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Steampunk Holmes: Concept Sketch

Daniel Cortes sent me this wonderful concept sketch of Steampunk Holmes. Daniel rightly wants him to be fairly tall, focused, handsome, and disheveled. As Daniel told me, "Holmes is so totally focused on his surroundings that he completely forgets himself. He doesn't worry about his hair being combed or condition of the clothes he wears." I love that.

Another thing that Daniel wanted to know is how punk is the world of Steampunk Holmes? Is everyone very proper and dressed only in victorian garb or do folks have rastafarian hair and nose rings? I said yes to both. Click on the concept sketch (left) to get a bigger image. Notice the intensity of Holmes gaze. Awesome!

I've also been talking with the adaptation author, Marta Tanrikulu. Marta is already trying to figure out how to shorten the exposition at the beginning of the story and add some more action. I've asked Marta (and Daniel) to read The Difference Engine and extrapolate what that world would look like 30 years later. Marta told me that she got the book in the mail today and would start reading it right away. I'm reading the book for the fourth time and starting to make some notes about how Steampunk Holmes world has advanced. For example, in the original book there were no airships yet. We are definitely going to have airships floating around in the background of our story.

UPDATE July 7th, 2011

Daniel just sent me another concept sketch of Holmes which is really cool. I think in this version he is a bit younger and punkier and, if possible, cooler.

UPDATE 7/29/2011

The writer working the project has changed. It's now Prescott Martin.


Character Portraits for Steampunk Holmes

John Singer Sargent
One of the features of the Steampunk Holmes book will be what I call reference cards. When you see a character's name in the book you need only touch it and up pops a reference card with a portrait of that character. Touch the portrait and it flips over to reveal background information - no spoilers.

I was talking to Daniel Cortes about the art work, and he had some wonderful ideas we are going to try out. For one, Daniel wants to do the portraits on the reference cards in a style similar to one of his favorite artists, John Singer Sargent. I couldn't agree more. Of course Daniel will add a little modern edge to them and he had this great idea of having the portraits animate just a little. So, for example, the portrait of Steampunk Holmes might have smoke rising from his pipe and he might blink now and then - simple but fun things like that.

Daniel is also going to help out with the design and art work for the pages themselves, menu items, borders and so on. I want the look and feel of the entire book to be consistent with his art work in style. I'm really very excited about working with him on this project - his enthusiasm for quality and beauty is well aligned with my own.


Dr. Watson's Mechanical Arm

Steampunk Arm by Morrigun
Although Dr. Watson is normally depicted as having a bad leg, in the original story of Sherlock Holmes - "A Study in Scarlet" - he had a bad arm, which was injured in a military battle in Afghanistan. For Steampunk Holmes it's a lot more fun to keep the injury in his arm so that he can have this super cool mechanical arm.

The question I have is how is it powered? I don't like the idea that it's powered by steam because maintaining a miniature boiler on your arm and feeding it coal sounds pretty impractical. Instead, I've decided to borrow from the clockwork (aka clockpunk) genera and make it powered by a wind-up spring. The spring will self wind (like a self winding watch) from normal movement but if the arm is put to intense use there is a hand crank that can be deployed to wind up the spring that powers the arm. I also like the idea that the arm has different attachments including, of course, a huge gun.


The World of Steampunk Holmes

I've always been a huge fan of William Gibson ever since I read Neuromancer the year it was released (~1984). I've read just about every book he's written. When The Difference Engine came out in 1991 I did as I always do when a new Gibson novel is released, I ran to the book store and purchased it. I was delighted by Gibson's and Sterling's alternative history novel. It was, for me, a totally new form of science fiction but I had no idea it would turn into a genera called "Steampunk" until several years later. I've been listening to the audio version narrated by Simon Vance and I've fallen in love the book all over again. I can see from the ratings that many people would disagree but I consider the book to be one of the best I've ever read.

In Gibson's & Sterling's The Difference Engine Charles Babbage's mechanical computer which he invented in 1822 is actually built and it ushers in the computer age a 130 years earlier than in the real world (in reality Babbage's invention was not built until 1991). The result is pure Steampunk, which is not surprising since this book helped define the genera.

In The Difference Engine mechanical computers, based on Charles Babbage theories, are the size buildings constructed of brass gears and metal springs. The machines are programmed using punch cards as were originally used for mechanical looms. It's really a fantastic dystopia. I can't understand why its not universally accepted as a genera defining masterpiece the same way Lord of the Rings is for fantasy or Neuromancer is for cyberpunk.

