Revolution Software’s classic point-and-click adventure series Broken Sword started 22 years ago on PC, but it’s kept up with the times. The studio has remastered and remade the first two entries in the franchise for mobile devices, and now its most recent title, Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse, is coming to Nintendo Switch on September 21.
Community has been an important part of Revolution’s journey. Studio cofounder and CEO Charles Cecil and his team raised over $800,000 through a crowdfunding campaign for Broken Sword 5, which gave them a unique opportunity to get direct feedback from their fans. It’s the fifth installation in a series that features recurring protagonists George Stobbart and Nicole “Nico” Collard. Where in the past they’ve investigated the Knights Templar, this time they unravel a conspiracy around a mysterious medallion featuring an ouroboros. It released in two episodes, one in late 2013 and the second in early 2014.
“You can’t write a story with 15,000 people. But you can share the experiences with them. You can ask their advice. You can genuinely take their feedback, and it affects the game. That’s what people really wanted,” said Cecil in a phone call with GamesBeat. “Interestingly for me, we launched the video, and it was all thrown together quite roughly. A number of people said, ‘No, you’ve got the jaw wrong.’ We read that and said, ‘Gosh, these people are right.’ So we changed the jaw and said, ‘Thank you so much, we think you’re right.’ People came back and said, ‘My god, they’re actually listening to us.'”
Twenty-two years later, Broken Sword still has a passionate fanbase. Cecil recounts how one of them created 50 ceramic goat figurines in honor of a fiendishly difficult puzzle from the first title in the series. Another started up the Order of the Goat, a fan meetup that people traveled from all over Europe to attend.
“[One fan] told me about their relationship with their grandmother, who’d passed away many years ago. But when he was 10, his grandmother had said she’d buy him a video game, and of course they bought Broken Sword,” said Cecil. “He described, at great length, how he would run home from school — he’d play the game with his grandmother, and their relationship was so much based around a video game. It was just magical to realize the impact of video games, and adventure games in particular — the impact they could have on people. I’m thrilled by the response. Our community is wonderful.”
The first game in the series, Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, debuted in 1996 and was an enormous success. It sold over 650,000 copies, which was impressive at the time. When competitor Sierra Studios released King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity in 1998, it eventually sold around 750,000 copies.
Cecil attributes the series’ lasting impact to a number of factors, such as its historical accuracy and clever puzzles. A crucial part of Broken Sword’s appeal are the heroes, George and Nico, who have the benefit of a will-they-won’t-they relationship as well as the ability to play off each other. George is a laid-back American from sunny California, and Nico is a sharp-witted French woman, and the two act as foils to each other.
“In a film, any linear medium, you generally have plenty of time to build a relationship with characters. You have an empathetic relationship with your protagonist,” said Cecil. “Whereas in games, because it’s an active participation, you’re given time for an intro, and during the intro you have to set up the scene, set up the motivation, and create empathy. We had to come up with characters that could be immediately empathetic.”
Cecil also felt strongly that women were “depicted in the most appalling ways” in the ’80s and ’90s, and he wanted to create a female protagonist that went against all of that.
“It’s cringeworthy looking back at some of the depictions [of women in games] now,” said Cecil. “And so I was very keen to try and — not for any reason apart from the fact that would make a better story and it would be more believable, but just to have a bit more of a strong woman involved in the story as well. I guess that’s where George and Nico came from.”
Cecil says that a large number of Broken Sword players are women, and now that the series is on mobile devices, they’ve reached a new audience, many of whom are also women. These players might also be younger and discovering point-and-click games or puzzlers for the first time — and a strong story and Broken Sword’s rich, animated movie aesthetic appeal to curious newcomers.
“The very casual formats, like iOS or Android, are really important,” said Cecil. “My sense is that the Switch is an interesting intersection between the two. It originally was Nintendo fans, and we have plenty of Broken Sword fans who are Nintendo fans as well. But as time goes on, its extraordinary success is broadening into a much wider audience. I would hope that people will try it and see it and realize that actually, it feels right for them, because of the narrative and the problem-solving and because it doesn’t threaten you from moment to moment. People can play it together collaboratively.”
In an interview with German games site Adventure Treff, Cecil said that he thinks touch screens are the best alternative to using a computer mouse to interact with point-and-click adventures like the Broken Sword games. However, the team has come up with a flexible control scheme for the Switch version of Broken Sword 5.
“We’ve come up with a system I’m very proud of, where it is touch screen, but the moment you touch one of the joypads, it immediately changes to joypad control. And then when you touch the screen again, it immediately reverts,” said Cecil. “Because I personally prefer touch screen, but other people tell us that they prefer using a controller. We have a system that absolutely, fluidly, and seamlessly jumps between the two. People always have a choice. I’m always a little bit suspicious of offering people two choices, because — it’s like the developer wasn’t quite sure which one was best. But we have developed both, and we’ve tweaked both, and we’ve responded to both, and we’ve had good responses from people about both. It just seemed like it was perfect to offer both in this particular case.”
Cecil is now working on Broken Sword 6, though he says it’s too early to reveal much detail.
“Do you know, I’m incredibly flattered that people are — we get a lot of people asking about it, and it’s wonderful,” said Cecil with a laugh. “I am in the process of writing a story. But I would say that — of course there will be a Broken Sword 6, but it’s still at the very early stage. If people follow my Twitter feed, then they’ll get an inkling from the places I go to and the pictures that I post as far as the kinds of things that are likely to be in it.”
Revolution’s fans can always go on a treasure hunt on Cecil’s Twitter page to look for clues. Could it be that the sequel will involve Sri Lanka? Perhaps Ireland? Or is sometimes a currywurst simply a currywurst? With no way to know for certain, the Switch port of Broken Sword 5 will have to suffice for now.