Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

Excerpt: Behind-the-app book Buttonless explores Broken Sword

Justin McElroy

You'll be able to pick up Ryan Rigney's Buttonless: Incredible iPhone and iPad Games and the Stories Behind Them (available for pre-order now) on Dec. 13. To tide you over until then, we've got the sample below, just one of the dozens of fascinating stories you'll find in the book. In this chapter, Rigney explores the creation of adventure classic Broken Sword and how it made the leap to iOS.

All Charles Cecil wants to do is create fantastic adventure games. After founding Revolution Software in 1990, Cecil led his team in the creation of two of the most critically acclaimed point-and-click adventure games ever: Lure of the Temptress in 1992 and the beloved Beneath a Steel Sky in 1994. Both were published by (the now defunct) Virgin Interactive. After both games found success, Virgin approached Revolution with demands for another, even bigger game. "Virgin said that it wanted to up the ante," says Cecil. "It wanted a game that was really cutting edge."

Cecil and his wife met up with Sean Brennan, the COO of Virgin Interactive, for a friendly dinner. "We were talking about heroes and antiheroes, and Sean had just read Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco," says Cecil. "At that point almost nobody knew about the Knights Templar. I started researching them and I was absolutely blown away by the story."

As Cecil learned more about the Knights Templar, an idea for a game began to form. What could serve as a better backdrop for a game than an ancient legend filled with conspiracies and hidden secrets? Cecil's mind began to race with the possibilities. "You have clues that they would have left, you have power, intrigue, everything that would suit a game extremely well," he says.

Revolution soon began work on the new game, which it dubbed Broken Sword. Since the story behind the game was inspired by both fact and fiction, Cecil decided to take a relaxed approach to historical accuracy, weaving plenty of mythology into the game's historically-based tale. This philosophy carried over into every aspect of the game's design, including the city layouts. "It's not about realism, it's about believability," he says, quoting a long-held game developer axiom. "And these people [the Revolution team] knew how to take believability and push it so that elements of the layout were not accurate but looked absolutely fantastic."

After discussing the influence of the legends surrounding the Knights Templar on Broken Sword, Cecil was quick to remind me that his game was released seven years before Dan Brown's megapopular novel, The Da Vinci Code. Cecil carefully informed me that "our [Revolution's] fans are absolutely adamant that Dan Brown must have played Broken Sword because there are so many similarities in terms of the plot."

"Now I would never dare make such a claim because his lawyers are much better paid than mine," chuckles Cecil. "But I'm very happy to accept the word of the fans, who absolutely believe he must have been inspired by a number of our ideas."

Broken Sword's marketing team didn't share Cecil's confidence in the game until much later in the development process. According to Cecil, that was in part because of the way adventure games are developed: they don't really come together until the last few weeks of development.

In the United States, a lack of confidence in the game wasn't the only issue that Cecil had to deal with when working with Virgin's marketing team. The team decided to change Broken Sword's name to Circle of Blood, believing this title would appeal strongly to an American audience. When asked why that happened, Cecil laughed and suggested that I should ask the marketing team myself. "I have no idea, really," he said. "It didn't make a lot of sense."

"It goes one stage further when you're actually touching the screen with your finger," he explains. "You're exploring the environments in a really exciting way."

When Broken Sword was finally released, the original PlayStation had just launched. Cecil contacted Sony to see if it had any interest in the game, but the reception he got was not particularly enthusiastic. "Publishers were absolutely obsessed with the idea that the PlayStation gamers would only want to play visceral, three-dimensional games," explained Cecil, with a hint of disbelief in his voice.

Eventually Cecil was able to convince Sony to publish the game on the PlayStation, and his bet paid off. The PlayStation version of the game received glowing reviews and even went on to sell about a half-million copies. "In those days this was absolutely exceptional," Cecil says proudly.

Cecil claims that the success of PlayStation was a double-edged sword. "The rush to create PlayStation-type games-the visceral games, the three-dimensional games-alienated a huge portion of the market who basically went away and only came again for Wii and DS," says Cecil. "I admire Nintendo enormously for building the market, but all it's really doing in many cases is bringing back the people who had left in the mid-1990s when games changed so radically to follow the perceived wisdom of the PlayStation era."

"As a developer, we were much closer to our audience than our publishers were, and we had a very strong sense of what we thought would work, and we were proved right."

Over a decade after creating the original Broken Sword game for PC, Cecil began pitching a full-fledged remake of the game, which he wanted to release on Wii and DS. Ubisoft agreed to publish the game, and Revolution began work on the new title. Cecil was delighted at the chance to revisit the story he'd crafted in the mid-1990s. "What was fantastic was being able to take a game that was released in 1996, and, in 2008, to look back at the weaknesses and look back at the story flaws and address them," he says. "It was an extraordinary opportunity to add background and to tweak elements of the story that we didn't feel quite made sense."

Although Cecil says that work on the remastered versions of the game for DS and Wii was overwhelming at times, the game was very well received upon release. Six months later Apple approached Revolution, saying that it thought the game would work very well on the iPhone.
Cecil was flattered by Apple's request, and the idea of doing an iOS port appealed to him. He had been impressed by the tactility that the DS touch screen offered, and knew that the iPhone's capacitive touch screen could make things even more interesting. "It goes one stage further when you're actually touching the screen with your finger," he explains. "You're exploring the environments in a really exciting way."

Within a matter of months Revolution had ported the Director's Cut version to the iPhone. The iOS version of the game has gone on to become extremely successful, with about a quarter of a million copies downloaded across both the iPhone and iPad platforms.

Cecil gives credit for the game's success to its original development team, which had been together since the company was founded to create Lure of the Temptress. "About half of us are still working at Revolution," he says. "It was a supremely talented group of people. I only realize that now by looking back and seeing what those people produced at that time."

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr