Charles Cecil on Broken Sword, Kickstarter, and Why Sony Has a Lot to Answer For

We speak to Revolution Software's Charles Cecil about Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse, why he chose Kickstarter over a publisher, and how Sony helped kill the point-and-click.

Today Revolution Software announced Broken Sword: The Serpent's Curse, a new, original 2D point-and-click adventure in the Broken Sword series that's set for release on PC, Mac, iOS, and Android in early 2013. We spoke to Revolution's managing director Charles Cecil about the Kickstarter campaign, working with publishers, and what we can expect to see from the game.

GameSpot: I guess the obvious question is, why Kickstarter?

Charles Cecil: Well, we've been developing Broken Sword, entirely self-funded, for six months. We've spent over 500,000 dollars and we're at a stage now where we need some funding to complete it, and one of the options is Kickstarter. Obviously, there are many other options as well, but Kickstarter was a great one. It's good for us, because it means we retain commercial and creative control, which is ultimately good for the game, and of course good for the gamer--they'll get a great game out of it.

GS: So you weren't tempted to go to a publisher to develop and release the game?

CC: We've talked to publishers, and publishers have approached us, and in many cases we've worked well with them, so we're not against the idea. The opportunity to self-publish on the primary digital formats is very attractive, because of retaining commercial and creative control. The difference between this new Broken Sword and the older ones is that when you work with a publisher that's funding it, there are milestones to reach, which puts you into a kind of straightjacket. The great thing about doing it this way is that we can make a judgement. Of course, we don't want the game to slip, but if, say, an aspect of the story isn't right, we will continue. That's a hugely important creative element that's lost when you work with a publisher funding everything, which, quite reasonably, wants a high degree of control.

GS: Do you think you'd be using Kickstarter now if we hadn't had the likes of Tim Schafer highlighting the service?

CC: I think Tim Schafer did a wonderful thing in launching the Double Fine project. The interesting thing is that he only promised that it'll either be good, or bad, but no matter what it'll be fun. That was a really brave statement and people brought into it. I don't have the comic timing of Tim Schafer, so that's why we took a different approach with our Kickstarter video. But of course, Tim Schafer is promising 'an original adventure', Jane Jensen is promising 'an original adventure'. We're saying quite clearly we're writing a new Broken Sword, this is what it looks like, and this is what you're buying into. What we're offering is really quite different to all the other projects.

"When you work with a publisher… there are milestones to reach, which puts you into a kind of straightjacket."

I think Kickstarter is subtly changing. A year ago it was all about speculative projects, and as time's gone on it's moving towards safer bets. We will deliver broken sword--I think there's a very low chance of that not happening--and we will deliver it to a high quality. In the case of Broken Sword there's no speculation, because you will get a good game at the end of it--it's more a pre-ordering and supporting of us by pre-funding the game. Bare in mind this isn't totally unique, though.

I look back to William Hogarth, who was a wonderful English 18th Century painter and engraver, and what I love about him is that he was absolutely appalled that the booksellers had a monopoly, and they took an unfair percentage of any revenues. So what he did, because he was popular, was to break to that model. He decided to self-publish by creating a series of prints that he sold by subscription: 50 percent in advance, and the other 50 percent payable upon delivery. He was effectively pre-funding his own work in the middle of the 18th Century, which I think is very cool.

GS: You've kept the visual style of the game classical, in that you've gone for 2D over 3D. Why is that?

CC: Our fans are split into two camps: those that like 2D and those that like 3D. One of the things that I make quite clear in our Kickstarter description is that this is a 2D game, but the characters are modelled and animated in 3D, and outputted as 2D sprites. The key difference is that when you work with a really skilful 2D artist, they really understand how to use perspective to create a mood in a location. Of course, when you do it in 3D it's 100 percent accurate, but you don't have that sense of fun, or that sense that you're in the hands of someone that really knows how to draw.

In the beginning we were planning to have 3D backgrounds that were pre-rendered, but it just didn't give us the look that we wanted, so that's why we've very much gone back to the traditional, 2D look. With this game we hope that people will feel it's in the spirit of the first two games where we worked with really talented layout people.

GS: Was it a tough job convincing many of the original team to come back?

CC: What Revolution moved to a couple of years ago, because it was difficult to survive as an independent developer with a team of 15-20 people, was move to a freelance model, which some call the Hollywood model. We'd pull people together for a team project, then everybody would dissipate and either get together for the next one or not. Clearly that suits us, in that our overheads are lower, but it also creates a wonderfully dynamic working environment.

