By Marty Mulrooney
Steve Ince is that rare breed of game designer that embraces the gaming community wholeheartedly. He has been involved in the creation of some of the biggest adventure games of all time, including Beneath A Steel Sky and the Broken Sword series. Over the years, I have seen him chatting with gamers in various forums, discussing not only his own work but other games within the adventure genre as well. He is as much a fan as a creator and this enthusiasm always shines through.
Nothing has ever been quite as surreal as popping Broken Sword: The Director’s Cut into my Wii a few months ago whilst twittering with Steve about the series: like many of the old Revolution Software crowd, Mr Ince is always a pleasure to talk to. Hopefully, I can now pass this pleasure onto Alternative Magazine Online’s readers as well. Without further ado, I am delighted to present a recent conversation between myself and Mr Steve Ince…
Hi Steve, thank you for your time! Can you please tell our readers a bit about yourself please?
I’m Steve Ince and make my living writing and designing video games. Before I entered the games industry I worked in bingo hall management, in a metal foundry and did a cartoon strip for a local paper.
I live with my partner, June, and I have three grown up sons. I have one grandchild, Caitlin, with another on the way any time now.
June and I have a cat called Merlin and we live in the wilds of East Yorkshire.
How did you first get involved at Revolution Software?
I discovered that Revolution was looking for an artist and managed to get an interview. After a meeting with both Charles Cecil (MD) and Dave Gibbons I was offered a job with them.
Was BASS the first game you worked on with them?
Yes. I did a number of sprite animations and a few of the painted backgrounds. I was also doing some initial concept sketches for Broken Sword, but those were mostly replaced when the art style changed.
In what capacity does the company still exist today? Are you still a part of it?
Mostly it’s just Charles Cecil and Tony Warriner, who pull in others as they are needed for various projects. I’m completely freelance these days, so I’m not actually part of Revolution, but I did some work for them on the Director’s Cut version of Broken Sword for the Wii and DS.
To what extent were you involved with the Broken Sword series of games?
I was producer on the first two games, although I also sat in on a lot of story and design meetings. For the third in the series I co-wrote the story and the dialogue and was lead designer on the project.
Best memory of your time working on the series?
One of the best was when we were recording the voices for Sleeping Dragon and the out-takes were hilarious. Unfortunately, I don’t have any copies of them.
More seriously, though; working on Broken Sword (and the other Revolution games) was always very special because of the highly talented team we had. I always get a real buzz when I see talented people help bring a game to life.
I particularly liked the fact that the 2D sprite scaling on the first BS game worked so well.
You were nominated for a BAFTA after Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon (Best Game Design). How did you feel, not only about being nominated, but about the game itself?
Well, strictly speaking, the game was nominated for three BAFTA awards, and it’s hard to think of myself being nominated when it was such a team effort. Of course, I’m still very pleased with the achievement and everyone on the team should be proud that they contributed to a game that obtained such honours.
Were you involved with the fourth game? What were your impressions of it?
When the fourth one was first being discussed I was asked to be involved. However, I’d already committed to the So Blonde project, which was a great opportunity for me to write a whole game almost from the ground up.
When BS4 came out I tried to play the demo but my computer couldn’t handle the graphics. Although I’ve upgraded my computer since then, I read such mixed reports about it that I’ve been a bit reluctant to play it in case it spoiled my view of the series. I’m still tempted to go back and play it, though.
Would you like to see a fifth? It this is even a possibility?
A fifth game would be great if it went back to the roots of the series in both visual style and gameplay. You’d have to ask Revolution about the possibilities, though. Even if they discussed their plans with me confidentiality would prevent me from discussing it.
Do you think Broken Sword could continue away from Revolution Software in the same way Monkey Island has at Telltale? Or would that never happen?
I don’t think it should. It is a Revolution series and should stay under their control.
Why do you think George Stobbart is such an endearing protagonist? Was he fun to write for? Would you like to write for him again?
