Televising the Revolution

05 Jan

When we finished Broken Sword, the managing director of Virgin [Interactive] called me into his office and showed me a game from Argonaut [Software] called Creature Shock. He said, “These are the games you should be writing, not adventure games. These are the games. This is the future.”

— Charles Cecil, co-founder of Revolution Software

Broken Sword, Revolution Software’s third point-and-click adventure game, was released for personal computers in September of 1996. Three months later, it arrived on the Sony PlayStation console, so that it could be enjoyed on television as well as monitor screens. And therein lies a tale in itself.

Prior to this point, puzzle-based adventure games of the traditional stripe had had a checkered career on the consoles, for reasons as much technical as cultural. They were a difficult fit with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the console du jour in the United States during the latter 1980s, thanks to the small capacity of the cartridges that machine used to host its games, its lack of means for easily storing state so that one could return to a game where one had left off after spending time away from the television screen, and the handheld controllers it used that were so very different from a mouse, joystick, and/or keyboard. Still, these challenges didn’t stop some enterprising studios from making a go of it, tempted as they were by the huge installed base of Nintendo consoles. Over the course of 1988 and 1989, ICOM Simulations managed to port to the NES Deja VuUninvited, and Shadowgate; the last in particular really took off there, doing so well that it is better remembered as a console than a computer game today. In 1990, LucasArts[1]LucasArts was actually still known as Lucasfilm Games at the time. did the same with their early adventure Maniac Mansion; this port too was surprisingly playable, if also rather hilariously Bowdlerized to conform to Nintendo’s infamously strict censorship regime.

But as the 1990s began, “multimedia” was becoming the watchword of adventure makers on computers. By 1993, the era of the multimedia “interactive movie” was in full swing, with games shipping on CD — often multiple CDs — and often boasting not just voice acting but canned video clips of real actors. Such games were a challenge of a whole different order even for the latest generation of 16-bit consoles. Sierra On-Line and several other companies tried mightily to cram their adventure games onto the Sega Genesis,[2]The Genesis was known as the Mega-Drive in Japan and Europe. a popular console for which one could purchase a CD drive as an add-on product. In the end, though, they gave it up as technically impossible; the Genesis’s color palette and memory space were just too tiny, its processor just too slow.

But then, along came the Sony PlayStation.

For all that the usual focus of these histories is computer games, I’ve already felt compelled to write at some length about the PlayStation here and there. As I’ve written before, I consider it the third socially revolutionary games console, after the Atari VCS and the Nintendo Entertainment System. Its claim to that status involves both culture and pure technology. Sony marketed the PlayStation to a new demographic: to hip young adults rather than the children and adolescents that Nintendo and its arch-rival Sega had targeted. Meanwhile the PlayStation hardware, with its built-in CD-drive, its 32-bit processor, its 2MB of main memory and 1MB of graphics memory, its audiophile-quality sound system, and its handy memory cards for saving up to 128 K of state at a time, made ambitious long-form gaming experiences easier than ever before to realize on a console. The two factors in combination opened a door to whole genres of games on the PlayStation that had heretofore been all but exclusive to personal computers. Its early years brought a surprising number of these computer ports, such as real-time strategy games like Command & Conquer and turn-based strategy games like X-COM. And we can also add to that list adventure games like Broken Sword.

Their existence was largely thanks to the evangelizing efforts of Sony’s own new PlayStation division, which seldom placed a foot wrong during these salad days. Unlike Nintendo and Sega, who seemed to see computer and console games as existing in separate universes, Sony was eager to bridge the gap between the two, eager to bring a wider variety of games to the PlayStation. And they were equally eager to push their console in Europe, where Nintendo had barely been a presence at all to this point and which even Sega had always treated as a distant third in importance to Japan and North America.

Thus Revolution Software got a call one day while the Broken Sword project was still in its first year from Phil Harrison, an old-timer in British games who knew everyone and had done a bit of everything. “Look, I’m working for Sony now and there’s this new console going to be produced called the PlayStation,” he told Charles Cecil, the co-founder and tireless heart and soul of Revolution. “Are you interested in having a look?”

