Revolution software debuts Beyond a steel sky, the long-awaited sequel to his 1990s cyberpunk adventure game, Beneath a Steel Sky. Why it took so long – and the company can finally launch the game on Apple Arcade today – is an educational story about how the game industry has changed in recent decades.
Beneath a Steel Sky debuted in 1994. The original creator, comic artist Dave Gibbons (Guardian Co-Creator) and Charles Cecil (CEO of Revolution Software) wanted to work together on a sequel if the timing was right. In an interview with GamesBeat, they admitted that they didn't think it would take 26 years for this to happen.
"I am really proud of video games as a medium because we have so many fans who remember everything we wrote about the games," said Cecil. “And people remember the story 26 years ago. The way in which stories are conveyed in games offers additional strength because it is an interactive medium. "
One of the obstacles to a sequel is that the adventure game market has recovered and publishers thought it was no longer a good bet. But due to the iPhone, the market opportunity emerged again, first with Beneath a Steel Sky as a retro title and then as a popular franchise with pent-up demand. This second opportunity enabled Gibbons and Cecil to renew their friendship and collaboration.
"I am absolutely thrilled because I obviously worked with Charles and his team on the first game in the 90s when everything was much more primitive. So it is a real pleasure to see this stuff from my drawing board to a fully realized one 3D rendered look goes like it came from a comic, "said Gibbons." I enjoyed it as much as anything I've ever done in comics. So it was worth it in the long run. "
Make the original game
Cecil said the fax machine was the technology of the 1990s. Gibbons drew a picture and faxed it to Cecil, who received the fax at an incredibly slow pace. They talked about the picture and sent it back and forth until it was correct. Cecil would then give this to the artist, who could create an animated digital version on the Amiga computer that was only 32 colors. Gibbons used an art program called Deluxe Paint on the Amiga computer to create the art.
The company can now use a gigabit Ethernet connection in the English city of York, which has become a kind of high-tech hub in the UK, said Noirin Carmody, co-founder and chief operating officer at Revolution Software, in an interview with GamesBeat. She joined the company in 1988 and brought her experience from working at Sierra On-Line's European office, where she created adventure games such as King & # 39; s Quest, Police Quest and Leisure Suit Larry.
Carmody was one of the few women in games, despite having artists at Revolution Software and using the creator of King’s Quest, Roberta Williams, as a role model.
The company's first game was Lure of the Temptress. Carmody remembered that Cecil wrote the name as a joke, and the producer loved the title and chose it, although the game had no temptation and no seductress. Beneath a Steel Sky was the second game, and both were well received by critics who liked the new style of story-based adventure games.
While Beneath a Steel Sky was popular, the company's next game, Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templar, became his greatest commercial success. Over a million copies have been sold on the PlayStation. Revolution Software developed four more games in the series that forced it to put aside all thoughts of a sequel to Beneath a Steel Sky. This was the case, although Gibbons had already written a script for the second game.
"Charles was busy with other games he had to do, and I had a lot of comics and things to do, so the timing was never right," said Gibbons.
Moving to the iPhone
In the meantime, the adventure genre began to decline in the late 1990s. According to Cecil, publishers believed that the PC as a platform was dead, and retailers were also not optimistic about the genre. So Revolution Software had little opportunity to continue Beneath a Steel Sky.
Until 2008, when the iPhone came out, Revolution Software no longer made adventure games. Apple turned to the company and asked if it would redesign some of its adventures for the iPhone, which was just starting to gain momentum with its third-party app store. That's why Revolution Software created remakes and remasters by Beneath a Steel Sky and Broken Sword, which were ideal for the technology available on smartphones at the time.
It turned out that Beneath a Steel Sky's digital assets matched the resolution of the iPhone and Broken Sword worked well on one of the later models. This shift towards mobile helped Revolution Software, which is still an indie studio, to make money on assets it had created earlier. And the company was able to publish games directly on the iPhone instead of being delivered to the publishers who made the lion's share of the revenue.
