Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

WellPlayedWellPlayed

Interview

We Talk Beyond A Steel Sky And Adventure Games With Charles Cecil

We sit down with the legendary adventure game creator

It feels like a lifetime ago, but once upon a time adventure games were a hot ticket item. Adventure games of yore like The Curse of Monkey IslandDay of the Tentacle and Myst were some of the biggest games during their prime. However, while their mainstream popularity has declined as modern game design has evolved beyond point and click mechanics, there’s still a myriad of passionate developers, both new and old, dedicated to keeping the genre alive.

To some people, the name Charles Cecil won’t mean much, however to fans of adventure games the name speaks volumes. Considered one of the pioneers of the adventure genre, Charles Cecil is one of the founders of Revolution Software, creators of popular and acclaimed adventure games such as Broken SwordLure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky.

For myself, Cecil is somewhat of an idol – Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars was one of the very first video games I played and was the catalyst for my interest and love of not only adventure games but history (more specifically the Knights Templar). To this day it’s still one of my favourite games and its impact and influence on the genre has been enormous.

The last entry in the series, Broken Sword 5 – the Serpent’s Curse, launched in 2013 and since then the British studio has released the long-awaited follow-up to 1994’s Beneath a Steel Sky, Beyond a Steel Sky on Apple Arcade and PC in 2020. In late November, the game was made available to PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo console owners.

Ahead of the console launch of Beyond a Steel Sky, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Cecil and discussing not only the game itself but adventure games in general and Revolution’s impact on the genre.

Given the importance and the personal significance of this interview I had to make a great first impression, and Beneath/Beyond a Steel Sky’s lead protagonist Robert Foster gave me the perfect opportunity. You see, he’s named Foster for two reasons. The first is because he’s a foster child (makes sense), while the second is because the people who take him in and raise him also find a Foster’s Lager beer can. For those that know me, Foster’s is one of my favourite beers (what a magical happenstance), so of course I had to out myself as a Foster’s drinker to one of my favourite people in gaming, cracking open a fresh cold Foster’s to kick off our chat. Ice broken.

After sharing a laugh over a can of Foster’s, Cecil reveals that despite the game helping out the brand, after the release of Beneath a Steel Sky Foster’s sent Revolution Software a cease and desist, insisting that the studio was using their brand without their permission. Cecil says the company was courteous about it and wasn’t heavy-handed before joking that they’d probably be stoked to have it featured in the video game.

Anyway, now that I’ve had my taste in beer called out, let’s get to the interview.

Insert joke about the photo being better quality than the beer

WellPlayed: I didn’t realise that the game is proper Australian, sort of. I want to talk about the influences there. Why Australia and how did you land Down Under for the premise?

Charles Cecil: It started with the idea of just turning society around. So the richest lived at the bottom rather than the top, and the poorest lived in the smog at the top. And since that had been turned upside down, we decided it’d be quite fun to turn the world upside down as well, and obviously, from a very English perspective, the other side of the world is Australia, although actually it’s New Zealand. I have to say, we all love Mad Max and that would have had some influence. But we were trying to play a game because I love the idea that in Sydney you have an underground system, which has St. James and it has Kings Cross – it has a number of the same stations as the London tube. So we go into Kings Cross and I’d wanted everyone to assume that it was the London Kings Cross, when in fact that only the most observant would realise that it was Sydney, and then Dave went and put a kangaroo in the opening comic book which rather gave the game away. So initially it was meant to be very subtle, it was meant to be this idea of this post-apocalyptic landscape that could have been anywhere, and as I say Dave rather gave the game away with the kangaroo in the very opening section with The Gap.

beneath-a-steel-sky-comic

The moment Gibbons rooined it

WP: It’s been a long time since the first one came out. How did the sequel come about? I know that it was part of the Broken Sword 5 Kickstarter if I’m remembering correctly.

