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Charles Cecil on Broken Sword 3 interview

Since we published the ECTS preview of Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon, the game has been subject of much debate on our forums. Specifically, many wonder what motivated lead designer Charles Cecil to make some rather controversial statements on the state of the adventure genre.

This interview appears courtesy of Tamás Beregi, game journalist for the Hungarian magazine GameStar. The interview was conducted after the York Sightsonic festival, where Revolution Software held a demonstration of The Sleeping Dragon. Focusing mainly on the future of the adventure genre and the issue of 'action vs. adventure', this article hopes to give us the answer to what we can expect Broken Sword 3 to deliver. We've included twenty screenshots of the game, most of which appear for the first time (as far as we can tell).

Could you tell me how did you get into computer game business? What were your first games?

When I left school I was sponsored by Ford to study mechanical engineering at university. I met a fellow student, Richard Turner, who was writing games for the ZX81. He invited me to write some text adventure games--which I did. Richard founded a company called Artic Computing which published the games. The games were very successful and I decided that video games was the place to be!

What drew you to making adventure games? Which characteristics of this genre do you like most?

We’ve always been fans of narrative and emotion in computer games--and the adventure genre is by far the best for us to do that. We’ve always focused hard on our plots, and none more so than with the Broken Sword games. The key to their success is, I believe, the way we weave established myths or legends--such as the Knights Templars or the Mayan Prophecies--with contemporary fiction, creating a game world which is fantastic yet plausible. Testament to the strength of our storytelling is the fact that many players who have completed the Broken Sword games have subsequently developed a fascination for the subject matter.

Which game do you consider Revolution Software's first major success?

Lure of the Temptress was our first game and, thankfully, our first success--both critically and commercially.

Does Revolution Software have some kind of philosophy for game design?

Revolution’s main goal is to further the development of emotion within games. Our titles have always told stories--and we’re keen to marry storytelling with the advances in technology to create genuinely compelling games. Games that will make you laugh. Games that will make you cry. We’re not talking interactive movies here; this is a whole new genre.

Many adventurers agree that the genre needs change. Can you explain why you think the answer lies in the 3D engine and the new challenges it brings?

The reason there was such a gap between Broken Sword 2 and work beginning on The Sleeping Dragon is because we felt we’d taken the genre as far as it could realistically go within the constraints of previous technology.

We were always keen to move to 3D--and knew that when we did, the fundamental gameplay would have to change. People have tried point and click in 3D before, and it hasn’t really worked--the graphics moved on while the games remained the same.

Gaming has moved on tremendously since the original Broken Sword--so it is important that we adapt to cater for the modern gamer. The fact is, relatively few people want to play point and click adventures any more. Which is why we’re so keen to advance the genre.

The direct control interface has allowed us to introduce a much more diverse range of puzzles, from the traditional ‘use item x on object y’ to more typical action-game challenges such as infiltrate a certain building or defeat a particular enemy. However, it is important to realise that The Sleeping Dragon will not be an action game per se. This isn’t Tomb Raider or Metal Gear Solid. It’s not Dead or Alive or Curse of Monkey Island. It’s a totally new mix of action, adventure, stealth and combat--and hopefully it will make people think about pigeonholing games in the future.

Next: examples from the game itself

Hats off for trying to bring new life into the adventure genre. However, I feel the move to 3D brings new pitfalls. I don't think George and Nico will get involved in any bloodbaths, mind you. But the 3D engine makes it tempting to introduce more superficial action-based puzzles. How are going to find balance between traditional and 3D environment-based puzzles?

When we decided to shift the game into full 3D and move to direct control, we were keen to assure our fans that the game itself would remain, at heart, a Broken Sword title. A few were naturally concerned, and we’ve done our best to allay their fears by remaining open about our ideas for The Sleeping Dragon.

Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is an adventure game in the truest sense, but it is absolutely not point-and-click. The interface features direct control of the character, with an icon map indicating the options that are available when within range of a hot spot. As before, the player embarks on a quest to solve mysteries, uncover conspiracies, and generally resolve the impending threat. The ‘detective’ element requires the manipulation and use of an inventory and the need to interact with a range of objects and items. We wanted the world to be much more dynamic and the player has the option to explore the environment in 3D rather than 2D through climbing, shimmying etc. One of the problems with adventures has been that the pace tends to stay constant, so we have included action elements, which are controlled through the standard interface, at the scene climax.

Finally, your comment about bloodbaths is correct; this is not a shoot-’em-up. Indeed, the game does not allow players to weild projectile weapons. This is an important point. People need to remember that we’ve chosen the move to 3D in order to radically alter the sense of immersion and explore a new form of adventuring. This is not an action game of any description; it’s a Broken Sword game pure and simple.

BS3 has caused for a bit of controversy on game forums. The foremost reason for the skepticism is probably how other adventure games have failed to implement 3D succesfully. King's Quest 8 and Alone in the Dark became miserable action games; Monkey Island 4, Simon the Sorcerer 3D, and even Gabriel Knight 3 couldn’t benefit from the new engine. How will BS3 be different?

You’re right, of course. But where I think those games went wrong was in the translation; their move to 3D was literally just that--essentially the same game, but with an added dimension. Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is so much more than that. We’ve maintained the same visual style, but moved to realtime 3D, sure--but we’ve radically redefined the control system and exploited this to open up more gameplay options. The puzzles will remain essentially the same--we’ve always had sections where you’ve needed to elude a guard or perform a task quickly. This move to 3D will hopefully make the game more appealing to those that have dismissed 2D adventures in the past. Then they’ll see what they have been missing.

Another subject of the debate is the BS3 trailer, which shows George running, climbing walls and jumping. Is this a clever promotional trick, or a sign of a new philosophy behind the game?

Not at all. The trailer was designed primarily to demonstrate the characters and some of the locations--not as a huge example of how the game would play. This isn’t Tomb Raider, that’s for sure. We were limited at the time in what we could show, but recognised the importance of showing something at ECTS. We had to put together a trailer which would demonstrate the game in its most exciting light.

Just to reassure the hard-core adventurers: there will be traditional puzzle solving, dialog-trees, inventory, etc. in the game?

Of course! Probably the best way to explain this is by looking at a specific example. (Warning! Spoilers for the intro scene ahead. Go to page 3 if you want to skip them.) Early in the game, the player sees the hacker, Vernon, being shot by a woman who appears to have been Nico. Now Nico has appeared at the same apartment. She checks a piece of paper that she is holding and looks at the numbers on the doors leading off the landing. She is about to knock on one of the doors when she hears three gunshots from inside the apartment. The camera cuts to show a look of horror cross her face.

Nico walks cautiously, looking around as she moves. The music creates a mood of tension and anticipation. The landing has a full-length window that overlooks the street. Nico opens the window and walks out a small balcony. She tries to grab the ledge above her but finds that it is too high. She pulls a flower box away from the edge of the ledge and can now step onto it. Jumping up she grabs the ledge. From here she can pull herself up onto the balcony above.

Nico drops onto the second balcony. Trying the door she finds that it is locked. She peers through the grimy window and can just make out an unidentifiable shape on the floor of the living room. Climbing over the railing, Nico drops over the edge, and pulls herself over the barrier. The full-length window here is slightly ajar--the catch is partly turned but the door is jammed. Nico gets out her plastic press card and slides it into the crack--ifting the latch. The door opens with a creek to reveal a dilapidated bedroom--the bed is unmade, the sheets look as though they haven't been washed for months, and dirty laundry is strewn around the room.

Nico creeps through the room and into the living room, opening the connecting door very carefully. A tight close-up camera shot shows a body lying just inside the room. A camera close-up on Nico shows her gasp in horror.

Nico searches the corpse and finds a calling card. The camera cuts to show the card as she reads it aloud. Talking to herself, Nico's confirms that this is the man that she has come here to meet.

