been stolen and Sherlock Holmes must help to find them. The suspect is none other than Professor Moriarty, the enemy par excellence of our heroic detective. Mayhem rampages in the midst of the Victorian era, and only you can solve the mystery behind the missing jewels and settle the unrest.

In this game, you play the role of Dr Watson, who is told by the eminent Sherlock, "Doctor, you'll conduct the quest and, if necessary, I'll suggest the right moves to do." From here, you begin your exploration of the London landscape and its people, from Covent Garden to Westminster to London Bridge to Madame Tussaud's. Your wit is immediately tested when you find a sheet with a riddle at the crime scene that directly challenges you and Sherlock. A copy of "The Thames" also proves to be useful in your quest, but only if you can solve your first puzzle to locate a light source ("for the fog has thickened and travel without a lamp has been impossible").

This game is written by Bob Bates and is the first title in Infocom's Immortal Legends series. Like other earlier games from Infocom, it is a pure text based adventure. This is also the first title Bates is contracted to write for Infocom, a fond sentiment that has been openly expressed by Bates, "I was the only outside game designer that Infocom ever used (with the exception of Douglas Adams, father of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Bureaucracy). I was running in fast company and I was privileged to play in their yard."

The game is developed by Challenge Inc and published by Infocom. It is based on the concept of interactive fiction told through a story interpreter pioneered by Infocom. The Infocom story interpreter is platform independent, and the game themselves are complied for a virtual computer architecture called the Z-Machine. There have been 2 versions of this game released since 1987 using two different versions of Z-Machine, one without and one with sound support. The last version dated 1988 uses Advanced Version 5 of Z-Machine. The game supports 92 rooms and 67 objects, with a vocabulary of 1,194 words and 19,702 opcodes.

The game package contains a tourist map of London, a copy of "The Thames" dated 17 June 1887, and a black rubber key fob with the images of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. The game is initially released for the IBM, Commodore 64, and Apple II. Later, the Amiga and Macintosh versions are also released. The latter release contains 15 sampled sound bits that are not available in the original.

The Infocom parser is infamous for its power and flexibility. There is no "catch the right word" problem when playing this title. The engine possesses a large vocabulary with a good selection of synonyms. The parser allows for excellent control and interaction with all the characters present in the game. There are a series of interesting puzzles with logical solutions that involve a lot of the original characters from Doyle's novels. Gameplay is composed of a treasure hunt to locate the Queen's missing jewels, followed by the climactic confrontation of Moriarty in the final challenge.

The atmosphere in this game is great. You meet many of the familiar characters from Sherlock Holmes, including Mrs Hudson, Mycroft, and the "irregular" Wiggins. The game manages to keep the player's attention until the end. A sense of humor is present throughout the story but appropriately wry without resorting to the silliness common in other Infocom titles. The parser provides excellent descriptions of places of importance and makes the story interesting to follow. In a game that is so well written, any addition of graphics to the text only spoils the player's imagination. In solving the puzzles you need to use all of Sherlock's typical gadgets, including his magnifying glass.

Since the game plays more like a treasure hunt, the mystery detailed in the story is just a pretext. There are no suspects to interrogate, hints to analyze, or trails to follow. Exploration is restricted to inside the city of London. Whenever you try to wander around the streets in London, the game answers with phases like "There are too many people: you can't pass." or with unnecessary obstacles that block your path to explore.

There are 2 famous bugs in this game—the "light" bug and the "Wiggins" bug.

With the "light" bug, it is possible to travel on foot through the darkened streets of London without the lamp if you know where you are going and can arrange for a light to be there waiting for you. For example, at the start of the game, type:


Here, the driver goes to York Place without a passenger in the cab, and the game still lets you walk there without the lamp on the next turn because there is a light at the destination.

With the "Wiggins" bug, it is possible to get rid of Wiggins forever in the game. At Threadneedle Street, first type:


Call a cab and then enter it. Once inside, type:


Now exit the cab. The cab then drives off with Wiggins inside. While you can call for the cab again, Wiggins is nowhere to be found. You can only do this after Sherlock has been kidnapped, since Wiggins does not follow you anywhere before that.

Overall, it is clear that Bates knows the stylistic and technical elements of writing interactive fiction. Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels is a game that is fun to play and gives a lot of satisfaction with its puzzles. The game may be too easy for most players, but it is still a fairly good challenge while it lasts.

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