Charles Cecil On Broken Sword 5, Ancient Myths & Movies

By John Walker on August 29th, 2012 at 4:00 pm.

The most avuncular man in the games industry.

The announcement of a fifth Broken Sword game from Revolution certainly seems to have excited people. In just five days the Kickstarter for the game has raised over $300,000, with the $400k goal looking extremely likely to be met, perhaps even exceeded. So we got in touch with the series’ creator and lead, Uncle Charles Cecil, to find out more about the new game, the success of the series, and where adventures fit in today. We also spoke a great deal about the Kickstarter itself, why it was necessary, issues with publishers, and the complexities that arise around such an endeavour, and that’ll be on the site tomorrow. For today we find out about the surprisingly controversial central themes of this new game, why George and Nico are such engaging characters, and what exactly happened to the film.

If you ever get the chance to meet Charles Cecil, I really strongly recommend that you ask him a question about Medieval Europe. I’m not kidding. Every time I’ve chatted with the adventure developer there’s been a point where things have become a history lesson, and an absolutely riveting one. It was no exception this morning, when I ventured the question of this fifth game’s themes. I was pretty sure there would be the standard, “We’re not talking about that at this point,” you’d usually hear less than a week after a game is announced. But of course not here.

While the game’s story remains under covers, Cecil was very happy to elaborate on the mythology being explored. Because a lot of it merits further research, I’ve put in Wikipedia links for key words. Then we talk about whether George and Nico will ever smooch or be on the telly.

RPS: Each Broken Sword game has centred around a piece of mythology. Are you willing to talk about the themes that will be the core of The Serpent’s Curse?

Cecil: We don’t want to talk too much, and I don’t want to give anything away on the story, but I can talk briefly on that. Obviously the first game was about the Knights Templar, and how the mythology of the Templars resonated with the present day. And of course after The Da Vinci Code took up the mantel – as you may know, a lot of our fans think Dan Brown must have played Broken Sword because there are so many similarities. Clearly I wouldn’t make that accusation myself, but they’re very welcome to. But after The Da Vinci Code and the myriad of Templar films, really the Templar became very cliched, and I think it’s important to look back to 1996 and realise many people hadn’t heard of the Knights Templar. I like to think we’re a major part of creating that zeitgeist.

What since then has really excited me was reading about the discovery in about 1940 of Gnostic gospels. They were the gospels that were attributed to Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Judas Iscariot, and it became quite clear that even back in those days, the days of Jesus, there was a schism between the Gnostics who claimed to have knowledge that he wouldn’t tell the others, and the much more orthodox – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter. This resonated with this conflict in beliefs that then developed as the Orthodox church declared the Gnostics to be heretics, and obviously persecuted them. And then in the 13th century, are you familiar with the Albigensian Crusades?

RPS: I’m afraid not.

Cecil: They’re fascinating. They were at the beginning of the 13th century, when the Pope and the king of France got together, and launched a crusade against the people of the Languedoc, which is south-west France. It was incredibly brutal, and it was ultimately to try and finally destroy the Cathar, who were Gnostic.

There’s a very brutal, and a very bloody story, that they arrived at Béziers, which had a population of 30,000 – they made their way in and then shouted to Amalric, who was the Pope’s holy man, “Who shall we kill?” Now, only ten percent were Cathar, ninety percent were Roman Catholic, and his reply was, “Kill them all. God will know his own.” And they massacred them. They went from city to city, massacring everybody, because the church was so determined to destroy Catharism. They went on to found the Dominicans, founded specifically to destroy heresy, to destroy Cathars, and I think this is very interesting.

What was it that the church was so appalled by? Why were they so determined? And then what really caught my eye was a testament – part of the Gnostic gospels – called the Testament Of Truth. In the Testament Of Truth, the story of Genesis is told, but told from a different perspective. It’s told from the perspective of a jealous God, and the Bringer Of Light. The Bringer Of Light comes to liberate man to give them knowledge. Of course the Bringer Of Light is Lucifer. So Lucifer has a totally different slant from this gospel’s perspective.