Cecil was. He was indeed.

Thoroughly impressed by the hardware and marketing plans Harrison had shown him, Cecil went to Revolution’s publisher Virgin Interactive to discuss making a version of Broken Sword for the PlayStation as well. “That’s crazy, that’s not going to work at all,” said Virgin according to Cecil himself. Convinced the idea was a non-starter, both technically and commercially, they told him he was free to shop a PlayStation Broken Sword elsewhere for all they cared. So, Cecil returned to his friend Phil Harrison, who brokered a deal for Sony themselves to publish a PlayStation version in Europe as a sort of test of concept. Revolution worked on the port on the side and on their own dime while they finished the computer game. Sony then shipped this PlayStation version in December of 1996.

Broken Sword on a computer…

…and on the PlayStation, where it’s become more bleary-eyed.

To be sure, it was a compromised creation. Although the PlayStation was a fairly impressive piece of kit by console standards, it left much to be desired when compared to even a mid-range gaming computer. The lovely graphics of the original had to be downgraded to the PlayStation’s lower resolution, even as the console’s relatively slow CD drive and lack of a hard drive for storing frequently accessed data made them painfully sluggish to appear on the television screen; one spent more time waiting for the animated cut scenes to load than watching them, their dramatic impact sometimes being squandered by multiple loading breaks within a scene. Even the voiced dialog could take unnervingly long to unspool from disc. Then, too, pointing and clicking was nowhere near as effortless using a game controller as it was with a mouse. (Sony actually did sell a mouse as an optional peripheral, but few people bought one.) Perhaps most worrisome of all, though, was the nature of the game itself. How would PlayStation gamers react to a cerebral, puzzle-oriented and narrative-driven experience like this?

The answer proved to be, better than some people — most notably those at Virgin — might have expected. Broken Sword‘s Art Deco classicism may have looked a bit out of place in the lurid, anime-bedecked pages of the big PlayStation magazines, but they and their readers generally treated it kindly if somewhat gingerly. Broken Sword sold 400,000 copies on the PlayStation in Europe. Granted, these were not huge numbers in the grand scheme of things. On a console that would eventually sell more than 100 million units, it was hard to find a game that didn’t sell well into the six if not seven (or occasionally eight) figures. By Revolution’s modest standards, however, the PlayStation port made all the difference in the world, selling as it did at least three times as many copies as the computer version despite its ample reasons for shirking side-by-side comparisons. Its performance in Europe was even good enough to convince the American publisher THQ to belatedly pick it up for distribution in the United States as well, where it shifted 100,000 or so more copies. “The PlayStation was good for us,” understates Charles Cecil today.

It was a godsend not least because Revolution’s future as a maker of adventure games for computers was looking more and more doubtful. Multinational publishers like Virgin tended to take the American market as their bellwether, and this did not bode well for Revolution, given that Broken Sword had under-performed there in relation to its European sales. To be sure, there were proximate causes for this that Revolution could point to: Virgin’s American arm, never all that enthused about the game, had given it only limited marketing and saddled it with the terrible alternative title of Circle of Blood, making it sound more like another drop in the ocean of hyper-violent DOOM clones than a cerebral exercise in story-driven puzzle-solving. At the same time, though, it was hard to deny that the American adventure market in general was going soggy in the middle; 1996 had produced no million-plus-selling mega-hit in the genre to stand up alongside 1995’s Phantasmagoria, 1994’s Myst, or 1993’s The 7th Guest. Was Revolution’s sales stronghold of Europe soon to follow the industry’s bellwether? Virgin suspected it was.

So, despite having made three adventure games in a row for Virgin that had come out in the black on the global bottom line, Revolution had to lobby hard for the chance to make a fourth one. “It was frustrating for us,” says Revolution programmer Tony Warriner, “because we were producing good games that reviewed and sold well, but we had to beg for every penny of development cash. There was a mentality within publishing that said you were better off throwing money around randomly, and maybe scoring a surprise big hit, instead of backing steady but profitable games like Broken Sword. But this sums up the problem adventures have always had: they sell, but not enough to turn the publishers on.”

