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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