CC: We rather naively put, well not rather, very naively put Beneath a Steel Sky 2 as a stretch goal, which was a stupid thing to have done because that’s a different community, and I don’t know what I was thinking. We do have the most wonderful community and a few people absolutely rightly objected. But we’re lucky to have a community that is supremely reasonable, and almost certainly if they complain about something they have very good reason to have done. I will come back and answer your question. But, when we did the Broken Sword 5 Kickstarter in September 2012, we said the game would come out like six months later, and yet one of the stretch goals was to add an extra section, which meant that the game couldn’t possibly come out that soon. I remember getting really worried and sending a message around saying, “Guys, I’m really sorry, it’s not going to come out on time.” And there I was expecting a big reply, and there was a big reply, half of which said we never really believed you in the first place. So that’s fine. The other half said, we’ve been waiting for however many years, we’d much rather it was good, please take your time. Not one person objected. So we are very, very lucky in that regard.

But to answer your question, which I’ve already forgotten. Sorry, I sent myself on a diversion. Oh, how did it come about? So Broken Sword 1 and Broken Sword 2 were very successful, our publisher was Virgin. We were keen that those original games went onto PlayStation, and the general sense at the time was that the adventure was dead that this was a crazy idea. The Official PlayStation Magazine, which is probably where you first saw the game, cover-mounted it – it had a circulation at the time of about half a million, I think it was 600,000, which is phenomenal. The French and the German official PlayStation magazines also cover-mounted it. So the game went on to do really, really well, and yet the publishers have decided that the adventure was dead, that the PC was dead, that was the other mantra. That was partly because, at that time, a lot of the publishers were absolutely out of touch with the audiences. Anyway, they decided that the adventure was dead, and without the support of publishers who would then put it into resale, the adventure was dead.

For about 5,6,7 years, adventures really floundered, and then with the DS and the Wii, the much broader audience started playing adventures, initially Japanese adventures like Professor Layton, Another Code and games like that, and then Broken Sword. But Dave and I talked about a sequel pretty soon after the initial release. But it was quite clear that in the environment there was no way that we were going to be able to get an adventure game, we weren’t able to fund it, we weren’t going to publish it, we wouldn’t get it into retail. So we kind of talked on and off for years and years, and the reason that you mentioned the Kickstarter and why it’s important is because that was the first time that we could go directly to our community, and we did that with Broken Sword 5, as I explained.

I call it a spiritual successor, because the game is set in the same universe, it’s the same characters, it’s the same lore. But obviously, it’s infinitely more ambitious, in its objectives and its gameplay in the way we tell the story

We had discovered that actually, our community are the most wonderful, passionate group of people who love adventure games. We love them. And many of them are incredibly enthusiastic about us. So with the success of that I got back in touch with Dave, we’ve kept in touch over the years, and I said, “Look, I think we can probably drum up enough support for the game, I’ve been very inspired by a trip I did to Uruguay in South America.” Uruguay is a small country, before I went there, I probably couldn’t have told you exactly where it was. I was talking to all these kids that were students and when I mentioned the games that we’d written a cheer went up when I mentioned Beneath a Steel Sky. And it’s like, guys this was written probably five years before any of you were born and yet you still know it. And we did a little bit of research, and there was clearly enormous enthusiasm still for the game.

So as I say, I got back in touch with Dave and he was very much on for it. He sent some of the design notes that we’d fax back and forwards 25 years ago, which probably would have been great 25 years ago, but to bring a franchise back like this. I mean, I call it a spiritual successor, because the game is set in the same universe, it’s the same characters, it’s the same lore. But obviously, it’s infinitely more ambitious, in its objectives and its gameplay in the way we tell the story. So yeah, I call it a spiritual successor and Dave was very much on for it. We decided that Virgin, who was a wonderful publisher to work with, had marketed the first one as an interactive comic, which was utterly untrue, because there was nothing about it comic book-like at all, except the comic that came with the box.

