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Evan Dickens speaks with Tony Warriner, one of the three founders of Revolution Software, and designer and scripter behind Revolution's impressive line of story-based adventure games, including Beneath A Steel Sky, the Broken Sword games, and the upcoming In Cold Blood...
First of all, what made you decide to get involved in the computer gaming business?
I personally got involved long before i left school. We saw our first home computers when we were about 13 years old. And they were the coolest things ever! So we played about and dreamt of writing games professionaly. I started writing a real commercial quality game when i should have been revising my exams. In the end, i failed them all, but got the game published and got a job!
And what was that game?
It was called Obsidian for the Amstrad CPC 464 (a European home computer). I played it recently on emulator again which was a superb experience and really proved the value of the emulator scene. I plan to make a proper home page for the game, charting its history and why it was written...
How did Revolution Software get started?
Revolution got started some 4 years later when I was working with a guy called Dave Sykes in auronautical systems—after doing various things in games. We all got together in this deserted corner of North Wales and talked about the idea of writing adventure games. Charles was by that point development manager of Activision Uk and knew the market pretty well. We looked at some Sierra games - they were big at the time - and thought we could do something more sophisticated. This was late 1989 - by March 1990 David and I got started on Lure of the Temptress.
Is there one specific adventure game that you can remember playing and saying, "wow, I really love these games"?
What I really loved was the much earlier games from people like Level 9 who were big in Europe. Worm in Paradise, Emerald Isle, Colossal Cave and so on. At the time they were getting into the new point & click scene, and had written an engine which we saw at a show. But they never really made the transistion to graphic adventures.
Were you into the early mainstream graphic adventures like King's Quest, Space Quest, etc.?
No, not at all. We got one of the Leisure Suit Larry games and thought it was pretty funny. Then we saw a King's Quest game and didn't think much of it at all. Too airy fairly for our liking
What do you mean by "airy"?
Um, english word Er, i mean too childish and cliched. All that King Graham stuff. Yuk.
What is your all-time favorite adventure game?
I'd say pure adventure, Return to Eden by Level 9, rpg/adventure, Ultima 7 which I think is an amazing creation.
Revolution has produced some well-loved adventure games, but which of your games are you the most proud of, and why?
Lure [of the Temptress] because we did it first, and very cheaply, and it was hard, but we did it! [Beneath a] Steel Sky is probably my favourite—it had a certain charm that some of its fans have noticed—its got a kind of minority cult status these days and I'm a part of that.
I'm certainly among those Beneath A Steel Sky cult fans, and one question I'm sure they all share is, was a sequel for the game ever considered?
Yes it was. Dave Gibbons, the comic book artist that worked on the first game, did some conceptual artwork but I think our publishers at the time were more interested in doing something more mainstream. There was this feeling with Broken Sword that it could break new ground and sell to a wider audience and so that was what we went with.
Tell us about a typical day at work.
Very busy indeed! I'm like the main engine logic and script system guy. So I basically support all our implementors who are putting in the screens for In Cold Blood. I'm also writing new functionality for the engine too, as well as dealing with design issues. From time to time there are major conflicts to sort out too
Regarding those major conflicts, is there one particular "war story" that you'll never forget?
To be honest, I've never seen a really bad programming conflict, though one does see the occasional 'mexican standoff' with artists Programmers can usually agree after sitting down with a beer or two, but sometimes you see a situation where art simply has to 'give' in order to be implemented in a game. If the programming team can't properly explain why then you can get into an unfortunate incident. 'Planning is your friend' as we say at Revolution.
Could you tell us what happened regarding your problems with Virgin distribution after Broken Sword was published?
The situation was pretty bizare to say the least. We were having a rather difficult time dealing with our ex publishers who were in the process of being sold off by Viacom. Since then, to be honest, our escape has turned out to have been a very good thing as we are now working with partners who are very well organised and who are 100% sure about what they want and who trust Revolution to deliver excellent games. We are now doing really cool things as opposed to always being held back. Previously we were treated almost as if we were in competition with our own publishing company. The contrast is remarkable.
How did you end up signing with Sony?
The PSX versions of Broken Sword 1 and 2 both were published directly by SCEE. They did a really great job and so it seemed natural to work together more closely in the future. They are seriously switched on people so we are all very happy to be with them now.
What caused the decision to make In Cold Blood more of an action-oriented game?
There were various reasons. The first and most obvious was that quite simply we could not continue making traditional 2d point-and-click games because all the evidence pointed to a market in serious decline. We simply would not have got the funding for another Broken Sword style game. At least, not with the production values that Sword players would be expecting. But on top of all this, after our escape from VIE we found ourselves able to ask; 'What do we really want to do?'. We went right back to Lure of the Temptress, our first game, and realised that now we were in a position to take that game— and the Virtual Theatre concept—and move it to the next logical stage. What we are excited by is plot driven games—not 2d games or point-and-click games. Those things are coincidental. Its the story aspect that motivates us and there are better ways—and new ways—to present that we feel. Many player I know are unhappy about what is happening to the genre but if the actual market is dying there's little we can do except try and innovate to revive it. Can I also say that so far as In Cold Blood is concerned people shouldn't jump to conclusions about what this game is going to feel like or look like because, believe me, its not like anything else out there!
Were the Broken Sword games commercially successful?
Yes, but only in Europe and only because they did very well indeed on the Playstation. I think it would be more or less impossible to grow that market either in the US or Europe or establish a new game using 2d point-and-click. Developers have to sell some games into the US market and this is where adventure sales are more or less non existent. It's got to the stage where US retailers wont take these games in the first place.
What do you think it will take for the adventure game genre to survive?
It depends what you mean by 'adventure game'. If you mean 'plot and story driven game' then all it needs is some innovation here and there and, we believe, a vast and exciting market can open up. Adventure game developers would rush into this void and be successful and players would see lots of neat high budget games coming their way. Adventures haven't been developed properly. They have stayed the same and the market has simply drained away. The failure of the genre can be seen as the failure of Sierra who once dominated a huge market place. They stuck with a particular formula for too long then panicked and did some really dumb things then nearly died with it as a result.
Do you think that the adventure genre will rise to popularity again, as RPGs and strategy games have recently?
Yes absolutely. But it wont be 2d point-n-click, it will be something new. We believe there is lots and lots of scope for putting feeling and emotion into computer games. Future developments will see far more accurate portrayal of the actors in the games. They will be far more real and the player will feel closer to them than ever before. There will be a combining of elements from all sorts of different sources. From cinema we will learn to use proper camera control to cut to people's facial expressions at key points. From literature we will learn more about story structure and plot development. When you start thinking of these things with the excitement of adventure games in firmly mind you suddenly get a wave of understanding and you see, for example, how 2d PnC was really the enemy of the genre because it held so much innovation back. Very few people see this yet with the notable example of Sony who, with their PSX2 console, are aiming in this direction. We're obviously very pleased to be working with them in this regard. With a backlash against ultra violent games begining to happen on the one hand and innovators like Sony on the other we at Revolution see great potential for a new wave of story based games.