Ingmar: Wow, that WAS close! But in spite of the horrible conditions your coworkers had to live with for six months, looking back at Lure of the Temptress, since this was the first project for Revolution, what lessons would you say you learned about working together as a team, about designing a game together?
Charles: Well, the interesting thing was that, because it was really still very early days in the game industry, we went looking for people who had an interest rather than any experience, and we found a couple of really talented artists locally. One, for example, was a fellow called Steve Oades, who was working as a trainee clerk, and he sent in some pixel animation, which was utterly brilliant! He joined the company and stayed for quite a few years. He was a hugely talented animator with absolutely no training. So we were taking people with a love of pixel art and putting them straight on the job, and the talented ones absolutely soared. There were plenty of bad ones who flopped.
We got together a team of about four or five people. The idea behind Lure of the Temptress, and a system that we called Virtual Theatre, was that you could string commands together, which very much came from a text adventure approach. You could select to “tell this person to…” and then you could choose all the verbs, [like] “go to”. And then you’d have a list of all the rooms you’d see, so you’d “Go to this room,” and then you could either end or “and then” for anything you could do in that room, like pull a lever or pick up an object. It was actually a very interesting system, but we found it difficult to turn into much of a game, so Lure of the Temptress sort of relied more on the humour and the fact that things moved forward as you achieved certain objectives. But I think Virtual Theatre was a pretty good system, and certainly the game got some very good reviews.
Now there’s quite a nice story about that, in that the game had been commissioned by Sean Brennan for Mirrorsoft, and the head of marketing was a woman called Alison Beasley. As we came close to completion, she phoned me up and said, “Look, we need to come up with a game name; can you give us some names?” So I came up with a load of names, I’m sure none of which were particularly good, and at the bottom I wrote “Lure of the Temptress”. I put in brackets “We can’t call it this, by the way” but she came straight back to me and said "Look, we’ve got to call it Lure of the Temptress.” And I said to her “Look, Alison, it might be a good name, but there are two problems: firstly, there’s no ‘luring,’ and secondly there’s no ‘temptress’ in the game.” So she said, “Can you put them in?”, and there was a silence, and I said “Well, I can do, but it’ll extend the [development] time, quite considerably.” And she said, “That’s fine. We are happy to wait.”
Charles: So we then rewrote the story and the game to fit the name that they liked, which in hindsight is utterly ridiculous. But what it did was extend the time that we were writing the game by about four months, which actually worked very much in our favour, because during that time the owner of Mirrorsoft, who was a newspaper tycoon called Robert Maxwell, died – he either fell off his yacht or was murdered – and it turned out that he had been raiding the company’s pension fund. And when that came to light, the authorities basically put the company into administration. It was extraordinary; it was a fantastically successful publisher that collapsed overnight.
So we checked our contract, and the contract stated – because of course, they would never expect this to happen to them – that if either party went into administration, then the rights reverted to the other party. So we suddenly found ourselves with Lure of the Temptress, the rights to a game that was almost finished, and also we’d started to work on our second project, which was Beneath a Steel Sky.
Ingmar: And Beneath a Steel Sky, of course, is another game that a lot of adventure game players absolutely admire and love, and still hope there will be a second game at some point in time…
Charles: (laughs) Which I’m sure there will.
Ingmar: That sounds excellent! But it was a very different story genre from your first game. How did you come up with the idea to go into a science-fiction – or cyberpunk, whatever you want to call it – direction? And, please tell us a little bit about the influences behind Beneath a Steel Sky.
Charles: Well, I’d read Neuromancer by William Gibson – everyone had, and I thought all the jargon was pretty nonsense. There were some ideas that kind of worked, but lots that didn’t. So, I would say that it was the antithesis to William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Now, I had just come from Ford, where I had been studying engineering, and I was very impressed by the heavy manufacturing machines – particularly as I’d been stationed in Bordeaux to work as a management trainee in an automatic gearbox factory – and so, really the beginning of Beneath a Steel Sky is just like that Ford factory with the big lathe, the press, and the ‘jobsworth’ people walking around in overalls.
The funny thing, of course, is that when it comes to designing a game you just come up with ideas that are in your head at that time. And I guess the idea of starting off in the industrial area – all I knew were the presses and the lathes of Ford, both of which went into the game. Then as we progressed, one of the things that I’m a huge fan of is [Belgian comic book series] Tintin, so we’d started referencing that – my wife had bought me a Tintin design bible – and I looked at some of the characters. [Beneath a Steel Sky’s] Danielle Piermont does bear a striking similarity to [Tintin’s] Lady Castafiore.
Early design layout for Beneath a Steel Sky
When I was at Activision I had been speaking to Dave Gibbons about the possibility of licensing his comic book Watchmen. It turned out that we couldn’t license it, but Dave and I stayed in touch. So I thought, why not ask him if he wants to collaborate on a game? And to my delight he said that he’d love to, and very quickly the project changed its direction to incorporate Dave’s input, both artistically and creatively. We’d work together on the story and he’d draw the characters, so it was very much a partnership and it was an absolute pleasure to work with him, I have to say.
An interesting story, that I’m not sure I’ve actually said before, but I’d heard that Douglas Adams was writing a new game, which was later to be called Starship Titanic. He had written adventures for Infocom including Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and maybe others as well, but I phoned up his studio, and his partner answered the phone, and I made them an offer to work in collaboration, and the partner said “Well, we’ve played your games, and we admire them, but we think we can do better by ourselves, but thank you very much for getting in touch.” Starship Titanic went on to cost Douglas Adams millions and millions of pounds, and went years over schedule. To try to recoup some of the money, he then took on the film, and it’s interesting to think about what would have happened if Douglas Adams’ partner had accepted the offer -- which he really should have done, because then the game would have come in more on time and on budget, and it would have felt much more contemporary. Then our direction would have been quite different, and Douglas Adams would have not lost all that money, and who knows what would have happened?
Ingmar: That seems to be a repeating theme in the history of Revolution. I mean, we had the story with the car…
Ingmar: … and it’s very interesting to find out how much really depends on coincidences sometimes.
Charles: Yeah. Fate.
Ingmar: Yeah, maybe. I’m looking forward to hearing more of these stories, and maybe we can find that same pattern behind them.
Charles: (laughs)Continued on the next page...