But we wanted this to be much more true to the interactive comics. So we worked hard to create some technology that we call Tune Toy, that would allow the game to be displayed in a comic book style, and we worked very closely with Dave to make sure that that style was true to what he wanted, and he was thrilled and I was thrilled. We were looking for an art style that was both aesthetically pleasing, but also from a gameplay perspective, as you’ll know, you spend an awful lot of time looking at backgrounds, and so the aesthetic of the background is supremely important because clearly you need to be able to see objects which are going to be relevant so that they’re potentially hotspots. So by using this comic book style, it meant that we could focus the eye on the elements on a screen that were important. So there were multiple reasons why we went for the comic book style with Dave. Sorry, I’ve rather gone off on a tangent again, apologies.

Beyond a Steel Sky

WP: That’s actually fine because you’ve pretty much answered another question I had, so you’ve got two birds with one stone there. So yeah, working with Dave Gibbons again must have been awesome because he doesn’t normally work in video games, so he would bring fresh ideas or ideas that are a bit different from what game designers might have.

CC: Absolutely true. I’d actually got in touch with Dave in the late 80s, God help me, because he’d written a comic book called Watchmen with Alan Moore, and we were all huge Watchmen fans. I mean, it’s kind of testament to the two of them, that this comic book from 30 years ago is still as popular today. Going past comic book shops, it’s still Watchmen and its derivatives front and centre. Obviously, there’s the television series. I was with Dave in New York, last year for Comic-Con, and I was so proud for him, because we walked through Times Square, and everywhere we looked there were enormous great digital Watchmen posters. I thought, good for you, good for you. I have to say I did feel slightly jealous, but I was really proud to be walking with this incredible guy that created this comic book over 30 years ago and how popular it is today.

But I’d actually got hold of him when I was the head of development at Activision in the late 80s, and it turned out that he didn’t have the rights, they’d all been licensed to Dark Horse. But we kept in touch, and I kind of punted when I was working with Virgin. Our first game was called Lure of the Temptress, and that was very successful, it got very good reviews, and filled with confidence we embarked on Beneath the Steel Sky. It kind of felt, subject matter wise, you’ve got this dystopic world, which as you pointed out was Australia, although we were trying to hide that at the time. And it just felt like Dave would be a great person to have to contribute. I got back in touch with him and I was really thrilled when he agreed, and that’s because back in those days there were quite a few people, I mean, now everybody loves video games, mainly because commercially they’re so successful. But I think creatively, there were a group of people at the top of their game who loved the idea of the medium. One was Dave, of course. We worked on Broken Sword with a fellow countryman of yours, Barrington Pheloung. Do you not know Barrington Pheloung, the composer from Manly Beach?

WP: Yeah, no idea.

CC: I’ll tell you why you don’t know because he came to England and he basically worked on a lot of English films and television. He’s very well known and very well respected over here. But again, somebody like Dave, who was just really interested by the medium. So I got back in touch with Dave, and initially the idea was that Dave was just going to draw the backgrounds in pencil and that we would then scan them in and paint them. Sorry, we paint them and then scan them in. But he really got into it, it was fantastic, and he loved the idea of pixel art, because back in those days on the Amiga you had a limit of 32 colours. So as you can imagine, the skill in using those 32 colours to the eking out every ounce of colour and form – he described it as like jewellery making; you change just one pixel slightly, and it changes the whole look. And so we gave him an Amiga and a copy of Deluxe Paint II and he started creating the sprites. Then he’d come up once a month, and we talked about the story. So he was a really integral part and he was a terrific collaborator and contributor.

WP: So with Beyond a Steel Sky, it’s unlike anything I’ve played from Revolution before, in terms of the camera view and all that, and yet when I was playing I was like this does feel like a Revolution game. So how did you find the right balance between sticking to your roots and what your old school fans like, and then trying new things for modern adventure games?

CC: Okay, well thank you. That’s a really nice question. When we wrote Lure of the Temptress, which was our first game, we had this system that we called a Virtual Theatre, and Virtual Theatre meant that characters walk around the world and you can subvert the world, and in doing so they will change their behaviour and we could put puzzles into that. So Lure of the Temptress, you look through a keyhole, and if you look through the keyhole when a certain conversation was taking place, you got some information which you could then use. I remember there was so much enthusiasm for this. I remember doing a talk to a lot of journalists and publishers, and I was very proud of this. I finished my talking, there was silence, and I looked around the room and then somebody started clapping and then everybody started clapping, and then people stood up and then queued to see me and it’s like, this is our first game, this is the first prototype for our first game, and it was absolutely brilliant.

