25 Years with Charles Cecil - Part 1 (1990-1996) interview

Charles Cecil - 25th Anniversary interview Part 1
Charles Cecil - 25th Anniversary interview Part 1

Can you believe how time flies? Has it really been a quarter century since Charles Cecil, Noirin Carmody, Tony Warriner and David Sykes joined forces to found Revolution Software? Well, if you can’t imagine it’s been that long, look no further than the recently released Revolution 25th Anniversary Collection as proof. Containing ten of their finest games, this box set celebrates the enduring work of this legendary adventure development studio. It also gives us the perfect occasion to illuminate the history of Revolution in an in-depth interview with Mr. Charles Cecil himself.  Charming as ever, Charles takes us down memory lane, sharing three decades’ worth of anecdotes – both the highs and the lows – from a long and distinguished career. In fact, there was so much to say that we've split the interview into two parts. Read on to learn of the earliest years of Revolution, including how the company almost never came to be.

Ingmar Böke: Charles, welcome back to Adventure Gamers. It’s really a pleasure to welcome you back after, I think it was, one and a half years since the last interview?

Charles Cecil: Yeah, absolutely!

Ingmar: And a lot has happened in the meantime, the 25th anniversary of Revolution. You know, we’re in 2016 now; Revolution was founded in 1990, so we’re a little late.

Charles: (laughs)

Ingmar: But we’re not too late for the 25th anniversary box set of Revolution games.

Charles: No, no, you noticed, you noticed. The 25th anniversary box is coming out WITHIN the 25th year, because we were founded at some point in the second half of March 1990, so therefore, we’re still within our 25th anniversary year, but yes, it might have been better if we’d been slightly earlier than this.

Ingmar: (laughs) No problem at all. But in keeping with the retrospective spirit, it would be very interesting if you’d give us an idea of the early days at Revolution.

Charles: Okay, although it might be better to go back slightly further than that. I wrote my first computer game when I was at university in 1981 for the Sinclair ZX-81 for a company called Artic Computing – possibly the first European computer games publisher. The games were later ported to the ZX Spectrum. But they were very basic text adventures – and I have to say replaying them these days on an emulator, they look really, really basic – but you know, they were popular at the time. And I was then invited to go and work as head of development for US Gold and after that, Activision.

Charles Cecil's first game for the Sinclair ZX-81 (1981)

Around about 1989 the US side of Activision ran into financial trouble, while the European office was still very successful. This is obviously the pre-Bobby Kotick version of Activision; he bought it and turned it into the very successful company that it is now. But Activision was running into trouble and my boss, Geoff Mulligan, came and said “Look, we’re going to have to make you redundant, but would you be prepared to continue to work for Activision for three days a week?”. I’d been wanting to return to development and this was just the perfect opportunity. Meanwhile an industry friend, Sean Brennan, the deputy Managing Director of Mirrorsoft, had driven to Reading, where Activision was based, and had taken me out for lunch, and told me that if I wanted to set up a development company, then they would look favourably on any project that we pitched at them.

So all of these things came together, and I decided that I would set up a new development company, which we would later call Revolution. When you set up a company in the UK, you buy a shell company ‘off the shelf’. The company that I bought happened to be called Turnvale. And the village in Lure of the Temptress is called Turnvale after the name of the original company!

Ingmar: And how did you come up with Lure of the Temptress as your first game for Revolution?

L-R: Revolution's Dave Cummins, Steve Oades, Charles Cecil, David Sykes, Adam Tween, Tony Warriner (Hull, 1992)

Charles: Tony Warriner started working at Artic Computing in 1986. Tony had sent in a game he’d written while he was at school, called Obsidian, and it was really, really good, and we called him in and we were delighted that he agreed to license the game to Artic. Tony and I have stayed colleagues and friends since then. So in 1989, when I decided I wanted to start another development company, I invited him to join and he was very excited to do so. He was working at an aeronautical company called Bytron with a fellow programmer called David Sykes, and he introduced me to David, who liked the idea of writing games, and very quickly agreed that he too would join Revolution. Then shortly after that, my girlfriend at the time, Noirin Carmody, who was the product manager for Sierra and was very knowledgeable about the Sierra brand, joined as well.

Our objective was to go head to head with Sierra, because Sierra kind of felt like it was losing its way – the King’s Quest games were taking themselves very, very seriously. At the time, adventures were really the cutting-edge genre, for both graphics and, certainly, interactive narrative, and in many ways gameplay as well. And I thought that the idea of having a virtual world – a system that we called Virtual Theatre, where characters walked around and talked to each other and exchanged information – could actually work really well.

And so we came up with a design which we pitched to Mirrorsoft. I borrowed £10,000 from my mother, which was very kind of her to lend the money, and I got a personal overdraft of £10,000, so we started the company on £20,000 pounds, and rented a tiny, tiny little space above a fruit shop in Hull – Hull is a city on the east coast of England. Tony and Dave worked in this tiny little area in the freezing cold, and I remember getting a request from them – “Can we have a heater?” So I bought a really cheap gas heater, but the problem was that if they kept the window closed, then the room filled up with gas fumes.

Ingmar: (laughs)

Lure of the Temptress

Charles: And so they had to open the window to get rid of the smell of the gas, which of course let the cold in. So for, I don’t know, maybe six months they worked in these terrible conditions on the basis that this was very much to write the prototype which we were going to present to Mirrorsoft. I had bought a 386 PC, of which I was incredibly proud. It was a wonderful, powerful beast; it played flight simulators incredibly well – I remember landing my jet on the aircraft carrier – and it was all flat-shaded polygons, and it just looked fantastic. This PC had cost me, I don’t know, probably close to £2000, so it was really expensive – particularly given that this was 25 years ago – and I’d given it to Tony and Dave to develop the game on, and the proviso was that when they drove down to do this presentation, that they strap this precious PC into the back seat with a seatbelt. Which they did. And they arrived and they got their stuff out, and they came in and we talked about what we were going to do and had a glass of wine.

Then the next day arrived and we had to go off and I looked out the window and saw to my horror that somebody had broken into the car. I ran down – in those days people stole car radios very regularly in London – and somebody had smashed the window and stolen the car radio, and guess what was still on the backseat?

Ingmar: Oh!

Charles: The PC! We’d forgotten to unpack it! And if somebody had stolen that PC, I doubt that we even had a back-up! Certainly, to buy another PC would have been a HUGE financial ask. So I would say that, if that PC had been stolen, there’s a very good chance that Revolution would not have existed.

Continued on the next page...

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