By Marty Mulrooney
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars celebrated its 25th anniversary in October 2021. To mark such a momentous occasion, Alternative Magazine Online is proud to present an exclusive look back at the game’s development with British video game designer Charles Cecil, co-founder and Managing Director of Revolution Software!
As a huge fan of the Broken Sword games – and in particular Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars – one of the first things I wanted to pick Charles’s brain about was the American release of the first game; it was actually released as Circle of Blood in the US in September 1996, two weeks before its release in the UK.
“Well in those days, there was absolutely no sense that if something came out in one territory that there was any need for it to come out elsewhere at the same time,” Charles recalls, chuckling.
“I remember in the late ’80s actually when the first Batman [film directed by Tim Burton] came out and there was so much interest. And it came out, in America, like three months before Europe. Everyone knew it was coming… but everyone just accepted that they were just going to have to wait three months. I was in America at that time and I went and watched it, and everybody kept asking ‘What was it like? What was it like?’ But that was just the way the world worked. Nowadays people wouldn’t be willing to tolerate that!”
When interviewing Charles, he is so affable and knowledgeable that it is easy to spin off on a tangent. For example, I recently discovered that he is a massive fan of Tintin, the young reporter and adventurer created by Belgian cartoonist Hergé – a passion he shares with my father.
I point out that there are parallels that can be drawn between the Tintin comics and the Broken Sword series of video games; both feature a charming blonde-haired male protagonist setting out on globetrotting adventures that mix historical fact with fantastical fiction. These similarities are not lost on Charles.
“I have a Tintin book,” he confesses, “and I open it every time we do a new game and I start looking for characters.”
Returning to the curious question of Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templar’s earlier US release date, Charles says he is surprised, as there wasn’t enormous enthusiasm from Virgin Interactive America.
“Of course, they changed the name from Broken Sword to Circle of Blood, because they wanted it to be much more ‘bloody’ sounding,” he says – a decision that Revolution Software had no control over whatsoever.
“The thing about Virgin [Interactive] Europe is that it was full of people with enormous passion. It was always such a treat to go down [to headquarters] because somebody would grab you and say ‘Oh, come and look at the packaging!’ or ‘This is our marketing plan!’ and everywhere you went there was just an energy.”
However, it was a very different story across the pond.
“I remember going out with the head of Virgin [Interactive] America [Martin Alper], and he was very proud to tell me that the reason he made such great decisions on which titles to buy was because he’d never played a video game. So there was a big difference; I found the European side to be full of energy and passion for the medium. And also, their marketing was very edgy.
“One of the reasons that Broken Sword was very successful in Europe and not in America was because Virgin [Interactive Europe] were just absolutely fantastic. There were some really, really good people in America, but the company culture led from the top was one that wasn’t as enthusiastic about video games as the European side.”
This lack of enthusiasm in the States resulted in fewer sales – it sold “significantly less,” Charles confirms – but over the years the series has continued to reach new audiences not just in America but worldwide.
“As a whole, Virgin Europe took localisation incredibly seriously,” Charles continues. “And whilst it was inconvenient that the game was called Les Chevaliers de Baphomet in France and Baphomets Fluch in Germany, the fact that they had French and German names, interestingly… They were extraordinarily well translated and localised, and the interesting thing is that to this day the Germans that love Baphomets Fluch believe that it’s a German game and the French likewise with Les Chevaliers de Baphomet believe that it’s a French game.
“So while I don’t think the intention was there to in any way pretend that the game was French or German, it had the unintended consequence of making people in France and Germany feel very close to the game. It’s very interesting and probably contributed to the strength of sales in those particular countries.”
It is very interesting. I’ve always felt that Broken Sword has a very European – very international – feel to it, with the American protagonist (George) and his French girlfriend (Nico) travelling around the world solving mysteries. And even though it has that decidedly British humour and flavour, it doesn’t feel so British that it would alienate people who aren’t from the UK.
