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Charles Cecil

This interview is part of a series conducted by Shaun McClure for his forthcoming book on adventure games.

Today perhaps best known for the Broken Sword series, Charles Cecil started his gaming career at Artic.

What were you doing prior to game development, and how did you take your first steps into programming?

When I left school in 1980, I read Mechanical Engineering at University. I joined a prestigious sponsorship programme with Ford called the Special Engineering Programme. We were very intensively trained in accountancy, law, media training - ready for a bright future with Ford. One of my fellow trainees, Richard Turner, had disassembled the ROM of the ZX80 and published a book. We became friends, and I really loved what he was doing. One day he suggested that I could write an adventure game and that he would program it. The unimaginatively titled "Adventure B" was hugely successful - and the rest, as they say, is history.

Your first games were the very iconic text based adventure games for Artic. Did you have an interest in adventure games? If so, which ones? Did you ever play the William Crowther game "Adventure"?

Richard had a TRS-80 with a number of games imported from the US. In terms of writing a text adventure, I took my inspiration from Scott Adams' adventures. The games had been successful in the US - why not write our own adventures for the ZX81, we thought. Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark had just released - still one of the best adventure movies ever, in my opinion. So I decided to write a game about gathering treasure in a pyramid, whilst having to avoid booby traps. We limited the number of items that a player could carry, and assigned a value to each piece - and once the player passes a certain point, counted down their moves before they were killed. From this, we calculated the maximum value that could be taken from the pyramid. I remember how exciting it was to find that people had managed to subvert the game by taking treasure, dropping it just before the trigger point, and then ferrying it out to get a higher score than we thought was possible.

Ship of Doom
(C) World of Spectrum

When you were developing the Artic adventures, did you get a free rein over the design of them, or was it more of a team effort? Can you take us through the typical design process?

I was at university and would sit down with graph paper and design the games. When finished, I would pass to Richard - he would add his own ideas, and then code it.

Were you ever tempted to add graphics to any of these games?

The ZX81 was limited to 16K - if we had added graphics then they would have had to load from tape. This would haven been highly detrimental to the gameplay, particularly given how unreliable the loading systems were in those days.

You later became a director at Artic - and then eventually became Software Development Manager at U.S. Gold. Did you prefer to be a manager rather than a developer? Did you prefer having more control?

I much, much preferred working as a developer rather than as Development Manager at US Gold and then Activision. The problem was that as a publisher, I ultimately had very little control over the creative or production processes - and had to spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to sort out problems with our weaker developers.


- Shaun McClure, 2018