By Marty Mulrooney
Tony Warriner is a video game designer and programmer who wrote his first game when he was still at school. In 1990 he co-founded Revolution Software with Charles Cecil, Noirin Carmody and David Sykes and together they went on to create some of the greatest adventure games of all time, including Beneath a Steel Sky (1994) and Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (1996). Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse was recently announced and the support from fans has been overwhelming – Alternative Magazine Online is therefore proud to present an exclusive online interview with Mr Warriner, where we discuss Broken Sword 5 and the history of Revolution Software in depth.
Hello Mr Warriner, thank you for your time and welcome to AMO!
You’re welcome! Nice to be here. 🙂
Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself please?
I’m Tony Warriner and I co-founded Revolution, back in 1990, with Charles Cecil, Noirin Carmody and David Sykes. The first game I ever wrote was called Obsidian, for the Amstrad CPC, and the current one is Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse! Obviously I’ve skipped a lot of stuff in the middle there. 🙂
When did you first decide that you wanted to make video games?
That would be when I was still at school in the early 80s. Two games in particular stand out as my inspiration – Elite, and Revenge of the Mutant Camels from Llamasoft. It was a very exciting time, as what they then called ‘home computers’ were suddenly available and, frankly, they blew everyone away. Nothing like these machines had ever been seen before. There was basically only two things you could do though – play games, or write them. So after looking at these really slick games, the next stage was to draw inspiration and try and match them. For bored teenagers like myself, it was a revelation. I’d still say, after all this time, that Elite was more or less the perfect game, unmatched to this day.
You mentioned that the first game you ever wrote was Obsidian – is it true that you failed all of your exams at school because you concentrated on developing this game instead of revising?
Yes, that’s quite right. Although in truth, I would probably have failed anyway having pretty much lost faith in the whole school system by that time. Writing a game was just something constructive and fun to do instead.
How did you end up becoming a co-founder of Revolution Software in 1990?
Well, I sent the game I wrote – Obsidian – to a local firm called Artic Computing who were big in the early to mid 80s. Artic was, at the time, being run by a certain Mr Charles Cecil…
You created the Virtual Theatre engine not long after joining Revolution – what games used this engine and what made it unique compared to the engines used by other adventure game developers such as LucasArts and Sierra?
Well, we looked at the Sierra games of the time and basically thought up features that would push the envelope, as it were. Having characters walk from screen to screen and continue functioning when out of sight was top of our list. We also saw a demo of a game about the Raj by Level 9 that seemed to also do this, so it felt like the next killer feature. As it turned out, the Level 9 game never made it to market, but we managed to make fairly good use of it in Lure of the Temptress. Over time the autonomy feature became less used by the designers, but we’re developing Virtual Theatre; Serpent’s Curse will use a brand new Version 7.
Where did the name Revolution Software come from?
It came from a drunken name-the-company session in Hull circa 1989. To be quite honest, the word Revolution is the only memory of that particular evening that survives.
Revolution Software’s first games were Lure of the Temptress (1992) and Beneath a Steel Sky (1994) – both of which are now freeware. Is it fair to say that these initial games were part of a learning process undertaken by the team at Revolution?
It’s fair to say that every game is a learning process – the results of which get fed through into the next project. I guess with those early games we actually had quite a lot of creative freedom which explains their quirky nature. Later, where more publisher money was involved, there was less scope for design randomness, which is both good and bad.
How did the team change between the release of Beneath a Steel Sky and Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars in 1996?
Well, it got a lot bigger! When this happens you have to do a lot more people management.
Broken Sword was Revolution Software’s most ambitious title to date – it went on to sell well over a million copies and received critical acclaim from both adventure gamers and the mainstream gaming press. Was this a surprise or did you already know that you had created something truly special prior to release?
Virgin Interactive actually funded Broken Sword 1 very well. The idea was to produce the slickest adventure game ever produced and then see how well it performed against other equally well-funded genres. I think in terms of short term publisher sales statistics they probably thought the experiment hadn’t worked – no doubt we were outsold by the likes of Resident Evil – but now, looking long term, it was clearly a stunning success. Were we surprised by the buzz at the time? I think we knew we’d created a nice game, but the reviews were amazing and that always surprises as you never know how a game will be received until you see it in print.
With the success of Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, a sequel seemed almost inevitable; Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror followed one year later in 1997. How did the team at Revolution manage to release a follow-up in such a short amount of time?
There’s a number of reasons. Firstly, the engine and tools were modified versions of the Broken Sword 1 versions. Secondly, the design work started a good few months before Broken Sword 1 finished, so that the whole team could transition seamlessly to Broken Sword 2. And, significantly, the budget, and therefore game size, was considerably smaller.
