Ray Ivey gets the the pleasure to have a chat with Revolution Software Founder and Managing Director Charles Cecil.
November 19, 2013
Here at JustAdventure we consider Revolution Software Founder and Managing Director Charles Cecil to be an old friend. In the years since the 1990 founding of his fabled game design studio, he and his teams have produced such titles as Lure of the Temptress, Beneath a Steel Sky, In Cold Blood and the four games in the Broken Sword series. Any adventure gamer with any sense has a history of playing at least some of these games.
Additionally, on a personal level, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars was a key title for me. I simply fell in love with the ravishing hand-drawn 2D style, the intricate and compelling story, the challenging and fun puzzles, the far-flung locales and the wonderful characters. It’s safe to say that the first game in the Broken Sword series was one of the games that showed me the breathtaking possibilities of the interactive entertainment format. I’ve never really recovered from it.
So I was naturally thrilled to get the news that the next game in the series – The Serpent’s Curse – would be a return to the 2D style of the first two games. Partially funded by Kickstarter, self-published, and developed with a high degree of interaction with long-time series fans, the fifth game in the Broken Sword series is very definitely a game of today.
Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with Charles Cecil again. It’s just a few weeks before the release of the game.
RAY: Forgive me for mining the Wikipedia article on you – I don’t know if you actually wrote the article or not –
Charles: We don't write or edit our Wikipedia entries – as far as I know, we never have.
RAY: Okay. Well: What do you think of the idea that your taste for adventure and exotic locales was sparked by some of the harrowing events you had to go through as a very young child in Africa?
Charles: My mother has written a book about the Belgian Congo in the early 60s. She had to escape from a very bloody revolution when she was about to give birth! My father wasn’t able to leave right away. He finally managed to escape on an oil nut plantation boat. There was very little room in the boat, but there was room for the boss’s finest collection of claret, which they drank as they steamed downstream, and a stuffed crocodile.
Having been told stories like that could have contributed to my love for adventure.
RAY: Okay, on to the game! When we last spoke (September 2012) you weren’t certain who the composer for The Serpent’s Curse would be.
Charles: Barrington Pheloung returned to do the score. He’s an old cricket buddy from the years before Revolution. I got back in touch with him and asked him if he’d compose the music. It’s great to have him back. His wife Heather is a great adventure fan and the way they work is this: She plays the game and records gameplay videos, which Barrington then uses to inspire and guide him in his composing.
RAY: Nico wasn’t cast when we lost spoke. Who did it turn out to be?
Charles: Nice is a girl called Emma Tate. The first Nice, who I love, Hazel Ellery, unfortunately wasn’t available. But I’m very pleased with Emma. I think she’s a fine Nice.
RAY: I see on the FB page that Android versions are coming? So I’m going to be able to play this on my Nexus 10 tablet?
Charles: Yes! Though it will be a little while before the game is ready for Android.
RAY: [does The Snoopy Dance]. We need more big games on Android!
The last time we spoke, which was –jeez –fourteen months ago, you explained to me a bit about how you were using 3d and 2d technology to create the 2d feel of the older games in a format that would visually work on today’s high-definition devices. I have to say, the footage I’ve seen from the game looks sumptuously beautiful. I’m guessing you are happy with the graphic results you and your team have achieved?
Charles: Very much so. The backgrounds are unashamedly 2D. Unfortunately, [because of the decline of 2D animated filmmaking], 2D layout artists are a dying breed so we have had to look far and wide for the right people – but we eventually tracked some great artists down.
The character models are 3D which worries some people. But 2D just wouldn’t be practical. Our graphics are SO much higher definition now. In the original game, the character models were 640 by 480. They’re around 10 times that resolution in the new game. In low resolution, your mind fills in the blanks. When you go to high resolution, the mind is much less forgiving. It’s because of this that wouldn’t be feasible to draw the characters in 3D.
In going up to HD, we have needed to add technology to ensure that the characters fit into the 2D backgrounds. We add subtle shadows, light rims. But they are subtle - my view is that when you don’t notice these details, that means it’s right. Without these details, the models just wouldn’t look right.
At one point we were toying with 3D backgrounds. It would have been cheaper. With 3D you know the perspective is right, but part of the charm of the traditional 2D layouts is that highly talented 2D artists have learned how to distort perspective so as to create mood, but while retaining believability.
We’re attempting the same thing with the 3D character models. Our characters are still very cartoony. (We wanted to avoid the Uncanny Valley.) You can take liberties with that kind of aesthetic. You can push the perspective and other things.
I think you won’t be disappointed when you see the game.
RAY: So much of the financing of this project was unusual. What have you learned? Would you use Kickstarter again? Are there things you would do differently as you look to whatever your next projects will be?
Charles: The truth is, we could not have finished this game without the backers. It would be lovely if we didn’t need to seek funding in future. But additionally, the ability to get feedback from such a large group of people is hugely valuable. And so whatever our next project is, when we do write that project, we’ll need some way to get feedback from our audience. That would be enormously helpful. We’ll want to do it either through Kickstarter or though some other method. It’s really helpful and it helps steer us in a direction that’s more likely to be successful and popular.
RAY: I see people seem to be having technical problems with the Android version of BS 2 Smoking Mirror. Any progress with that?
Charles: Android has so many devices! These issues are being addressed.
We really value our relationships with our audience and we want them to be happy with their purchase. Five years ago, our primary customer was the publisher. The publisher’s customer was the retailer and retailer’s customer was the gamer! It’s much more direct now.
I started writing games back in 1981. I rarely remember meeting gamers then. I really resented when the retailers took over that role.
Today, we get to regularly communicate with 15,000 of our closest fans!
RAY: So: What’s next for Revolution? You know I still want my sequel to Beneath a Steel Sky, not to mention In Cold Blood.
Charles: I can honestly tell you that I don’t know what we’re going to do next. My total focus is on this game. This is is a bit change from what happened before, because when we wrote our previous games, we had a lot of staff and I had to worry what they would go onto next – we simply couldn’t afford to have people sitting around with nothing to do. This stress of payroll actually hurt the focus on finishing whatever the current game was. I promised myself that I wouldn’t do that again. This new model lets us grow and shrink as needed.
Ray: What else should we talk about?
Charles: How about how the team came together? As I’ve said, we no longer employ large numbers of staff. Half of the team are experienced Revolution veterans. The other half are newer to the games industry – they tend to be younger. It’s an interesting mix of people from Revolution, who bring the passion and experience of the past, with people who have different skills and knowledge. Team has expanded as the project has continued. When be build back up again, hopefully many of the current team will come back.
Android and iOS are great new platforms for Revolution.
RAY: Well, Charles, best of luck with the PC launch of Part One of the game! And when you DO decide on what’s next for Revolution, you can be sure we’ll want to hear about it!
 Composer of the scores for Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars, Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror and In Cold Blood.