First posted on 18 December 2006. Last updated on 24 February 2010.
The Broken Sword series has garnered a loyal following among adventure game fans since its debut in 1996. Developed by Revolution Software, the series now spans over 4 games and has won numerous acclaims from both critics and fans. The success of Broken Sword has been credited to game designer and creator Charles Cecil, who is also the cofounder of Revolution Software. Today, Cecil is the Managing Director for Revolution Software and is in charge of the development of the long-awaited sequel, Broken Sword: The Angel of Death. We are privileged to have this exclusive interview with the prolific game designer. In the interview, Cecil speaks of the history of the Broken Sword series, Revolution Software's partnership with Sumo Digital, and what gamers can expect from Broken Sword: The Angel of Death.
- What was the origin of the name Broken Sword?
- I am not sure that there really was a specific origin; perhaps the fact that the broken sword is a symbol of peace had an influence. I live in the city of York in England and a few years ago a statue of Constantine the Great was erected next to the cathedral to commemorate his coronation in the city in 306AD. The statue depicts Constantine sitting atop a broken sword; it seemed a fun coincidence, or perhaps it is down to fate.
- In August 2005, you said that the demand from fans for another sequel had been overwhelming after Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon. How much of the commercial success of the last game was due to the fact that the game was published on multiple platforms or the fact that it had separate publishers for Europe and North America?
- The third game benefited commercially from being released on console as well as PC. Unfortunately, this approach required certain development compromises as the PC version, with its superior graphics and processing power, was held back by the constraints of the console versions. When we came to plan Broken Sword: The Angel of Death, we agreed with THQ to write for PC only so as to really push the boundaries in terms of the technology and graphics; we hope that a number of people who bought Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon on console will be persuaded to buy this fourth version on PC. Time will tell whether or not this was a smart decision.
We enjoyed working both with THQ in Europe and Dreamcatcher in the US; we felt that each publisher was best positioned to publish the game in each region. It is hard to compare what the likely sales would have been had one publisher covered the world.
- Unlike previous games which have been developed entirely in-house, this game is developed jointly with Sumo Digital. Why has Revolution Software chosen to outsource the development? What are the different roles Revolution Software and Sumo Digital play in this partnership?
- Revolution both wrote and undertook the production of the first three games. With requirement for ever larger team sizes, I found that it was no longer feasible to maintain a large development team to write single original titles. So at the end of the third Broken Sword we closed the production side in order to concentrate on design. This is the first title that brings together Revolution as the writers and a third party production house for a specific project – the much anticipated 'Hollywood model' for games.
Sumo Digital have a strong technology base and their project management expertise is second to none. When we started the project, a number of ex-Revolution staff were brought aboard and their experience and skills have been of enormous value.
Working in this way has allowed me to concentrate on the design and story while Sumo could concentrate on the production. This dividing of responsibilities assisted in the creation of a better structured story which is conveyed more effectively through gameplay.
- Broken Sword: The Angel of Death is purporting to be in 3D. How much does the graphic engine in this game share in common with the 3D engine used in Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon? What new features are there in the game engine used for this sequel?
- In short, there is very little similarity. Last time around we used Criterion's rendering middleware, Renderware. This time Sumo Digital have brought their proprietary technology. The Game will be the first to use Sumo's next generation development technology: Emmersion. The new system is a complete development solution covering all aspects of game creation from 3D rendering to task tracking.
Being a PC-led game, we are able to deliver state of the art technology such as depth of field, motion blur, normal mapping, dynamic mood colorization, adaptive HDR approximation, color balancing etc.
- Despite the fact that Broken Sword was originally written as a trilogy, did you secretly planted some loose ends in Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon so that the series might someday be resurrected for another sequel (as it is happening now)? How do the stories from previous games tie into this sequel?
- Broken Sword was originally planned as a trilogy in the hope that the first one would sell well enough to lead to a sequel and, if all went really well, a third. At the time the mention of a trilogy was a throw away comment which has really came back to haunt me!
We are very precious about the universe and work hard to ensure that the stories across all the games are consistent. I must admit that we never think too hard about any sequel although we do try to leave open possibilities, particularly for the return of popular characters.
- Without giving too much away, what is the premise of the story in this new sequel? Is this game written as a standalone adventure or the first part of a new trilogy?