“Well, that’s certainly what we aimed for,” Charles confirms, “and while it’s a completely different type of game, I really admire the Grand Theft Auto series – particularly Grand Theft Auto III. When it came [out] it was so revolutionary, and it was so ironic and tongue-in-cheek. The Americans all thought that it was an American game, but ultimately it could only ever have been British because of the way that it played with irony and it played with a lot of themes. It was British through and through.
“I’d hope that in many ways [with] Broken Sword, people would consider it to be international… but actually deep down the DNA is very much a British and an English one.”
So how about the involvement of American actor Rolf Saxon (Mission Impossible, Saving Private Ryan); was George Stobbart always supposed to be American, or was the character’s nationality influenced by Rolf’s casting?
“No, he was always supposed to be American,” Charles insists. “Hazel Ellerby had played a part in Beneath a Steel Sky and we wanted her to be in Broken Sword – she was the first Nico – and it was her that actually recommended Rolf. So we’re very, very grateful to Hazel for that.”
However, according to Charles, while George was always supposed to be American, Rolf certainly helped to flesh out the character.
“Rolf, on the first day he arrived and he said ‘What accent do you want?’ and we thought that his accent was pretty good – a Californian accent. He’s said many times since that he’s extraordinarily glad that decision was made because it means he can act with his normal voice rather than having to put on a voice and then remember and go back to it. So yeah, we got a boy from Oakland – couldn’t be better!”
I point out that Rolf has endeared the game to a lot of people and Charles immediately agrees.
“He has, yes. Rolf… and I’ve said this many, many times… Rolf is extraordinarily loyal to the series and he’s a very dear friend as well. And what is extraordinary is that as long as he knows about the story – which I do my very best to inform him about – then he is incredibly enthusiastic about protecting the brand and the relationship between him and Nico.
“I will talk to him in advance about the story and he will get very protective and will give very good advice. Generally, I’ll send him the script as well, so he’s a very, very active part of the whole writing process.”
Next, we begin to discuss the technology that has powered Revolution’s games over the years. Lure of the Temptress, Beneath a Steel Sky, Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars and Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror all used the Virtual Theatre game engine; it even made its return last year with the release of the highly anticipated Beyond a Steel Sky, albeit this time in a 3D space.
One of the original ideas behind Virtual Theatre was that NPCs would go about their business and follow routines independent of the player, something that was pulled back slightly in the first two Broken Sword games, which were a little bit more traditional. But was it actually the same engine being used each time?
“No,” Charles admits. “Tony Warriner got very enthusiastic and would generally rewrite the engine each time. I mean obviously, elements would come across… Between Broken Sword 1 and Broken Sword 2 it was obviously the same engine, but between Beneath a Steel Sky and Broken Sword, there was substantial rewriting. We were all learning as we went along and middleware didn’t exist in those days.
“I think Beneath a Steel Sky did some things really well. Tony felt there were elements that could be more efficiently handled and that would require a fairly substantial rewrite.”
The jump between Beneath a Steel Sky and Broken Sword is certainly noticeable, despite there only being a few years between them; in fact, it’s an astronomical jump, especially when playing them back to back. Broken Sword was double the resolution, shipped on two CD-ROMs, had an orchestral score, was fully voiced from day one…
“Yeah,” Charles concurs, “but remember that we were responding to technological changes. The memory in the Atari ST was 512 K, I think? On the Amiga you had 32 colours, you had a resolution of 320×200… When we went to PC you suddenly had a whopping 256 colours, you had 640×480 which felt like a really high resolution, you had a lot more memory…
“But the big change of course was the move to CD, because a floppy disk is roughly half a meg and suddenly you’re going to hundreds of meg. That was what opened up the opportunity for more graphics, the ability to play cutscenes, and of course [the ability to] record voices – none of which would be possible if we were just having it on floppy disk.”
I ask Charles if any of this was the result of an increased budget for Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars – is that fair to say?
