In the first part of my Skype conversation with Charles Cecil, Revolution's acclaimed co-founder talked about his own formative years as a designer, as well as the company's rise from struggling upstart barely able to make ends meet to one of the most renowned adventure game developers of all time. But there are plenty more stories left to tell, as Charles takes us through the rocky years that followed and the remarkable comeback that got the little British studio to 25 years. Here's hoping there are 25 more to come.
Ingmar Böke: Now I’d like to move on to the sequel, The Smoking Mirror, which followed in 1997, so there was a rather short time frame in between. What comes to mind when you remember the production of the second Broken Sword game?
Charles Cecil: Well, it was absolutely extraordinary. The [first] game had been a huge success. So we pitched a sequel to Virgin, and they replied that they weren’t interested. Their claim was that point-and-clicks were dying so fast that there would be no demand for it in 1997. And this seemed like absolute lunacy. Sean and Martin Spiess were very much on our side; Simon Jeffrey – who later went to run LucasArts – was at Virgin, he was on our side. But the Americans, in particular, were very anti the idea of a new Broken Sword. Which was also kind of ironic, because they were in the process of writing Toonstruck, and had spent millions and millions on it – a game that went on to receive mediocre reviews. The President at Virgin US told me very proudly that one of the reasons that he made such great decisions for the company was that he’d never played a video game. And it was him that was really against the idea of commissioning a sequel. Anyway, thankfully the Europeans convinced him that actually there should be a sequel, but then they said it had to be written within a year. So we had very, very little time, relatively. We had actually started designing it, but we had to write it really, really fast. Broken Sword 2 got great reviews and people really enjoy it, but it does feel a little bit rushed compared to Broken Sword 1, I would say.
Ingmar: I remember one personal story about Broken Sword 2. I had a friend who didn’t own a PC, he only played games on the PlayStation. And sometimes I tried to show him adventure games, and he was totally bored by them. But then at some point he brought his PlayStation to my place, and he showed me Broken Sword 2. And he told me, “I have this new game, you’ve got to try it.” I was totally surprised that he was showing me an adventure game on the PlayStation, because he hated adventure games.
Charles: How brilliant.
Ingmar: But all of a sudden he really tried an adventure game, and he realized, “Whoa, this is amazing!” Do he was the one who was telling me how great the game was, and it was encouraging to hear that from someone who was only playing console games who thought he hated adventure games. So it was interesting to see that PlayStation effect.
Charles: Yes, a lot of people who played the game, who remember the game fondly, actually played it first on PlayStation. I think we were very lucky that Sony chose to publish it, because it broadened the brand enormously. Sony were wonderful to work with at the time, I have to say, because they were a very, very small team.
Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror
I remember for Broken Sword 1, we really wanted it to be released for Christmas. And the Marketing Director had agreed. Then he sent me a fax – because this was before emails – very irritated, and wrote, “The release date has been moved to January.” So I phoned him up and said, “Why are you doing that?” He said, “’Cause I’ve heard that it’s way behind schedule.” And I said to him, “Can I come and see you now?” He said, “Yes, yes, but it’s not going to make any difference.” So I got on a train down to London, went to see him, walked into his office, and he said, “Look, I’m really unhappy. We’ve got all this marketing lined up. It’s not going to make Christmas and you’ve wasted a lot of our time.” And I said, “Can I use your phone?” So I phoned their QA in Liverpool, and I talked to the QA manager. And the QA manager said, “We’ve received a new build this morning. It’s actually really good. We think you’re going to make Christmas.” So I passed the phone over, and they had a short conversation. The Marketing Director looked at me and said, “OK, it’s back in for Christmas again.” And that was the way it worked back in those days. It was absolutely fantastic.
Ingmar: Yeah, times have changed.
Charles: Yes, they certainly have.
Ingmar: Let’s move on to the next project now, that’s also in the 25 Year Anniversary box. Chronologically, that would be In Cold Blood, from 2000.
Charles: Yes. In Cold Blood was a project that we wrote with Sony. The retail model meant that there were only a limited number of games that could make it onto the shelves; maybe three, four hundred. PlayStation as a brand had been incredibly successful, and they’d really edged the PC out. So the PC was a really marginal format at that time. And people talked about the adventure being dead – and PC being dead.
In Cold Blood
We’d worked very well with Sony on Broken Sword 1 and Broken Sword 2, and a great moment came when the official PlayStation magazine, which had a circulation of 600,000 a month, ran a poll of their readers’ favourite games, and Broken Sword 2 came in at number five. We were ahead of monstrously big, wonderful games. It was extraordinary, and Broken Sword 1 was… I don’t know, eleven or twelve or roundabout there. So we had two games in the top fifteen, and I think we’d beaten Resident Evil, we’d beaten many huge games. So we had a very good relationship with Sony, but they wanted us to write something more edgy, of course, something that was suited to that controller. But they still wanted a strong narrative. So we pitched them a game that was partly adventure, partly action, and that was what was going to turn into In Cold Blood.
Ingmar: As you said, it was quite different compared to what you did before. If you look back at In Cold Blood, which elements do you think worked particularly well and which elements do you think perhaps didn’t work that well?
Charles: We have the most appalling opening, where we force the player to learn to crouch, otherwise they get killed. Very naïve, very stupid. I feel really embarrassed that we actually designed the start that way. But I think the adventure side worked well. A lot of people love the adventure. We really should have toned down the fighting, and made the fighting more of a reward rather than a challenge. I think the control system was alright, but I think we could have done better. But I think the adventure itself was pretty good. And some of the rooms were very beautiful; certainly given the limitations of the hardware at that particular time. Quite long loading times though. Generally, I think people who wanted to see the game’s promise were really excited. Many others were pretty negative. It was a game that people either really liked or hated.Continued on the next page...