Charles Cecil and the development team Revolution Software is one of the better known set of names to have benefited from the recent Kickstarter craze. Their campaign for Broken Sword – the Serpent’s Curse was an overwhelming success, meeting its goal of $400,000 after only two weeks and eventually doubling the requested funding by the campaign’s conclusion.
Masters of the adventure genre, Revolution Software has a long history of pleasing its rabid fan base thanks to their work on the popular Broken Sword series. These four modern day adventure games revolve around protagonists Geroge Stobbart and Nicole “Nico” Collard and their international capers that “incorporate historical conspiracies that resonate into the present day.”
A series’ resurgence.
Over the past few years, Charles Cecil has put development of a new game on hold and has instead focused on remastering his older classics to great success. The Broken Sword series is now available through many digital distribution sites like Steam and GOG, and the iPhone and Android remasters have been a great help in introducing these wonderful games to an entire new generation of gamers, which Cecil is very proud of.
“The games were originally hits on PC, but have recently had a resurgence on mobile,” Cecil told us. “To the extent that in 2011 the game achieved 5 million downloads on Apple formats alone. If you will forgive me for boasting, currently the Android version of Broken Sword: Director’s Cut has a user rating of 4.8/5 – the iPhone version a metacritic of 92%.”
With the series popularity soaring once again, the time was just right to finally make a new game in the series. Broken Sword – the Serpent’s Curse will be the first new entry in the series in nearly seven years, and it will be the first time Revolution Software has total creative control and publishing rights over their vision thanks to the modern day wonders of crowd funding.
Relationship between publishers and developers.
Cecil is” keen not to be too negative about publishers,” however, while enjoying “wonderful collaborative relationships with some” in the past, he believes there are two fundamental flaws in the relationships with publishers and developers that limits the creative minds with what they are able to truly achieve.
“Firstly the publishing model didn’t work commercially,” he explained. “Although we would write games that sold well, and got great reviews, there was no profit element for the developer once the retailers and the publisher took their cuts. And without a profit, developers couldn’t fund their next game.”
Not just for financial gains, Cecil also does not wish to create a product constrained by an outside source’s budget and schedule. Revolution would rather focus freely on making a game for those who matter most, their audience.
“From a creative perspective, publishers wanted to take control of the schedule and guide the design to appeal to their primary customer – the retailer. Our primary customer is our audience – and often this would lead to conflicting requirements. Now we control both the schedule and the budget and this should allow us to draw a better balance between ensuring overall quality while staying within budget and on schedule.”
Even with their new found success on the independent market, Revolution Software is more than happy to work with publishers again, especially when bringing boxed products to the the console market; but, from now on ” the relationship will be different…”
Having total creative control.
Indeed, with more time to focus on what the fans want, initial reactions to Broken Sword – the Serpents Curse have been nothing but high praise. A wonderful two minute introduction video found on the game’s Kickstarter page shows off the voice acting and fabulous new art style. While traditionally rooted in 2D sprites, the previous two games have taken a trip into 3D polygons with mixed reception from fans.
With Broken Sword – the Serpent’s Curse, however, Cecil believes that they have finally “achieved the best of every world.” Originally, Revolution Software teased the idea of using 3D, but “quickly found that super-accurate 3D layouts lacked character.” Instead, they have taken a different path and have tried to modernize the viewpoint found in the first two games in the series.
“A skillful 2D layout artist knows how to cheat perspective to achieve maximum emotional effect while remaining believable,” Cecil claimed. “Our characters are pre-rendered in 3D but to achieve a 2D look – and then special effects are added in real time to create a really special unique look. Our fans have been really excited by what they have seen – we hope that we have managed to achieve the best of every world. So I am pleased that we chose this route.”
The unique art style, as well as incorporating new ideas like “[handling] knowledge as an item that can be manipulated and combined to create new, logic deductions,” has the team ready to create an adventure game for the modern world.
Revolution Software has done an incredible job including their audience every step of the way through this experimental process. Wonderful rewards have been given to those who generously donated to the cause, and one lucky fan will find his likeness in the game as Nico’s next-door neighbor.
Throughout the Kickstarter campaign, Revolution teased the idea that reaching $800,000 would allow them to “achieve their wildest ambitions” with the game. Now with the funds to do so, and “the financial pressure” lifted, Cecil is really excited “to add fun, non-vital elements rather than having to cut corners.”
“We are adding new locations, particularly external ones, to make the game feel more open – more alive. This also allows us to write the game to be more multi-linear, so the player can choose to solve puzzles in the order that they choose, and the world will adapt to their decisions.”
Revolution Software is also taking ideas from fan input from the previous games.
“We have promised to include some favorite characters from earlier games: Duane, Pearl and the belligerent goat. But the biggest addition, is a new section at the end which adds considerable gameplay as well as rounding the story off in a much more dramatic and epic way.”
What of Beneath A Steel Sky 2?
Sadly, Revolution Software did not meet their final home stretch goal of $1 million, and their promised reward of greenlighting the sequel to their other classic, Beneath a Steel Sky, seemed all but lost. However, thanks to the strong fan participation and “the recent level of interest in Beneath a Steel Sky,” Revolution Software gave the long awaited sequel Beneath a Steel Sky 2 the go-ahead anyway and is planning to create the game once the Serpent’s Curse is complete.
Earlier in the year, the game’s illustrator and co-creator, Dave Gibbons, who is most famously known as the co-creator of Watchmen, stated that he would be working on a new game with Charles Cecil in the near future, leading many to speculate that a sequel was imminent.
In this interview, Cecil says that “[he] and Dave have been exploring a number of projects,” but that “when he mentioned that we were going to work together, he didn’t mean immediately.”
The two have enjoyed working together on Beneath a Steel Sky and its Director’s Cut, and Charles Cecil “certainly very much [looks] forward to working with him on a project fairly shortly.”
Shaping a new business model.
The Broken Sword series has a long history of wonderful characters, exotic locations, and intriguing stories, and thanks to Revolution Software’s intended audience, the fans, they now have the chance to bring Broken Sword – the Serpent’s Curse to life just as they want it.
More so than just making an entertaining video game, Revolution Software and the rest of the successful Kickstarter campaigners are shaping a business model which incorporates closer relationships between developers and their fans as well as making sure that the creative people in the market have the funding needed to make their true visions into realities.
In the expanding market we have today, these personal projects are just as important to sustaining a working industry as the AAA shooters which top the sales charts every holiday season, making sure every niche is filled and everyone has the kind of games they want available to them.