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April, 2011
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Q&A with Charles Cecil of Revolution Software and...

... a small surprise for all you Broken Sword fans.

As you remember, we asked you to post your questions to Charles Cecil from Revolution Software, the creator of such great classics like Beneath a Steel Sky, Lure of the Temptress and the Broken Sword series! We've finally picked 6 user questions and added 4 more from our team and passed them to Charles. He was very kind and answered those very quickly and now we're posting the Q&A session below.
We'll contact the 6 users whose questions got answered by Charles, about the games they want to get.

But that's not all. We're also adding a comic book to Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror and a higher resolution comic book to Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars. You can download those bonuses for free if you own the games.

1. You've been a part of the gaming industry for almost three decades so you have a good perception of it. What do you feel were the biggest milestones for the industry?

Throughout this period, everything has been driven directly or indirectly by technology - so it probably best to define milestones in terms of major technical advances. We started with the ZX81 with 1K of memory, or 16K with a RAM pack, and European programmers learned to push its capability to the absolute limit. Games like 3D Monster Maze or Artic's 1K chess (it really did play a pretty good game of chess in 1K - my iPhone has 32 Million times more memory) represent extraordinary achievements.

The next milestone was colour bit mapped graphics - we moved to ZX Spectrum, then Amstrad CPC, and then onto Atari ST and Amiga. Interestingly, many of the game of this era use gameplay mechanics which suit the casual platforms ideally: it is as if we have gone full circle. Then came CD with, as it seemed at the time, unlimited storage. This lead to the emergence of the dreadful 'Interactive Movie' - where publisher bosses decided to cede control of the game vision to movie makers. Thankfully that era was short-lived, as we reached the next milestone: the launch of PlayStation and the move into the 3D era. Mario 64 and Tomb Raider were trailblazing games. But the success of PlayStation alienated the traditional gamers as publishers came to only commission fully 3D, visceral games to feed this rapidly growing market.

The next big change came with ubiquitous broadband which allows MMOs to be widely played, as well as social games. Furthermore, it disrupted the distribution chain: through iTunes, GOG, Steam and other portals, developers can market and sell directly to their audience - and the repercussions of this last major change continue to reverberate through the industry.

2. How it feel to be named an 'industry legend'? Did it change anything?

I was, of course, thrilled. It meant a lot. Although people are now quite sure how to introduce me - generally one gets called a legend once you retire.

3. Which of the classics you have made are you the most proud of?

Sorry - a cheesy response, but I am proud of most of them. With my first adventure, Inca Curse, I was unknowingly one of the pioneers of this exciting new art form. We couldn't have imagined for one moment how the industry would evolve - technically, creatively and commercially. Had I done so, I would have done more to ensure that the game was spelled well, and I now wish that I had put more time into anticipating and responding to what players wanted to do.

Lure of the Temptress introduce Virtual Theatre, which showed so much potential - not that it was fully realised. Beneath a Steel Sky was gritty in an era in which the po faced games like the Kings Quest series had been replaced by the slapstick of Monkey Island. With BASS we were one of, if not the first developer to include full voice recording in an adventure. And, of course, Broken Sword. Creatively we always aimed to push the envelope - and more recently we have done so commercially with the opportunity to self-publish.

4. The Virtual Theatre engine was one of three main engines for adventure games back in the days (including LucasArts' SCUMM and Sierra's Creative Interpreter). How did you come up with the concept for the engine and how did you work on it?

Sierra dominated the adventure scene in the late '80s and I felt that they were losing their way - Kings Quest was taking itself too seriously, and there seemed to be a gap for a more light hearted approach. I am told that Ron Gilbert gives the same reason for writing his early SCUMM adventures. I loved the idea that characters would wander around the world, communicating with each other and exchanging information that would then affect what they then said to each other.

While the ambition was high, we had a virtually non-existent budget. I relied on Tony Warriner, a programmer with whom I had worked previously and his colleage David Sykes. They did a brilliant job in very difficult circumstances to create a demo which we decided to present to Mirrorsoft, the biggest publisher of the day. Idiotically we left the company's one and only PC in the car overnight and someone broke in. They stole the radio but left the PC, which wasn't insured. Had they taken the PC, Revolution would never have come to be - we certainly couldn't have afforded to buy a new one. So we got to present the game to Mirrorsoft, who commissioned the game, and Revolution was born.