When people join it means that they really care about the project. They know that they're going to work with us for an X number of months and for X fee, and everybody really wants to make sure, from a personal and professional level, that the project is good as it possibly can be. It's a very exciting and very interesting dynamic. Personally I much prefer it to staff, where there are much more complex dynamics going on in the relationships between people. Some of the people that used to work at Revolution before we downsized a few years ago got jobs, while some of them decided to work with us again on a freelance basis and I'm delighted to have them back.

GS: Where did the initial idea for the game come from?

The initial idea came from when we launched the original Broken Sword Directors Cut on the Apple platforms. Without wishing to be controversial for the sake of it, I am a real fan of the Sony and PlayStation platforms, but they also have a lot to answer for. In 1996 when the PlayStation launched it did a great job of bringing in a new audience of people around University age, and those people loved visceral, 3D games. The publishers who were funding projects saw dollars, so the limited number of slots at retail quickly got devoted to 3D games. That drove away the audience that wanted more cerebral games like adventures, so sales for the genre dropped even further and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, except in Germany where they live on--it's a great development scene over there.

"I am a real fan of the Sony and PlayStation platforms, but they also have a lot to answer for."

What changed everything is when Nintendo came along with the DS and the Wii. With some brilliant marketing they brought in a wider, more casual audience, and those are exactly the kinds of people that loved adventure games. We are beneficiaries of the excellent work Nintendo did in broadening the market. Ironically, a lot of those people have abandoned Nintendo and moved across to mobile, but that's just the way it works. With regards to adventures, their popularity is growing immensely.

On Facebook, people are always sending us messages about their love of the genre. A couple of days ago I got a message that I loved from this guy, who said that his Grandmother had been dead for a couple of years, but when he saw Broken Sword it reminded him of when he was young, when his Grandmother took him to the shop to buy the game. Whenever he was stuck, his Grandmother would help him out, and he associates those very fond memories he has of his Grandmother with playing Broken Sword. I would challenge any other medium, whether that's films, books, or TV, to be able to say that.

GS: You're currently aiming for PC, Mac, and Mobile, but are there any plans to go onto XBLA and PSN?

Oh yes, very much so. I'd very much hope Broken Sword goes onto PSN, or XBLA, or both. The thing is, at the moment we can't make a commitment at this stage. If the project reaches its target, I'd certainly aim to be on one of those two. Bear in mind one of the huge advantages we have is that point-and-click translates almost exactly to swipe and tap on touch screens. The game effectively shares assets across PC and Mobile, with their very similar control mechanisms. When we go to console, and you've got a controller, we'd really have to go to direct control. In Monkey Island Tales it gives you a choice whether to play using the analogue stick to control a cursor or to have direct control of your character, and my opinion is that direct control is the better of the two. I don't think that translation of the pointer to a cursor controlled by a joypad works all that well.

GS: Tell us a little bit about the game itself and how it follows on from other games in the series.

CC: My vision for the series is that it's a bit like Tintin, in that some elements of the story refer to each other, but you can play them in any order, and you don't necessarily need to play one to enjoy another. The story begins with George and Nico coming together, seemingly by chance, and the pair are shocked when a painting of seemingly little value is stolen. Of course, it is a hugely, profoundly important painting. It turns out George is actually responsible for the insurance of the painting, and Nico loves the idea of a great story. The game goes back to the detective elements of George and Nico. In typical Broken Sword style, as the pair get drawn in, the stakes are raised enormously, which explodes into a dramatic crescendo.

GS: If the Kickstarter is a success do you think crowdfunding something you'd want to do again? Or would you use that success as leverage with a publisher in the future?

CC: We were approached by a huge publisher, who said 'what do we need to do to publish Broken Sword?'. I was incredibly flattered, because 10 years ago I would have just bitten their hand off, and I came away from the meeting so excited. And then I talked to the team, and they were delighted, and flattered, but they asked me 'why would we want to do it?'. Yes, we do want to work with publishers in certain cases, certainly with boxed product. But when it comes to digital publishing, here and now, our feeling is that we have a huge deal of respect for publishers, but the strength of being able to control the development, and the finances, and marketing, overrules the strength that would have with a publisher and its relationship with operators its strength with marketing.

The other thing that you risk with a publisher is that it'll put most of its focus on its own big titles. Because we're really excited by our product, we can make as much noise as a publisher with huge experience that was only keeping half an eye on our product--I think we could probably make more noise. Now, I don't think there's any doubt that if a publisher really got behind it, they'd have a much wider reach than we do. We're also blessed with an incredibly loyal fan base, which is why we can do it, otherwise it'd be extremely difficult. I often talk to people who've got little games, that are really good, who often say that they're going to self publish. I always say to them, go and talk to Chillingo or one of the other big publishers, because unless you've got an established fan base it's extremely difficult to be successful, unless you're very lucky.

