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Friday, Aug 31, 2012
Broken Sword: Nico and George by ~isolde
Broken Sword 2.5 is a “fan interpretation” of the games with a distinct tone born of fandom and a distinct structure born of budgetary restraint.

Revolution Software recently started a Kickstarter to raise money to make a new Broken Sword game. It has been five years since the last official game, and as a relatively new fan of the series, I’m glad I didn’t have to wait those five years. But neither did any other fan, not really, not if you were dedicated/obsessed enough to find the fan-made Broken Sword 2.5.
  
Broken Sword 2.5: The Return of the Templars is a fan-made adventure game that came out in 2008 that explains what happened between the second and third games, and it’s easy to mistake this as an official game from Revolution Software. The project received the blessing of Revolution, and it actually reuses art from the first two games. But its semi-official nature is the least interesting part of Broken Sword 2.5. This game represents something far rarer than a “fan sequel” or “fan remake”: It’s a “fan interpretation,” a game that adheres to the style of the original game but also has a distinct tone born of fandom, and a distinct structure born of budgetary restraint.


The new tone stems from how this game handles the relationship between its protagonists, George and Nico. First, some background:


The official games are oddly wary of the relationship. The first game sets these two characters up as a typical adventure couple. They’re brought together by strange circumstances, work together to defeat the bad guys, and by the end, they’re dating on the Eiffel Tower. The second game ran with this established relationship, but it also seemed to downplay the idea that their relationship was in any way romantic or sexual (To my memory, the second game didn’t even mention that George and Nico were a couple. I just assumed it as fact and went from there). The third game begins with them no longer a couple, but when circumstances inevitably bring them together, they act like old friends meeting each other again for the first time in ages. There’s no animosity, no explanation for why they’re now working on opposite ends of the globe, and both of them refer to the other as “my dear friend” (or something to that effect) in their narration. Any possible mention of sex and romance is consigned to the most obscure of implications. In fact, the third game’s refusal to even acknowledge that there was a relationship and not just a friendship between the two makes me question if there ever was a romance to begin with.


Broken Sword 2.5 makes that romance explicit. When Nico goes missing, George tells everyone who will listen that he’s looking for his girlfriend. He’s actually distraught and worried, and Nico responds in kind when he’s the one in danger. She actually says “I love you” at the climax before George goes to confront The Big Bad Guy. It’s an inevitable part of any fan fiction, writing a couple together, but what makes this a special case is that the romance isn’t just a fan’s creation. The relationship between George and Nico exists, it’s always existed, but the developers never cared enough to make it central to the story or character arcs. What Broken Sword 2.5 proves, however, is that the fans care a great deal about this relationship. They wanted to make it unambiguous.


On a gameplay level, Broken Sword 2.5 is the perfect example of how to make a classic adventure game with a much lower budget. The reused art certainly helps make the game look professional, but it’s the slightly different puzzle design that’s the real success.


It’s only once you start playing that you begin to notice the smaller scope of things. Instead of screens being littered with tons of interactive objects, there are just a few items or people to click on. This makes sense, as less interactivity means less animation and less voice work, but it also has the benefit of forcing the developers to trim out all the fat in their design.


This kind of point-and-click adventure is built around item puzzles, but compared to the official games, Broken Sword 2.5 has fewer items to interact with, fewer items to carry, and fewer combinations of items that interact with each other. But there aren’t fewer puzzles. This is actually an impressively long game. Instead, the puzzles are usually confined to just one screen or two: If you find a locked door, the key (or, considering the genre, some kind of crudely fashioned lock pick) is probably nearby. This makes it easier to follow the logic of the puzzle, even when it wants you to combine two seemingly disparate objects. On the whole, you end up doing more critical thinking and less pixel hunting. The game becomes more about how you can interact with items, rather than what items you can interact with. It’s a subtle but noticeable shift in motivation, and it stems from the smaller budget and team. Rather than spread themselves too thin, the developer tightened the design to accommodate their smaller scale. The result is quality over quantity.


Broken Sword 2.5 is a great game in its own right, but I particularly love being able to see this franchise through a new filter. I wish more budding developers would take this approach with their favorite franchise rather than just remaking something in high definition (Black Mesa: Source) or modding one game’s style over another’s gameplay (Elysian Fields). It’s like what BioWare and Felicia Day did with Dragon Age: Mark of the Assassin. Less iteration, more reinterpretation.

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