“Oh yes, very much so,” he confirms. “What happened was, we were working with Virgin as I’ve said, and Sean Brennan in particular who was the Deputy Managing Director. Sean had seen the success of Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky, and he felt that the only way we could really compete head-on with Sierra and LucasArts was to match them in terms of the production values, because his view was that to succeed in America you had to have high production values.
“In Europe it was more about the gameplay and the story, but in the US it required production values. So it was a case of ramping up for Broken Sword.”
So Virgin Interactive was trying to directly compete with Sierra and LucasArts in the US?
“Well, in theory,” says Charles. “And of course, we wanted the game to succeed in America. As I’ve said, there were some wonderful and very talented people in America, but Martin Alper – for whatever reason – didn’t take the game very seriously. At least in part, that was because he never actually played video games and was very proud of that.”
I ask Charles if I’m correct in saying that Virgin was actually quite dismissive of releasing the game on PlayStation…
“That is absolutely true, yes,” Charles confirms. “Sean [Brennan] laughs at himself for making such a big mistake. Basically, when the PlayStation came out in , it was so extraordinarily successful. All the publishers started putting all their resources into PlayStation games. And they believed that PlayStation games should be visceral and 3D because that’s what they believed the audiences wanted. So the idea of a 2D point-and-click game was out of the question.
“We spoke to Virgin, who didn’t have the rights but it made perfect sense for them to publish… and they turned it down. A few years earlier when I was at Activision, this very lanky, incredibly enthusiastic bright kid called Phil Harrison was looking for jobs and work. I gave him a few projects; I don’t think any of them saw the light of day, but we stayed in touch. In about , he phoned me up and he said ‘I’m working at Sony now. We’re producing a new console; it’s top-secret, but its codename is PSX… would you like to come and see it?’
“I was obviously very excited. [I] went down, and they had an amazing dinosaur demo in 3D – a moving dinosaur in what felt like very high poly but was obviously low poly by today’s standards.”
The demo pushed the PlayStation to the limit and looked fantastic for the time. I ask Charles: was it almost like a taste of the future?
“Yes it was, very much so,” he says. “I asked if they would be interested in Broken Sword – and there wasn’t too much enthusiasm from Sony, I have to say – but there was a guy called John Roberts at Sony and he championed it, and then Martin Alltimes [did the same]. We convinced [Sony] that they should take it, and again they weren’t enormously enthusiastic. Then the game went out for review, and I remember the Official PlayStation Magazine – which had a circulation of I believe 600,000, which is incredible as these days 20,000 is considered to be very good – loved it. They gave it an extended feature – [awarded it] 9 out of 10 – and asked to covermount the demo, so we did that.
“In Germany it was very well received [and] in France as well. It was covermounted on the big Official PlayStation Magazines across Europe, which would have meant that probably between one and two million people would have had the game. An awful lot of people who remember the game and became fans, became fans through that covermount – it was absolutely extraordinary. The crazy thing of course is having been hugely successful, we went back to Virgin and they said they didn’t want to do Broken Sword 2 either. So we went to Sony and did Broken Sword 2 based on the success of Broken Sword 1.
“I’m very proud that the Official PlayStation Magazine did a reader’s poll and Broken Sword 2 came in at number seven. It came ahead of some of the Tomb Raiders, it came ahead of some of the Resident Evils; it was really, really high up. And this was three or four years into the PlayStation, so you had some real hard hitters that were way behind Broken Sword 2. It was interesting, because publishers – and the industry generally – don’t regard adventures very highly, but our audience [does]; so there’s a sort of disconnect often between what publishers see in adventures, and what adventure fans see in adventures.”
I mention that it’s that quite amazing Broken Sword did so well on the original PlayStation, as the move from PC to console required some compromises. The PlayStation version was reduced from two discs to one, the graphics and sound were slightly downgraded, and the controller wasn’t the most intuitive way to play – Charles laughs when I mention this – although there was the PlayStation Mouse…
“And you had to wait forever for each screen to load!” Charles adds. “I’ll tell you a nice story. The head of marketing [at Sony PlayStation in Europe] was a wonderful man called David Patton. To show you what Sony was like back in those days, it was a tiny, tiny team who just worked insanely hard and were brilliant. The head of marketing was David Patton and the head of PR was a woman called Liz Ashford. The game had come out as you know in [October] 1996 on PC and it was coming out in [December 1996] on the PlayStation. To us it was really important that it came out for Christmas and we were a little bit behind.
