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Charles Cecil on using Kickstarter to maintain creative freedom and make Broken Sword 5 bigger and better

All with a plot beyond that Da Vinci Code bollocks

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Product: Broken Sword 5 - the Serpent's Curse | Developer: Revolution Software | Genre: Adventure
For:   Also on: AndroidiPhoneiPadPS Vita
Broken Sword 5 - the Serpent's Curse iPhone, thumbnail 1
It's been a long time since we saw an all-new Broken Sword game - six years, in fact.

But that's all set to change thanks to Revolution Software's Kickstarter campaign for the fifth game in the series, subtitled The Serpent's Curse.

Unlike a lot of Kickstarters, the team aren't asking for pledges to get the project underway, but to finish it.

It's set a modest target of $400,000 - a figure it's likely to clear by some considerable margin, such is the enduring popularity of the point-and-click adventure series.

We caught up with the creative visionary behind the series, Charles Cecil, for an extended discussion about the game's genesis, the inspiration for the new storyline, and his thoughts about why the Gnostic gospels are 'dynamite'.

Pocket Gamer: So when are you aiming to release The Serpent's Curse?

Charles Cecil: The very beginning of 2013.

Your Kickstarter target is only $400,000. Surely you'll easily top that total? Tens of thousands of fans want this game.

I hope so. The great thing about crowd funding is it's an extraordinary concept. It was unthinkable five years ago.

If you're one of these venture capitalists, or whatever, you must be a little bit worried, because if it goes a little bit further .... What are they going to do?

Everything's going digital, but I like the fact there's still an exclusive boxed version of the game available for the traditionalists.

I did a bit of analysis about what other people had done, and Jane Jensen just scraped in. She was getting it in at $50, and Double Fine got in at $100, and that what we're trying to do.

What platforms are you looking to support beyond PC and Mac? Presumably iOS has to be in there?

My feeling on this is if you say to people, 'Give us more money and we'll give you an iOS version, then all the PC guys go 'Why would I give more money to fund an iOS version?'

So, what we're going to do is play it quite differently. We'll say, yes, we'd like to do an iOS version, but [if we get more money] we'll do more content.

The lesser priority is to do more formats, because who cares if you do a Linux version, or all these other versions, or a PlayStation Network version? It's very easy [to do that]. Obviously, Double Fine was there first, and has done a great job, but a lot of gamers have funded 10 Kickstarters already, and are now picking and choosing. So the 'stretch reward's are quite important.

But we'd like the game to be bigger. We'd certainly like Broken Sword: The Serpent's Curse to be bigger than Broken Sword 2. That's our real priority.

Adventure games used to be really long. How long would you like it to take people to play through?

We've taken out puzzles before that were really difficult, just because that's what you did. People enjoyed the frustration, but life isn't like that anymore. Life's too short.

So [The Serpent's Curse] is quicker to play through, and also there's a hint system if you get stuck. It's probably eight hours. That sounds like a good amount of time for most people.

What's the narrative approach compared to previous games?

It's very rich. The great thing is when we wrote Broken Sword 1, we had all the time in the world, because we were being bankrolled by Virgin Interactive. For Broken Sword 2 we had a fair bit of tune, but Broken Sword 3 and 4, were very much 'You finish the story now, you finish this milestone, then we pay you.'

No games - and certainly not adventure games - should work that way because you need to always refine the story, design the puzzles ... the story always comes back.

Because we're writing at our pace and our budget, and under our terms, I would hope that it will feel very rich in the way that particularly the first game did, because it has got a very strong background, and it's a subject I think is fascinating.

We keep tweaking things. What about this? What's the theological debate? Who are the characters that are going to have this big argument at the end about the devil? You know the devil is in man's heart, but is it Lucifer?

What our job is, is to create the next zeitgeist. I can't believe this whole Gnostic Gospel stuff is not in the public consciousness. Why are we not all talking about it? It's so profoundly important. It's the truth that Dan Brown sort of scratched when he talked about The Sacred Feminine, but his was bollocks. We wouldn't have put any of that stuff in, because it was clearly nonsense.

Does the game have a familiar cast?

Character-wise, it's George and Nico again. You know, we were very close to killing off Nico at the end of Broken Sword 2. I'm glad we didn't! There are two or three characters people will remember, and lots of new ones as well. It's the same formula we've done all along. Remember the woman playing the piano in the first one?

How many people worked on the original Broken Swords? Have you got some of the original team back?

Generally we had about thirty people in the old days. We've got about ten people on The Serpent's Curse. Tony Warriner, who worked with me at Artic Computing and co-founded Revolution, is back. We've also got Andy Boskcett, a programmer who worked on Broken Sword 3, Nana Neilson, who worked on the story for The Angel Of Death, and some new people as well.

Is it the same voice cast?

Yes, the same people. Our George has always been the same George. Rolf Saxon's fantastic. He'll read the script, and he'll deliver a line and go: 'Why do you do it that way?' He changed the script for this. He'd say 'George wouldn't say that.' And this is what we're trying to do.

He's talking to Nico, he said: 'I think I should start skeptical, because then when I start to accept it, that means we've gone through a journey'. It just works really, really well.

Rolf's done quite a lot of stuff. He's been in Saving Private Ryan, and all these famous things, but he says it's Broken Sword that the vast majority of his mail is about. He's absolutely synonymous with that.