He’s a believable character – he behaves in a human way. He has a great sense of humour and works so well with the other characters in the game, particularly Nico. I’d love to write George again. And Nico, of course.
How do you feel about the shift to 3D adventure games in the late 90’s… I often think nothing can beat the timelessness of the original two Broken Sword games!
When done properly they can be every bit as good as the 2D games. However, I like the artistry that goes into a good 2D game. Adventures are still one of the few genres where you can get truly artistic backgrounds – Ghost Pirates, Whispered World and Machinarium, to name a few.
In Cold Blood often feels to me like an underrated classic. Was this Revolution Software’s attempt at gaining a mainstream audience who would perhaps not play a pure adventure game? What do you think of that game looking back now?
Sony wanted a game that was an action-adventure. It actually started out life as BS3, but we soon realised this wasn’t a Broken Sword game. We certainly hoped that we’d appeal to a wider audience, but we always hope that when developing a game.
This is the first of the Revolution games where I had a big hand in the writing and design, so my view is a little biased. But I like the game a lot. I love the scope and size of it and the variety of missions. My only slight criticism is that the first mission ramps up a little too quickly and can be unforgiving in places. But it’s easy to see that with hindsight.
How does game writing and design differ from other mediums?
The biggest difference is the way that the writer can often have no control of how the player experiences the story. The player could click through the dialogue or skip cut-scenes, do things in a different order than you might hope and so forth. You have to accept that the player is in control of his or her experience and try to manage your approach to the writing accordingly.
Do you have any particular lines of dialogue you have written that you will always remember, for whatever reason?
I’m dreadful at remembering details like that. I remember the feel of a scene much more than the specifics of a line. There is one scene in So Blonde where I got so involved with what was going on that a tear came to my eye as I was writing it.
Having said that, the scene on the beach early in So Blonde between Sunny and Enrico works well to set the tone, particularly:
Enrico: I’m fed up of being twelve years old. I’ll never grow up to be a man.
Sunny: When I was your age I used to think the same thing.
Enrico: You wanted to be a man?
Can you recall anything major that you designed and thought would work well, but that for whatever reason never got used during your time as a game writer/designer?
There have been whole sections of games that I’ve written/designed or helped to do so, that have been taken from the game. Usually these things are for the best. It’s always better to have too much than too little that needs padding.
I also worked on a whole game that got cancelled – Call of Cthulhu: Destiny’s End – which I thought had some great dialogue in it. Probably some of my best, if I’m honest. Unfortunately, the cancellation was due to companies going bust, so nothing could be done.
I assume you are a fan of the adventure genre yourself? Why do you think adventure games saw a decline in popularity in the late 90’s?
Initially, I don’t think it was so much of a decline as everything else passing the genre by because overall game playing numbers went up. So instead of adventures being at the top of the charts they were struggling to get into the top twenty, even though they could be selling roughly the same numbers. This meant that people – publishers in particular – saw them as failing and we entered this destructive loop where the press took great pleasure in starting every article or review about the genre with the death of adventures. Because they weren’t seen as viable they didn’t get the big funding and fell further behind. A bit self-serving really.
Do you have any personal favourites of the genre?
Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango in particular. More recently, The Moment of Silence and Time Gentlemen Please. The recent Sam and Max games were pretty good, too.
With games such as Heavy Rain and Tales of Monkey Island, the adventure genre seems to be coming back rather revitalised… a mere case of good timing? Or something more?
I don’t think Heavy Rain has been done with “adventure” uppermost in the creators’ minds, but it certainly has a lot going for it that adventure players may enjoy. I’ve yet to play it myself, but from what I’ve seen the vision is great and the marketing has helped build a huge profile.
I have great admiration for the way that Telltale Games have approached the genre. I don’t think it’s timing, it’s down to a great method of working and delivering to exact schedules that are supported by good marketing. They have created their own success in many respects. It also helped by choosing existing and well-loved franchises (on the whole).
