Ray Ivey chats with the veteran developer about the Broken Sword series, Kickstarter, and the upcoming Broken Sword: The Serpent's Curse
September 18, 2012
Note: My interview technique is very low-tech, which means that, while Charles and I used the magic of Skype for our conversation, I did not digitally record the interview. So what follows will by necessity include a lot of paraphrasing. My apologies to Charles when I do not make him sound as eloquent as he naturally is.So, first of all, it’s great to be talking to you again, Charles! I remember the first time I met you was probably in 2000 when you sat me down at a big round table at E3 and showed me the upcoming GameBoy Advance version of Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars!How long has Kickstarter been a serious consideration for this project? Were you inspired by the DoubleFine success in February the way so many of us were, or were you plotting this long before?We were very inspired by the success of Tim Schafer’s Kickstarter project in February. It was so impressive. His attitude was: this is either going to go very very well or really really badly. But either way, let’s have some fun! He clearly had huge support from the gaming community to to be able to raise that much money without even committing to what the game would be. From Revolution’s perspective, it was important to launch our Kickstarter when we were able to say, this is the game, this is what it’s about, this is when it’s going to be finished! Given that there are a lot of project out there, we knew we’d be competing for attention. We wanted to be able to say, “We’ve already spent this much money, we need you to help us fund the rest of the project.”How’s the Kickstarter fund progressing? We hit our target after 12 days – we have hit the first stretch goal and are close to hitting the second. So we are absolutely thrilled. The really extraordinary thing is that the whole exercise has created a huge amount of emotional energy around the game. It is wonderful to be able to communicate with fans and to get so much feedback. KS has galvanized the communication in a way that we couldn’t have forseen.Do I understand correctly that this financial model has the potential to reap well-deserved benefits directly to Revolution in a way that the traditional game financing solutions wouldn’t?Very much so!! In the traditional model, a publisher funds a game and takes all the risk. When the publisher sells the game, the developer gets assigned a 7% royalty, but against that is deducted development, localization, QA, etc. Under that system, even though the Broken Sword games have earned hundreds of millions, Revolution has seen almost none of it. For the developer to survive in today’s market, it needs to find a way to self-fund the titles. Two years ago, we started digitally self-publishing on Apple and then the PC / Mac versions on Steam, GoG and, of course, Just Adventure. When developers sell digitally, they typically get 70% of the revenue! It’s a profoundly different business model! So it was absolutely essential to find a new way to fund our games. Otherwise it would not have been possible to survive. Fortunately, we earned profits from the Apple sales, and decided that we wanted to re-invest this money to create a new Broken Sword game. We had two clear choices: Either make a cheaper game, OR write a full-price high production game, which would cost around a million pounds (1.5 million US). We were at the point where we could fund the first half, and the proposition on Kickstarter was: we’ve spent ½ million pounds, could you help us write the second half? Kickstarter is currently only open to US companies, although they have announced that they will be opening up to European companies this fall. So we set up a wholly owned subsidiary, Revolution Software Inc. and have a very clear, formal agreement between the two entities. I think I am going to start a Kickstarter Project to get me a car. What do you think?I’ll participate!As much as I enjoyed the last two 3D Broken Sword adventures, I cannot tell you how excited I was to see the luscious 2D graphics make a return. How do you feel about a return to that classic style?I’m very excited about it. The look of the backgrounds is really important, and we have really skilled and experienced 2D layout artists. They know how to design the layout and cheat perspective to create mood and feeling. Cartoon 2D guys who get it can create more emotive backgrounds over the accuracy of 3D. The original layout artist for Broken Sword, Eoghan Cahill, died this year. He was a dear friend and a highly talented layout artist. We worked together to create the initial stages of the first Broken Sword game. He was wonderful because he pushed us creatively – always asking why we couldn’t do something that he thought might work when we pushed back on his ideas.
How is making a 2D-style game different now from the days of Beneath a Steel Sky and the first Broken Sword game? Technically easier? Harder?We’re creating games that will run on really high resolution devices. On iPad 3, for example, our graphics are three times the resolution of the early PCs both horizontally and vertically, so that’s ten times the number of pixels. It would be hugely complex to get the expected quality in the character models using 2D. So what we’re focusing on is creating characters in 3D, rendering them in 2D, and creating tech that makes them look and feel like the original, but with all the detail needed in today’s high definition, high resolution gamespaces. It’s great that Rolf Saxon is returning to play George. How about Nico? Am I correct that all four games have had a different actress in the role? Who will Nico be this time around?Nico has not been cast yet – we are in discussion with Hazel Ellerby. I thought Barrington Pheloung’s score added immensely to the first two games. Who’s doing the score for the new game? That’s also in process – we are in discussion with Barrington too! Will this game be “globetrotty” like the others? Absolutely yes. We have revealed key locations in Paris and London. We haven’t talked publically about the other locations – beyond that George will find himself dangling from cable cars, exploring mountain retreats, and having adventures in many exotic cities. We plan to take the player to aspiring places, places they would want to visit. The success of the Kickstarter appeal, and in particular reaching stretch goals, means that we are expanding the game to include further more exotic locations. And goats. Will the game have the “quick time” events that the first game had (but that were left out of the “Director’s Cut”)?Yes, there will puzzles that, if not completed quickly enough, will result in death!! The timed events should be exciting, but will still be essentially cerebral. We won’t be building puzzles with fractions of a second to decide what to do. However, we will return the player to just before that scene so very little time will be lost if the player needs to make a new attempt. The game will also include contextually-appropriate minigames. Looking back at Director’s Cut, I didn’t feel that the first gate puzzle was great. But I do think that most of the others did work: decrypting a message that had been sent by one key character to another; arranging a jigsaw puzzle that reveals Nico’s father; turning lenses to reveal a crucial visual clue. Any new puzzles we create will be cerebral and organic to the situation.Will the UI be similar to the first game?Yes.It looks like this game is definitely embracing a “traditional” vibe. Will there be any significant ways in which Serpent’s Curse will differ from the earlier games?From an interface perspective, it’ll be point and click / slide and tap. Where we will innovate will be in the elements having to do with the gameplay rather than the interface. We’re playing with the idea of knowledge as something you can manipulate to solve clues. The player will put knowledge together like you might have inventory objects in other games to create logical conclusions! You’re probably sick of this question, but why isn’t there a feature film featuring George and Nico? I’d go see it!Of course, we’ve been approached by production companies interested in making a Broken Sword feature. They ask, ”Will you write us a story?”My immediate response is, “Absolutely, as long as I can work with you. Our expertise is in interactive narrative, and yours is in linear narrative.” Then a new game comes along and we all get engulfed by that! I am determined that any film is good – we can’t afford it to be rubbish. The continual delays are frustrating both for them and me.Are there any adventure games in the last few years that you’ve admired? I am tending to play the adventure games published on iOs. I liked Telltale’s Hector and Puzzle Detective. AlsoMachinarium and its predecessor, Samorost . And dabbled with the crude but hilarious Hector. Edna on iPad from Daedalic is next. So. Where’s my “Beneath a Steel Sky” sequel?Keep talking about it! It might well come next. That would make me very happy! Thanks, Charles! It goes without saying that we’re all eager to follow the progress of the new game!