And I think this throws up really interesting ideas, both from a theological perspective, from a social perspective in the way that we are effected by religion, and these are the ideas that we are exploring in the story. From my perspective it’s a really fascinating subject, and it’s very rich. I hope that we convey that level of enthusiasm and excitement in the game. I’m confident that we will.

RPS: All the Broken Sword games have touched on what some would view as heretical positions. Do you fear going this far you may incite the wrath of the wrong sorts of lunatics?

Cecil: I certainly hope not, and we certainly, certainly don’t ever go out to offend anybody. I was asked by a group of Christians to talk a little bit about Cathars and Gnosticism, and I did, and it was received pretty negatively. I will state that these are not my views – this is the result of the research that we undertook. We will do our very best not to offend anybody. If anybody does get offended, then there’s nothing that I can do. It’s very much a family brand, we don’t choose to offend people. But sometimes you can’t help it.

RPS: So what is it about George and Nico that makes you want to tell more stories?

Cecil: The sexual tension between the two of them is what’s really important. That was triggered by Rolf Saxton in particular [the actor who provides George's voice] who is a wonderful actor, and his relationship with the people around him in the recording studio. A lot of people ask when George and Nico are finally going to get together, and we of course ask ourselves that question, but it would be rather sad if they did – the sexual chemistry would cease to exist. So for the moment I think they’re going to continue to dance around each other in that regard. But they do have a great relationship, and that’s certainly what underpins the series.

RPS: Yes, as soon as they get together, that’s the last game in the series. But there’s more to those two than just the sexual tension.

Cecil: I think also the difference in attitudes is really important. That allows us to create drama and humour. We chose a sassy Parisian French girl, and a laid back American, because we thought the combination of the two would create interesting situations. And it appears to have worked.

RPS: Of course I’m obliged to ask you about the film, and I know your answer will be that right now you’re working on this game, but it was optioned? Is that correct?

Cecil: It wasn’t formally optioned. There were plenty of people who wanted to option it, but our view was that the moment you option it you lose the control of both the creative, and to an extent, the commercial. So we’ve always said, we want to find the right partner, we don’t necessarily want to get lots of money for it, what we want to make sure is that if it does go to production then it’s a film that supports rather than damages the brand. My feeling is that it would be much better not to have a movie at all, than to have a bad movie. So we are very protective. The terrific thing again is that a lot of film makers now in their early 30s played Broken Sword the first time around, so they have a lot of affection, and a number of them know a lot about the brand as well. So I’m sure there will be a film, but as you say, the real focus is on this Broken Sword game. Much to the frustration of the film people we’ve been talking to. And I do feel very guilty. But I’m sure there will be a film at some point, and I’m sure it will be really good, because we’ll do our utmost to make sure that it is.

You can read part two of this interview tomorrow.

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32 Comments »

  1. Stardog says:

    Reiterating my desire for 2D characters if they exceed the amount. They said the original sprites wouldn’t scale well to HD, but they could easily trace them at a higher res.

    I won’t play it if George Stobbart doesn’t look like George Stobbart…

    • Imbecile says:

      Presumably if the 3D George Stobbart looked like a 3D version of the 2D George Stobbart, you’d be ok with that?

    • JamPaste says:

      That’s two b’s, and two t’s

      • Imbecile says:

        Thanks my good man. *doffs hat*

        Hang on – it appears that its only one “t” in Stobbart! *hurls hat at JamPaste oddjob style*

        Realises that Jampaste was right all along – and recalls the hat using the power of my mind. Which judging by this post, is pretty rubbish.

        • JamPaste says:

          Have a looksie at the second letter and last letter, although I always found him mentioning the t’s a touch redundant.

    • John Walker says:

      There’s lots more about how the characters will look in tomorrow’s interview.

  2. phlebas says:

    Interesting – I always assumed George and Nico got together (and then apart again) somewhere in the gaps between the games.

  3. misterT0AST says:

    We studied the Albigesian Crusades in literature: the war in southern France (the home of the Trobadour poets) brought a lot of refugees to Italy, and that’s how medieval lyric poetry first started spreading in the Italian peninsula. Give it a couple of centuries and we get to Dante Alighieri.