We might quibble with the “always” in Warriner’s statement; there was a time, lasting from the dawn of the industry through the first half of the 1990s, when adventures were consistently among the biggest-selling titles of all on computers. But this was not the case later on. Adventure games became mid-tier niche products from the second half of the 1990s on, capable of selling in consistent but not huge numbers, capable of raking in modest profits but not transformative ones. Similar middling categories had long existed in other mass-media industries, from film to television, books to music, all of which industries had been mature enough to profitably cater to their niche customers in addition to the heart of the mainstream. The computer-games industry, however, was less adept at doing so.

The problem there boiled down to physical shelf space. The average games shop had a couple of orders of magnitude fewer titles on its shelves at any given time than the average book or record store. Given how scarce retail space was, nobody — not the distributors, not the publishers, certainly not the retailers themselves — was overly enthusiastic about filling it with product that wasn’t in one of the two hottest genres in gaming at the time, the first-person shooter and the real-time strategy. This tunnel vision had a profound effect on the games that were made and sold during the years just before and after the millennium, until the slow rise of digital distribution began to open fresh avenues of distribution for more nichey titles once again.

In light of this situation, it’s perhaps more remarkable how many computer games were made between 1995 and 2005 that were not first-person shooters or real-time strategies than the opposite. More dedicated, passionate developers than you might expect found ways to make their cases to the publishers and get their games funded in spite of the remorseless logic of the extant distribution systems.

Revolution Software found a way to be among this group, at least for a while — but Virgin’s acquiescence to a Broken Sword II didn’t come easy. Revolution had to agree to make the sequel in just one year, as compared to the two and a half years they had spent on its predecessor, and for a cost of just £500,000 rather than £1 million. The finished game inevitably reflects the straitened circumstances of its birth. But that isn’t to say that it’s a bad game. Far from it.

Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror kicks off six months after the conclusion of the first game. American-in-Paris George Stobbart, that game and this one’s star, has just returned to France after dealing with the death of his father Stateside. There’s he’s reunited with Nico Collard, the fetching Parisian reporter who helped him last time around and whom George has a definite hankering for, to the extent of referring to her as his “girlfriend”; Nico is more ambiguous about the nature of their relationship. At any rate, an ornately carved and painted stone, apparently Mayan in origin, has come into her possession, and she has asked George to accompany her to the home of an archaeologist who might be able to tell them something about it. Unfortunately, they’re ambushed by thugs as soon as they arrive; Nico is kidnapped, while George is left tied to a chair in a room whose only other inhabitants are a giant poisonous spider and a rapidly spreading fire.

If this game doesn’t kick off with the literal bang of an exploding bomb like last time, it’s close enough. “I believe that a videogame must declare the inciting incident immediately so the player is clear on what their character needs to do and, equally importantly, why,” says Charles Cecil.

With your help, George will escape from his predicament and track down and rescue Nico before she can be spirited out of the country, even as he also retrieves the Mayan stone from the dodgy acquaintance in whose safekeeping she left it and traces their attackers back to Central America. And so George and Nico set off together across the ocean to sun-kissed climes, to unravel another ancient prophecy and prevent the end of the world as we know it for the second time in less than a year.

Broken Sword II betrays its rushed development cycle most obviously in its central conspiracy. For all that the first game’s cabal of Knights Templar was bonkers on the face of it, it was grounded in real history and in a real, albeit equally bonkers classic book of pseudo-history, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Mayans, on the other hand, are the most generic adventure-game movers and shakers this side of Atlanteans. “I was not as interested in the Mayans, if I’m truthful,” admits Charles Cecil. “Clearly human sacrifices and so on are interesting, but they were not on the same level of passion for me as the Knights Templar.”

