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Live by the Sword...

Charles Cecil on Broken Sword 4, Beneath a Steel Sky and more.

Live by the Sword, die by the Sword, so the saying goes, but Revolution boss Charles Cecil has taken a somewhat different view over the past decade. Having spent the best part of the last 25 years making adventure games, he's clearly not listening to those who continue to write off the genre.

"People talk about the decline of the adventure, [but] we sold the same for Broken Sword 3 as we did for Broken Sword 2, and Broken Sword 1. The market is still very much there, and it's not declining; there's still plenty of room for adventures."

Which is all good news for those of us that fancy a bit of point-and-clickery to go with our action-adventures and first-person shooting. In fact, next month sees the release of Broken Sword: The Angel of Death - the fourth in the long-running series and the first since 2003's The Sleeping Dragon.

With The Angel of Death approaching, we caught up with the man behind the much admired series and grilled him on the "mistakes" of The Sleeping Dragon, what to expect from number four, whether a sequel to Beneath a Steel Sky will ever see the light of day, and the challenges facing developers in this era of spiraling costs.

George turns psycho?
Eurogamer What have you learned from the feedback you got from The Sleeping Dragon?
Charles Cecil

I'm always enormously flattered that we have a really solid fanbase. And by God, while they're happy to tell you what they like, they're happy to tell you what they don't like! That's incredibly useful, because most industries pay all this money for market research; we get it for free, which is wonderful.

I think that the adventure community is splitting into two groups - those that like 2D and think that it should never change, and those that are embracing 3D. What we're trying to do is drive a path in between the two, so we're creating games that have a 2D look, but we take advantage of 3D.

In writing Broken Sword 3, I felt it was important to put in puzzles that use 3D to really bring the scenes to life. I don't want to write 2D point-and-click adventures where the world is absolutely dead and it reacts to what the player does. When I said point-and-click is dead, that's what I was referring to.

So what did we learn? I was very proud of Broken Sword 3, but clearly it had mistakes; mistakes that we made because we did an awful lot moving from 2D to 3D. I think we did a lot right, but we did some things wrong.

There were too many crate puzzles. The reason I put crate puzzles in - and I defend that, and indeed you can move the environments round in Broken Sword 4 - was because moving into 3D, I felt it was important we embraced that in terms of some of the puzzles. Being able to move objects within the environment with simple physics was very much a part of that.

But that then got extrapolated, to the extent that we had very complex puzzles at points in the game where the player expected to be able to move very fast. We stopped the player from progressing at points at which the narrative was implying that they should be able to advance quickly. That frustrated people, and I don't blame them. We certainly haven't made that mistake again.

Stealth - again, the reason I included that in Broken Sword 3, and to a much lesser extent in Broken Sword 4, is that it's important in the Broken Sword games that the games have a level of pacing. So there are parts where it's static, there are parts where you're under pressure, there are parts where it's exciting, there are parts where you can sit back and take as long as you want.

By putting stealth in, we're putting the player under pressure, and I think that's really important. What we didn't do particularly well in Broken Sword 3 was indicate to the player the areas of light and dark. Nor did we indicate particularly well how the guards would react. So the problem was an interface problem, rather than something specific to the idea of stealth.

The third area that we received lots of feedback on was the decision to abandon point-and-click. In hindsight, I think that was probably a mistake. In Broken Sword 4, we allow the player to either use point-and-click or direct control. It's very interesting. A lot of people prefer direct control; I personally have gone back to point-and-click, but both control methods work really, really well.

What we're very much trying to do is embrace the old and the new. While games like Fahrenheit are very much turning into interactive movies, we're moving more towards our roots - in the way that the control system works, the way that the puzzles are designed... I'm very interested to see the way a lot of adventures are going, but we certainly aren't embracing that. We're embracing the classical elements that made the genre popular.

George still sporting that trademark '90s curtain look.
Eurogamer After the success of The Sleeping Dragon, did you get a bigger budget this time around?
Charles Cecil

No. We absolutely accept that adventure is a niche genre. We're trying to create something that has enormous cinematic values. But then again, we work within a budget.