Since The Difference Engine has always colored my view of alternative histories and Steampunk I've decided to place Steampunk Holmes in the world created by Gibson and Sterling, but 30 years later. The Difference Engine takes place in 1855 while Sherlock Holmes was doing most of his work around the 1885. This really sets us up for some fun because we get to imagine what technological advances would have taken place in the 30 years between Gibson's & Sterling's alternative history and our own. Where would technology had evolved? What path would it take? Would steam have been replaced by combustion engines? Would the telephone have been invented? What about a crude sort of Internet based on the telegraph? We are going to explore these questions as we develop Steampunk Holmes and hopefully we will do William Gibson and Bruce Sterling proud with our own adaptation.


Steampunk Holmes' Artist: Daniel Cortes

Art by Daniel Cortes for Warsquared
I'm very excited to announce that Daniel Cortes has signed on to create the art work for Steampunk Holmes. Daniel was a late entry but his portfolio of art and motion graphics along with his enthusiasm for the project won him the work.

Daniel is a character designer for the gaming industry and is currently working on a steampunk strategy game called WarSqaured; you can check it out here.

To get a flavor of just how cool Steampunk Holmes is going to be, check out the art and motion graphics demo that Daniel did for the WarSquared promo video. You can expect to see this kind of quality art and motion graphics in Steampunk Holmes

War Squared Trailer from Daniel Cortes on Vimeo.


Choosing an Author for Steampunk Holmes

Datamancer Keyboard
I spent the last few days re-reading many Sherlock Holmes stories and I have to say that while the characters are really cool, the short stories about Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle really don't work all that well for the Steampunk genera. Sherlock spends a lot of time in his flat interviewing clients. Most short stories unwind as narratives about the client and their problem with very little action by Holmes himself. Usually Holmes listens to the client tell there story and then he pretty much solves the mystery with hardly any action other than a site visit. Steampunk Holmes will need to be much more active employing devices of his own design and traveling the streets of an alternative, steampunk London. After all, this is speculative fiction so we need to see some cool locations, characters, and devices.

For this reason I've asked the authors who have posted an interest in working on this project a request to submit to me an original story idea for Steampunk Holmes as well as examples of their writing. I've already received three very different story ideas all of which are excellent. I'll choose the author with the best writing (or most appropriate writing style) and the best idea. It's really cool to see the ideas that come out of speculative fiction authors - they are so creative!


Artists for Steampunk Holmes: The Finalists Are ....

SCAPS Agent Game Guide by Firstbase
As I mentioned in a prior post I put a job posting up on Elance for artists and writers to work on the Steampunk Holmes project. I've had over a dozen responses to the Art post and have narrowed that down to four artists. I've asked the artists to submit a sketch of how they envision Steampunk Holmes looking - I hope to have those in my hands for review within a few days.

In the meantime I thought I would discuss each artist and why I like their style;

Daniel Kopalek
I really like Daniel's comic book illustration style, inking and coloring. I hadn't thought of doing a comic style but after looking at his work and another I've decided that it must be considered. I've always thought the current state-of-the-art in iPad comics fails to leverage the full potential of the medium. With work like Daniel Kopalek's I can take my own shot at how to integrate comic art with short-story format.

Manuela Soriani
Manuela is another comic book illustrator whose art I really like. It's different from Daniel's but like Daniel she is able to convey emotion, create complex environments, and works well in drawing, inking, and coloring.

Robert Schoolcraft
Another comic book artist who also sent me some line drawing showing victorian scenes which I really liked. I also like his the way he illustrates women as I've been thinking of making Steampunk Holmes a woman - a beautiful strong woman would be different and possibly wonderful.

These guys have a totally different approach: 3D. They already have lots of experience in doing Steampunkish 3D work in their own game multi-player game, SCAPS Agent. The problem with 3D is that it's really expensive and I don't know if I can afford it. However, they also do page layout and they sent me a sample of their work, the game guide to SCAPS Agent, and the layout was really cool (Click on image in upper left of this blog). So while they may be too expensive for basic illustrations they may be perfect in helping with page design and layout.

I want to choose the right artist but I also need to figure out how much art I need and compare not only talent but also - sadly - the price. My next step is to narrow down an author.


Great Candidates for Art and Writing

Two of my favorite resources are Elance and Voice123. I use Elance to find software developers, artists, and writers. I use Voice123 to find voice actors. I've used both extensively in the past 18 months and I just can't say enough good things about them.

When I decided to move forward with Steampunk Holmes project, I created a new account on Elance and posted job opportunities for both writing and art work. I've had 10 responses to each post from a number of very talented folks. Now its a matter of testing them out and selecting the best fit for each role.