Lacking the fascination of uncovering a well-thought-through historical mystery, Broken Sword II must rely on its set-piece vignettes to keep its player engaged. Thankfully, these are mostly still strong. Nico eventually gets to stop being the damsel in distress, becoming instead a driving force in the plot in her own right, so much so that you the player control her rather than George for a quarter or so of the game; this is arguably the only place where the second game actually improves on the first, which left Nico sitting passively in her flat waiting for George to call and collect hints from her most of the time. Needless to say, the sexual tension between George and Nico doesn’t get resolved, the writers having learned from television shows like Moonlighting and Northern Exposure that the audience’s interest tends to dissipate as soon as “Will they or won’t they” becomes “They will!” “We could very easily have had them having sex,” says Cecil, “but that would have ruined the relationship between these two people.”

The writing remains consistently strong in the small moments, full of sly humor and trenchant observations. Some fondly remembered supporting characters return, such as Duane and Pearl, the two lovably ugly American tourists you met in Syria last time around, who’ve now opted to take a jungle holiday, just in time to meet George and Nico once again. (Isn’t coincidence wonderful?)

And the game is never less than fair, with occasional deaths to contend with but no dead ends. This manifestation of respect for their players has marked Revolution’s work since Beneath a Steel Sky; they can only be applauded for it, given how many bigger, better-funded studios got this absolutely critical aspect of their craft so very wrong back in the day. The puzzles themselves are pitched perfectly in difficulty for the kind of game this is, being enough to make you stop and think from time to time but never enough to stop you in your tracks.

Broken Sword or Monkey Island?

In the end, then, Broken Sword II suffers only by comparison with Broken Sword I, which does everything it does well just that little bit better. The backgrounds and animation here, while still among the best that the 1990s adventure scene ever produced, aren’t quite as lush as what we saw last time. The series’s Art Deco and Tintin-inspired aesthetic sensibility, seen in no other adventure games of the time outside of the equally sumptuous Last Express, loses some focus when we get to Central America and the Caribbean. Here the game takes on an oddly LucasArts-like quality, what with the steel-drum background music and all the sandy beaches and dark jungles and even a monkey or two flitting around. Everywhere you look, the seams show just a little more than they did last time; the original voice of Nico, for example, has been replaced by that of another actress, making the opening moments of the second game a jarring experience for those who played the first. (Poor Nico would continue to get a new voice with each subsequent game in the series. “I’ve never had a bad Nico, but I’ve never had one I’ve been happy with,” says Cecil.)

But, again, we’re holding Broken Sword II up against some very stiff competition indeed; the first game is a beautifully polished production by any standard, one of the crown jewels of 1990s adventuring. If the sequel doesn’t reach those same heady heights, it’s never less than witty and enjoyable. Suffice to say that Broken Sword II is a game well worth playing today if you haven’t done so already.

It did not, however, sell even as well as its predecessor when it shipped for computers in November of 1997, serving more to justify than disprove Virgin’s reservations about making it in the first place. In the United States, it was released without its Roman numeral as simply Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror, since that country had never seen a Broken Sword I. Thus even those Americans who had bought and enjoyed Circle of Blood had no ready way of knowing that this game was a sequel to that one. (The names were ironic not least in that the American game called Circle of Blood really did contain a broken sword, while the American game called Broken Sword did not.)

That said, in Europe too, where the game had no such excuses to rely upon, the sales numbers it put up were less satisfactory than before. A PlayStation version was released there in early 1998, but this too sold somewhat less than the first game, whose relative success in the face of its technical infelicities had perchance owed much to the novelty of its genre on the console. It was not so novel anymore: a number of other studios were also now experimenting with computer-style adventure games on the PlayStation, to mixed commercial results.

With Virgin having no interest in a Broken Sword III or much of anything else from Revolution, Charles Cecil negotiated his way out of the multi-game contract the two companies had signed. “The good and the great decided adventures [had] had their day,” he says. Broken Sword went on the shelf, permanently as far as anyone knew, leaving George and Nico in a lovelorn limbo while Revolution retooled and refocused. Their next game would still be an adventure at heart, but it would sport a new interface alongside action elements that were intended to make it a better fit on a console. For better or for worse, it seemed that the studio’s hopes for the future must lie more with the PlayStation than with computers.