“And then I got a fax from David Patton saying: ‘It’s behind, we put all this time in, we’re very disappointed, we’re moving it from Christmas.’ This sent a panic through me. So I phoned up David and said, ‘Look, can I come and talk about this?’ and he said, ‘Yes, but I’m not going to change my mind.’ He was really irritated because it really got behind this game. We had failed to deliver in time, and it was going to miss Christmas and it was really inconvenient to him. So I got on a train and went down to see David.
“I walked into his office and he was really miffed. I asked if I could use his phone – he said yeah – and I said, ‘Can I phone the Liverpool QA?’ and he went ‘OK.’ So I phoned – and I can’t remember [the name of] the head of QA, he was a legendary guy because he was so enormously efficient – and I said, ‘How’s Broken Sword looking?’
“He said, ‘Well, we were worried about it but actually we’ve got a new build and it’s really good.’ I said, ‘Is it going to make Christmas? and he said, ‘Yeah, I think it will.’ So I said, ‘Can you tell David Patton?’ and he said, ‘Yeah.’ David Patton talked to him and went ‘OK, it’s back in for Christmas.’ And that was the way it worked!” Charles laughs. “That was the way it worked.”
I ask Charles if he thinks the gaming industry at that time was a more personal industry – I’m guessing the trip to see David wouldn’t be possible today?
“It wouldn’t be possible today, no,” Charles agrees. “I’m not saying it’s better or worse, but there were fewer releases, fewer developers… it was different.”
Of course, the Sony PlayStation was designed to push 3D graphics and Revolution Software was porting a 2D game. When Charles and I had spoken previously, we had discussed how the first game was ported by an external team while Broken Sword II was ported in-house. But were the first two Broken Sword games difficult to move across from PC to PlayStation or was it mostly smooth sailing?
“I think it was pretty smooth sailing,” says Charles. “It’s hard to remember, but the original company that we worked with… we had problems. I cannot say/cannot remember whether they were legitimate or not, but certainly for Broken Sword 2 we were able to do it internally and I remember it being much smoother.”
In the years since Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars debuted on the original PlayStation the series has appeared on many other consoles. For example, Broken Sword 3 was released on Xbox as well as PlayStation 2 and PC, while Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – The Director’s Cut was released on Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS before finally making its way to iOS and PC. I wonder what Revolution Software’s relationship is like with Microsoft compared to Sony, for example?
“Interestingly, the games have always sold better on Sony devices, and maybe that’s part of the legacy carrying forward. Certainly for a time, because our game In Cold Blood was on PlayStation and Broken Sword 5 did extraordinarily well on PlayStation 5 as well. But then, obviously, Apple has been a fantastic partner. As an independent developer, I guess we like to keep our options open and we love working with people who love to work with us.”
This rich history of creating games for multiple platforms has helped Revolution Software to build a diverse fanbase, regardless of whether you’re a PC, PlayStation, Xbox or Nintendo gamer – and despite its PC roots, the studio has become multi-platform over the years as a result.
“Well that’s certainly what we’d like to think,” says Charles. “Obviously, as time has changed, different types of genre have appealed [on different consoles]. Certainly, when the [Nintendo] DS came out in the mid-2000s, while the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were very much looking for very high-poly games/high framerates, the DS was able to reinvent the adventure with games like Another Code and Professor Layton. And that’s why [the Nintendo DS] was a natural home [for Broken Sword], because so many people who loved adventure games were playing them on the DS.
“So that’s where we built the relationship with Nintendo, which was fantastic, and that’s lasted since then as well. Nintendo are a terrific partner.”