One of the things I have to figure out is what Sherlock Holmes story I'm working with I have two thoughts on this: I could do an adaptation of "Adventure of the Speckled Band" or create an entirely new adventure from whole cloth loosely based on Sherlock Holmes.

The former - adopting an existing story and giving a Steampunk flavor - is the easiest to accomplish. The problem is that Sherlock Holmes is not very active in his stories. He figures out most of the mysteries through interviews in his flat on Baker street. These stories are fun reads but the opportunity for interactiveness and art is pretty limited. You can only show Holmes sitting in his parlor and pontificating so many times before it gets really dull. The second option, to create a new story, offers the advantage of being able to give the stories more action and to customize them specifically for an interactive experience, but it will be much, much more work.

I don't know which way I'm going to go yet, but I have to figure it out fairly soon because the writers who applied for this project want to know how many words the final story should be and if its a new story or an adaption. The artists need to know how many pieces of art will be required. I can't answer the writers's question until I choose between adaptation and new creation. I can't answer the artists questions until I have a story to work with.


First Thoughts on Steampunk Holmes

Steampunk Holmes

An idea that's been brewing in my head since I saw Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr., is a steampunk adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Sherlock Holmes, of all the public domain works, has always appealed to me most for an app/book adaption. There are many stories and lots of opportunities for fun interactions. In addition, Sherlock Holmes remains one of the biggest selling book series in history.

I've been in love with the idea of steampunk since I first read The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling about 10 years ago. The Difference Engine was about an alternate reality in the Victorian age. The idea is that Babbage's Difference|Analytical Engine was actually built and ushered in the computer age about 100 years earlier than in reality.

It's a fascinating story and I think to a large extent this book defined the entire Steampunk genera. Since then steampunk has taken on a life of its own with people doing jewelry, art work, and costumes based on the fusion of Victorian fashions and advanced steam and clockwork technologies. There are many sub-generas. Anyway, you can read more about at the Wikipedia article on the subject.
Dr. Watson

Combining Sherlock Holmes with Steampunk aesthetic would be really awesome in my opinion. I would have one of the stories adapted to a Steampunk era with lots of cool gadgets and a CSI kind of approach. It would be so fun to create and it could be a hit, or a total flop, but either way I don't have to wait for copyright permissions to move forward with it. After spending months chasing Lord of the Rings and then Dune actually working on something would be welcome.

Here is my plan as its has formed thus far in my head: I will hire a illustrator/artist to create the characters, devices, and environments which will be part of the book. I'll also hire an author to adapt one of the Sherlock Holmes stories to the Steampunk genera. I'll try to convince my favorite Art Director, Pam Mariutto, to work with me on the design of the book and I will do all the coding myself.

Irene Adler
To fund the project I will go to, which is a social funding site that has helped lots of artists (yes, I think of this as art) by providing them with funds with few strings attached (except for cool gifts for nice donations). This project seems like a natural for - I feel confident that people will see the value of the project and want to help out. I'll use the funds to pay the artist and writer. I'll do the coding and design without charge and share the revenue with Pam Mariutto if she decides to work on the project.

There are dozens of Sherlock Holmes stories to choose from but one of my favorites, only because its the one in which Watson and Holmes meet, is "A Study in Scarlet". Although Watson has a bum leg from being shot in a war in all the other stories, in "A Study in Scarlet" - the first Sherlock Holmes story - he has a wounded arm. I think the need for a mechanical arm is far more interesting then a mechanical leg so I'm going to keep it that way.

As far as the flavor of Steampunk - I'm shooting for something very close to the premise on which The Difference Engine was written but with women who are more liberated (so they can carry fire arms and fight like Buffy). I've even thought of making Holmes or Watson a Woman with a kind of love interest. Of course all of this is an abomination to hardcore Sherlock Holmes fans but I don't see them as being my audience. I'm more interested in adults and young adults who would enjoy this kind of adaptation.
Professor Moriarty

What is really nice about the Sherlock Holmes-Steampunk adaptation is that the stories are shorter than full novels - many of them - and there are many stories. If the first Steampunk Holmes app/book is a success I'll have plenty more material to follow up with. I really love this idea and it brings me back to my roots nearly a year ago when the first app/book I started designing was a straight Sherlock Homes story (i.e. Sherlock Holmes HD).

I'm so stoked about this idea that I've already placed adds on Elance looking for an artist and writer. I'm also sending out an email plea to Pam Mariutto to join me on what I thin will be a really fun and rewarding project.

As soon as I find an artist and get some imagery to work with I'll post the project on and hopefully raise the capital needed to develop Steampunk Holmes . Btw - I now own the domain and I may even apply for the trademark.

Note: The photos above are just examples how characters might look - I took them from the web.