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Discussion

40 comments
damodar_thade
damodar_thade

Kickstarter is great i hope to see more developers taking that route and getting away from publishers in the future.

TheEveryMan
TheEveryMan

If anybody hasn't heard about this series, then I suggest you purchase the trilogy of Broken Sword games. They are classic point & click adventures that I love to play, nice to see they are coming back.

rosen22
rosen22

Great stuff. Loved all of them, someone have been on a technical level; superior. But overall they all had great stories and George and Nico were always endearing as I grew with the series. I have gone for 25quid package. If i could afford to throw in 10.000 then this a game i would certainly fund.

blakeney
blakeney

Really good interview, thanks Mark!

 

I would've been looking forward to this anyway, but seeing them go down the Kickstarter funded route and thier reasons for doing so, has made me very happy! Its nice to see some people still in the game for the love primarily!

krafty_pk
krafty_pk

Been looking forward to this for so long!! back to 2d!!!!!

 

I do prefer geeky/goofy George though

westsiderz28
westsiderz28

george stobbart looks like a wierd german i dont like the new look of him at all, he sounds different too

i dont think this will be as good as the previous games (1 and 2)

Richjt87
Richjt87

I can't wait!

I've already pledged and upgraded. I'm eye balling the $100 tier now. I'd be nice to see the t-shirt design before committing.

 

bielzabob
bielzabob

Its great that we're returning to the 90's small company (mums basement) concept of gaming. that's where we got the most fun and originality out of games, with in-jokes and quirks that make you smile. while Halo and Gears have the atmosphere and tension and are without a doubt fantastic, its refreshing to see that people realize they don't need a huge garrison of staff to pull off a good game

TimeFrame
TimeFrame

Very cool! Throw your money at 'em. It can only turn out well! :)

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

It's a very nice interview, but where is the link to the Kickstarter page?

 

I was not even aware that a market, even a marginal one, existed for point-n-click adventure games on consoles. I mean, consoles have quite brilliant puzzle games and action adventure (with emphasis on adventure) games, but PnC? In 1996, at a time when not every college student had multiple gaming-capable electronics, PS1's emphasis on 3D visceral over 2D cereberal might have been debatable. In retrospect, that was clearly the right choice. Classic adventure games have the lowest system req. among all major game genres and nowdays playable on just about everything; the same cannot be said of modern console games. Besides, most old school adventure game fan stayed true to the genre until it faded from lack of good games. It's the adventure game industry that abandoned us, not because many fewer people bought adventure games due to brainwashing but because many more wanted, had always wanted, other kinds and the resources just went where the profit was. But enough on water under the bridge.

 

I am going to hold off on supporting this game, even though I have been a long-time fan of the series. Revolution seems to be putting fingers into too many pies this time around. It's ironic, but I just don't think a game designed to fit PC, mobile, AND consoles can retain the old school charm that Mr. Cecil seems to be advocating.

Yulaw2000
Yulaw2000

I think I would like a boxed copy but $100 is to much to ask especially with no conformation that the boxed version will be DRM free.

CoreMaths
CoreMaths

saw this and pledged. you all do the same

 

Chronologo
Chronologo

Excited, I've played the 4 Broken Sword games that are actually out. I love point and click, remember having good times with Monkey Island, Loom, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Day of The Tentacle and some more.

endorbr
endorbr

Blaming Sony for the decline in "cerebral" adventure games... Really?  If there is really a market for this kind of game then publishers/developers would produce for it.  Problem is the point and click adventure games he's talking about are a genre that is absolutely flooded with tons and tons of absolute crap games.  My wife is a big fan of this type of game and the reason you can hardly find these games these days is because you had companies like The Adventure Company making literally dozens of throw away forgettable adventure games for years that sold in stores for no more than $20, usually bundled in 3 to 6 packs at that price.  Don't go finger pointing at the consoles for the decline in point and click adventure.  Blame developers for making such crappy contributions and losing people's interest.

Aentikraist
Aentikraist

damn i really wish this kind of games return now its all about boring same shooters with different names oh and "different" scenarios ----____---- ie ven missed Medievil and Spyro the dragon evne crash bandicoot  was really sweet 

shanethewolf
shanethewolf

I'm a huge fan of point and click adventures, dating back to Monkey Island, but Broken Sword never did it for me. I much prefered Revolution's previous games, Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky.