Broken Sword 3 and 4 made the jump to 3D – could they have been made in 2D or was this change simply a necessity of the time within the gaming industry?
It was 3D or no contract – this was at a time I refer to as the “polygon wars” and there was little alternative but to be part of it. Of course, we had less budget too, so the 3D soaked up far too much relative resource. This manifested itself with use of repeated gameplay, like the none-too-popular box puzzles. All that said, I think we were surprisingly pleased with Broken Sword 3.
Broken Sword 3 was well received – box-pushing puzzles aside – but Broken Sword 4 somewhat divided opinion. Did co-developing with Sumo Digital make it easier or more difficult to create the game?
Sadly, Broken Sword 4 was perhaps a little compromised by a lower than ideal budget and the 3D requirement which left us little choice but to outsource the development. With no disrespect to the Sumo team, who worked hard on the game, the only proper way is to implement a game in-house and this is especially true of something as complex and intricate as Broken Sword.
What do you think has been the key to the Broken Sword series’ success?
I think it’s many different things, not least George and Nico, and that they are not gun-toting computer gaming clichés. I think the stories and locations have much appeal, for the same reasons. It’s all the elements working together.
Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse was recently announced – in what ways will this sequel be returning to Broken Sword’s roots?
Well the most obvious is that we’re back to a 2D game, which is absolutely wonderful for us – it’s what we want to do, and where we belong. We’re also looking to continue with the tone of gameplay that was more prevalent in the first two games. For example, in Broken Sword 1 we had the neo Templars and their plot to take over the world – the heavy stuff – but we also had the here and now that George and Nico found themselves a part of and the comedy of their immediate environment – the lighter side. That’s something we’re very much looking to capture again with this new game.
Will Kickstarter give Revolution the freedom to make the game that both they themselves and the fans truly want?
It really will. There’s no third party pulling strings and swinging things this way and that. It’s just Revolution and a very close and intense fanbase. I’m so impressed with the whole process that I’m thinking developers should do Kickstarters even if they don’t need the funding, just to connect themselves to the players.
Will there be references to the previous games in the series or is this very much a standalone game?
It’s a standalone game insomuch as you don’t need to have played the others, and they can be played in any order. It’s very likely we’ll lightly reference the other games though, and there’ll be various appearances of characters from previous Broken Swords.
When does Broken Sword 5 actually take place? I’ve heard rumours that it is set between Broken Sword 2 and 3…
We really don’t specify the actual time. The Broken Sword games always take place in roughly the present day, but the characters don’t age at the rate that, sadly, the rest of us do.
What’s it like working with Rolf Saxon and Hazel Ellerby again?
It’s great to have them back. I always get a huge buzz when a previously silent game springs to life after the voice recording has been done. We’re a few months from that, but it’ll be a terrific moment.
You previously mentioned Virtual Theatre Version 7. What can you tell us about the technology behind this latest instalment?
VT7 is a brand new engine that we started after we did the Director’s Cut of Broken Sword. Obviously it is a product of all the knowledge we’ve built up since 1990. A big weakness with previous iterations was in dealing with multiple platforms and in particular, screen resolutions. We now have to run on literally hundreds of different mobile devices, as well as retina laptops and 30” HD screens. Dealing with that requirement has been a major focus for us. Like most game engines these days, the system is built on C++ and OpenGL, and we have a custom scripting language that we use to implement the game itself.
Will the little white hand interface return? It’s so iconic! 🙂
It will indeed.
Any idea who will be doing the music for Broken Sword 5?
This is still to be finalised as it’s not a development focus for a couple of months yet so there’s no pressure as such. Obviously, we’ve an interest in retaining linage with the previous games as much as possible…
How important are the fans to a series such as Broken Sword?
I sound like Lady Gaga, but the fans are everything!
What can you tell us about Beneath A Steel Sky 2? I would love to see a follow-up to In Cold Blood as well actually!
BASS2 has always been a dream for us at Revolution, but it was never clear that we’d get a good opportunity to do it as the longer we left it the less clear is was that people would remember the game and be interested. This Kickstarter has allowed us to cheekily put the idea of a BASS sequel out into the open and judge whatever response we get back.
Thank you for your time! As you know I’ve wanted to interview you for quite a while Mr Warriner. It’s a pleasure being able to finally do so during this exciting time for both Revolution Software and Broken Sword fans around the world!
Many thanks, Martin!
GAME REVIEW – Broken Sword: Shadow Of The Templars – The Director’s Cut (Nintendo Wii, PC Digital Download)
GAME REVIEW – Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror – Remastered (PC Digital Download)
INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Rolf Saxon (Actor, Broken Sword)