The adventure genre has undoubtedly had its ups and downs. After its heyday on the PC platform, which came about thanks to developers like LucasArts and Sierra, the genre steadily thinned out. Only a few projects have recently made a respectable profit, and one of them is Revolution Software's Broken Sword series--which is also, in fact, Europe's most successful adventure series. We recently spoke with Charles Cecil, managing director of Revolution Software, as well as Tony Warriner, lead programmer of the Game Boy Advance version of Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, to bring you an in-depth look at the game.
The first question that comes to anyone's mind when thinking about adventure games on the Game Boy Advance is whether they are really possible on the handheld system. "We see adventure-type games doing extremely well on the GBA," Warriner said. "We had a surprise hit with Broken Sword on the PlayStation, and we're confident the same will happen on the GBA. People enjoy stories, and they like games that are easy to play--younger players especially. So, there is every possibility that the genre will enjoy a revival with new gamers discovering the adventure gameplay style on the GBA." It might seem like a pretty crazy idea to port a game from a 650MB CD to a GBA cartridge, but considering that The Shadow of the Templars has sold more than 1 million copies on the PC and PlayStation combined, releasing a version on the GBA--if it's done right--could turn out to be a smart decision. "A version of Broken Sword for the Game Boy Advance started off as a mad suggestion a couple of months back," Cecil said. "We prototyped the graphics engine, got the basic gameplay working, and realized that it worked really, really well." It was then that the company decided to port the game to the Game Boy Advance. "A while ago, we wrote a demo of Broken Sword to run using Java in a browser window," Warriner explained. "We also have an iPAQ Broken Sword running very nicely. This got us thinking about how easy it would be to approach other platforms such as the GBA."
The game puts you in the role of George Stobbard, a tourist visiting Paris. A man disguised as a clown storms into a café where George is having a drink. The clown quickly leaves, and a bomb explodes few seconds after his departure. The bomb, as it happens, kills a character who is central to Broken Sword's storyline. Amidst the confusion following the explosion, the clown escapes via a canal, but not without a trace--George finds a few items that the clown left behind, be it accidentally or on purpose. George also meets a charming female reporter named Nicole Collard, and the duo then begins to examine the case, which takes the story as far back as the medieval age and weaves a mysterious order named the Knights of the Templar into the tale (hence the subtitle).
The adventure of American tourist George Stobbard and French reporter Nicole Collard will feature a lot of puzzles and intense storytelling, two things that can't come to the GBA without a few compromises. "The biggest change in the GBA version is the control interface, of course," Warriner said. "We're using a direct control method, which sounds quite wrong, but in fact works just fine. We didn't think the screens would work at such a small resolution, but to our surprise, they are indeed really nice." Basically, it's a point-and-click adventure where you need to talk to people, find and use objects, and gather clues to solve the mystery.
As games like Rayman Advance have proven already, it's possible to compress an enormous amount of graphical data onto a GBA cart, giving the handheld's games a graphical quality that is almost identical to those of 32-bit platforms. Broken Sword is one of the games that proves just how impressive graphics can be on the Game Boy Advance. Especially encouraging is that it's also a first-generation game. "Like most GBA developers, we have to look very hard at compression techniques to ensure we get as much as possible into the cart," Warriner said. "It's easy to think that you'll never get any more to squeeze in, but it can always be done. Broken Sword has a lot of animation, and, to some degree, we have to be realistic about what goes in and what isn't required." Even the epic soundtrack from the PC version will be converted to the GBA format, although in much smaller proportions. However, you'll still recognize themes and automatically remember them if you've played the PC or PlayStation originals. The GBA version will even feature a hidden Easter egg, which is completely new. The developers didn't want to reveal what's hidden inside, though.
"A month or two ago, I wouldn't have believed it possible--but Broken Sword: the Shadow of the Templars on the Game Boy Advance is, to all intents and purposes, the PC CD-ROM version," Cecil said. "Though obviously at a lower resolution, the animations and backgrounds retain amazing clarity." We can only agree that this is an ambitious project indeed. Revolution Software has a potentially big title coming to the GBA, and it will be interesting to see whether consumers will be interested in adventure gaming on portable platforms. With releases like Alone in the Dark for the Game Boy Color and the likes of Broken Sword coming to the GBA, the future looks bright for adventurous quests in handheld gaming.
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars will be published on the GBA worldwide by Bam Entertainment, and it is expected to ship in early 2002.