Revolution Software was not alone in this; similar calculations were being made all over the industry. Thanks to the fresh technology and fresh ideas of the PlayStation, said industry was entering a new period of synergy and cross-pollination, one destined to change the natures of computer and console games equally. Which means that, for all that this site has always been intended to be a history of computer rather than console gaming, the PlayStation will remain an inescapable presence even here, lurking constantly in the background as both a promise and a threat.

Where to Get It: Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror is available as a digital download at

Did you enjoy this article? If so, please think about pitching in to help me make many more like it. You can pledge any amount you like.

Sources: the book Grand Thieves and Tomb Raiders: How British Video Games Conquered the World by Magnus Anderson and Rebecca Levene; Retro Gamer 6, 31, 63, 146, and 148; GameFan of February 1998; PlayStation Magazine of February 1998; The Telegraph of January 4 2011. Online sources include Charles Cecil’s interviews with Anthony Lacey of Dining with Strangers, John Walker of Rock Paper Shotgun, Marty Mulrooney of Alternative Magazine Online, and Peter Rootham-Smith of Game Boomers.


1 LucasArts was actually still known as Lucasfilm Games at the time.
2 The Genesis was known as the Mega-Drive in Japan and Europe.

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27 Responses to Televising the Revolution

  1. Mike Russo

    January 5, 2024 at 6:59 pm

    Funny timing, I actually played all the Broken Sword sequels last year! Sadly, my assessment of Smoking Mirror is substantially less rosy, though the abbreviated production timeline and reduced budget should definitely be taken into account.

    The puzzles are generally fine, albeit a bit samey, with the first couple hours after the (admittedly cool) intro being a chain of one “distract this character to take his stuff/sneak past him” puzzle after another, as well as somewhat grindy, with the climactic puzzle especially being pretty easy to solve but requiring a ridiculously large number of clicks to work through. Plus the graphics in the remastered version are lovely.

    I found the writing and overall narrative structure to be very weak, though. The overall plot is nonsense, with the bad guy given no motivation or characterization to speak of, and saddled with Stupid Generic Overlord Plot Number 7 (he’s collecting a series of MacGuffins, except they’re only useful to foil his plan, so he should have just left them alone or destroyed them as soon as he got his hands on them). The secret-history elements are even worse — fair enough, Cecil wasn’t that interested in the Mayans, but it’s not even clear he did enough research to understand that the Mayans and Aztecs were entirely different people, because the game sure lumps them together without any acknowledgment of the distinction.

    And while the George-and-Nico double act is as fun as always, there’s vanishingly little of it in the game — after George frees her from her kidnappers, there’s just one medium-length sequence before they’re split up on their own adventures and only reunite in the finale (which after a cutscene or two puts them on their own *again*). As for the individual paths, George’s is relatively fun, but it is a tonal mismatch from the rest of the game, and has no recurring characters or plot developments connecting it to the rest of the story. Meanwhile, Nico’s thread sees her investigating a theft at the British Museum, which is thematically on point and advances the plot, but it’s much shorter than the George branch, coming to fifteen minutes of gameplay at most.

    It’s not excruciatingly bad — unlike the fourth game, which is some of the most painful adventure-gaming I’ve ever suffered through — but it was definitely disappointing and honestly pretty skippable unless you’re a series completionist. Fortunately the first one remains a classic, the third one is surprisingly engaging despite the move to 3d, and the fifth is an enjoyable return to form. I hear there’s a sixth one on the way, so hopefully the series avoids the reverse-Star-Trek-movie curse it’s labored under and finally turns in an even-numbered entry that’s worthwhile.

    • stepped pyramids

      January 9, 2024 at 7:50 am

      “the game sure lumps them together”

      When I read that the villains of a game subtitled “The Smoking Mirror” (the translated name of a major Aztec god, Tezcatlipoca) were “Mayans”, I thought maybe it was a typo on Jimmy’s part. Oof.