Jumping back in time slightly, I ask whether there was an increase in studio size during the creation of the first Broken Sword – was it still the same team that had worked on Beneath a Steel Sky?
“Well Beneath a Steel Sky was actually a very very tight team,” Charles says. “It was Tony and Dave on the programming. Tony Warriner [was] mainly on the engine; Dave Skyes was writing tools and peripheral code. They were both absolutely great. And Steve Oades, who we picked up locally – he was working as a clerk for Kalamazoo, I remember – and it turned out he was the most extraordinary animator. And then Dave Gibbons who painted the backgrounds.
“Adam Tween had worked with us on Lure of the Temptress and then left, and Dave then drew the backgrounds for Beneath a Steel Sky – and Steve Oades I think animated them as well as doing the sprites. I mean, Steve worked like a trojan. When I had been at Activision, my lead tester was a guy called Dave Cummins. Dave was a highly talented writer – he was completely wasted as a tester, it was insane – and he came up and he joined Revolution as a scriptwriter and a key team member for Beneath a Steel Sky.
“But when we went to Broken Sword we brought forward a very very experienced team, and I think Steve Ince came in as a producer for those early Broken Sword games. So basically it was a very small team for Beneath a Steel Sky, which expanded substantially because we needed to do a lot more animation; in particular, we needed people to draw the backgrounds. Eoghan Cahill and Neil Breen were the layout artists who actually drew them in pencil, but then we needed people to paint them as well. So we went from a team of about seven or eight people to about 50 in about a year.
“The big thing that we did do – which I still feel very disloyal [about] – was we moved from Hull, which is a fabulous place, to York. And I love living in York. But we felt that it was important if the company was going to grow that we were somewhere prestigious where we could attract the best people. So we moved the company to York and expanded at that point to undertake the work for Broken Sword. So yeah, it was a completely different company. Before we were very small and tight and all very close, and with Broken Sword we grew massively by our standards. I mean by today’s standards 50 people is nothing, but to us it felt like an awful lot.”
My ears prick up at the mention of Dave Cummins’ name; Charles had previously mentioned to me that Dave used to write the most fantastic bug reports.
“Yes, that’s true,” says Charles, laughing. “What I’ve told you before was that I remember that there was an adventure game – it was about wind blowing through the willows as far as I remember – and he wrote so beautifully in terms of an analysis of why it was so bad.” Charles laughs again. “And his grammar and his use of English was so infinitely better than the writer of the adventure who wrote about the willows. I remember no more than that.”
I ask if a lot of George’s sarcastic and wry comments can be attributed to Dave?
“Very much so,” says Charles. “Dave was an angry man. Dave was an angry, angry man… as so many of the brilliant comedians are. And that anger came out as sort of sarcasm. He was just great, he was brilliant.” Charles pauses, reflecting. “He was angry.”
I decide to ask about something that has always puzzled me. In the Irish pub in the PlayStation version of Broken Sword, the violinist from the PC version is missing (along with his violin playing). I ask Charles if he is aware of this.
“It was probably to do with the memory and also the music – because he had his own music, the violinist. I’d forgotten that the violinist wasn’t there, but there will have been a good reason why.”
The violin music plays as a continual loop in the PC version, with the voices and sound effects playing over the top. Perhaps its exclusion was due to a limitation of the PlayStation hardware at the time?
“It probably was,” Charles agrees, laughing. So there you have it – a whole generation of PlayStation gamers that never got to experience the joy of listening to the violinist in Mac Devitt’s pub!
Another aspect of Broken Sword that I always found intriguing were the death scenes. LucasArts had a philosophy of never killing the player – and never putting the player in an unwinnable position – whereas Sierra was willing to let the player die or reach a dead end. Broken Sword has several moments where George can die…
“…but no dead ends,” Charles clarifies.
But no dead ends, I concur, which is important. I ask Charles if he was ever worried that these death scenes might put players off; had Revolution Software always intended to include them?
