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Charles Cecil and Dave Gibbons Talk iPhone, Beneath a Steel Sky 2 and the Folly of Non-Linear Narrative

By on October 9, 2009

Beneath a Steel Sky

Dave Gibbons (of Watchmen fame) and Charles Cecil (of Broken Sword fame) hosted a talk at BAFTA earlier this week to celebrate today’s iPhone re-release of the 1994 game for which they’re both famed – Beneath A Steel Sky (Buy it from Beneath a Steel Sky: Remastered). A number of interesting topics were broached during the question and answer phase, in particular the evolution of Cecil’s Revolution Software itself, and the opinion these adventure stalwarts hold regarding the direction of contemporary interactive narratives.

I was also pretty excited to learn that Cecil himself was a big fan of Penumbra, the horror adventure series I penned some years ago. OK, maybe that’s more exciting for me than for you. Never mind, it’s out there now.

Back on topic, it was interesting to hear that both men feel non-linear narratives are somewhat missing the point. I pushed them on the subject, and it was clear the idea of a story with multiple endings, or one in which the player is too free to define the pace and sequence of the narrative himself, are things contrary to the pair’s ideals.

I can see the argument. A story has a certain implicit value or meaning within it. An ending (a good one – which, admittedly, have never been a particular strength of video games) is not arbitrary. It’s there as an appropriate, and fulfilling conclusion. It should reflect the themes of the rest of the rest of the experience. The Shawshank Redemption in which Andy Dufresne drowns in the sewer tunnel is not The Shawshank Redemption at all.

I think, however, that it’s fair to say that this is not a hard and fast rule. Certainly an arbitrarily guided interactive narrative is of no worth to anyone – as Cecil and Gibbons observed. However, the raison d’etre of our medium is our audience’s involvement. It’s what makes us unique. With this in mind, the only way in which an interactive narrative can truly deliver is if its ending is appropriate not to the writer, but to the player. This, clearly, is not something that can be achieved without a story that bends to its players’ actions.

We were also treated to an (as far as I know) untold recent history of Revolution Studios. Since the publisher cancellation of an unnamed major project, the studio cut back from a large workforce to a salaried team of just three. Cecil told us the freedom of working on smaller projects, and being able to bring in key talent as and when suited, has proved to be creatively liberating.

On that note, they also discussed the possibility of a further collaboration. BASS 2 was mentioned but not confirmed, but with BASS: iPhone serving as something of a test case, the likelihood of a new Cecil / Gibbons project seems reassuringly high.

Beneath a Steel Sky for iPhone is now available from the US AppStore or the UK AppStore.

About Tom Jubert

Tom Jubert is a freelance games writer / narrative designer, best known for his work on the Penumbra series, for which he was nominated for a Writers' Guild Award. His upcoming releases include Lost Horizon and Driver: San Francisco. He was previously the Managing Editor at, and has also spent time in production.