Then with Beneath the Steel Sky, we kind of scaled back on this idea of Virtual Theatre, but there is one particular puzzle which I’m rather proud of. I live in Yorkshire, I have done for 30 years, so I don’t know why we’re so rude about Yorkshire people. Everybody in England is fine, fine, fine people. But anyway, so there’s a Yorkshire factory owner and he’s very proud of the fact that he’s got a beaver coat from the last five beavers in the world, and they’re now extinct. He’s a complete slob, but he has authority to go down in an elevator by swiping his card, and he goes off and feeds his cat, comes back, goes into the factory. So he’s a Virtual Theatre character walking around a fairly simple loop, and you could go into the computer system called Linc and you could what’s called D-Linc him, you could take away his priority, which means he could no longer use the elevator.

The man with the beaver coat

So when we sat down to work out what we want to do with Beyond a Steel Sky, it was really, really important, as you say, that it felt like a Revolution game, and that it was true to the original game

That felt 25 years ago like an incredible puzzle. People absolutely loved it because what you had, is you have the artificial intelligence, obviously I use that term very loosely, if you had the artificial intelligence of a character walking around, and you could subvert the world, now that was absolutely true as a Revolution game; it was taking a puzzle that was true to the world at that time, true to the characters and the character motivation. So when we sat down to work out what we want to do with Beyond a Steel Sky, it was really, really important, as you say, that it felt like a Revolution game, and that it was true to the original game. So we brought back this idea of Virtual Theatre, and instead of just the simplicity of going into a console, came up with this idea. I am a huge fan of Scratch, which is a computer programming language, simple language for kids, where you just move blocks around, and it always occurred to me that that will just make a great game. So how fantastic it was to come into Beyond a Steel Sky and realise that I could, better not say steal because I might have a lawyer’s letter in the morning, I could take inspiration from Scratch programming language and use it in this world.

We don’t write slapstick games and we never have done. I love Monkey Island, I loved the Day of the Tentacle, slapstick games, where you have crazy solutions. Often what you’re doing is trying every combination until eventually you stumble on the answer. But it’s worth it because it’s such fun. You know, as the story moves forward, it’s such fun. We’ve never done that, our games have always been based on a logical world and logical motivations. But in Beneath a Steel Sky, you as the player, a rational player are brought in with the mindset of Foster. You come into this crazy world where they don’t think they’re crazy, they think that they’re normal, and the humour comes from the juxtaposition of what we as the player see through Foster as normality from our perspective, and they see normality as theirs and ludicrous things happen. So the key thing about Hobbsworth and all the other characters is they live in this AI environment where the AI is so powerful that they just assume that everything that the AI does is for a good reason. Which means that when you subvert the world, crazy things happen. But these people all assume that they were meant to happen and that it’s deliberate, and that’s where this idea comes from, and hopefully some of the humour comes from.

So in the case of Hobbsworth, he is a diagnostician, he diagnoses things – all he does is points his tool, and if there’s a problem, the AI (Minos) fixes it. So he’s absolutely useless, because ultimately in this AI world, humans, they’re given jobs to do but they’re useless jobs because the AI does it all. This was very much bringing forward the themes of AI, which obviously came from your pal Joey, who you created yourself – it’s your friend you made. And then what happened to Linc, which was the tyrannical AI from 25 years ago, and what we felt was that had we come back a year or two later, we could have just kept going as if everybody knew the world. 25 years ago, a huge number of people will never have played this game, and it was essential that on one side, we were true to the lore, true to the characters, and on the other, we ensured that actually, somebody who hadn’t played the game would have everything that they needed to be able to do so.

