Best known for his work on the Broken Sword series, Steve Ince is a man of many talents who has worked on several other titles since leaving Revolution in 2004, from the So Blonde adventure series (including Captain Morgane and the Golden Turtle, now eligible for voting on Steam Greenlight) to the casual Special Enquiry Detail games to the hit RPG The Witcher. He's also authored a book on writing for games, designed his own web comics and games, and most recently lent a hand to the current Broken Sword 5. Somewhere in between, we caught up with Steve to ask about his various projects past and present, along with his plans for the future.
Ingmar Böke: Hi Steve, thanks a lot for taking some time for us. I'm sure most of our readers know who you are, but in case anyone has been living under a rock for the past decade, please introduce yourself.
Steve Ince: I’m Steve Ince, a freelance writer and game designer. I’ve worked in the games industry for 19 years, most of which has been spent on adventures in one form or another. As well as working as a writer and designer, I’ve also worked on art and animation and was Producer for part of my time at Revolution Software. Among the titles I’ve worked on are Beneath a Steel Sky, Broken Sword, In Cold Blood, So Blonde and Captain Morgane.
Ingmar: Let's look back at those earliest days. How did you get involved with Revolution back in the day, and what had you done before that?
Steve: I was doing a fill-in job on a comic strip for my local paper and looking for a career that involved something more creative. Someone I knew told me that Revolution was looking for an artist and I got an interview. After a second meeting, this time with Dave Gibbons, I was given the job. Before then I’d worked in bingo hall management and had a job in a metal refinery, both of which were pretty mind-numbing at times, so being given a chance by Revolution was fantastic.
Ingmar: Your first game at Revolution proved to be an enduring sci-fi classic, Beneath a Steel Sky. What memories come to mind about that game, and what was your actual role in developing it?
Steve: One of the funniest things, looking back, was how primitive the computers were back then compared to what we use these days. When I joined Revolution I was given an old 286 computer when everyone else was on a 386. I was also the sixth person on the team at that time and as the network was only a five-person network I had to hand my completed work on a floppy disk to one of the other guys to put on the network. I did some background touch-up work, conversion to 32-colour for the Amiga, some sprite animations and a few of the background paintings.
Ingmar: After that you worked on what many consider to be one of the best adventure games of all time: Broken Sword. Please tell us about your time spent on that game.
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
Steve: I actually started working on some location sketches when I first worked at Revolution and did this alongside my work on BASS. This was when we were looking at Broken Sword being produced at the same resolution – 320x240 pixels. As the game progressed and it became clear that the whole project was becoming much larger than originally anticipated, I was moved into a Producer role to help manage the development process.
I loved working on Broken Sword because it not only brought me into contact with a lot of talented people – internally and externally – but also enabled me to learn so much about adventure game development.
Ingmar: After the success of that game, it didn't take long before we saw the sequel.
Steve: Although it came out a year after BS1, the design of The Smoking Mirror was begun while we were still in the latter stages of BS1. And because we were using the same basic engine for the sequel, we were up and running with development almost as soon as the first one was completed. Again, I was Producer.
Ingmar: When Broken Sword 3 was released, not only did the game take some major steps in a new direction, your own position changed quite considerably.
Steve: The best thing about this game was being so involved in the writing and design, which was a natural extension of the work I’d done on In Cold Blood and El Dorado. Being able to work alongside Charles on the design and Neil Richards on the story and dialogue was a huge boost to my personal development. The use of the Voynich Manuscript as a kind of trigger to the story came about simply because I was researching ways that we might have a tentative link to the first game. The nature of online searches and following links meant that I suddenly found this mysterious document that still has people baffled today. This was exactly the kind of thing that we needed for a Broken Sword game.
Ingmar: Personally, I think Broken Sword 3 was a brilliant game, especially in terms of storytelling, but a lot of reviewers and fans criticised the new direction the series took. When you look back at the game, do you feel like people were being unfair to you, Charles and the others? How do you feel about the direction you took a couple of years later?
Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon
Steve: Thank you. I sometimes think that certain players could have been a little more open-minded about the approach we took, but I can’t really criticise people for having their own tastes and making their own choices. Moving to 3D was something we had to do at the time because no publisher was entertaining the idea of publishing a 2D game. The GBA version of BS1 showed us that direct control would work well, and so we approached the project with the idea that we could take the heart of Broken Sword and make some tweaks and additions to keep the franchise fresh. I’m proud of being a part of the team that made the game. Not only do I feel that we made a good 3D adventure, it won an award or two and gained other award nominations, so we can’t complain at that.
Ingmar: We were all thrilled when Charles Cecil showed us the Kickstarter video for Broken Sword 5 at gamescom. What can you tell us about the story of the new game?
Steve: I’m always wary of talking about story in too much detail in case it spoils things for potential players. Although it doesn’t involve Templars, it really has gone back to the flavour of BS1. The story is full of intrigue, historical reference and danger for our heroes. As you will have seen from the Kickstarter video, the visuals have been brought up to date without losing anything of the original magic.
Ingmar: What was your role on The Serpent's Curse? Even though you were involved early on, you left the production after a while.
Steve: I was involved right at the beginning and even came up with the original premise for the story. Although, as is the nature of these things, little of the original premise has remained without a lot of change, development and improvement through various story discussions and meetings over many months. I also created most of the high level design – working with Charles, of course – before handing it onto the design/implementation team to develop the puzzle details. Later I went back to the project to do a few days of work on the colouring. Charles asked me if I had some spare time to do the work and it fit with a gap in my schedule, which made for a pleasant change.
Ingmar: What happens when Steve Ince and Charles Cecil are in the same room to discuss creative ideas? Give us an idea of how the two of you work together in that creative “battle”.
Broken Sword: The Serpent's Curse
Steve: I would never describe working with Charles as a battle. I always find it to be very invigorating because we fire off each other’s ideas and sometimes we have to rein ourselves in so we don’t go too crazy. We always start with a very high level story of maybe a couple of paragraphs or a page and brainstorm notes and ideas based on that – the themes we’d like to cover, the type of investigation it should be, cool ideas for locations, etc. It’s a very iterative process that involves working up more and more detail at each stage.
Ingmar: Broken Sword is still one of the biggest adventure game IPs. Did you expect such an overwhelming result on Kickstarter (nearly double the target goal) or were you surprised that the franchise still has so many loyal fans?
Steve: It’s always gratifying to know that there are loyal fans who care about something so much they are willing to spend their hard-earned cash to support a new project in the series. I was pretty sure it would reach its target but was surprised by the final total.
Ingmar: Not to be overlooked, tell us a little about the other Revolution projects you were involved in throughout the years.
Steve: In Cold Blood was the first Revolution game on which I did any writing and design and it was truly liberating to do so. In many respects I think it’s an underrated game, but I can also see why some players became frustrated with it. Everyone did a great job – programmers, artists, animators, implementers, etc. I still think it’s one of the best looking games made for the first PlayStation.
We did Gold and Glory: The Road to El Dorado almost at the same time as ICB, which spread me very thin as I did a large part of the writing and design on this game. Although it might be seen as one of the weakest Revolution games, for the age group we were aiming for and the budget and schedule we were given I think that we created a fun adventure that complemented the film.Continued on the next page...