5. Do you think there is a future for the Broken Sword series, in terms of more new games coming out? - question by ellarunciter

With DS and Wii, Nintendo did an extraordinary job at drawing a casual audience into gaming, which has been further built by Apple with their devices. And the traditional casual audience are moving on from hidden object games and want something more interesting. So the answer is absolutely yes, more so than ever before - but I'm afraid that it is not something that I can be more specific about just now.

6. What were your inspirations for plot and style of Broken Sword series? - question by Reinmar

We had signed both Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky to Mirrorsoft - but with the death of its owner, Robert Maxwell, the company then crashed. Sean Brennan, deputy Managing Director, moved to Virgin Interactive and we decided to move the games there too. They were both commercial and creative successes and Sean felt that we should up the ante. He and I, and Revolution's Commercial Director Noirin Carmody, were having dinner together in the Kings Road. Sean mention that he had read Umberto Eco's Fucault's Pendulum - at that point I didn't know too much about the Knights Templar. I started researching, and was blown away by the history - remember this was 10 years before Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code, so it can be said that we were forging the Templar zeitgeist in this regard which he then followed. However we didn't want to abandon our roots in relation to the humour - so we launched into the design of a game that had a serious backdrop, but was driven by humerous exchanges. And so George Stobbart and Nico Collard were born...

7. There have been made several attempts to take the old 2D point-and-click formula and apply it to 3D-games, with varying degrees of success. Among the first was your own Broken Sword 3, among the latest Heavy Rain - two games that, while they share their roots in the 2D point-and-click genre, have very different approaches to how this should be done in 3D. I also believe that I read an interview with you a few years ago where you said that if you were to make another Broken Sword game, it would return to a 2D interface (I can't find the interview now, so please forgive me if I am mistaken).

Do you think that there is a definite way to make a 3D point-and-click adventure? Or do you perhaps think that the genre is best suited for a 2D interface? - question by Zchinque

The classical adventure genre dictates that gameplay is primarily cerebral rather than requiring manual dexterity. From the mid '90s to mid 2000s, the publishers became ultra cautious and commissioned games that they thought that the retailers would think would appeal to their audience - 3D and more visceral gameplay were considered necessary. And since retailers had limited slots, the competition to ship a game into one of those slots was intense. This required us to change our approach in order to get a game commissioned. Digital distribution has changed everything in this regard.

I believe that we should design to the mantra of the genre. This doesn't preclude a 3D game, but, in my opinion, there are key rules: the player should only be put under time pressure under exceptional circumstances, and the gameplay should be cerebral rather than requiring manual dexterity. Within these parameters the structure can change - Professor Layton shows that an adventure can be made up of minigames. I admire Heavy Rain enormously - but it does require the player to have manual dexterity and understand the grammar of the joypad, so it will be interesting to see whether any sequels are embraced by a wider market.

8. A few years ago there were rumours about a Broken Sword movie. Was this a hoax or not? If not, could you shed some light on how far this idea has progressed? - question by tolknaz

It wasn't a hoax - indeed Radar Pictures (The last Samurai, Chronicles of Riddick) have announced that the game is in pre-production. I have been working with film writers on a new story, but I am being cautious - most films based on video game licenses turn out to be dreaful - I would only want to move ahead with a movie if I could be confident that the property would translate well.

9. What do you think about fan made episode Broken Sword 2.5? Should there be more fan made games/mods/expansions that reveals something what developers have not thought about between sequel and prequel or guides the original story to a new direction? - a question by Sotamarsu

I was delighted to offer my blessing to MindFactory and we were very flattered that they should work so hard to create a tribute game. I would question their authenticity of their research though - our local York football team is not nearly as good as they suggest. In this regard, our approach is quite different to that of other brand holders - particularly American publishers.

10. Do you think you could justify releasing a linear adventure game now as a mainstream release, or are adventure games more of an Indie phenomenon? - question by Kegluneq

The market is splitting into two very different product type: big budget releases, and Indy releases. The big budget games cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to create and sell at full price - $40-$50. Indy games cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop and sell at a lower price - from free to $10. Adventure games fall into the Indy category - which is a challenge because, as a genre, they are expensive to write. However, as the casual audience grows, so too does the opportunity for adventures to thrive.

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