WP: You touch on puzzles there and I have to think how to phrase this question so I don’t offend people, but I feel like puzzles back in older adventure games were a bit harder than what they are now. Do you find you have to make them easier for modern audiences? Because back in the day, we didn’t have the web to go to to find a solution. Because people now, spend 5-10 minutes and then half of them might go off and find the answer. So how do you find the right difficulty in the balance of the puzzle design?

CC: Well, we put hints into all our games now, so if anybody gets stuck they can look up the answer. For Beyond a Steel Sky we actually put a timer of 30 seconds. I think it’s frustrating if you want to get a clue and you have to wait five minutes. There was quite a debate about this, and I was very much for the low end, I think I stamped my foot down and said it needs to be short. But if I go back to the difficulty of puzzles, I remember journalists saying, “Oh, I love these adventure games. I’ll be stuck, I’ll go to bed or wake up and I think I’ll try this and it works,” and clearly audiences don’t have the time to do that anymore. We always had a slight challenge, in that Monkey Island would have a puzzle where you get a monkey, you squash it and becomes a monkey wrench, you know that that? I would imagine that you probably would never have, I mean maybe not that particular puzzle. But there are puzzles that you would never be able to judge unless you went into this trying every permutation, and right from the very beginning, I was super keen that we never do that, that the player would never have to resort to that. And as I said, that’s because we’ve worked very hard to try and make sure that the puzzles are narrative blocks based often around characters. What is that character motivation? What is the state of the world? What is logical? And we spend a lot of time designing our puzzles, and almost always the changes are, I don’t believe this puzzle, I don’t believe this character motivation, I don’t believe this person, and so we go back again and again, and it takes us an awfully long time to write our games.

For that reason, I would argue that if we were having slapstick – this is Australia, so let’s say this is a lasso, I mean, it’s not a lasso, but let’s pull it like that, there you go, it’s like a lasso. There, I throw it around, I lasso something and you go, “haha, a lasso.” But our puzzles are not like that. So the problem, to answer your question more directly, is that by doing this, it’s often we’ve got to hide the solution while also making it logical. In Broken Sword, there’s an infamous puzzle called the goat puzzle, and the reason that I put that in was for exactly the reason that you’re talking about, that people wanted hard puzzles. And it was a hard puzzle. But it was a hard puzzle because it was an unfair puzzle. It was unfair because we changed the way the UI worked. Midway through the game and I thought “hahaha, all those people who complain the games too easy, they’re gonna think about it.” And indeed they did, and 10 minutes later they got it and they move forward and they were happy. Of course, that was an ignorant thing to do. Because the 10% of people who make all the noise about games being too easy, it’s all very well for them. But for the 90% of people who actually just enjoy the puzzles as they are, they were absolutely stopped in their tracks and weren’t able to progress until a month later when the solution came out in the magazines.

WP: Or until the Director’s Cut came out.

CC: Well, we did dumb that down slightly. Just because it wasn’t a fair puzzle. I mean, of course, a lot of people objected to us dumbing it down.

WP: After Beneath a Steel Sky came out you pretty much did Broken Sword one to five. So how’s that change been working on a game that’s not Broken Sword?

CC: Yeah, we did In Cold Blood.

WP: I forgot that that was even Revolution, and then I was researching the other day and I was like, they did In Cold Blood, I love that game.

CC:  So many people ask us to bring it back, but thank you. I think we felt that it was important, and if I’m totally honest with you, when we wrote Broken Sword 3, we were in this crazy situation where the publisher made about $5 million and we actually lost £200,000, and actually got a big bank loan to fund it and then never quite recouped. So that’s very bad business. Then Broken Sword 4 was about the same. So at the end of Broken Sword 4, we found ourselves in a position where we had no money in the bank. Sorry, we had a big overdraft. And it’s like, what do we do? What do we do next? Because clearly, it’s not feasible. I actually took time off and did some freelance work. I worked with Sony Pictures on the Da Vinci Code, although all I was doing was advising from the side. It was a company called The Collective that wrote it, so if you can credit me with all the good bits and blame them for the bad bits, that would be fantastic. I also worked on Robert Zemeckis’ Christmas Carol, which I loved, and then with the BBC on Doctor Who. And for about five years I was working on wonderful, wonderful projects. So from a Revolution perspective, you’re absolutely right, it did go in one, two, In Cold Blood, three, four, five. But from my personal perspective, we went three, four, all of these projects, and then back with five.

