Developing Thoughts 6

Yet another installment of my column from 2004.

Researching the Unexpected

The key to establishing authentic detail is plenty of research – geography, terminology, clothing, equipment or historical facts, for instance. The level of authenticity can determine how deeply players will immerse themselves into the world that’s been created.

In the early stages of Revolution Software’s game, Broken Sword – The Sleeping Dragon, I was looking for some historical hook that would give a good starting point to build the story around. I knew that we wanted to tie the game back to the first Broken Sword game, and in a way that would complete the trilogy in a tidy manner. With this in mind I started exploring connections to John Dee, who was mentioned in the earlier games. It wasn’t long before I turned up a reference to something called the Voynich Manuscript.

This was exactly the starting point I needed – a genuine historical document written in a bizarre code that, to this day, no one has been able to decipher. This meant that the contents of the manuscript could be invented to match the needs of the story – the perfect device upon which to hang a historical mystery. Tying in a Templar power conspiracy was relatively straightforward, but what was it that the Voynich Manuscript hid within its code? We decided that it held the secret to unlocking the power of the Earth itself.

Coincidences can be more than a little spooky. When I started reading up on ley lines – because the idea is that the Earth’s energy travels along these channels – my research kept pointing to many of the same things over and again. Not only did many of the ley line references lead to Glastonbury – which we used in the game – but there were also a number of them that mentioned York, where Revolution Software is based.

I read a little further and found that a number of the churches inside the old walls of the city were built along a straight ley line, including the huge York Minster. Ever curious, a couple of us went up to the top of the Minster tower and looked out over the city, expecting at best to see a vague approximation to a line. But there, in a perfectly straight line as clear as day, were the towers and spires of half a dozen churches as well as Clifford’s Tower, all lining up with the junction of the two rivers, Ouse and Foss.

The coincidences continued. The land at the river junction is actually named St George’s Field and the hero of the games is also named George. Even spookier is the fact that this land used to belong to the Templars. When we came down from the tower we were to get an even bigger surprise.

Outside the Minster a statue has been erected of the Roman Emperor, Constantine, a man who brought Christianity to the Roman Empire. The statue has him seated and looking at the pommel of his sword in a contemplative way. Yet the sculptor created the statue with the blade of the sword broken!

Although the York material didn’t make it into the game, this research helped establish a feel and flavour that ensured the game as a whole really did have an air of authenticity. When you’ve made striking connections through research on the internet and actually seen genuine ley lines for yourself, you get to thinking that there’s a kernel of truth in the stories you’re making up and the whole becomes so much more believable.

© Steve Ince, 2004