“That’s a really good question,” says Charles. “The thing about death, obviously, is… LucasArts are quite different. We – I – try to write puzzles that are completely logical within the context of the world and the characters. So the blocks feel – I hope – like narrative obstacles rather than just puzzles to stop you from progressing. I’m very proud of the fact that Broken Sword has endured and people still enjoy it.
“LucasArts, who are brilliant… their puzzles were always slapstick. So you know, you get a monkey and then you squash it and it becomes a monkey wrench. To a great extent, I would argue that a lot of their puzzles could never be solved logically because they make no sense, and that the satisfaction comes retrospectively with the joy of the writing and the humour and the ludicrousness.
“So we had very different philosophies. In their sort of slapstick world, they made a decision not to [let the player] die. I remember very memorably when Guybrush [in The Secret of Monkey Island] falls off a cliff and then bounces back again because he fell on a rubber tree, and that’s the fun of that. What I wanted was to have a more serious story with a real sense of jeopardy. So that jeopardy came from the ability to die.
“Because if you think, you’ve got the music – upping the tempo, upping the drama – in the Hotel Ubu, which I think is the first place you can die in Broken Sword 1, and what we’re promising is jeopardy, we’re promising threat, and I felt that you really had to follow through on it. I think it is quite important still, because if you don’t follow through on it then the player is very quickly and instinctively going to know that actually, the jeopardy is a false jeopardy. Whereas if you kill them off, even if you warn them, because I mean clearly you can’t kill somebody off without warning them that they’re in danger… But if you don’t kill them off then I think that instinctively the player will very quickly know that it’s a false jeopardy.”
The death scene Charles is talking about – where Flap and Guido pat George down outside Hotel Ubu, find the manuscript, tie him in a sack and throw him in the river – was shocking to me as a child. After facing the ‘game over’ gravestone, I made sure to save regularly. It was a tough lesson to learn!
“I know,” says Charles “and the problem of course was that so many people did die and hadn’t saved. But people didn’t complain back in those days, people just went back and played it again from the start!” He laughs, before adding: “Habits have changed.”
Of course, these death scenes are made even more impactful thanks to the beautiful in-game animations and cutscenes. As a huge fan of animator Don Bluth and his films, I know there is a connection between Don Bluth Ireland Limited and Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. Is it true that Charles went over to Ireland to find animators?
“Yes,” Charles confirms. “The story is that Edge had run a piece about somewhere called Ballyfermot College. Ballyfermot had been set up in Dublin to train layout artists and animators for Don Bluth Studios, and Don Bluth had a studio in Ireland in Dublin. I read about this and we needed animators, so I thought ‘well I’ll pop over and see what’s going on.’
“I was met by the principal, who then suggested that I talk to a gentleman called Eoghan Cahill. Eoghan had worked for many years at Don Bluth Studios and we started talking about our requirements. I have to say, I didn’t take layout all that seriously. But he asked me about layout, and I showed him some of the stuff we were working on. And he looked at me and he said: ‘This is not good enough.’
“I felt rather hurt,” Charles laughs, “and he said, ‘You need to see my stuff and you need to employ me.’ So I had a look at his stuff and it was so beautiful. As you may know, in 2D you can change the perspective through the drawing. The way you do that is you have two vanishing points and the vanishing points change as you progress horizontally across the page. That’s one of the reasons why [there is a] big difference between 2D and 3D, because in 3D it’s proper 3D; in 2D, its hand-drawn layout artists 3D.
“He showed me his work and it was spectacularly beautiful, and I said, ‘I think I really do need to employ you.’ And indeed he came and worked at Revolution as a layout artist. He brought an enormous amount of expertise from his decades of work at Don Bluth. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude because he really pushed us. For Broken Sword 2, there was a point at which… he was always looking for new things that we should be trying out. One of things that he suggested was changing the angle of the screen.