What actually filled us with confidence – the turning point in all of this, was when Apple actually phoned us up and out of the blue in about 2008 and said this is Apple, and we were blown away that somebody from Apple was was phoning us up. And this really nice guy said, “we have this new device called the iPhone,” and we go, yes, we know all about the iPhone. He said, “We think your games would work really well on it.” Okay, wow. And he said, “We can’t fund you, but we can support you if you bring the game to iPhone.” And we did. So from a Revolution perspective, that was after Broken Sword 4 and that then meant that we were able to bring Beneath a Steel Sky, then Broken Sword 1, then Broken Sword 2, and that then builds us up financially to be able to embark on Broken Sword 5. So from my personal perspective, I’ve been working on loads of different games, much more than it would seem from the gameography that you quite rightly have just quoted. And it’s great to be able to work on other projects. Of course, I love Broken Sword, but it’s great to be able to work on a wide range, and hopefully that means that when we do Broken Sword games, they won’t feel stale.

I love Broken Sword, but it’s great to be able to work on a wide range, and hopefully that means that when we do Broken Sword games, they won’t feel stale

WP: After such a long period between Beneath and Beyond a Steel Sky there’s probably a bit of risk with bringing back a game like that. But like you said, it’s more of a spiritual successor because a lot of players who played that game, not all of them probably play games now. The second part of this question is, in terms of writing the story, had you been penning ideas? Like character arcs and stuff like that over the years?

CC: So to answer this, slightly indirectly, like a politician, as in, you asked the question, I’ll answer a different one. But the original game was actually written in MS DOS, which was obviously the operating system in the early 90s, and then Windows took over in roundabout 1995 and it was supported in 1996. Then around about 1998 with Windows 98, MS DOS was no longer supported, so therefore, the game couldn’t be played. So both Beneath a Steel Sky and the Lure of the Temptress were effectively dead. Then this incredible group called ScummVM emerged, and ScummVM was a bunch of adventure enthusiasts who created an engine and they got other adventure enthusiasts to ask for the source code and to convert. We very, very early gave three programmers working with the ScummVM team, we gave them the source code for Beneath a Steel Sky. One was called Joost Peters, who is Dutch, and is now our CTO. He’s brilliant – a huge fan of Beneath a Steel Sky. Another was a German student called Robert Göffringmann, and the third I don’t remember his name and I ought to. But these three spent their university projects resurrecting Beneath a Steel Sky and rewriting it, taking the source code and adapting it for the ScummVM engine, and suddenly this game could be played on modern PCs.

So we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Now because the game couldn’t be played, except under ScummVM, we felt at the time that we should give it away for free because we couldn’t monetise it unless it was ScummVM. I remember, it just felt like the right thing to do. In hindsight, I would like to say it was brilliant marketing and brand building awareness. It would be a complete lie if I did claim that but I’d like to be able to because millions and millions of people played the game because it was free, and this was in an era before the idea of so many games being made free. You know, Linux, it was a top played game on Linux, as well as obviously on PC. So over the years, we actually did develop two audiences; the ones that bought it first time around, particularly those who are probably your age when you were playing these games, were very much in their formative years. So these are games, Broken Sword and Beneath the Steel Sky, that really mean an awful lot to people, which is a huge privilege. But then we had another bite at the cherry when all these people could play it for free. So there was actually a substantial base of people that have played it because of the decision that we made all those years ago to allow it to go out for free.

WP: So just on the writing of the story for Beyond a Steel Sky, over the years, because there’s such a huge gap between the two games, had you been penning ideas?

CC: We did just a year or two afterwards, and Dave actually sent through some ideas that we’d knocked backwards and forwards and one of them involved pterodactyls and going to Tasmania.