Nico walks further into the apartment. The intensity of the music rises. A floorboard creaks stopping Nico dead in her tracks. Suddenly the impostor, Petra, leaps out and points a gun at Nico. Nico steps back in shock.

Nico lurches to the side as the gun is fired--but she has not been quite quick enough. The bullet grazes her arm. Petra takes aim for a second shot. Nico spins and kicks her hand--the gun goes off shooting a bullet into the ceiling and showering them both with plaster. Finding the gun is empty, Petra throws a punch--but is blocked by Nico who lands a hand chop on her shoulder. Petra curses, turns and dashes towards the window. She throws the window open and escapes down the fire escape, with Nico in hot pursuit…

Next: new forms of storytelling

Your statement that the point-and-click adventure is dead has already become notorious amongst adventure gamers. But is the problem really related to the interface? One could argue that adventure games have been evolving only superficially in terms of interface, graphics and sound. But the soul of adventures, the narrative, is still the same as 20 years ago. What is your opinion on this?

Games designers over the past 10 years have tended to be more concerned with what the formats can do rather than what they can do on the format. So games have tended to become superficial--designed with ‘realistic’ water effects viewed more importantly that the plot. Now that technology has almost reached a plateau, I do think we’ll start seeing the re-emergence of games with more depth and soul. However the point-and-click interface does restrict us in terms of creating contemporary gameplay and so we have decided to change--our objective being to reinvent the genre. Hopefully, Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon will lead the way.

Continuing on the subject of storytelling in relation to 3D, in the past many adventures have tried to create "real-time" environments. Lure of the Temptress pioneered this idea. There have also been puzzles based on timing, non-linear adventures (like the elastic story-line technique by the now-defunct Discreet Monsters) and even day-night cycles as in Quest for Glory. Would you agree that 3D is ideal for implementing such features? Will BS3, or a future Revolution product, try to introduce something similar?

It’s an interesting one. We will have elements of the ‘Virtual Theatre’ we pioneered in Lure of the Temptress in The Sleeping Dragon in so much as non-player characters will navigate the environments independently, but we’re not making a big deal out of this. It’s important to continue to break new ground, but it’s also important not to go too far. The elastic story-telling idea of Discreet Monsters was an interesting concept; however, it never fulfilled its potential. We think the move to 3D is radical enough for this game. We’ll certainly look to innovate further in our future titles.

Revolution games became famous because of their brilliant, cartoon-like graphics. Will BS3 continue this tradition?

Very much so. The previous games’ art was much more traditional--not just in look, but in terms of generation. That is, characters were hand drawn and animated, which allows us to see immediately how they integrated with the background and interacted with each other.

Moving to 3D is an entirely different process. The most obvious change is the amount of time it takes to render characters and make adjustments, so it has taken a great deal of time to get the look just right. But now we’re there, it has been time well spent--I think the game will look better than ever. We’re still hand animating rather than motion capturing to retain that artistic look and feel.

If Broken Sword continues to sell well, what kind of BS 6 or 9 could you imagine--let us to say--in 5 or 10 years?

Firstly we have no plans for any further Broken Sword games--this is the third part of a trilogy. But more generally I would love to see games affect people the way that some films can. Films make you laugh, they make you cry, and they make you think. Games very rarely do any of those--which is silly, considering games are interactive and films are passive. We need to concentrate on making credible titles that appeal to a much broader market; a market outside those we consider hardcore gamers. I hope that we will be leading that revolution in five or 10 years’ time.

Finally: do you think there is a possibility to regain the old glory of adventure games? Or will this genre remain some peripheral style, an “elitist” form of entertainment like opera, or classical music?

Yes, I do--but not in the way that happened previously. Currently, the emphasis is very much with ‘twitch’ gaming--action adventures with plots tacked on. As I’ve said previously, Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is very much an adventure game with action elements, not an action game with a story bolted into cutscenes. As more and more people get into gaming, I can see the industry maturing and strongly believe that narrative-based adventure games will be the only viable single-player titles around. Only time will tell…


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