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A classic postmortem for the original  Broken Sword

A classic postmortem for the original Broken Sword

August 13, 2014 | By Mike Rose

August 13, 2014 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Production, Business/Marketing, GDC Europe

"Broken Sword came about over a bottle of very fine wine."

So began a classic postmortem of the original Broken Sword adventure game from Charles Cecil at GDC Europe -- a game that came into existence as Beneath a Steel Sky's development was coming to an end.

Cecil was having a drink with Sean Brennan of Virgin Games in 1993, and was considering options for the next game after Beneath a Steel Sky. "I love the idea of writing ideas for adventure games with hieroglyphics," he noted -- and as such was pitching a game with an Ancient Egyptian theme to Brennan.

But Brennan put it bluntly: "Egyptian games don't sell."

While Cecil was downhearted, the topic quickly turned to the Knights Templar, and the fascinating stories behind this historic movement. The two began fantasizing about an adventure game centered around this incredible history, and the base concept for Broken Sword was formed then and there.

Here, I'll present a selection of the most interesting bits and pieces that Cecil discussed about the development of Broken Sword.

Two leads are better than one: Cecil noted that having both George and Nico as lead characters meant that dialogue could be advanced in a much more focused manner.

"Having two characters allows you to make them have conversations and move the story along," he noted. It's far less clumsy than trying to have a single character who monologues his or her journey.

"It was very important to move from pixel art to drawn art": "I'd gone to an animation college to pick up some artists, and I met a guy called Owen Carhal," says Cecil. "His stuff was far ahead from everyone, especially his tricks for manipulating perspective."

"Our weakest characters are the ones which we don't know who they are": The industry veteran noted that many of his favorite characters in Broken Sword were based on people he had encountered in real life, however brief that encounter might have been.

Basing characters around real people he had met meant that he already knew how they would act or react in the game, he reasoned, giving them instant personality.

"I tried to innovate -- some of it worked, some didn't.": The audience loves innovation, and innovation in your game means that your players will allow for some mistakes, Cecil reasons.

"The first was death," he says of Broken Sword. "Very few adventure games let you die. I was very keen to make sure there was a real threat."

"But you couldn't die until about a quarter of the way through the game, and sometimes they hadn't saved the game," he sighed. "We got a lot of flak for that."

He also noted that some players were too good at the game, and as such, the studio decided to add a small handful or more difficult puzzles to slow them down.

As he was about to bring the next slide up, someone from the audience shouted, "That fucking goat!" Laughter, and a moment later the goat popped up on the next slide.

"The reason this problem was unfair was because we put in a new game mechanic halfway through the game," Cecil admitted. "It was very unfair, and it was absolutely bewildering."

Towards the end, the game was going way over budget and schedule: Whispers were going around that the game might be cancelled, and the staff on the game were really feeling the pressure.

"We got fed up with the game and hated it, but we still had a passion and pride for it," Cecil noted. "Of course you go through the crunch times, and shouting and screaming. It's unfortunately the way game development still happens -- in an ideal world it wouldn't."

But there were a number of people in the company who saw the potential in the game, and it was these people who helped to boost morale in the final months and get the game out of the door.

The PC Zone exclusive: A nearly-finished version of the game was given to magazine PC Zone for exclusive review, so that the magazine could put a review out a month before the game launched.

Unfortunately for the team, "they slagged us off... it was full of bugs, and it didn't feel finished."

"It felt so profoundly unfair," says Cecil, since the reviewer was told that the game wasn't entirely finished and needed ironing out a little. "It was quite shocking at the time."

Of course, the finished game went on to receive numerous 90 percent reviews and sold over 1 million copies, so that one review wasn't too damaging.

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