Do you think adventure game creators will ever get the budgets to match their visions like other studios do for their first person shooters and sports games? Or does low budget sometimes feed creativity with adventure game designers in a positive way anyway?
It’s unlikely that a huge budget will be attached to a game that we might think of as a traditional adventure. It will need some kind of additional quality – like Heavy Rain – which publishers can buy into.
How did you feel about LucasArts turning its back on the genre for so long?
It probably made sound business sense at the time. If the sales of the games don’t match the money invested in making them, they look at other things. They are a big company with shareholders to please and keeping adventure fans happy would have been a low priority. They’re not small, friendly developers like Dave Gilbert, Agustin Cordes, Martin Ganteföhr or any of the many others I could mention. That’s not to say they are evil in their intentions towards the genre, simply that they decided the genre wasn’t a high priority.
Was Mr Smoozles a game idea that became an online comic strip, or vice versa?
The strip came before the game. The game started as an experiment in seeing how easy it was to develop that type of game. I kind of got carried away with it.
How long did the game take to create and what tools were used?
It took me ten months, but I was working on my book at the same time, so it would have been much quicker otherwise. The main tools and engine was Game Maker, which was originally created as a teaching tool. I recommend it to anyone who wants to have a go at learning how to design a game. I also used things like Photoshop to create the graphics.
Do you play games you have worked on?
Of course, particularly while I’m developing and testing. I lost count of the number of times I played through the GBA version of Broken Sword. I learned how to do it in less than three hours.
How did making the game independently differ from working in a team?
There were fewer creative differences. 🙂
If I thought of something cool it went into the game. If something didn’t work it came out. If I wasn’t happy with the graphics I changed them. Much of the game was designed as it was implemented, which meant undoing some of the earlier things to make later things work properly, but it was a fun approach. Normally I’d plan everything in advance. It was an experiment that was mostly a success and taught me a lot in the process.
Digital distribution: a blessing or a curse?
Ultimately it will be a blessing. Where it’s currently a curse is the problem of reaching the market and making potential customers aware of your game.
We’ve already seen music downloads take off, ebooks are on a rapid increase and games need to go the same way because people are latching onto the download model at last.
Who did the music for the game? It’s brilliant!
A young and very talented guy called Josh Winiberg. He’s such a nice guy to know, too. I’d recommend him to anyone who wants some great music for their game.
Do you plan to continue the Mr Smoozles comic strip indefinitely? Or will there be a definite end at some point?
I’d like it to continue indefinitely. The current storyline kind of ran away with itself and I’d like to bring that to a close at some point, but the strip will continue after that.
Any plans to include Mr Smoozles in another game in the future?
Possibly. I want to do an adventure with him and Ed and even have a title in mind.
Is The Sapphire Claw still in development?
No. I did some work on it last year, but only to tidy up a few things on a demo I put together. But no one is interested in publishing it and I think it’s too big with complex art and animation to do on my own. I’d be better going for something simpler with Mr. Smoozles.
Were you involved at all with the recent Broken Sword: Director’s Cut? Is a film still in the works?
I worked on the DS and Wii version of the DC, but not the iPhone version. I have no idea about the film. I’d love to be involved with developing the story and script for it, but I don’t think that would happen.
What does the future hold for you?
Lots of cool stuff. I’m on with a great project at the moment, which will raise a few eyebrows when it’s announced. But it’s not an adventure game.
I’m hoping to write a novel, but I’ve been hoping for that for a few years.
I want to do a joint project with someone, but I’ll not say anything further in case we don’t get it off the ground.
I also want to do a children’s game.
Thank you for your time!
- Mr Smoozles Goes Nutso Review
- Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon Review (ACG)
- Mike Stemmle Interview (Tales Of Monkey Island Writer)
- Jakub Dvorsky Interview (Creator Of Machinarium)