    • Marco

      January 11, 2024 at 11:13 pm

      I largely agree with you – I was less keen on the fifth game, which has a severe small cages design, but do have a soft spot for the third, despite all the crate puzzles.

      The other weakness of the second game is the crass humour, which is quite different from the subtlety of the original and seems like an attempt to paper over the very thin plot.

  2. Keith Palmer

    January 6, 2024 at 2:18 am

    The focus on “adventures games on the PlayStation” reminded me how I’d seen comments about Myst also being ported to that console. On checking, though, I saw it had also wound up on the Jaguar and Sega Saturn. I suppose that further diminishes whatever point I’m making here. Otherwise, bringing up how the PlayStation’s hardware wasn’t as impressive as a “mid-range gaming computer” reminded me there’d been a (briefly) commercially available PlayStation emulator for “G3 Macs.”

  3. Copyrighted Name

    January 6, 2024 at 5:13 am

    “LucasArts managed to port their early point-and-click adventure Maniac Mansion to the NES in 1988”

    That would be 1990, actually. Maniac Mansion WAS released on the Famicom (japanese NES) in 1988, but it’s a completely different (and substantially worse) port.

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 6, 2024 at 7:21 am


  4. Dan V.

    January 6, 2024 at 8:39 pm

    I missed this game on the PlayStation when it was out. I bet I would have enjoyed it, as I’m always a sucker for a good adventure.

    “Its early years brought a surprising number of these computer ports, from strategy games like SimCity 2000 to puzzle games like Lemmings. And we can also add to that list adventure games like Broken Sword.”

    I’m not sure if these are the examples I’d use, as SimCities and Lemmings were ported to various consoles before the PSX and were good sellers. SC2K on the SNES isn’t great, but SimCity (SNES) is one of that console’s stone cold classics and I’d play it over the PC version any day. That said, the PSX version of SimCity 2000 is surprisingly playable and has the best version of the soundtrack amongst all releases of the game. It’s basically at parity with a PC experience, especially if you had a PlayStation mouse. I did not, but I still poured dozens of hours into it.

    Now, the computer ports that the PlayStation really made possible… Command and Conquer would never have been possible on the previous consoles. Same with X:COM. The PlayStation finally made RTS games first-class console citizens, even with its limitations. I think LucasArts missed a trick by not porting its CD-ROM point-n-click library to the PlayStation, even though they brought over multiple Star Wars games.

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 7, 2024 at 7:06 am

      Those are better examples. Thanks!

      I haven’t done the research to nail this down yet, but I strongly suspect that the reason for Grim Fandango’s weird control scheme was to make it a more natural fit on the PlayStation. But by the time it was ready, the adventure market in general was in such a poor state that it was never actually ported over.

      • M. Casey

        January 8, 2024 at 10:42 pm

        Ahh… that would explain whatever Monkey Island it was that had no mouse support.

        • arcanetrivia

          January 8, 2024 at 11:53 pm

          That’s Escape from Monkey Island, which was released for PC and Playstation 2 – no mouse support even in the game menus, which is pretty irritating.

          Tales of Monkey Island and Return to Monkey Island also were both released on consoles, but use mouse on PC. Tales has a slightly awkward setup where you can click and drag or use WASD on the keyboard to move, with single-click interactions with objects. (It was released on the Wii and many of the decisions about how it looks, sounds, and plays had to do with that.) Return’s system is pure point-and-click again on PC with the added QoL improvement of being able to double-click to run. I’m told its console UIs (Switch, Xbox, Playstation 5) are also pretty good so clearly they put a lot of thought into making it work well in both modes instead of sacrificing one to the other like Escape did.

      • Dan V.

        January 9, 2024 at 12:11 am

        That’s not a bad theory, and I bet Tim Schafer has probably talked about such considerations in his many interviews/commentaries/etc. If you are planning on doing Grim Fandango that’d be an excellent read.

