iTête à iTête – Interview with Charles Cecil of Revolution Software – Fact is stranger than fiction.

Revolution Software is one of the titans of adventure gaming. The creators of the legendary Broken Sword series have recently blessed the iPhone with its two greatest adventure games to date – Beneath a Steel Sky: Remastered (BaSSR) and Broken Sword: Director’s Cut (BSDC). I have been lucky enough to secure an interview with Charles Cecil – the founder of Revolution Software and the director of the games that made the adventure Hall of Fame.

As usual – my comments are in bold.

1. Charles thank you for joining me today! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and Revolution?

A pleasure! I started writing games for the ZX81, back in 1981. I wrote a number of text adventures for a small publisher called Artic Computing. Then, in 1986, I was approached by the publisher US Gold to run their development department. It turned out that there were two of us – me and a tester. And bear in mind that US Gold was one of the largest UK publishers at that time.  Then in about 1987 I was approached by Activision, and moved to run their development department. And in 1990 I set up Revolution. And here I still am…

How many people are there now in Revolution?

We have about 40 people up until 2004, but it was clear that developers were either needed to big – so that they could absorb the shock of a project being cancelled or small so that they had flexibility. We were the wrong size. So, when project was cancelled in 2004, we had to cut right back and move to the ‘Hollywood Model’ in which people were brought together for a specific project. That has worked really well – so we only have 2 full time staff, and use a range of brilliant people on a freelance basis.

2. You have produced some of the best adventure games ever. How did you manage to come up with the ideas for such great games?

Thank you. Ideas always come from things that excite me, or personal experiences.  I love the more exciting aspects of history – and these provide an excellent backdrop for any story. We have the expression “Fact is stranger than fiction” which is certainly very true.

How long does it usually take for an idea to turn into a specific project? Does it happen often?

It takes ages :-)

Dave Gibbons and I are writing an original adventure together. It will take several months to agree a very high level design – in which the gameplay and story elements combine. Then several more months to come up with the story overview. Then several more months to come up with a design document and, ideally, a demo to ‘prove’ the vision. And only then can we go into production – and that’s a further 12 months at least!

You’re working on a new project already?

Sure. But it has been slow up to now because of the work needed to complete Broken Sword and Beneath a Steel Sky.

Is it a completely new series or will be a sequel to one of your previous games?

Completely new.

Could you say a few words about this new project? Will it also be an adventure game? What will be the setting?

I am afraid that I can’t – it is too early and nothing has been nailed down yet.

3. Will you be bringing the other Broken Sword titles to the iPhone? Or maybe you’re going to develop an exclusive one just for it?

Good question. We are waiting to see how well the game is received before deciding on how to move forward. It is a great pleasure to be able to publish the game directly, and gives us the flexibility to determine how to move forward with the series.

Have you thought of using an “episode” model many of the other adventure game developers are leaning to on the iPhone?

Yes, very much so. It is an exciting model and I admire Telltale for pioneering this method of distribution.

4. What can you say about Apple’s approval process? Did you have any difficulties?

No, not at all. Apple have been fantastic. Their Developer Relationship team have helped at every level.

5. What made you decide to adapt your games for the iPhone?

We discovered that Broken Sword worked really well on the DS touch screen. So taking it further, to the iPhone screen seemed logical. And I am thrilled at how it worked. Also, from a commercial perspective, we have had the opportunity to self publish, which has been very exciting.

6. Are you happy with the result? How did your games do in sales?

I am delighted by the results. I feel that the tactility of the screen is ideal for an adventure. The game only released a few days ago, but sales have been strong so far .

7. You have not gone the easy way as do many other developers and not only redesigned the games for the new platform, but added quite a lot of new content. Why?

Because we wanted to create a game that appealed to existing fans. I would hope that we have added enough to make people who enjoyed the game first time around want to play it again.

You did for me :)

8. You built a perfect interface. How did you dream it up?

You are very kind :-)

We got half way there with the DS version. We spend a lot of time adjusting and tweaking for the stylus and touch screen. The iPhone version went one stage further.

Do you feel you could still improve upon it further?

We will try, based on feedback – but I hope that not by much. Because if we can improve greatly, then we should have done that first time around!

9. What main challenges did you encounter when working on BaSSR and BSDC for the iPhone?

The main challenge, without a doubt, was that to write it and publish it with such a small team was very challenging. Publishers have huge teams to do the same thing. But it has meant that I have been able to stay really close to all elements across development and publishing which has been great fun.

10. In any project there are lots of funny stories. Could share one or two of them from your projects?

They are funny after the event – I think that we are still living some of them at the moment. Ask me again in a month!

I’m holding you to that!

11. You also did version for other mobile platforms. How would you compare them to the iPhone?

The iPhone is so much more powerful than those other mobile devices, and being one platform it is much purer. It has been much more satisfactory developing for iPhone.

12. The hottest topic now is the iPad! What do you think about it?

I think that is is incredibly exciting. The obvious market is the Kindle-dominated electronic book readers, but the more exciting area that it will attack is the huge netbook market.

13. Do you think it will catch on?

Sure – it is too sexy not to. And it’s got Apple behind it. The degree to which it penetrates the netbook market is interesting. I suspect that it will take a large chunk of that market.

Will you get one?

Of course :-)

14. Will you be bringing out special versions of your games for the iPad? Will they be released as separate titles?

We don’t have any define plans yet – we are currently considering our options.

15. Almost each month some developer publicly announces that they suffer enormous amounts of piracy and lost revenue. What’s your take on piracy on the iDevice platform?

Piracy has killed DS publishing. But on iPhone, most people are very wary of jailbreaking their devices. So although the stats suggest that piracy rates are high, I would consider that this is made up of people who probably download every release because they can.

I do find it extraordinary that people are not prepared to pay a few dollars for an App, though. All the arguements that ‘games are too expensive’ and ‘I try before I buy’ are clearly nonsense if those same people won’t then pay when the price is so much lower!

16. Do you own an iPhone? What are your top 3 favourite apps and games for the iPhone?

Of course I own an iPhone – I love it.

For me, Flight Control because it is so wonderful to use.

Am I allowed to include Broken Sword :-)

If not, then Worms.

Sure – it’s your list :)

But an honourable mention must go to Doodle Jump which proves that a great game can succeed, even if the graphics are really basic.

National Rail because I use it all the time to find out when my trains are due, and when they are running late.

I love, of course Maps – for the reason that everyone else does.

And Shazam because I still can’t quite work out how it works :-)

17. Charles, thank you for your time. Could you say some final words for the TMA readers?

For those that choose to buy the game, I really hope that you enjoy playing it. We are thrilled with the reception and, if it is successful, we will be able to write new adventures.

Thanks to all of you. And keep following TMA!


Have an affinity for adventure games? Check out some of our reviews/articles here and the App Store’s best Adventure Game article for more great games.

A project manager in a major telecommunications supplier, an iPhone junkie and lately - a TMA editor. Love long walks on the beach and my wife, who is the most beautiful girl on the face of this planet. You can also follow me on twitter for all things iPhone and project management (and some personal stuff as well):

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