 

Nice to see adventures making a comeback, but I'll pass on this one.

Super_Tramp
Super_Tramp

I'm super excited for a new Broken Sword and I'm glad it will be back in the two-dimensional format. I have one question, is that supposed to be George Stobbart in the picture? Geez, did they really beef him up or what?

xgalacticax
xgalacticax

My girlfriend worked on the character animations and lip syncing in that kickstarter video. I'm proud of her :)

chronocommander
chronocommander

Nice article Mark, there are a few typos such as 'paining' instead of 'painting' and some in the last section, please correct them before more people see it ;)

mav_destroyer
mav_destroyer

I don't get it, he's blaming Sony because his game flopped? How does that work?

grateful77
grateful77

he never really said why sony has anything to answer for; he only said sony decided not to pursue 2d infavor of 3d because of popularity and sales.  what's wrong with that? 

 

he also basically said gamers aren't as smart as they used to be, favoring 3d 'more visceral' games than their 'cerebral' 2d counterpart. 

 

hopefully with the rising popularity of kickstarter and mobile gaming, games can receive a mini-revolution like the one music has enjoyed with youtube and itunes and the like; allowing very small independent entities exposure and sales. 

blakeney
blakeney

 @Mboleh

 Thanks ;)

 

It should be on the top of this page at the start of the piece.

bielzabob
bielzabob

 @Unfallen_Satan Monkey island started i think 3 years or so back, iphone and XBLA. modernized but kept perfectly in tune with the original. its proof it can be done. gunna donate my arse off

KingofCabal
KingofCabal

 @Unfallen_Satan I find it unlilely that this will be aimed at consoles, more likely it would go through Steam and mobile. But that being said I do own an x-box and would buy it on it if it were made avaialble via Arcade.

digi_matrix
digi_matrix

 @Unfallen_Satan They're not aiming for consoles, it would be a lot more work for a port to change all the controls and deal with Microsoft or Sony as a publisher. It seems like console ports are more a stretch goal if their Kickstarter gets past the goal. 

digi_matrix
digi_matrix

 @Yulaw2000 All of their games are on GoG which is DRM-free, and they'll be self-publishing so I don't see how it will be any different. They want to be on as many digital distribution channels as possible, so it's bound to be DRM-free. 

KingofCabal
KingofCabal

 @endorbr Comparing the cheap adventure Genre with the type of Games he is talking about is actually really insulting to the Orginal Adventure Genre. Of course I presume you have a playstation. So it kinda proves his point.

SlimeSwayze
SlimeSwayze

 @mav_destroyer Maybe you weren't alive then so you wouldn't know, but when the PS1 released Sony did in fact go out of their way to essentially promote nothing but 3D games, and all but ignored all 2D games or titles that they may have deemed behind the times.  It was just a sign of the times.  And really, some good things came out of that, and some bad things came out of that.  But for developers of games like Broken Sword, it was definitely bad. 

endorbr
endorbr

 @grateful77 Because saying gamers are dumb because they like their games to be 3D over 2D would be better, right?

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

 @grateful77 "I am a real fan of the Sony and PlayStation platforms, but they also have a lot to answer for." exact quote

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

 @bielzabob You are right! I have the special editions on Steam, but I didn't think anyone could stand playing a PnC using a controller. I am still going to wait though. If the new Broken Sword turns out as well as the Monkey Island remakes, I'll get it then.

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

 @digi_matrix I just don't know. He seemed to go out of his way to bring Sony into the picture. Perhaps that's completely separate from his comment on hoping to bring the game to consoles, and neither is indication that consoles are on Revolution's mind. On the other hand, if they do hope to bring the game to the console in a good port, it would be poor planning to not think about console control schemes from the beginning. I want to see what happens but not to dive in with support at this time.

endorbr
endorbr

 @KingofCabal I wasn't proving his point at all. The point and click adventure genre became those cheap titles. I know exactly the types of games he is referring to. I used to play them in the '90s.  I started with text based adventure games long before that.  Just because the genre turned to cheap assembly line style mostly lame games doesn't mean that they weren't still point and click adventure games.  And that isn't Sony or Playstation's fault that the makers of adventure games went for cheap forgettable cookie cutter garbage instead of continuing to make games like Sam & Max or Policenauts.

digi_matrix
digi_matrix

 @Unfallen_Satan The Sony thing was just about the advent of 3D in the early Playstation days and the death of traditional 2D adventure games.

 

Either way, I have a PC and a phone so I'll get this on them. The number of good console adventure games I can count on one hand.