Mixing the excitement of immersive entertainment with the thrill of intellectual challenge, Time Run’s latest escape room Sherlock: The Game Is Now is now open for players to race against the clock to crack codes, solve puzzles and progress to the next level. Prior to the opening, Sherlock showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss – who worked with Time Run to help produce the adventure – recently talked about the game.
What made you want to work with Time Run on a Sherlock game?
Steven Moffat: Sue Vertue [Sherlock’s producer and Steven Moffat’s wife] is always looking for treats that we can provide the fans while we don’t have a show, which is, in the case of Sherlock, most of the time. She rather loves, as we do, the Locked Room thing so we talked to Time Run about it. It comes from asking “What can we do, given that we’re not making a show right now?” that will be properly Sherlock, because she’s very strict on what Sherlock can be and can’t be. It fits very well into this format. It wouldn’t fit in to everything… It’s hard to imagine a cookery book, unless there is one [planned] in which case it’s fine!
How did you discover escape room games? Have you played them yourselves?
Mark Gatiss: I’ve done the Crystal Maze twice but this is a new departure, making a thematic game out of a TV show. We played a few and we did, er, okay! As I discovered playing the Crystal Maze, I always used to yell at the people playing on the television – but when you’re actually pushed through the door yourself you just go, “Argh! What do I do?” The best thing is that it’s great fun. For us, it’s going back to the very first principle of what we enjoyed about reading a Sherlock Holmes story, which was that you want to do it yourself. You want to think, “Can I tell from the turn-up of someone’s trousers and what’s on his hair what he does for a living?” Clues and deduction. It’s a very natural marrying of things, and escape room games are so massively popular. It’s a great night out, whether it’s a team building thing or a stag night, just pre-Christmas fun or whatever, it’s just a lovely thing. And if you can combine that with your favourite TV show then it’s a very nice night out.
What can you tell us about the story/narrative of this game?
Steven Moffat: Well, a big element is not knowing what you’re walking into. It’s a mystery. You actually don’t know what’s going to happen until you’re in there…
How does this fit into the continuity of Sherlock on TV?
Steven Moffat: Well, it’s what’s happening now. Fortunately, our last series ended on an open note, it wasn’t a big cliff hanger, so John [Watson] and Sherlock in theory are in Baker Street right now solving crimes. It’s what’s happening to them today. It’s set in the current moment, as it were.
How faithful are the sets and environments to the TV show? Which particular things did you concentrate on getting right?
Steven Moffat: There’s 221b [Baker Street, Sherlock’s home and base of operations]. Our designers were involved, so it’s pretty damned authentic. There are certain elements that are configured to work as a game as opposed to an absolute recreation – but it’s pretty bloody good.
Mark Gatiss: We wanted, in an immersive experience, to make people to feel that they’re on familiar ground. But the case has to take over so you can’t just slavishly say, “We’ll solve it all in the front room.” The narrative takes us to different places and we wanted to have a nice sense of scale and a change of environment, so it doesn’t all feel very wintery with the curtains drawn. That reflects what we always wanted to do with the show; it’s not a Victorian show, it’s about modern London as much as anything. So there’s a nice selection of different environments to play in.
Will it affect future episodes of Sherlock on TV?
Steven Moffat: It can’t really. Not all the viewers will have played the game.
Mark Gatiss: [Joking] Although, what I think we should do is record it with a celebrity team and broadcast it as a Christmas special.
Steven Moffat: Ninety minutes, that’s sorted.
Mark Gatiss: The cast should play it! Then it’s sort of canonical anyway.
Does Sherlock: The Game Is Now owe anything to a Conan Doyle Sherlock story?
Mark Gatiss: It’s certainly not based on a famous case.
Steven Moffat: We couldn’t do that. It wouldn’t work. If you go into one of the mysteries and there’s a bell rope attached to a wall, you’d think, “Oh, that’s The Speckled Band.” The answer can’t be something that’s already existed for over a hundred years. That would be wrong.
Mark Gatiss: You’d exclude people who didn’t know it, and if anyone did know it, they’d solve it straight away. We were very keen to make sure it feels ‘gettable’. You don’t have to have seen the show or even really know Sherlock Holmes; you can still do it. Also, you don’t have to spend too long digesting back story when all you really want to do is get on with the game.
How did you make the mysteries solvable to “mortals” and yet still the kind of challenge that Sherlock would encounter?
Steven Moffat: By making it a bit easier [laughter from MG and Steven Moffat].
Mark Gatiss: It would grind to a halt if you really needed Sherlock to be there.
Steven Moffat: I know! Completely bewildered people – you are Lestrade!
Mark Gatiss: The difference between this and a TV deduction, which could be a huge leap of imagination, is that you have to be able to solve it. There are also more things involved, locks and things like that, which you actually can do. Cumulatively it’s a test. That’s what it is.
Do you play video games yourselves? How close is this to a video game?
Steven Moffat: I do a little bit but this isn’t the same experience. This is hugely social. You spend an evening doing this and it’s a fun thing that you do with your friends. It’s a laugh.
Mark Gatiss: Or in my experience it’s how you scream over each other, because that’s what tends to happen, isn’t it? It’s very interesting in terms of how many people are in a team and what becomes a critical mass when they can still work together without people going, “Shut up! I’ve got an idea.” But then I haven’t played a video game since Pong. And I wasn’t very good at that.
Steven Moffat: I’m not very good at them either.
Who’s the best out of you two at escape games?
Steven Moffat: Mark. [laughter]. That’s just true. But then I think I would say the same about any other human being. Maybe I’m the worst at escape games in the world. We all went and did one together and Mark was good. Mark’s husband, Ian [Hallard] was awesome. He was like James Bond crossed with Doctor Who. He was flying around the place giving us all orders, solving puzzles, while I was like Britt Ekland in The Man With The Golden Gun. Not appearance wise, I might add.
Mark Gatiss: You were in a bikini though.
Steven Moffat: I was. I thought that was some compensation.
Why do you think your version of Sherlock lends itself to an escape room concept?
Mark Gatiss: There’s something nice about it that fits with our ethos for the show. It feels very now and incorporates a lot of technology that’s present in the show too. It’s a nice marrying of the two things.
Steven Moffat: Also, guest appearances in the Victorian version would just be bits of paper.
For fans of the show – how will this game enhance their enjoyment of the world you’ve created?
Mark Gatiss: It’s about being part of your favourite show, isn’t it? The last time I went to the Doctor Who Experience, the TARDIS appeared through a brilliant, old fashioned trick with a gauze. This little boy in front of me did a hop, skip and a jump when the doors opened. He jumped with joy at going into the TARDIS. That’s why we’ve created this. I’m not expecting the same reaction, with grown-ups hopping, but you never know… Walking into the sitting room of 221b is like jumping into the TV.
Steven Moffat: At conventions, one of the things that people most like to do is go on the sets or see the costumes. This is a step beyond that. You actually get involved with the story. You get to do something that adults generally speaking are not allowed to do.
For people that may not have watched Sherlock – do you need prior knowledge of the TV programme before playing it? Or can anyone enjoy it?
Steven Moffat: You could walk in and play the game with no knowledge of it at all. You will enjoy it more, I think, if you do, but it’s not dependent on your knowledge.
Mark Gatiss: It’s essential to something like this that you walk through the door and it’s doable. It’s a puzzle. Luckily, Sherlock Holmes is quite a famous character! If people haven’t seen our version then they’ll still know it’s a mystery to be solved.
Tickets for Sherlock: The Game Is Now are available from www.thegameisnow.com