“The problem was that he never stopped talking. He was a wonderfully talented and a lovely lovely man… but he never stopped talking. That actually worked quite well, because what he would do is, he would basically beat people into submission by never giving up. And in this particular case, he was talking about changing the angle of the screen.
“I went, ‘Obviously you can’t change the angle of the screen, because the sprites are drawn at a set angle.’ He said, ‘Well can’t you try it?’ I said, ‘No, of course we’re not going to try it.’ Anyway, half an hour later I knew the only way I was going to get rid of him was to agree to try it. So he sent over a couple of screens and we put them into the game… and blimey, it worked brilliantly!
“And it worked brilliantly because he understood that the accuracy is not important; what’s important is what the eye will believe. The eye understands when something is beautifully drawn by somebody who completely understands perspective and is a master at their art, which Eoghan absolutely was. So he worked with us on Broken Sword 1 and Broken Sword 2. For Broken Sword Director’s Cut he felt that he was too old to work – he wasn’t very well at that point – so we worked with his colleague Neil Breen. On Broken Sword 5 we had other layout artists.”
Something else I’ve always been really curious about is the iconic cover artwork for the first two Broken Sword games. This artwork is unusual, as most video game covers seem to feature a man holding a gun (sad but true) or something similarly generic. Were these covers created by Revolution Software, or were they part of Virgin Interactive’s marketing?
“Well, Virgin were absolutely responsible for the first poster,” says Charles. “The man is apparently genuinely on death row. It’s brilliant. It kind of at the time felt completely wrong but they felt it was right and I think in hindsight… In many ways, it’s a beautiful piece of artwork and it moulds itself to the game, but yeah they were responsible for that.”
So what about the cover artwork for Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror?
“I was excited; I went to the British Museum for Broken Sword 2, and in the British Museum there is a mask of Tezcatlipoca. It was a human skull with jade and various decorations on it, which I thought looked extraordinarily striking. So [the cover for] Broken Sword 2 came from us, from my visit to the British Museum… but Virgin then took that and used it as inspiration in creating the artwork.”
I mention that it’s very unusual to have video game covers without the main characters on them.
“Yeah,” says Charles. “Well, it was very brave. The product manager was Sarah Ewing; Virgin were very brave in the way they marketed and were not afraid to shock people. So that was very much their doing.”
To conclude, I ask Charles why Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars – which was first released in 1996 – is the one game that Revolution Software has returned to multiple times over the years. Of course, Beyond a Steel Sky – the sequel to 1994’s Beneath a Steel Sky – was released in 2020; but what is it about Broken Sword that has endured over the years and made the studio return to it over and over again?
“Well, I mean obviously from a commercial perspective it’s the game that’s been most successful,” says Charles. “In all of our games, it was quite clear that it was important to have two characters. And the reason you have two characters in television is to convey the exposition, it’s very convenient if you can have one person talk to another and explain to that other person – in other words, the audience – what’s going on. That’s why all of our games have always had two characters.
“But you get an extra benefit from those two characters if, when you juxtapose them, there is humour that emerges from their differences. So obviously with Lure of the Temptress you have the Ratpouch character and Diermot. Ratpouch of course came from Blackadder; [he was] very much inspired by Baldrick from Blackadder. And then in Beneath a Steel Sky clearly you had Joey, Foster’s friend, and these two people arriving in this place that from an audience perspective, you see yourself from their perspective, but there’s this ludicrousness to these characters that have lived under this tyranny and have gone slightly mad.
“With Broken Sword, the first character that actually I really liked, because of the Paris connection and going to Paris when I was young, was Nico, and maybe finding these sultry French women sexy. So George was actually a foil to Nico and again, what I wanted was to create humour through two characters that were both interesting but came from different cultures, so that the humour would come from the misunderstandings between the two.
“So really, George was… you know, you’ve got a French Parisian, driven, ambitious woman. What is the opposite? And the opposite that we could think of was a laid back, Californian man,” Charles chuckles, “who was quite different to Nico. And of course, a friendship will develop and maybe even a relationship. That’s how those two characters came about.”
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