Sitting down to speak to Charles Cecil, the first things he did were apologise to me, not just for his previous interview having overrun, but also for my first experience with the Broken Sword series. You see, I didn’t come to the original game on PC or PlayStation in the 90s, nor was it the Director’s Cut release on mobile, I was somewhere in the middle, playing and loving the game on Game Boy Advance several times over on successive skiing holidays.
“There was a terrible, terrible bug where you have the choice whether to go to Syria or to Spain, and if you chose the wrong one, you couldn’t finish the game… How did that get through? That was shocking! Shocking!
“Anyway, apologies to you and anybody else that came across it.”
The series has spread far and wide since then, leaping to more games consoles, jumping to 3D graphics, and then returning to its roots, in many ways, with Broken Sword 5, half a decade ago. It has an enduring popularity where other point & click adventures lost their way and disappeared entirely.
“Well, we’ve got two things,” Charles said. “We’ve got, of course, the nostalgia, and then the new audience, both of which are very powerful.
“When we wrote the first games, where we got a lot of support from Virgin, and I think it was probably that the characters were interesting. I have a love of Paris, because I used to go there as a child with my mother – again, nostalgia, so I have a different view – and so to go back to using the Templars, who obviously emerged from France, Paris was obviously the natural place to have it. You’ve got to have a Parisian, but then you want a foil, somebody who will be culturally different and have different views. Through that, the dialogue comes, and a lot of the wit (which wasn’t written by me!) comes from the fact that [George and Nico] have very different views on life.
“I think that the affection that they have, but also the differences is what allows us to convey the narrative.”
Of course, that enduring nature has led to numerous ports and re-releases, with the Switch version of Broken Sword 5 the latest of these. You can catch our thoughts on it here, but we asked Charles if he thought it was the definitive release of the game.
“Well it is the definitive version,” he replied,” and I’m sure… that’s a very foolish thing. I was going to say I was sure we won’t do any more!
“With Broken Sword 1, I went to the dump with loads and loads of DAT tapes, because I absolutely knew in 1998 that we would never do another Broken Sword – why would we? Why would we do another Broken Sword? So never say never, but certainly there are no plans. We’re writing new games, but I’m really excited by [the Nintendo Switch].”
“I’m excited by the way the touch screen moves [to your touch],” he said, demoing the screen. “Basically if you’re playing the game, you’re moving your finger around the screen as you’d expect, but the moment you touch the stick, it changes to a different interface. The reason for that is we want people on the go, who just want a touch screen to be able to play, and then when they get home, to seamlessly transition. It is absolutely seamless.”
It’s a great consideration to the console’s capabilities, given that even Nintendo tend to ignore or overlook the fact that they’ve got a touch screen embedded in their console. It works rather well, and playing the game, I find myself swapping back and forth between the two methods for different actions.
However, with Revolution hoping to capture new players on Switch, it made me think of Broken Sword 5’s development in general, which came seven years after the fourth game and seventeen years after the original. Accessibility for new players must have been important, even with a big number in the title.
“Well originally we took the number out for exactly that reason,” Charles explained. “I’m a huge fan of Tintin, because I love the idea that you have these larger than life characters – Castafiore is very similar to Lady Piermont, and that’s not a coincidence. Lady Piermont makes her first appearance in Broken Sword, but then she reappears in Broken Sword 5, yet there’s no need to have played Broken Sword first. We try to emphasise to people that you can play the fifth one and you don’t need to know anything, but hopefully you’ll then go back and play the original games.”
Charles also revealed that there is this younger audience looking at the games, with many backers during the game’s kickstarter being in their early 20s. That said, it is difficult for people to go back and play the entire series without some form of remaster bringing everything up to date on modern consoles and hardware, outside of playing them on PC.
“[A remastered series] is obviously something that a lot of people ask for, which is just so flattering, and we’ll see how successful this [Switch release] is. The problem is that Broken Sword and Broken Sword 2 were created at 640×480, and we absolutely knew in 1998, as I said, that we wouldn’t need the assets, so we threw a lot of them away. So we would need to go back and spend a lot of time rescaling – If we’re going to do them, they have to be at 1080p. That job I would love to do, but at the moment we’re focussed on other things.”
Looking to Revolution’s future then, and what pushed Charles and the company forward, he said, “I know there’s a lot of debate around politics and so many social questions now are so toxic. What the original Beneath a Steel Sky did was it [related to] of a time when Margaret Thatcher had profoundly changed society, and one of the reasons why I moved up north was I so hated what happened to people in London, where it became all about money. To me it was all about if you had an interesting idea, what you wanted to say and what you had done.
“I actually escaped to Yorkshire, because my friend had just started a company in 1980 in Hull, and Hull was great. It was a poor working class city, but the people were very happy, it was welcoming. […] I became a surrogate Yorkshireman, and I think the time has probably come to start exploring some of those ideas again, and if you do it through a story and if you do it through a game, perhaps you can do it in a more compelling and more interesting way.”
At Tuffcub’s behest, I had to cheekily follow this up by asking if Beneath a Steel Sky was due a sequel. “Can you tell Tuff… Tuffcub? I really look forward to talking to him and you early next year when we announce our next game. I promise you it’s super ambitious and you will be really excited.”
Thanks to Charles for taking the time to talk to us at the end of a long day. Broken Sword 5 is out tomorrow, 21st September for Nintendo Switch, and if you’ve already played that and are simply eager for Revolution’s next game, then I guess you can look forward to hear more on that next year, BASS2 or not!