        The other mark against Grim Fandango is that it had the unfortunate timing of coming out when we hadn’t quite nailed down third-person 3D navigation. There’s a lot of PC and PlayStation games with, let’s say, unique ways of moving in a 3D space. It wasn’t until Ocarina of Time that we really had a template for how things would work going forward and even then it wasn’t perfect. It’s not the same as a point-n-click, of course, but those control concepts would be iterated on by both PC and console devs alike into what we have today.

    • John

      January 7, 2024 at 2:21 pm

      Command & Conquer might well have been impossible on earlier consoles, but its immediate predecessor, Dune 2, was very much possible, as it was ported to the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. I’ve only ever played the Sega version so I can’t say just how it compares to the PC version, but Wikipedia suggests that despite some graphical and interface changes it was very well received. I certainly liked it well enough at the time, though Command & Conquer (for PC) is of course a vastly superior game.

      • Dan V.

        January 9, 2024 at 12:00 am

        Dune 2 on the Genesis makes perfect sense, since it ran on similar 16-bit home micros. The trouble with the consoles is that they were RAM starved relative to PCs of the era, and there’s nothing an RTS loves more than RAM. But that game was possible because it wasn’t quite the scale of a C&C, and the Genesis also ran on a 68000. I’m sure that eased porting.

        The SNES had its own RTS (Metal Marines) which is pretty robust for its platform, but it’s very niche.

  5. TTFD

    January 7, 2024 at 12:40 am

    Just wanted to voice my appreciation and support for all of these great articles you’ve crafted and posted over the years.

    I am still enjoying them as much as I did several years ago, so thank you for all your efforts.

  6. Alex

    January 7, 2024 at 7:13 am

    “I think LucasArts missed a trick by not porting its CD-ROM point-n-click library to the PlayStation, even though they brought over multiple Star Wars games.”

    While they missed the trick there, they released something like an isometric action-adventure on the Playstation in 1997 (much to my surprise when I played it as a teen): Herc´s Adventure:

    Yes, it´s really very loosely based on the character of Hercules, albeit it hasn´t anything to do with the Disney movie that came out in the same year. I had fun playing it and for fans of interactive cartoons it´s still worth to take a look.

    Anyway, like I once wrote before, I was introduced to Broken Sword on the Playstation, beat it there for the first time and searched out the PC-Version shortly therafter. I really didn´t notice any difference regarding graphics or performance since I was much too immersed in the game to look at details. As a matter of fact, I had less problems playing it on the Playstation as I did something very stupid while installing the game against my better knowledge and had to reinstall my whole system.

    Regarding the third sequel, I bought that one based on a very cheap price and good reviews and really enjoyed it right from the beginning. While the console-basef gameplay was something I had to get used to, it was not that hard to learn and the story as a sort of a Indiana Jones -like plot was really enjoyable.

    • arcanetrivia

      January 7, 2024 at 9:03 am

      Escape from Monkey Island was also released on the PS2 in early 2001, and arguably had some advantages over the PC version.

    • Dan V.

      January 9, 2024 at 12:18 am

      Herc’s Adventures is a lovely game, but its game engine origins lie more with Zombies Ate my Neighbors and its sequel Ghoul Patrol, both of which were console-first games by LucasArts. IIRC, it was released on the Saturn and PlayStation first, and ported to PC later.

  7. Rowan Lipkovits

    January 7, 2024 at 7:19 am

    “Sierra On-Line and several other companies tried mightily to cram their adventure games onto the Sega Genesis”

    Impossible as the feat was, one can point to the 1989 Microsmiths adaptation of Sierra’s King’s Quest 1 to the even-less-accomodating Sega Master System, or to Konami’s 1992 adaptation of their King’s Quest 5 to the Nintendo Entertainment System. The heroic task could be achieved, but you needed to basically remake the game from the ground up using resources built around the limitations of the target platform’s capabilities. Sierra was shooting for a more “lazy hacker”-style feat — putting in the extra work needed to port the engine running all the games, so then no _additional_ work would be needed to port one game or all of them. But it was too big an ask.

    (Lucasfilm successfully realised a Sega CD port of the Secret of Monkey Island, but conspicuously they failed to move any of their other games over to that platform, suggesting that whatever the cost or return involved with the test case experiment… was not worth the trouble.)

    To more completely flesh out the “Shadowgate” reference, I believe those ICOM MacVentures (not just Shadowgate, but also Uninvited and Deja Vu) were ported to the NES by Kemco. I don’t know how much more Japanese adaptation there was of computer adventure games to consoles, but one famous example is Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom, which started in 1984 as an illustrated text adventure for the NEC PC-8801, NEC PC-6001, FM-7 and MSX computer systems, and wound up on the NES in 1988. (And then there is the bonkers 1996 Playstation / Saturn Japanese adaptation of Zork I, but enough of my footnotes, I need to get around to reading past the third paragraph of your article!)

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 7, 2024 at 7:34 am

      I overlooked those other ICOM titles. Thanks!

    • Sean Curtin

      January 7, 2024 at 10:08 pm

      The Japanese adaptation of Shadowgate on the Famicom is also famous in its own right, though infamous would be the better word to use. The translation is so terrible that it’s often ranked among the worst Famicom games ever released, though the death sequences are so sincerely loopy that the game does have a (completely ironic) cult following in Japan.

    • Josh Martin

      January 18, 2024 at 8:19 pm

      (Lucasfilm successfully realised a Sega CD port of the Secret of Monkey Island, but conspicuously they failed to move any of their other games over to that platform, suggesting that whatever the cost or return involved with the test case experiment… was not worth the trouble.)

      A Sega CD version of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis apparently got a fair way through development and was even listed for order in a LucasArts catalog, but was axed due to low sales of the Monkey Island port. That version was a pretty good one that would’ve been better without a bug (recently fixed by a community-created hack) that halves the brightness of the color palette. Kojima Hideo’s Snatcher, a first-person cyberpunk adventure originally released on Japanese computers, also got a Sega CD version, ported from a Japan-only remake for the PC Engine/TurboGrafx CD.

      • arcanetrivia

        January 19, 2024 at 12:40 am

        Funny how the Sega CD version of Monkey Island was the first one Dominic Armato (the voice actor for Guybrush Threepwood from Curse of Monkey Island onwards) played – he’s an ascended fan, if you will. I wonder if we’d still have had him at all if it hadn’t been released on that platform, or if he would have played in on PC and time would have unfolded as it already has.

  8. salty-horse

    January 7, 2024 at 2:40 pm

    Typo in second paragraph: “puzzled-based adventure games”.

    I wasn’t familiar with the US cover of The Smoking Mirror. It’s amazing how they managed to make the typical US-market ultra-violent cover even for this adventure game. The same sacrificial murder scene is also depicted on the back of the box from a different angle!

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 7, 2024 at 7:14 pm


  9. Leo Vellés

    January 11, 2024 at 3:15 am

    The John Walker of Rock, Paper, Shotgun link seems broken Jimmy.

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 15, 2024 at 1:47 pm

      Fixed. Thanks!

  10. Josh Martin

    January 18, 2024 at 8:30 pm

    It might be worth noting that Psygnosis released a Playstation version of the previously-covered Discworld a year ahead of Broken Sword, followed by a version for the Sega Saturn; the same platforms also got ports of Discworld II, the SVGA graphics of which didn’t survive the transition very well.

    There’s a small but interesting subgenre of “computer-style” adventure games made specifically for consoles. One of the most famous is Nightshade, a weird and deeply frustrating superhero/noir-themed NES title from Beam Software; another is ICOM’s Beyond Shadowgate for the PC Engine/TurboGrafx CD, which exchanged the first-person perspective of the original for a more conventional third-person view. Linus Spacehead’s Cosmic Crusade for the NES shifted rather awkwardly between platforming and point-and-click sections, and was later remade as Cosmic Spacehead on more advanced platforms (including DOS and Amiga PCs).


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