"The digital revolution has changed everything for developers," said Carmody. “We got 20% of the revenue from our publishers. We never recouped our investment in early games. We just kept our heads above water. And here Apple offered us 70%. It was a big turning point for us. "
In the late 2000s, the demand for retro games grew and downloads rose to millions and millions. Now the iPhone is an evergreen opportunity as mobile games make $ 100 billion in sales. This means that even “small genres” like adventure games on iOS can be good business.
And some retro fans weren't even there in the good old days. At one of the launches, Carmody said she met a young man who said, "I can't wait to play this game. I was too young to play it when it first came out."
Resumption of the sequel
Cecil and Gibbons discussed the return to the game from time to time. But the story they eventually developed turned out to be very different from the script that Gibbons had in 1995. The company had access to modern technology and a larger team, which enabled them to find out what kind of story they wanted to follow.
The idea was to make it more like a moving comic book, said Gibbons. The timeline was later, although it was known to everyone who played the original games. But it should also be accessible to those who haven't played the original.
In Beyond a Steel Sky, players can return to Union City, the dystopian setting of the original. It looks like you're stepping into a comic book. Mind you, it's neither a Marvel movie nor a high-end triple-A video game. It is an adventure game that is similar to the type that Revolution Software has always made.
Cecil said the sequel is a very ambitious undertaking. This time, Gibbons was able to draw an interactive comic book with an electronic pen on one Wacom and immediately transfer it to Cecil’s team. Gibbons said it was easier to visualize the art of sequel the second time, also because protagonist Robert Foster appears in both games. His sidekick robot was the same too.
This time, however, the team could use a lot more imagination to represent the city and its skyline. Now the backdrop is as rich as any modern game.
"Now I don't have to go to the fax machine anymore," said Gibbons.
Why Apple Arcade?
Beyond a Steel Sky would not have worked as a free-to-play release. The same applies to most narrative games that have a beginning and an end. Free-to-play requires constant updates and an endless amount of new content without end, because this way people keep coming back and spending money.
However, Apple wanted Revolution Software to be one of the first developers for its subscription game service. The service that eventually became Apple Arcade made sense because it was based on a business model in which players paid $ 5 a month. Apple rewards developers based on how much usage they get.
Story-based games with endings are therefore perfect for the subscription model. Revolution Software gave it all and made its first game with the high-end Unreal Engine. The team had to familiarize themselves with the Unreal Engine, which initially slowed down the development somewhat.
"Apple Arcade is another fundamental change for us," said Carmody. "We are always ambitious. However, this ensured that our creative ambition could be realized. We were very happy to be part of an exciting new platform."
Revolution Software started working on the sequel more than 2.5 years ago. Gibbons said it was like the planets were finally aligned.
"It's a game we've been working on intensively for two years and we probably started talking to Dave two and a half years ago," said Cecil.
Revolution Software had a team of 30 people working on the game and contractors that expanded to more than 60 developers. More than 90% of the people worked from countries like Ukraine, Serbia, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
"We invest a lot in our games and want to be at the top with the Triple A games," said Carmody.
The team had to end the game while it was locked, but luckily the developers stayed healthy throughout the project.
Where the story goes
Regarding the direction of the story, Cecil said: “We would reset expectations to the original. (Player) will discover many things that have changed. You can see the first time locations. And we tell the same story, but on the other side of the coin. You gave your buddy Joey instructions to make people happy. That happened at the end of the first game and you come back and on the surface the city is utopia. This is what AI did to build happiness. The reason we wrote it like this is that there are many parallels to the modern world. "
Gibbons added: "I agree with what Charles said. It is not a political tract. And it is not an examined example of utopia and dystopia. But the idea of utopia is pretty interesting, and the idea of telling a machine to make people happy, which requires a little bit of interpretation and subtlety, is something that machines are currently unable to do. We are exploring some interesting areas there. In addition, we only took a look at the city in the first game. Seeing it in all its glory, huge details and huge size … I think it feels like a huge expansion of the first game. "
The game will be released on Steam in July. Revolution Software doesn't say what it's working on next. But I think it's a different adventure game.