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How the Broken Sword remaster smooths out the point-and-click difficulty curve

Revolution Software co-founder Charles Cecil explains how the studio ditched '90s design conventions to reinvent Broken Sword for modern audiences.

Chris Kerr, News Editor

May 3, 2024

4 Min Read
George enters a curious store in Broken Sword–Shadow of the Templars: Reforged
Image via Revolution Software

How do you marry past and present? That was the question facing the Revolution Software team when they decided to remaster and retool the celebrated point-and-click adventure Broken Sword for modern audiences.

The result is Broken Sword–Shadow of the Templars: Reforged, an enhanced version of the classic escapade that features 4K remastered visuals that can be swapped out with the original pixel art in a flash, upgraded audio (complete with fully-voiced dialogue), and quality-of-life tweaks designed to ease in players who might be new to the genre.

Discussing those approachability considerations during a chat at GDC 2024, Revolution co-founder and Broken Sword co-creator Charles Cecil explains it was "really important" to reinvent the genre for 2024 because audience expectations have shifted dramatically since the franchise broke ground in the '90s.

A point-and-click interface that feels contemporary

"When most of these point-and-click games were successful in the '90s the audience was quite different," says Cecil. "The audience quite enjoyed being frustrated. I remember somebody saying 'oh I love it. I play these games. I go to bed. I don't know what the answer is. I wake up in the morning and I try something and I'm really excited when it works.' That worked in 1996. It really doesn't now."

Cecil says Revolution conducted "extensive" playtests to ensure Reforged's logic-based conundrums don't feel too opaque. During that process, the studio saw that internal tests resulted in a 90 percent completion rate, but when they introduced "random" testers that metric fell to around 50 percent.

"It sent an absolute shiver through my spine," says Cecil. "And there were two things we found: we assumed that everyone knew how point-and-click worked, which was not true. So we didn't have a good tutorial, and that was so naive. Secondly, and this was the big thing—because the first was easily fixable—was that people didn't want to get hints. But once they did get hints, that magic of feeling smart was broken. They would just get hints and play the game, but not enjoy it."

Although the hint system still feels like an important inclusion (it was initially introduced with the Director's Cut in 2009), Cecil explains Revolution's job was to ensure players would only turn to it as a last resort. To do that, the studio removed non-important hotspots (highlighted points of interest within environments) once players had interacted with them. Cecil feels this still rewards players for exploring while also helping them hone in on solutions.

The studio then rebuilt the in-game interface to make it abundantly clear which objects or elements are currently selected—while also laying out all the interaction options available to players.

A stroke of brilliance inspired by Candy Crush

Proving that inspiration can be found in rather unlikely places, Cecil adds that Revolution took some design cues from Candy Crush—incorporating a little environmental tell that will gently nudge players in the right direction if they hit a wall.

"I'm not a fan of match-3 titles at all," he explains. "I'm very old fashioned. I love the idea of playing a game and feeling a challenge, and actually driving the narrative forward. But what they do in Candy Crush is that, when players are stuck, a little sparkle tells you to 'just look over here.' It struck me that I didn't feel patronized at all [when I saw that]. I felt that I had solved the puzzle because all it had done is give me a hint.

"So as well as a much funkier interface. An interface that feels right and fit-for-purpose in 2024. It's much more contemporary. We honed the hotspots and then we also have a little auto-hint system. That's only in the Story Mode. You can play the original if you want–and a lot of people will and we hope they enjoy it."

Cecil says the "grand vision" for Reforged is to attract a new generation of players. Although Revolution is eager to reinvent the past, the studio is also looking towards the future with the announcement of Broken Sword–Parzival's Stone, the next mainline entry in the series. If it can win over a new generation of fans with its reimagining of the original adventure, who knows where the franchise might be in another 30 years.

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About the Author(s)

Chris Kerr

News Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr is an award-winning journalist and reporter with over a decade of experience in the game industry. His byline has appeared in notable print and digital publications including Edge, Stuff, Wireframe, International Business Times, and PocketGamer.biz. Throughout his career, Chris has covered major industry events including GDC, PAX Australia, Gamescom, Paris Games Week, and Develop Brighton. He has featured on the judging panel at The Develop Star Awards on multiple occasions and appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss breaking news.

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