Gamescom, one of the biggest video game conferences in the world, is always full of surprises – whether that’s a stage invader demanding Grand Theft Auto 6 to a rather vexed presenter Geoff Keighley at Opening Night Live, or just the sheer number of developers eager to showcase their games at an in-person event once again (a record number of 1,220). But surely the most pleasant surprise for adventure game fans was the reveal by Revolution Software of not one but two upcoming titles during Microsoft’s Xbox showcase: a completely new chapter, Broken Sword: Parzival’s Stone, as well as a full 4K remaster of the 1996 series original, The Shadow of the Templars.
I was fortunate enough to speak to the head honcho of Revolution, Charles Cecil, the day after the announcement had been made (the YouTube video of which you can watch below for more detail). It had clearly been a stressful lead-up to getting the news out, but also a worthwhile one. For Charles, the next year or so will represent something of a “renaissance” for the company, working on not only breathing new life into one classic but also bringing an entirely new story to fans.
First of all, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – Reforged, as it’s being called, won’t just be a cosmetic revamp of the much-loved point-and-click masterpiece. I’d forgotten quite what the original’s art looked like, and although it still has a lot of charm, seeing the difference when Charles pressed a keyboard button to switch between the 1996 version and the upcoming 4K remaster was incredible. Animations are smoother and sleeker, and facial expressions and details on characters are noticeably clearer.
However, Charles was keen to explain that the reason for the “reforged” title rather than “remastered” is that there will be much more than artistic retouches done. For example, he showed me the inside of the infamous Parisian café after the bomb goes off at the start of the game. In the original, the seat where the bomb was left to explode is left intact, a little hiccup Charles said no one seemed to pick up on at the time. In the “reforged” version, the seat and its surroundings have been blown apart, adding a bit more realism. It’s these little touches and additional depth of detail that are set to make Reforged an enticing prospect for new and old fans of the series alike.
Attracting those new fans is certainly on Charles’s mind. He told me that they discovered during playtesting of the updated original that many people just aren’t used to thinking in that traditional adventure game mindset anymore when it comes to puzzle solving. To this end, there’ll be an option to take out some of the difficulty in Reforged – a “story mode” that can be selected at the start. The easier mode will see background objects that aren’t vital to progression disappear if they’re clicked on and examined and, after a certain amount of time, a sparkle animation will appear over key objects / areas that need to be investigated further. It’s all about making the experience as accessible as possible, without going so far as to make it patronising to the player. And naturally, if you loved the challenge of the original, goat and all, there’ll still be the option to keep it as it was.
Artificial Intelligence is a controversial topic in the gaming industry at the moment, but Charles believes there are some instances where it can be a force for good – for example, when having to fill in and reshape tens of thousands of hand-drawn sprites from a low-resolution original. So he admits that you will see AI credited in Reforged, but based only on the team’s own art and used as a tool to help the artists use their time on more important aspects that only a skilled pro could do, which seems like the right way to go about things when the project might not be affordable otherwise.
With all the excitement over Reforged, I almost forgot we had an entirely new Broken Sword game to chat about too. All this love and attention given to the look of Reforged did cause some consternation for Charles about what reaction they might get to the character models in the trailer for Parzival’s Stone. The art design will feature something he’s coined as “Super 2D,” where the layout is hand-drawn, then coloured and applied into 3D, so that at any point it looks like a hand-drawn background but is actually moving in 3D – intended to create a more cinematic feel without losing the charm of the original. However, the character models shown in the trailer aren’t quite up to scratch just yet, Charles was keen to explain; hence the “pre-alpha” text warning that shoots up in that part of the video.
Narratively there will be some overlap between Parzival Stone and the previous Broken Sword game, The Serpent’s Curse. The main gist of the story will centre around George Stobbart and Nico Collard exploring Montségur in the South of France, a former bastion of the Cathar Christian sect, in search of the Holy Grail. Rather than the more familiar chalice of Grail lore, the dynamic duo are on the hunt for the Grail in the form of a stone (many different traditions describe it in various forms and shapes). Perhaps most excitingly of all, it sounds like once George somehow manages to get his hands on this stone, or at least part of it, he’ll be able to use it to glance into the past and future just like the guardians of this Grail, the Cathars, did. Whilst the past view (and only view – George won’t be able to move about in time too) will no doubt be included in some fiendish puzzle solutions, the future glimpse will serve as a reminder of “the terrible circumstances that will occur if George doesn’t succeed [in his quest].” No pressure!
There’s not too much longer to wait for the first of Revolution’s revealed titles, as Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – Reforged is due out in early 2024 for PC, consoles, and mobile devices. Parzival’s Stone, in production for the same platforms, will be a longer wait, with no set date given yet. Between the two of them, as I headed out from our little cubicle in the UK stand amidst the hustle and bustle of gamescom, it felt like the start of an exciting time not only for Revolution Software but also for adventure game fans – both those well versed in the Broken Sword series and those just starting out on their journey through Paris and beyond.
The following is my complete interview with Charles at gamescom 2023: