The classic adventure series is back: we find out how the creator’s bringing Templars, murder mystery and intrigue to a new generation of gamers.
Dan Brown needs no introduction: the man who wrote the Da Vinci Code turned the Knights Templar into a secret cult, dedicated to protecting the identity of Jesus Christ’ descendants over millenia.
If anyone deserves credit for bringing an ancient religious order in to vogue though, it’s Charles Cecil (MBE), CEO of Revolution Software and creator of one of the longest running series of video games of all time.
The classic 1996 adventure game Broken Sword: The Shadow Of The Templars used the Templars as the jumping off point for a sinister conspiracy stretching across centuries, seven years before the Da Vinci Code was published.
Not that Cecil is taking credit for inspiring Brown directly, of course. “I certainly would never make the claim,” he tells Red Bull UK. “I just loved the idea of the Templars and using them as a backdrop, and that was before they were part of the zeitgeist.”
Twenty years on and millions of sales later, Broken Sword is still going strong. The stars of the series, American lawyer George Stobbart and French journalist Nicole Collard, have travelled the world, cracking mysteries and taking on the Templars.
Now they’re back for a fifth instalment, Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse. The game, due for release later this year, is a return to 2D point and click for Cecil, but one he’s sure the fans want: York-based Revolution raised more than $770,000 (£500,000) on Kickstarter to make the game, smashing their original $400,000 (£260,000) target in the process. “The generosity of our fans on Kickstarter was absolutely fantastic,” he says.
“It totally changed the business model. Although our games have earned hundreds of millions of dollars, that money’s gone to publishers and retailers, it hasn't gone to us - to the extent that we were developing very successful games at a loss. Instead of getting effectively seven percent, [Kickstarter] gave us 70 percent. The key thing that we had to do to get to this position was to self-fund because the thing that publishers used to do was take the risk...now instead of working for them, they effectively work for us.”
All of a sudden, it seems like adventure games are back in fashion. Last year, legendary LucasArts adventure game creator Tim Schafer raised millions the very same way to make a new comedy adventure game - and then there’s The Walking Dead, the gripping comic book adaptation that tasks you with making impossible decisions in a post-zombie apocalypse world.
“I think the nearest thing that we have to the interactive movie is The Walking Dead, which I think is a fantastic game,” says Cecil. “It’s just a great experience. To me that’s what the next generation of interactive movies has become, and I think it works very well for it.”
Despite the Kickstarter comeback, Cecil doesn’t think adventure games ever faded from view - high street shops just lost interest in stocking them with the rise of the PlayStation and the 3D gaming era.
“I don’t think they ever really went away,” he says. “It was really that that marginalised adventure games, because publishers would much rather the next 3D visceral shooter was pitched to [shops] than an adventure game, so adventure games became very indie.”
If anything, they’ve found a new home on mobile. Cecil’s made Broken Sword available on everything from the GameBoy advance to the first Palm and Windows smartphones over the years, so he jumped at the chance to bring the series to the iPhone - as a result, Broken Sword was one of the very first blockbuster games on the App Store.
“We’re lucky that point and click has translated extremely well - I do think that Broken Sword was certainly one of the pioneers, if not the pioneer of adventure games on touchscreens, and we discovered that actually the mechanism works extremely well and we were there early.”
The first Broken Sword was a hit on iPhone.
“Apple have been absolutely brilliant. Apple phoned us up just when the iPhone came out and urged us to produce one of our adventure games, and were hugely supportive of us as well. We owe a great debt of gratitude to them,” says Cecil.
When Apple calls you, you know you’re in the big leagues. Since then, Cecil’s ported the first two hit Broken Sword games to both iOS and Android, and you’ll be able to play The Serpent’s Curse on them too - it’s being made for PC, Mac, Linux, mobile - and more, Cecil hints.
“We will almost certainly do console versions as well but the console versions we would publish through the format holder - so we’re not in a position to state which ones we would be able to produce at this stage.”
“They look fantastic,” he says. “When they come out we certainly will do. We’ll benefit from the ones that are successful so yes, we certainly will be supporting them.”
The third Broken Sword game took the jump to 3D back in 2003, but with the fifth instalment, Revolution is going back to trusty 2D.
If working across so many different platforms sounds tricky, it’s nothing Cecil isn’t used to. “It’s easy to do so. When I first started there was one format and that was the ZX Spectrum but then a few years later you had this nightmare scenario where at one point you were developing for the PC, the Amiga, the Commodore 64, the Spectrum and the Amstrad CPC.”
Broken Sword’s one of just a few adventure games mentioned in the same breath as Schafer’s side-splitting point and click titles from the same 90s era, like Monkey Island, Sam & Max and Day Of The Tentacle, but Cecil’s always stayed away from comedy, preferring to seek thrills in the history books instead.
“One of the things we’re really proud of in the games is we inspire people to research the history, to go to places, to follow through on the authenticity. History works so well in our games,” he says. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to go to exotic and interesting places and to research them, and to find ways of making connections.”
“The emails we get show that people actually really enjoy the authenticity. So often I’ve asked about which locations are real, which ones can people visit...it’s just fantastic because at the time you wouldn’t have thought that it actually made any difference, nobody would really care, but it’s great when you’re able to talk to people about these real places and people go to Paris and they go and explore, try and find what’s real and not real.”
So when will Broken Sword tourists be able to get their next Templar fix and start planning their holiday? “September is what we’re tracking for,” Cecil says. “Currently we’re shooting for a September release.” With that, it’s back to work at beating Dan Brown.
For more gaming action:
- Remember the ten best action sports games on PS2
- Check out the new multiplayer that throws out the rulebook
- Find out what the stars of mobile gaming did next