Yesterday's press conference at ECTS gave us our first glimpse of Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, the third episode in the million selling adventure series from British developers Revolution. And mighty impressive it looked too, with eye-catching 3D graphics and action-packed gameplay and cinematics. Which begged the question, is this really an adventure game? Luckily then we managed to track down studio boss Charles Cecil at the end of the press conference to find out more about the game's adventure credentials and how it fits into the Broken Sword saga...
Lights, Camera, Action!
"We're very proud to say that this is first and foremost an adventure", Charles told us, when we queried him about all the running, jumping, fighting and climbing seen in the teaser footage. But what separates an adventure game from an action-adventure?
"I think the primary difference is that a pure adventure requires cerebral gameplay rather than manual dexterity. This is why we go very differently to the system from Shenmue or something like that. There is a lot of action [in The Sleeping Dragon], but the action is still driven within the context of the interface. The player is not expected to make split second decisions. What they might have is someone advancing towards them with a knife, and they've got to decide whether to grab a saucepan and hit them over the head or whatever. And if they get it wrong then they're in trouble."
"In Broken Sword 2 we had a section, for example, where Nico was being strangled. She's being strangled, she's struggling, and as the player you know that after a few seconds she's going to die, and you only have those few seconds to work out what to do. And what you've got to do is get a knife and stab him backwards. Now, to us, and to the people who enjoyed Broken Sword, that was a very legitimate adventure puzzle. It was action-orientated, but it was still an adventure puzzle. And that, we think, is the key to it."
You Say You Want A Revolution
During the press conference, Charles had declared the traditional point and click adventure game to be dead. And although we've really enjoyed recent efforts like The Longest Journey, generally speaking he's got a point - the genre has become something of a dead end in recent years.
"Other adventures have tended to dwell in the past. I was asked about Lucas Arts games [in the press conference], and again they've very much stuck to what traditional adventures are. We've got a completely different idea on what should happen, and our philosophy is that we should try and work out what people want from an adventure and then deliver it in a contemporary way, rather than clinging on to this point and click interface."
"The old wander around and then if you're lucky you can run around and go backwards and forwards trying to look for obscure puzzles .. that gameplay is dead, it's gone, it's out of the window", Charles insisted. Earlier he had described Sleeping Dragon as a revolution, telling the audience that "I really believe this is the future of the adventure" game genre. Judging from what we've seen of the game so far, he might just be on to something.
The ironic thing is that Revolution's fame is largely built on the success of the earlier point and click Broken Sword adventure games, something which isn't necessarily helpful given their current attempt to forge a new path for the genre.
"Do you know, I think it's probably a disadvantage in all honesty", Charles replied, when we asked him whether Revolution's reputation was a help or a hindrance. "When people think of us they think of point and click adventures, and that's out of the window now. This is one of the reasons why we felt it was very important to actually have a press conference. We're obviously very flattered that it was well attended, but we wanted to make an absolute statement that we're nothing to do with point and click anymore. We were five or six years ago, and that was great and it was absolutely appropriate then, but it isn't anymore."
Or as Charles had put it during the press conference, "I feel very passionately that the point and click adventure was great for ten years ago", but technology and game development have moved on since then. The inference is that gamers have different expectations and attitudes today. And because the latest consoles and PC hardware allows for new perspectives and rendering techniques, shackling yourself to the traditional point and click control system merely limits what you can do with the game and its puzzles. "One of the problems with point and click games is that the puzzles have become more and more obscure, [which makes the games] boring for the majority of people", Charles had told us earlier. With Sleeping Dragon he's hoping to escape that trap and appeal to a wider audience rather than merely the hardcore adventure game crowd.
Something Old, Something New
Although many things are being changed for The Sleeping Dragon, it is still very much Broken Sword III, and parts of the game will look very familiar to fans of the series. For example, the conversation system, with players picking their response from a selection of cartoon-like icons.
"We feel that the icons work better because, first of all they're more flexible, but secondly you're not telling the player exactly what they're going to ask", Charles explained. "Through the icon map that you saw in the control system, when you interact with somebody, instead of just being able to talk to them, you can do various other things as well, because you've got four options for the four buttons [on the joypad] you can go down routes that you could never go down before. So what you're not going to have is just talk to everybody about everything and eventually you're going to solve the puzzle. That's not part of the gameplay anymore - we're not going to have the frustrating gameplay that has typified adventures of late."
The storyline should also be familiar, as Sleeping Dragon is intended to "pull together what happened in the previous two games" and fill in some of the gaps in the story. "It relates back in the sense that a lot of the ideas have come forward, but it is absolutely not necessary to have played the previous games", Charles told us. "At the end of Broken Sword 1, we don't really explain as well as I would have liked exactly what the power is and what it does. So the Sleeping Dragon is very much explaining that. And then also the idea of the pyramids and who built them, ancient civilizations and all this sort of stuff .. that's really brought back. So it ties in all those things, and that's why it was always intended to be a trilogy, and we've come full circle and explained these things."
So if Sleeping Dragon ties up those loose ends and brings the story full circle, is this the end for Broken Sword? "I certainly wouldn't like to slam the door", Charles laughed, "but we really think one game at a time". We'd better let you get on with it then...