It's great for him, and he's very loyal to us, and we're very loyal to him. He's a terrific actor. You really need confident actors; they lift the whole thing, and he's one of those. We've always had quite timid Nicos, the actresses have lacked confidence, and he's always pulled them along.

At what stage do you do the voices?

You want to do the voices as late as possible, because it's when you record the voices that you finally lose your final ability to adjust the game.

You've got to bear in mind the localisers only want to do their voice recordings once they can hear the English. There's a critical path that works all the way back, so you're always buffeting it. You've got the availability issue of the actors as well.

The advantage that we have is that actors are a lot cheaper if you get them late, because their argument is that if you book them six months in advance, then when this Hollywood blockbuster comes along, they're going to have to turn it down, whereas if you book them two weeks in advance, then they haven't got anything on anyway and could do with the money.

How many languages are you planning to localise in?

Once again, that's a stretch thing. The core three are English, French and German. We really ought to translate it into Italian and Spanish as well, but it's hard. We would certainly like to do text for those five languages.

We already have a lot of people barracking us from Spain and Italy saying they really hope it's going to be full voice. Virgin did a great job with the localisation for the first two games. We got five languages fully voiced, and text translations in Polish, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese, and others I've forgotten. And people come to us and say 'Ooh, can we have that?' and we have to go on eBay and look them up and buy them and reverse engineer them because we don't have any of the assets!

Do you write the story and dialogue? Or is it collaborative?

Everything's collaborative, but I very jealously hold the vision, so I am generally the one who writes the story - in collaboration with others - and then the puzzles as well, because the puzzles and story are so interlinked.

We also have designers, and I'll work with them on each of their sections, but obviously keeping an overview of how the section should link and how the story should develop.

The way we approach it, is you write the story, you've got some new features to do with smartphones and looking up information and combining knowledge. So the story on one side, features on the other, and then obviously once you implement them you're drawing from both. You're saying how can we use the features that we've come up with, and how can it drive the story forward?

For example, we work very hard to make sure the puzzles are logical. My sense is very much that the tide is very much moving in favour of logical puzzles rather than silly puzzles, because silly puzzles you often only get through trial and error, and of course you have a funny pay-off, but people don't want to do that so much. What they want is the more logical way, where if you sit and think about it for a bit, then you'll get the answer fairly quickly. I think that probably suits us.

How much has the series sold in total?

Around six million, which is obviously a lot smaller than the really big console games. But we sold around half a million Broken Sword games on mobile alone over the last year.

Are you surprised how the adventure game has come back?

It's absolutely extraordinary. The adventure game was dead in the water at one point. Only three or four years ago, the front page of MCV was 'PC is dead'. Now, can you imagine anyone saying that?

But you did very well on PlayStation 1?

Don't get me wrong - PlayStation 1 was brilliant, and Sony was brilliant, and I loved working with Sony. It was a fantastic, tiny team. Everybody was hugely overworked, but basically if you just solved their problems for them, and say 'This is what I think you should do', they'd go and do it. And that's one of the reasons why Broken Sword was so successful on PlayStation, because we ultimately had a big hand in how the thing worked. And Sony loved it, because we made suggestions and helped them do the right thing.

But, my argument is PlayStation was so successful that all these publishers started getting dollar signs and just said 'Eff it', and went for all the obvious, visceral 3D games, and that was what marginalised and eventually killed the traditional 2D adventure.

These [3D] games grew the market, but what people didn't realise was that although the market was growing, the gamers who wanted less visceral games were being lost at the same time. And when the DS came out; that started drawing that older audience that had gone, and you had games like Professor Layton selling bucketloads. It opened people's eyes.

What's the scenario this time?

What kicked this off was we can't trade on the Templars any more. We feel we were very much part of the zeitgeist with the Templars [with Broken Sword 1].

Foucault's Pendulum
[book by beardy Italian philosopher Umberto Eco] mentioned them, but as far as using them in the way that we did - and obviously Dan Brown did in a very similar way - we feel that we were part of troupe. So this time we've moved on. I really do think The Da Vinci Code is a load of rubbish.

So, what's the significance of the subtitle: The Serpent's Curse?

What turned me on was the Gnostic Gospels. I thought it was dynamite, and it drives everything in the game, and that's why it's called The Serpent's Curse.

In 1945 in a place called Nag Hammadi in Egypt - it's like one of these fairytales - a farmer was digging in some soft soil that they use as fertiliser, and he came across a clay casket. He smashed it open and found 12 leather bound manuscripts inside.

These contained 52 Gnostic treatises that were considered heretical by Orthodox Christianity, and had otherwise been destroyed. Nobody knew they existed. For some time he kept those manuscripts, and apparently his mother burned some of them, but he thought they might be valuable. So he sold them in Cairo.

What I think is particularly interesting is the gospel called The Testament Of Truth.

In it, there's the serpent, Lucifer - so called because Lucifer is Luc-Ferre, which is the bringer of light, the bringer of enlightenment. But at no point is Lucifer called the devil. He is the bringer of light. What the Testament of Truth talks about, is there's this jealous God, the creator of man, and then you've got the bringer of light.

And God, the God of creation, is absolutely furious, because man was childlike, ignorant, and then this other God comes along and gives man knowledge; enlightens him, which, if you read the Creation story in the Bible makes perfect sense.

Broken Sword: The Serpent's Curse will be released in early 2013 on PC, Mac, and mobile formats.

You can contribute to the game's Kickstarter here.

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Reviewer photo
Kristan Reed 27 August 2012
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