There was a whole lot more to AdventureX 2013 than the diverse range of talks covered in the first part of our round-up. There were over a dozen developers there to show off their games-in-progress as well, many of which we got to play ourselves. Here's what we discovered.
Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse – Charles Cecil
Charles Cecil was more than happy to share a few tales and anecdotes of how he ended up in the industry, starting with the text game Adventure B. He says he enjoyed meeting the players of his game whenever he was selling them, as publishers and distributors were not part of the chain back then. At the time, developers went to game shows and expos and sold their games directly to their customers.
Later, with Revolution Software, Charles worked on Lure of the Temptress. He submitted a list of titles to the publisher, and at the bottom, as a joke, he put "Lure of the Temptress". When the publisher got back saying they liked that name best, he answered that there were two problems with the name: there was neither a “Lure” in the game nor a “Temptress”, so the publisher asked him if he could rewrite the game to include both. Charles then worked on Beneath a Steel Sky and the first two Broken Sword games, which sold very well (a million copies) and of course garnered tremendous critical acclaim.
The years from 1996 to 2006 are what Charles likes to call "The PlayStation Age", when large publishers commissioned games. They had to be made in about a year and a half and they had to be 3D in order to sell. Broken Sword 3 and 4 were made during these years. Toward the end of this period, Revolution was losing money and publishers did not want to invest in such a niche genre. They tried to reinvent the genre, but to no avail.
Charles Cecil at AdventureX (video by Michael Stein, Adventure-Treff)
Then in 2007, a huge change came with the release of the iPhone. The platform allowed for direct sales without going through retail channels, which meant the developers got 70% revenue instead of maybe 7%. It also meant they could be in direct contact with buyers again. In 2010, Revolution released Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – Director's Cut, adding a new story segment with two hours of extra gameplay, close-up facial expressions drawn by Dave Gibbons, and a help system.
Having released the first part of Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse just before AdventureX, Charles also touched on his successful Kickstarter campaign and the vision behind it. In the pitch video, he had to convey what the game was all about in a very short time, so they made sure they communicated the humour, the quality, the relationship between George and Nico, and the fact that this was a return to 2D. The project was timed to neatly coincide with gamescom, the large games convention in Germany, so that Charles could show the pitch video to journalists, and a week later when the crowdfunding campaign went live there was an abundance of press coverage.
The design team kept a close eye on Kickstarter comments and when some remarks were made about the shape of George's chin, they decided to change it. There was more valuable feedback like that, and when the campaign ended the company had received $770,000 instead of the $400,000 they had asked for, which meant a couple of stretch goals had also been achieved.
Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse
A couple of weeks ago, Revolution had to make a tough decision, as it became apparent they couldn't finish the game before Christmas as promised, so they had to either delay the game or split it into two parts and release just the first. They chose the latter option, and on December 4th 15,000 backers plus the many other adventure fans eager to buy it were waiting anxiously for the game to become available on Steam. Revolution had been working on the final fixes all day, and the game had to be on the network by 6pm. To celebrate, they had planned a live video stream starting at 6:30. When the upload finished a couple of minutes before six o clock, it became apparent that the installer had somehow become broken... Fortunately, they were able to fix it relatively quickly and around 7:00 they could finally start the live stream. In the long run, quality is all that matters, according to Charles, and also what people will remember you for.
Charles and his team are very satisfied with the feedback about the game so far, both the critics’ reviews and the messages they’ve receive through social media. The second part of the game will be out at the end of January, and Charles claims that the pace will be a bit quicker and provide another five or so hours of gameplay.
J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars – Jan Kavan
Jan Kavan's demo of J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars kicked off the event. The new title (which was chosen by its Indiegogo backers on the game's forums) reflects the new direction the developers are taking. It is no longer a straight "enhanced edition" but boasts 60% more content, full HD graphics, a new soundtrack that is procedurally generated and many other new features. Jan had several new backgrounds and animations to show, including a slick demonstration of how MOBOT – the giant robot that lands on distant planets and sends information to astrobiologist Rachel Manners and J.U.L.I.A., the ship’s A.I., back on board the spaceship – can detach part of itself to enter small spaces like the corridors and sleeping quarters of research stations. Even though the backgrounds themselves are still mostly static in nature, a lot of small animations make the scenes more lively. Also new is the high number of interactive hotspots, some of which are entirely optional, providing extra tidbits of information for thorough players.
Jan Kavan displays J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars
One of the key features of the game is the interaction with datapads and similar items to figure out the backstory. Different crew members have different views of events, and although none of their stories may be entirely accurate, you can piece together what really happened by combining several incorrect or incomplete accounts, assumptions and allegations. An in-game journal keeps track of the tasks you have completed and what you are currently working on, so if you come back to the game after not playing for a while you can easily get back on track. It also stores important information such as key codes and passwords so you don't have to write them down on a piece of paper – unless you really want to; you can play a “hardcore” mode in which the journal does not store these for you.
In a separate session later in the day, Jan delved deeper into the music of J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars. An accomplished musician and composer himself, he claimed that music in video games is very important for setting the mood and providing an emotional guide, but it can also annoy when it repeats too much or is boring, especially when you are stuck in a game and have to listen to the same bit of music over and over again. When the music stops, there still are background sounds to consider, as together they combine to form the aural backdrop for a story.
A better look at one of J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars' graphically enhanced environments
Jan wanted to create something special for J.U.L.I.A., a procedurally generated soundtrack that responds to the player’s actions. For instance, if you walk down a corridor towards something that scares you, the music should adapt. By starting with a full audio track and breaking it down into individual layers, a composer can use a basic melody and add or remove layers based on what players do in the game. Jan also explained the use of “sound objects”. These are very short tracks lasting just a few seconds each. There can be hundreds of these sound objects as they don't take up much file space, and the developer can create dynamic rules for their implementation so that the music keeps subtly changing and the soundtrack is never too repetitive. Transitions can be made seamlessly by adding and subtracting various layers and changing the percentage of sound objects used. The examples Jan gave made it sound like we have something to look forward to in J.U.L.I.A. when the updated version is ready around the end of the first quarter of 2014.