  4. fallingmagpie says:

    Huh–I actually am familiar with the Albigensian Crusades. My wife did BA History for undergrad, and I read one of her essays on it. Weird!

    • vedder says:

      Wasn’t it also touched in Gabriel Knight 3? Or did I learn about it somewhere else?

      • cwoet says:

        Yeah, GK3 dealt with it a bit. The game was even set in the Languedoc if I’m not mistaken.

    • Skabooga says:

      I believe I first heard about the Albigensian Crusades from the game L’Abbaye des Morts, which was set during that historical episode. It’s a nice little mood piece of a game done by Locomalito, and you can get it for free here:

      http://www.locomalito.com/abbaye_des_morts.php

  5. Ross Angus says:

    John: can you confirm that what is true for George and Nico is also true for RPS: it is only held together by sexual tension? And is this the real reason Keiron and Quinns left?

  6. StillUsefull says:

    Revolution really take their subjects seriously. The boxed copy of BS1 even contained a 30 page booklet about the history of the Knights Templar.
    Sometimes I miss the boxes and their goodies…

  7. Rikard Peterson says:

    It’s true that George and Nico getting together could be risky for the feel of the games, but it could be made to work. As evidence, I present Dorothy Sayers’ books about Lord Peter Wimsey. IIRC (it’s been a while since I last read them), the last books work fine despite Harriet and Peter got married.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      Personally I hate it when series (be they novels, TV shows, or games) draw out the will they or won’t they sexual tension too long. Not only is it unrealistic (most people know within the first 5 seconds of meeting someone whether or not they want to fuck them. If the answer is “yes,” two single people working closely together are probably going to get to it eventually. And if the answer is “no” it’s probably never going to happen, period), but I also think it just shows a lack of creativity.

      Maybe my tastes just venture towards darker and more mundane material, but I actually think BRoken Sword would be way more interesting if the protagonists had sex, dated a while, decided that they couldn’t stand eachother, broke up, but then had to deal with all this baggage while working together on a daily basis. Relationship fallout makes for better drama than either pre-coital flirtation or wedded bliss.

  8. Soci says:

    Not sure about the sexual tension dissolving if they officially got together. By the aftermath of the first game they were practically a couple anyway. It just seems like lazy writing and an unwillingness to evolve their relationship.

    Hell even Guybrush Threepwood got married (although admittedly there seems to have been lot’s of controversy about that also I thought it was great.)

  9. int says:

    A history lesson whilst reading about PC games?

    I like it.

  10. Contrafibularity says:

    I sincerely hope Charles Cecil will depict religion for what it really is, though. More than a mere delusion and fabrication of people to exercise brutal power, it’s become a philosophical trap, a black hole of the mind, one where so many people are dangerously close to its event horizon. If it’s not clear, I’m not just referring to organized religion.

    It’s not that I’m against games exploring it as a theme though, but I can’t help but remark that times change, and themes change. Something like the Gabriel Knight series (though I only played the third) which seemed innocent enough at the time, has become so dull and unpalatable to my adult self due to its religious messages that and almost exclusive fixation with god notions that it’s lost all its charm. All of it. As a backer I hope Broken Sword will not make those same mistakes, and I don’t think it will. But I might have some rose-tinted goggles on mostly remembering the first two games and their light-hearted wit as it’s been a while since I’ve replayed them (I’ll play the HD remakes someday, when I get over the fact that they have highlighted objects and a hint-system).

    Don’t get me wrong, because I’m actually intrigued by this, done right it could explore the history of the oppression by religion, and what I’ve just read might at the very least seem to indicate it will explore religion’s intrinsic need to persecute people with no beliefs or other beliefs. On the other hand, I’d prefer it if a bunch of other, more down-to-earth stuff was going on too, because though it may not seem like it, that’s the real essence of games like this. Not just the characters, settings and story, but the little things which for example set apart a Hitchcock film from a generic thriller.