- It is important that the game can be played without reference to the previous games, but we are self-referential to reward fans of the series.
The beginning is what I would consider to be an iconic Broken Sword scene; we view Moses, in an Egyptian temple in the Sinai desert, summoning the Angel of Death. We then move to the present day and see someone breaking into that temple; presumably finding the source of the great weapon. Then we cut to New York in the pouring rain, George arriving at his bail bond office in Harlem; he's really down on his luck. The CIA interrogated him at the end of Broken Sword 3, and eventually they let him go, but nobody would employ him. So although he's trained as a lawyer; the best job he can get is as a bail bond clerk. He walks into his office, and there's a beautiful woman, the femme fatale, waiting for him. The woman pleads for help, but he tells her to call the cops instead. Too late; suddenly the place is attacked. Slam and lock the door, they've got to get out. So he's really pitched into this adventure unwillingly. The reason that she's approached him is, she claims, that a manuscript has been stolen from her. As the game progresses, and despite the fact that Anna Maria is clearly not all she seems, George falls in love with her. And that's as much as I am going to give away.
- Who are the main protagonists in this game? Aside from George, who are the other characters from previous games that are making return appearances?
- As before, this is George's story, to a lesser extent Nico's, and the relationship between the two. The appearance of the enigmatic Anna Maria, with whom George will fall in love, creates an interesting three way tension; Nico not being particularly impressed by the arrival of this pretender to George's affection. Some characters who have featured in previous games do make an appearance.
- What are some of the historic locales where this game takes place? Does it include any familiar locale from previous games?
- The game features many of the locales that excite me culturally and / or are simply cool places to be; from New York through to Rome, from Egypt to Istanbul. Unlike last time around, we have avoided taking the player back to locations from previous games.
I take the historical research and research of our locations very seriously and will generally visit the locations to undertake recces. Of course this is almost always a pleasure – the games aim to feature locations that are exciting and interesting.
- What kinds of puzzles are in this game? Are there more physical puzzles (like the last game) or inventory puzzles (like the first and second games)?
- In writing the third game, I felt that it was important to exploit the opportunities made available in a 3D world. However, in hindsight, I don't feel that the action events worked particularly well and the crate moving puzzles were overused. This time around the emphasis is more on the traditional adventure gameplay elements; more inventory than physical in the approach to puzzles.
A key aim that runs throughout all the games is to keep the player under pressure. While we used the action event last time around, this time the player is given more time and must solve puzzles rather than react fast. I feel that this is a key element of a Broken Sword game whether it be Khan on the cliff in BS1 (shake his hand with the comedy buzzer before he shoots George) or Karzac in BS2 (stab him with ceremonial dagger before he strangles Nico) or Petra in BS3 (hit her with saucepan before she shoots Nico).
- Is Rolf Saxon returning to the voice cast as George? Who else is returning to the voice cast, particularly for Nico whose role has been voiced by different actresses in the past?
- I am delighted that once again Rolf Saxon plays George. He is a highly accomplished actor who has brought a great deal to the series. Rolf has appeared in films such as Mission: Impossible, Saving Private Ryan, as well as many West End theatrical productions – and yet, he claims, he gets more communications about Broken Sword than anything else that he's worked on.
I do have a new actress for Nico – this time a natural French speaker. I will leave you to decide whether she is right for the part.
We take the voice recording very seriously. Unlike many games, actors record the lines together so they can play off each other. We also work with very experienced voice directors who are experts at getting the best performances from the actors. I hope that this comes across in the quality of the voice acting.
- When is Broken Sword: The Angel of Death scheduled to be released in North America? What are fans going to find most surprising about this sequel?
- The release date for North America is not decided, but we expect to make an announcement very shortly. In the UK the game reached number one in the PC charts on release so we have very high hopes for North America.
I am not sure about surprised; I think that the ending is dramatic, I hope that the story will prove entertaining and dramatic, and the feeling of the game is that it returns to its roots in terms of puzzle design.
- Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
- I really hope that I will be designing and writing innovative and creatively interesting video games; exploiting the opportunities made available by the technology that will be emerging at that time.
- Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you. We all look forward to hearing more about you and your future endeavors!