When Hollywood becomes devoid of ideas, it typically turns to history, plundering old franchises and blowing the cobwebs from classic literature. For the past few years, the games industry has been doing exactly the same – the wealth of retro remakes and the reinvention of characters from Batman to Prince of Persia showing there is always mileage in turning back the clocks.
Sometimes, however, it works incredibly well and this has seldom been seen so starkly as with the revival of the once-dead point-and-click adventure game. A couple of years ago, gamers could only think back, misty-eyed, to a period when titles such as King's Quest and Grim Fandango ruled the gaming roost. But then, gradually, a comeback started in earnest, spurred on initially by the touchscreen interface of the Nintendo DS and the intuitive Remote of the Wii and, latterly, the incredible power and popularity of the Apple iPhone.
From the comeback of Sam & Max to the attempts at rekindling the magic of Simon the Sorcerer, fans of point-and-click adventures have been spoilt for choice of late. And when Revolution Software – headed by the charming and approachable Charles Cecil – decided it was going to revamp its popular Broken Sword series for the Wii and DS, it led to increased hope that LucasArts would begin to revisit its Monkey Island series.
Not only did LucasArts do just that – re-releasing a revamped The Secret of Monkey Island and following up with a fresh episodic series called Tales of Monkey Island – but Revolution continued with the momentum it had built up, culminating in the launch on Friday of Beneath a Steel Sky: Remastered, a £2.99 “director's revision” iPhone conversion of the acclaimed 1994 PC game.
“There's been a bit of a gold rush for developers when it comes to the iPhone,” says Charles with a smile. “But our motivation hasn't been money. We felt it was time to test the water and put out a version of Beneath A Steel Sky that infinitely improves upon the PC version of 15 years ago. The idea is that, if this venture proves to be a major success in terms of how it is received, then we will look to produce not only a possible sequel for the game but other adventure titles too.”
It has been a busy time for Charles of late. As well as being called to speak at various gaming events up and down the country, he has also been working with Disney to help turn Robert Zemeckis' new performance-capture film, A Christmas Carol, into a game. Not only has be designed much of the game, he has also landed his vocal talent to the game.
That aside, however, Charles is going all out for the handheld market at the moment. Although his background has been with PC gaming – upon which the success of Beneath A Steel Sky, Broken Sword and Revolution's first game, Lure of the Temptress was built – he believes the future for adventure gaming lies predominantly with mobile devices, in particular those with touch screens. It is why he has formed Revolution Pocket with the idea of creating games for iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, PSPgo, and DSi.
“The touch screens of mobile phones and consoles today allow point-and-click adventures to offer a better gaming experience than ever before,” Charles continues. “What grabs us most about the iPhone, though, is Apple's business model. The developer is able to keep 70 per cent of the game price and it also means it can sell directly to the consumer, without having to spend fortunes on getting the game into the shops and having each copy placed into boxes. For us, it's a great opportunity to create games without the pressure of a publisher and to concentrate on producing the very best experience for gamers.”
The new Beneath A Steel Sky features the familiar, yet surprisingly fresh graphics of the original but with animated movies produced by Dave Gibbons, co-creator of the Watchmen graphic novel. It also features a touch screen interface which he proudly claims to be better than the one LucasArts has devised for Monkey Island and, a sign of the times perhaps, there is even a hint system for when people become stuck. The days of heads being scratched are long gone, it appears.
So what else for the future? Charles believes digital distribution is the way forward, doing for gaming what iTunes has done for music. “People are becoming more accustomed to digital distribution and audiences are more accepting of it,” says Charles. “By publishing games ourselves, we can build up a better relationship with our audience and it gives us greater commercial and creative freedom and allows us to bring intelligent products to market in the way that we want them.”
Beneath a Steel Sky is available on Friday, priced £2.99, from the Apple App Store.