Interviews// Industry Legend: Charles Cecil

Not the kind of character you'd want to control

Posted 5 Nov 2009 16:04 by
Disney's A Christmas Carol is soon to hit cinema screens, and to coincide with the release Sumo Digital has been hard at work developing a licensed game for the Nintendo DS. 'GROAN', I hear you mumble yes it is a movie tie-in, but this is one with a difference. For Disney Interactive Studios, in its apparently new found quest to make good on its licensed titles, has enlisted the design genius of Charles Cecil.

Now, if you don't know who Charles Cecil is, you only need look at the popular adventure classic, Broken Sword. That's just one of his works, and Disney asked the point-and-click extraordinaire to make A Christmas Carol an engaging affair on the DS handheld. To interview such a figurehead of the genre is quite the rare event, so SPOnG jumped at the chance to chat with Charles about the game and just how involved it is.

Along the way we discuss the role of the adventure game in today's industry, the pressures of working with licensed titles and the social relevance of Dicken's tale in today's society. God Bless Us, Every One.

SPOnG: Thanks for speaking with us today Charles. First of all, even though you don't need any introduction to me, for those readers of SPOnG who aren't aware of your past works, could you give us a little bit about your background?

Charles Cecil: I'm the Managing Director of Revolution Software, and I started my career writing adventure games for the ZX81 back in 1981. Shortly after I worked for publisher U.S. Gold and then Activision. I founded Revolution in 1990, and we've primarily focused on adventure games our latest releases being Beneath A Steel Sky on iPhone and Broken Sword: Director's Cut on DS and Wii.

SPOnG: You're most well known for adventure games such as Beneath A Steel Sky and Broken Sword, games that you just mentioned there. A Christmas Carol is also an adventure game, based on the upcoming Disney film and Charles Dickens novel. What were the challenges in creating a game from both of these sources?

Charles Cecil: Well, of course the main challenge was in the protagonist. Normally you directly control the protagonist in the environment and they have goals that they have to achieve. In this particular book you have a protagonist that is fairly unpleasant, who's mean, and not the kind of character that the player would want to control.

Now a lot of developers would have done the obvious thing, and turned it into yet another platform game. You know, have Scrooge bounce around collecting baubles in search of Christmas prevention or something. The approach that I took, that I'm very pleased with, was that instead of controlling him directly, the player drives him indirectly down the path to redemption. You do this by interacting with the environment, effectively being the hand of fate.

That fits quite well with the story's premise too, because you also have the ghostly themes in A Christmas Carol, which also meant we could put a lot of humour into the game. You can try and make the character perform an action, and that would make something unexpected happen, which hopefully would be humorous to the player.

I'm pleased with the result, and what I think is particularly exciting is to take such a classic book which the upcoming film actually reflects quite closely and adapt it to a video game. That was a very interesting challenge for me.

SPOnG: And video game adaptations of Hollywood movies aren't exactly rare. A lot of studios make tie-in games and they don't always succeed, be it in terms of franchise faithfulness or general game quality. With the film being a Disney property, there must have been a lot of pressure to make the game that is worthy of the pedigree that the company holds.

Charles Cecil: Very much so. Obviously A Christmas Carol is a major movie this holiday, it being a Robert Zemeckis production working very closely with Disney it was very important that the company was happy with the result of both the film and this game.

One thing I have to make clear is that I did the initial design for the game, and created how it should work. And it was Sumo Digital that then took that initial plan, designed the rest of the sections and actually developed it. But I certainly worked with them in that process. So we all shared a bit of that pressure.

SPOnG: What is Sumo Digital, and in fact Disney, like to work with on this project? Did Disney get involved with the design process of the game itself or just leave you to it?

Charles Cecil: Well, one of the advantages of working with Sumo is that the team is based in Sheffield, and I'm based in York, so it's just down the road from me. I've worked with Sumo before on a number of projects, and it is a very professional development studio. And I enjoy working with the team too, which is why our collaboration worked particularly well.

Actually, Disney was also extremely helpful in the whole process. We worked very hard to make sure that the production company and ourselves had what we needed, and that assets flowed through efficiently and that approvals came through. It was all very smooth.

SPOnG: Disney seems to be on something of a re-imagination trip lately, with the Epic Mickey game on Wii and the focus on its game studios in particular. They seem to be really trying to make substantial games out of its properties with that said, did the company give you a lot of creative freedom to work with the licence?

Charles Cecil: I was actually approached by Martin Alltimes (Director, Creative Development at Disney Interactive Studios) and he said 'We've got no idea what we want, but we feel it has to be an adventure game'. On top of that, the game obviously had to appeal to children, but at the same time be sellable, fun for adults and be worthy of the licence.

So initially, Disney put no restrictions on the development whatsoever, but once it was assigned then its production team was extremely helpful at viewing the design, giving feedback and honing the control system. The input the team gave was very positive, and although (like any licensed game) we could only approve so much, Disney was in no way restrictive about our development.
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