WP: My home state.

CC: So I don’t need to tell you about the Bass Strait do I? You know all about the Bass Strait, and the Bass Strait, of course, is Beneath a Steel Sky. So we got so excited that the Bass Strait was the same as the initials for Beneath a Steel Sky. But as I said earlier, this was all written on the basis that everybody knew who Foster was, who Joey was, and so we had a lot of ideas at the time. We looked at them again when we got back together and realised that none of them were relevant, because, we’re going to have to really kickstart reboot the whole thing. So if I’ve got to be totally honest, we really started again, and we started from the ground up. I worked with a journalist called Richard Cobbett, who worked for PC Gamer, who happens to live in York, which is where we’re based, and we sat down and went really back to basics. What was it about the original that people loved? What would people expect in the sequel? What is the lore? What do we bring forward? And so, I mean, I feel quite proud that the game is quite different. And yet, it very much sticks to the themes that we felt were important. Whether it be Foster’s relationship with Joey, AI, Virtual Theatre, going back to Union City, all of these things.

WP: This is the first game you used Unreal Engine 4 for. So what did that allow you to do gameplay-wise, or just in general when building this world that you probably couldn’t have done before?

CC: Well, throughout the early 2000s you had companies, Ubisoft, EA many others, building their proprietary 3D engines, which gave them a huge competitive advantage. Because obviously, there is no way that a small team like Revolution could afford to build a complex 3D engine which is one of the reasons why we stuck with 2D, so Broken Sword 5 was unashamedly a 2D game. Then Unity and Unreal come along and allow you as a small developer to utilise this incredible suite of tools, and the playing field has effectively been levelled. In terms of the technology that we can use, also the shortcuts you know, we don’t need to write joypad routines, menu systems, we know all of these things already exist, which really allowed us to focus on the graphics, the graphics technology and the gameplay. At Revolution we were very lucky that we brought forward a very experienced team from an art perspective, the art director who worked very closely with Dave, Sucha Singh, worked at Revolution on Broken Sword 3, so he brought forward an incredible experience and a wealth of knowledge and talent as an art director. Andy Boskett who was Head of Technology had also worked on Broken Sword 3, so these are people with a wealth of knowledge who’d worked at Revolution previously who could bring forward their expertise and were able to use Unreal because of their technical knowledge and were able to use Unreal in a really interesting way. Emanuele Salvucci, who wrote Tune Toy for us, we had a very experienced team and to use Unreal you do need experienced artists, technical artists and programmers because it’s a complex system but when you get it right, it can deliver incredible results.

The thing about adventure games is that because the narrative and the gameplay is bound together, it’s perfect for people to play collaboratively because you have the shared excitement of actually being able to move forward

WP: I’m gonna take a stab in the dark and say over the past 25 years, you’ve played a few video games yourself. Which ones have inspired or influenced anything in Beyond a Steel Sky?

CC: The first game I played, which we’re talking about right at the beginning of the 80s, was Space Invaders, of course, and then Galaxians. I used to play with a friend, who had just started a computer games company in 1980 in Hull, which is where my connection to Hull comes from. In those days the licensing laws around the UK meant that different counties had different opening hours to the pubs or rather closing hours, and so we would drive around looking for the ones that close the latest, play Galaxians and drink a couple of pints of beer. Then one day he said, “When you come up I’ll show you what I’m doing, maybe you should write an adventure game.” This is a guy called Richard Turner, to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude. So I’ll definitely talk about those as incredible games, and then you’ve got wonderful games like Warcraft 2, which I got absolutely hooked on.

