Ingmar: Did you always have the two main characters in mind – you know, the American college guy and the French girl – or did you, perhaps, have totally different ideas for the main characters at first? How were the characters conceived?
Charles: They were born from pragmatism. I thought it would be nice to have two conflicted characters that, through both friendship and conflict, could convey the exposition in an interesting way. Because the game was going to be set in Paris, one of them had to be French, of course. And then I wanted a foil. The idea of a Californian cool guy out of college, out of law, bored at his job – and a driven French photojournalist might kind of work together. And that’s where George [Stobbart] and Nico [Collard] were born.
Ingmar: You spent so much time with George and Nico throughout the years, and I know you’re – just like me – a huge fan of Game of Thrones. I recently read an interview with George R.R. Martin where he talked about how difficult it is for him to let go of the characters at some point. It’s a huge problem – originally he wanted to write seven books, now he’s saying perhaps there will be eight, because he can’t let go. Do you think that could be a problem for you at some point as well, because you spent so much time with the characters?
Charles: (chuckles) Well, indeed, but the difference is that Broken Sword games tend to be written every five years. So Broken Sword 2 followed Broken Sword 1 very shortly – that was 1996, 1997 – but Broken Sword 3 didn’t come out until 2003, Broken Sword 4 was, I think, 2006, and Broken Sword 5 was 2013 – so, there’s always been a significant gap. At the moment I’ve got various ideas but am not currently working on a new Broken Sword. I think the difference with Game of Thrones is that he’s probably just writing Game of Thrones and nothing else. What we’re doing is writing a range of games, and then coming back to Broken Sword. So, hopefully the new games will always feel fresh.
Ingmar: But because you spend so much time with the characters, and because you care about them deeply, having worked on them for each game and developing them as characters, I’d expect there must be a kind of personal connection. Certainly not compared to a real human being, but how would you describe your personal relationship to George and Nico?
Dave Gibbons, Charles Cecil, and Dave Cummins (1994)
Charles: (chuckles) In order to write the adventures he goes on, I probably have similar interests to George. To me, Nico embodies what’s great about the archetypal French woman, in that she’s full of confidence, and strong and sassy. To be clear, while I design the missions that they go on, and I design the overall story, I don’t actually write dialogue.
Now I have the pleasure of working with Neil Richards who is a wonderful writer. Originally we had a writer called Dave Cummins, who had worked with me at Activision as a tester. Dave wrote so beautifully – I remember him writing a test report for a particular adventure, and he wrote a critique of that adventure so beautifully that it was quite clear that he was a much better writer than the writer of the adventure. So when Activision collapsed, Dave came with me to work on Lure of the Temptress, and then Beneath a Steel Sky, and then Broken Sword 1. He got very ill halfway through Broken Sword 2, so he had a lot less to do with that. Sadly, he passed away, so we don’t have the benefit of having the opportunity to work with him again, which is a great shame.
Ingmar: Mm-hmm, definitely. And one very last question about the first Broken Sword game: Do you remember one particular moment when you first realized, “Wow, this game is going to be a huge hit”?
Charles: Well, I can turn that question on its head, because the thing about adventure games is that it’s only clear towards the end – once the animation, the music, the sound effects, the finished graphics, all of those things come together – it’s only then that you can tell whether or not it’s going to work.
Virgin started getting very excited by Broken Sword as we approached completion – this was September 1996 – and the German office’s head of marketing, Martin Speiss, came over to York and said he thought it was going to do very well in Germany, and Sean was championing it in the UK. So we got very excited too. What happened in those days – because with print magazines there was a long lead time – was that publishers would give the game exclusively to a particular magazine a month before it was finished. This was on the basis that the magazine would then review it, taking into account that a load of the bugs were obviously going to be fixed. It sounds like a pretty strange system now, but that’s the way it worked.
So, a particular magazine was given an early copy of the game, and I was a little bit worried because clearly it had bugs that we were going to be fixing in the last month. The game released, and out came this magazine’s review, and they absolutely slated us! They slated us because of all the bugs – it was just absolutely awful. And of course, there was a month before any of the other magazine reviews came out. So for that month, we had absolutely no idea what to expect – was this a rogue review, or was everybody going to give it a bad review? Then the next set of reviews came through, and they were all ninety percent-plus, and we realized that we had something that could be very successful.
Then we wanted to port to PlayStation and Virgin told us that they didn’t want to publish it, so we managed to convince Sony – who, frankly, were not enormously excited at the prospect – to do it, and that got nine-out-of-ten across every single official PlayStation magazine, and most of the other magazines, and went on to sell half-a-million copies, which at that time was absolutely phenomenal for PlayStation.
Ingmar: Well, fortunately it worked, but I guess most people just needed to see the very first sequence of the game and they were in love. [Charles laughs] That’s what I remember. And I’m pretty sure a lot of other people remember exactly the same thing.
Charles: Yes, yes, no, absolutely, we were lucky. Actually we were particularly lucky to find Rolf Saxon to play George. These days, I give him the script, and talk to him about the story about a week before we’re due to record. And that pays huge dividends for two reasons: One, he can give feedback on the script, which we’re very happy to change, but secondly when we go into the recording studio, he has supreme confidence because he knows exactly what the context is. And he will help the other actors. So if other actors are unsure, then he’ll jump in to guide them. And there’s a sense that he’s very solid, he’s able to guide people, in a very gentle way. So what we had in the opening sequence to the original Broken Sword was: George’s wonderful – sorry, Rolf’s wonderful George voice; the layouts from Eoghan Cahill that were so beautifully drawn and very well coloured; and then we had the haunting music of Barrington Pheloung.
End of Part 1.
While Sierra and LucasArts were slugging it out in the United States, across the pond the little British team called Revolution had quietly created multiple gems and gained worldwide recognition by the end of 1996, establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with. Surely it would be smooth sailing for the studio from here, right? Well, not exactly, as Revolution was hit hard by the genre's dark days, clinging perilously to life before bouncing back and rising to prominence among adventure game fans once again. Tune back in tomorrow for the conclusion of my interview with Charles, as he walks us through those trials and triumphs.
Interview transcription by K.R. Parkinson.