Steve Ince worked for Revolution Software for 11 years and played important roles in the development of the Broken Sword series and Beneath a Steel Sky. Now he founded his own company and works on an adventure game based on his comic strips.
Adventure-Treff: "Great to see you make games again. Why did you leave Revolution last year?"
Steve Ince: "It’s certainly great to be back in a major design role. Working on my own project means it’s even better than I could have hoped."
A-T: "Your last project at Revolution was Broken Sword 3, which got some mixed reviews. How pleased are you with this game?"
Steve: "On the whole, very pleased. While there are plenty of things I would like to improve on, given the chance – more box puzzles, perhaps J - so many things worked very well. One of my favourite things was the fact that we managed to go quite some way towards a well-developed cinematic approach to interactive conversations."
A-T: "Now let's talk about your new project. Can you shortly introduce Scout the One-Eyed Cat for those who don't regularly read your strips? What kind of cat is it?"
Steve: "Aside from the fact that he behaves in a very humanlike way at times, Scout is really a very ordinary cat who likes to spend all his time lying in the sun. When he isn’t telling others his tall tales, that is. For instance, no one knows how he lost his eye, for each time he tells the story it’s completely different from the last time."
A-T: "You create several different comic strips. Why did you chose Scout as the main character for Juniper's first game?"
Steve: "Scout has been with me in one shape or another from before I joined Revolution, though he didn’t appear in a comic strip until some years later. I actually came up with the idea for the game a few years ago and even offered it to Revolution to develop, but they were concentrating on other projects. It was following this that I started doing the Sapphire Claw comic strip. When it came to deciding on the first game, it seemed natural to choose the Sapphire Claw and rework the design along more contemporary lines."
A-T: "On your website you mention that you prefer a high interaction density, although this leads to a smaller game world. What does this mean for The Sapphire Claw?"
Steve: "Size is relative. I don’t think that you’d say that the Broken Sword 1 game world was small, simply that each area had no locations that were not fully utilised. If you compare the first section of Broken Sword 1 with Nico’s first section in Broken Sword 3, they feel as though they occupy the same sort of area, but in the first game the number of “screens” was far fewer, meaning that the interaction points were not spread too thinly. Juniper Crescent – The Sapphire Claw will employ a rich structure of locations spread across the world in a number of exotic settings."
A-T: "The Sapphire Claw will not be an adventure, it will be an "Escapade" game. Can you explain what this means for the gameplay?"
Steve: "Although I’m saying it’s an escapade, I’m not really saying it’s not an adventure. The game will have a lot in common with adventures, but may have a few elements that step outside the genre."
A-T: "So it's basically an adventure game? Why the name change then?"
Steve: "There appears to be a movement within the core gaming fraternity which seems very insistent that the adventure genre has extremely specific definitions and I don’t want to feel that I can’t put something into the game because it falls outside these boundaries. By being up-front and calling it an escapade I cannot later be accused of deceiving anyone, which was certainly an accusation levelled at Revolution after the release of The Sleeping Dragon. Basically, it’s about giving myself the creative freedom to develop a fun game without pre-imposed limitations."
A-T: "In the last years there have hardly been adventure games that didn't try to introduce at least one innovative gameplay element. What do you plan to do different?"
Steve: "There will be a completely parallel strand of gameplay that the player can choose to play or not, it’s entirely optional. However, this parallel gameplay cannot be chosen instead of the main gameplay (not that anyone would want to, of course). To progress through the parallel gameplay the player must also progress through the main gameplay thread. I know that may seem vague, but until we’re further down the line we’d like to keep the details under our hat for the moment."
A-T: "What are your sources of inspiration? What kind of humor can we expect?"
Steve: "I’ve been watching and reading so many different types of comedy over the years that it’s hard to know which of these are the biggest sources of inspiration. One of my main influences, though, has been Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes and the Juniper Crescent comic strip owes a lot to this and other strips like Peanuts, The Perishers and Bloom County. I also love the way that Bone mixes humour and intrigue and am quite envious of Telltale having the opportunity to develop a game based on this wonderful comic series. Being a lover of characters and characterisation, some of the humour will come from the characters in the game interacting with one-another. Tim Schafer is very good at this and if I could get part of the way to the quality he puts into his games I’ll be a happy man."
A-T: "How does it feel to make games without Templars?"
Steve: "How do you know I’m making a game without Templars? :)
To be honest, I hope that I never make another game with Templars in it. I believe that The Sleeping Dragon wrapped up the Templar connection quite nicely, so it was good to put a line under that. It’s time to move on. None of my many ideas involve Templars at all."
A-T: "Do you develop the game all by yourself or did you recruit a team?"
Steve: "Although the story and design are mine, I’m in the process of building the team. To make a game of this nature on my own would not be possible. For instance, my animation skills would not do the characters justice. Much of the work, though, will be outsourced to other companies and pulling together budgets is the main priority at the moment."
A-T: "When will it be done?"
Steve: "There is no current release date planned, but as soon as it has been planned we will let everyone know."
A-T: "We all know that Xbox Jump'n'Runs sell better than Escapade games, so why don't you do "Scout & Blinky Jumpin' Fun" or something like that?"
Steve: "Because an escapade could be anything I define it to be, there’s nothing to say that a “Jump’n’Run” couldn’t also be an escapade, if it includes character interactions and a well-developed story. The reason that it won’t have this style of gameplay is that this would be counter to the way the characters work. One of the things I find very frustrating is the way that so many games are developed using licensed characters but which don’t remain true to those characters or the ethos of the show or film they are pulled from. The Simpsons is a prime example of this."
A-T: "Why did you choose to develop your game using the Wintermute Engine?"
Steve: "It has the type of tool set that allows me to implement very quickly. I’m not a coder so the interface has to be very user-friendly. I was just so impressed the way that I was able to put together a prototype demo in a relatively short time and when it plays it looks so good. Some of the features have allowed me to experiment and even inspired me to develop some gameplay ideas I probably wouldn’t have thought of without that experimentation. The support, too, has been first class at all times."
A-T: "Can we expect more Juniper Games announcements in the future or do you first concentrate on The Sapphire Claw?"
Steve: "Although I have ideas for a number of games, The Sapphire Claw remains the focus. We don’t want anything to risk diluting the quality we hope to deliver."
A-T: "Any fun anecdote you didn't tell yet? Revolution can't fire you anymore..."
Steve: "I would never say anything that would embarrass the Revolution directors or former staff as I have a lot of respect for all of them and am very thankful of the opportunities I had in the eleven years I was there.
One of the strangest things, though, was when we were doing research for The Sleeping Dragon. We knew we were going to include ley lines as part of the story and discovered that one existed in York that went directly through the York Minster. So one lunch time, Tony Warriner and I set off to check it out. We found, outside the Minster, a statue of the Roman Emperor Constantine in a thoughtful pose and holding a broken sword! Then, as we climbed up to the top of the Minster’s tower, we passed a gargoyle in the shape of a dragon. At the top of the tower we could see the ley line very clearly, picked out in a straight line of church spires that led all the way to a plot of land that’s known as St. George’s field. When I later did some research on this land, I found that it was once owned by the Templars. Now that is a spooky series of coincidences."
A-T: "Thanks a lot for your answers, Steve. We at Adventure-Treff wish you good luck with Juniper Games and hope, you'll find a good publisher soon."
Steve: "Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say. It’s been a pleasure answering the questions."