    • equatorian says:

      Whatever your disillusions with your local religion are, might I remind you that not all religions like persecuting people with different beliefs? It’s mostly the ones with the ‘the other dudes who believe differently are evil’ clause that do. That they also happen to be the ones having the most to do with Western history is a coincidence hinging on the feelings of ancient dead people who happened to be Emperors.

      Buddhism, for instance, has as one of its main tenets ‘don’t believe anything we tell you unless you’ve given it a good think, and if you thought about it and you think it’s bollocks for goodness’s sake don’t believe us’. IIRC it was very rarely involved in religious wars.Sikhism was relatively peaceful. PEOPLE has an intrinsic need to prosecute other people with other beliefs—-such as a belief in organized religion, science, or aliens, or the opinion that GW2 is better than WoW—and it just happens that organized religion, particularly ones with powerful political arms, are very, very convenient tools for asshats to persecute people by.

      Ultimately it’s not faith’s fault, it’s the fault of us being judgmental tribalistic primates.

      And even if it is, such a tirade is not necessarily a thing a game should be harping on its players about. In-your-face ‘truth about why religion is about oppression’ is just as annoying as in-your-face ‘truth about why religion is the one-stop shop for all Goodness and Purity solutions’, IMHO.

      • Contrafibularity says:

        Oh no I definitely agree it shouldn’t be heavy handed, I said as much. But then if this part of history is going to be featured for purposes of story backdrop, then I’d very much prefer it if the history lesson part were a lot more intelligent handled than, say, Gabriel Knight does it (because that’s a religious game, implicitly and explicitly, whereas BS is not). The only reason I even remarked upon this is because for a brief moment it seemed as if Cecil was presenting the Bezier massacre as some kind of incidental occurrence of history, whereas anyone with an internet connection is 5 seconds away from seeing massacres like this weren’t the exception, but rather the rule for Christianity. The very fact we as a society prefer not to think about it is proof of its insidious nature. Even when we witness directly how religious thinking inspires religious strife, we chalk it off as exception, bad apples etc. We even seem to have willfully forgotten that Christianity’s perennial anti-semitism not only directly inspired Nazism but collaborated with it on a massive scale (yes, every church). And even to this day, some of us still consider colonialism of the Americas by the Catholic Church to have been some form of cultural exchange, whereas in reality was the most horrific program of genocide, enslavement and cultural and ethnic cleansing to have happened before the Holocaust. I’m sure I don’t even have to remind you how religion has brutally oppressed women throughout history, and doesn’t really seem to want to change that even today.

        Secondly, while Buddhism undoubtedly has many facets which seem to make a lot more sense than Western religion, its track record isn’t exactly peaceful. Buddhism has had its fair share of horrible religious wars, persecution, atrocities and genocides, a lot of which in the last few centuries. You seem to forget that Christianity also has ‘teachings’ about “Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you”, right? But it didn’t stop Christianity and Christians from becoming the most homicidal maniacs of the past two thousand years. So perhaps we can take off the rose-tinted goggles now and come to see religion for what it is.

        Christianity just happens to be the absolute worst of the lot, but that doesn’t mean there is a real, correct or even a remotely beneficial religion. And please don’t feel obliged to, from a multicultural perspective, make excuses on behalf of religion. The struggle of ideas to free ourselves from the chains of religion is happening everywhere, whether it’s Europe, India, South-America, Russia, Africa or the US. It has been for eons.

        “Not faith’s fault”? And what then is faith, except the self-perpetuating and self-indulging idiocy of our species? Faith is only something other than that if you believe in a creator and think religion to be the divination of truth. If you don’t, then faith is the creator, instigator and enabler to commit these acts of oppression, genocide and war. How can faith and religion possibly not be at fault?