Eurogamer Are the voiceovers less parochial this time?
Charles Cecil

Hahaha! Right. Eurogamer was pretty much the only review that I read where they felt that the characters were stereotypical. [Editor's note: Kristan's review can be found over yonder.] I always say that the characters are archetypal, and I think it's important that they're archetypal. The reason is that the moment you see them, you know what to expect from them.

Certainly, there were characters in Broken Sword 3 that were designed specifically for puzzles, rather than as part of the main story. I would say that the characters are a lot more interesting in Broken Sword 4 - we don't have any peripheral characters.

Last time around, apart from Eurogamer, people liked the fact that we had archetypal characters. It's important for the game, because it means we don't need to explain too much, and you can just get on with the game rather than having to explain exactly who these characters are and what to expect from them.

We have a lot of characters, 30 to 40 - many more than you'd expect in a movie. So we just don't have time, nor would the player want us, to go into great detail about who these people are. That's why we make them fairly archetypal.

Eurogamer Are there less contrived action sections now? Is this a return to pure puzzling, or has the action side of things been given an overhaul?
Charles Cecil

The action is very different. Before, we had the equivalent of the quick time event, and that didn't work as well as I'd expected. The reason that we had those was, again, to put the player under pressure, so we had a range of pacing.

I've very much turned my back on that, but we do want to keep the pressure on, so right from the very beginning you have these blokes trying to kick the door down, and you've got to decide what to do. In that particular case, they don't actually ever break through, but there is a sense of being under pressure. We don't have the same requirements for instant reactions.

Never trust a man who hangs around bins.
Eurogamer Were you encouraged by the success of Fahrenheit? What did you think of it?
Charles Cecil

Fahrenheit was very, very interesting. A really, really good game. I thought the fact that they simplified the interface, they didn't have an inventory, meant that actually it was extremely simple. There was no way that it could be anything but simple to complete, and while that was great for Fahrenheit, in Broken Sword we still embrace the inventory.

I want a puzzle to be solved because the player has to think about what the solution is, rather than putting a puzzle in the way as a temporary block for the narrative to advance. Dreamfall, in particular, was very much an interactive movie, and we've taken a different stance.

People talk about the decline of the adventure. Between 1985 and 1995, it declined enormously. But I don't think it's declined since 1995. We sold the same for Broken Sword 3 as we did for Broken Sword 2, and Broken Sword 1. The market is still very much there, and it's not declining; there's still plenty of room for adventures.

Eurogamer How long is the game this time? Is there any replay value?
Charles Cecil

Broken Sword 1 was based in Paris, and there were a number of locations you could jump between, and things would change. I've embraced that in the design this time, so there's a map system and you can go to cities, and things have changed. One of the things that frustrates me about adventures is that if you go back to a location and things have moved forward, if it looks exactly the same as it did before, and it feels the same, then the suspension of disbelief is broken.

As for gameplay length - the game isn't much longer than Broken Sword 3, but because we've changed the structure, because you return to locations, there's quite a lot more gameplay. Probably about 50 per cent. If, for example, Broken Sword was 12 to 14 hours, this would be 18 to 20 hours.

Eurogamer Arguably, puzzling in videogames has dumbed down over the years. Games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill have become more action focused, and The Sleeping Dragon moved in that direction. Why do you think that is?
Charles Cecil

That's a really good question. I think we've tried to appeal to a more mainstream audience, and that audience wants instant gratification. With our Broken Sword games, we embrace the fact that it's an adventure, and we're proud of that.

Maybe with Broken Sword 3, there was some pressure... I wanted to move it more towards mainstream, and maybe embrace some of this instant gratification and instant drama. With Broken Sword 4, we're much more confident - we're saying, it's an adventure, we're proud of the fact that it's an adventure, we're not pretending it's anything else.

An in many ways, we're returning to our roots. Broken Sword 4 is a lot more like 1 and 2, in terms of the gameplay, than Broken Sword 3.