But I’m going to talk about two. One is just the joy of Day of the Tentacle, which is my favourite adventure ever. But then also two other games that I think are superb, Inside, the successor to Limbo, and the fact that it tells the most incredible story through gameplay. What I really admire about Inside is that there is not one spoken word, there is not one written word, the whole story comes from the gameplay and from the graphics, which is an extraordinary achievement. And then in the same way I think Untitled Goose Game. You know, fun and that’s from an Australian developer of course. Like Inside but more so interesting things emerge from player actions, but within the bounds of a world where stories are being told. I think Untitled Goose Game probably came too late, but it’s very much of the same idea that there is a story, there is a world, we are telling a story, you discover that story, but fun things happen through player interactions and logical events unfold and the story emerges from that. So I’m going to name those two as the most recent, those three actually, if I include Day of the Tentacle as probably the ones that I’d like to really draw parallels with.

WP: One final one on Beyond a Steel Sky. It’s coming to PlayStation, Xbox and Switch. You must be stoked that it’s coming to all platforms?

CC: Absolutely, I’m really thrilled. And I have to say it’s brilliant to be working with Microids. You know, as a small developer, we focus on developing games, and then you get to the point where there’s this crescendo at launch and it’s fantastic to have a well resourced, experienced partner. It’s the way the world should work. It’s great.

WP: I want to quickly ask because I have to, but Broken Sword 6, can you give us any update at all? I read years ago, you said it was going to be set in Germany? Is that still a thing? 

CC: Did I say that? Our community manager is desperately worried, and she has her finger over the kill button when it comes to this internet line. If I talk about what we’re going to do next or anything then it’ll suddenly go dead. The reason that I said Germany is, obviously German fans are hugely enthusiastic about adventures, and I have to say German fans are also extraordinarily well, you know, I’m not gonna generalise about nations or whatever, but the people who play adventure games generally are very smart. They play games because they enjoy the puzzles, they enjoy the narrative. But German adventure players in particular – I remember talking to one guy and he loved Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, and he was reading in Italian, like what? He’s German and he’s reading this book in Italian. It’s insane. So I can’t talk about what our next game is or Broken Sword 6. But certainly, when we do it, there will be a heavy German presence because Germany is a great country and great people, and they love adventure games. So, you know, there’s every reason.

WP: The last question. Just on the impact that your games and Revolution’s had on the genre. I’ve backed a number of Kickstarter games over the years, and some of them list Broken Sword as the inspiration for making their game. So I guess, how do you feel? Or looking back now, from where you were 25 years ago,  seeing that your games have inspired a new generation of adventure players?

CC: Yeah, we’re very proud. There was a young developer called Pewter Games Studio, who produced a game called The Little Acre and actually asked me if I would work with them on it, because their argument was that they’d ripped off so many ideas from Broken Sword, that if I didn’t work with them, then I’d sue them. Obviously, that’s just a joke because it’s a huge compliment to have our game inspire other people, and a lot of people say that they have. When we were working with Virgin, I remember the producer of Toonstruck asked us if I could give them our icons, which I did, so that they could use them in the game. So no, it’s very flattering, and also, people who talk about when they played it as a child, particularly when they played with someone they loved. We hear from people all the time who played with one of their parents. Somebody contacted us when we did Broken Sword 5 to say played with his grandmother who’s now passed away, but he remembers so well playing the game. The thing about adventure games is that because the narrative and the gameplay is bound together, it’s perfect for people to play collaboratively because you have the shared excitement of actually being able to move forward. It’s a huge privilege, I mean, I’ve been doing it now for 30 years, I’ve been writing games for 30 years. It’s a privilege. It’s a wonderful medium. You know, I’m delighted.

WP: Well, like I said, you’ve inspired my gaming tastes, and so thank you for that, and thank you for having this chat, it’s been amazing.

CC: No it’s a pleasure. Thank you.

Beyond a Steel Sky is available now on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC via digital storefronts. The physical edition is slated to launch on January 5, 2022. You can check out what we thought of the game in our review.

Written By

Despite a childhood playing survival horrors, point and clicks and beat ’em ups, these days Zach tries to convince people that Homefront: The Revolution is a good game while pining for a sequel to The Order: 1886 and a live-action Treasure Planet film. Carlton, Burnley FC & SJ Sharks fan. Get around him on Twitter @tightinthejorts

Comments

You May Also Like

Feature

Thrice the heat in the kitchen

Advertisement