        To end with Weinberg;
        “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion. “

        • equatorian says:

          Should I have noted that I am an atheist? I’m already part of that particular ‘struggle’ to free one’s self from religion, or whatever. I understand the feeling of religion feeling rather bogus. What I’m saying is, there’s a place to stand on a soapbox for this sort of things. A game? Not really. A game isn’t necessarily a place for it. I don’t think I’m necessarily wearing rose-tinted glasses, but as a moderate sort of person I don’t think it’s the place for a game to be ‘teaching’ people how to think. You seem to miss my point that PERSECUTING religion does not make it better; it only replace one war with another, one aggressor with another. If faith is being an oppressor, then exchanging it for non-faith is not the solution. Yes, show whatever oppression happened in history. Broken Sword 1 showed that. I dislike whitewashing as much as any history-minded person. Show ‘what religion really is’, as a shared madness that will eventually cause doom to our species? Even if you’re going to be subtle about it, I think that’s going too far.

          And honestly, I think you’re conflating war-with-religious-influences with war-caused-by-religion. If we’re starting with the former, yes, every religion has one everywhere, mostly because people who starts wars tend to have a religion or two. Should we grind the economy to a halt because economy causes wars, corruption and censorship, likely more often than religion does? Would Europeans never have found another way to justify their slavery and destruction of the original Americans without religion? Having seen the bullshit we can come up with to justify personal gains, I don’t think so.

          Also, hopefully this does not come off as snide, but I’m really curious about what recent Buddhist wars there are. Not wars by Buddhist COUNTRIES, mind you. There’s plenty of those, because Buddhist countries are greedy bastards like everyone else. Just war ABOUT doctrines and beliefs especially. I haven’t heard any out of the anti-Christian massacres in Japan a few centuries back (and that was more ‘oh god filthy foreign influence’ rather than ‘oh god heathen’), China’s involvement of monks and politics during the Opium War (which was controversial even back then), the Christian oppression and Buddhist uprising in Vietnam, and Mongols/Tibetan conflicts which happened to concern Buddhists. If you have any more, please correct me. I honestly like learning about these things.

          P.S. This sort of thing is better emphasised in Crusader Kings than Broken Sword, tbh. Religion can cause all sort of havoc in grand strategy games that implements the system. I also apologize if I sound rude/upset, but honestly, your post also reads fairly patronizing, whether or not it was intended.

          EDIT : cut for tl;dr

        • Subject 706 says:

          Not that I’m a great fan of the catholic church, your description of their role in the conquest of the americas is not quite correct. Not that they weren’t brutal in rooting out the native religions (who in themselves weren’t exactly peaceful faiths), but the church was not interested in eradicating the natives; they wanted their souls for the church. In many cases they protested the brutality and casual killings done by the conquistador lords (when they weren’t done for strictly religious causes of course).

          What caused the huge population collapse in the americas (circa 95% of the population) was primarily disease, measles, typhus, smallpox combined with indigenous haemmorhaggic fevers and drought.

        • Contrafibularity says:

          Ah well, another post lost in the murky depths of the moderation queue.

  11. Jaedor says:

    The story of the Gnostics is pretty interesting. One of them almost became Pope.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentinus_(Gnostic)

  12. Pindie says:

    Wait, so BS1&2 have caused a controversy?

    It’s hard for me to understand, couple of points:
    1) Exposition was always done by characters and represented their – often varying – views on the subject. The game is not preachy or one-sided
    2) It is a game about a time period when people would get tied their arms and legs broken for small time crime, of course it’s shocking but hanging your political opponents was just the order of the day.
    3) It’s not like people tried to whitewash or ignore the facts, it’s just that nobody knows nor cares. It’s so far removed from present times and realities it should not cause any emotions
    4) it is a work of fiction. Facts can be represented accurately or not – they are there for flavor.
    5) I really hate it when people read into things
    6) there are people willing to get on their soap box about anything and anywhere and ruin my enjoyment of things

    • Contrafibularity says:

      BS1&2 were contemporary games, which is to say they roughly took place during the same time period as they came out. They did deal with the past, but it sounds like you’ve never played a BS game let alone know what you’re talking about, and although I agree on a few points, it’s hard to take your post seriously.

  13. MeatDuck says:

    Great read, but where’s part two? :(

  14. BSunofficial says:

    For up to date news on Broken Sword 5, and the series in general, check out http://brokensword.org