The Making Of: Lure Of The Temptress
Fresh off the success of Beyond A Steel Sky, Charles Cecil is on-hand to discuss Revolution’s epic fantasy adventure
he story of Lure Of The Temptress is also the story of Revolution, the British company that came out of nowhere to produce a point‑and‑click that stood shoulder to shoulder with games from Sierra and Lucasarts, the American masters of the genre. But the birth of the company was somewhat precarious – and in the end Lure Of The Temptress only saw the light of day thanks to a few instances of sheer luck.
Revolution’s founder, Charles Cecil, left school in 1980 with ambitions to become an engineer. He won a sponsorship with Ford for his time at university, but his fate was changed when a fellow student, Richard Turner, told him that he had disassembled the ROM of his Sinclair ZX80, and was selling the listing. “We went to the pub, and we played Space Invaders together,” recalls Charles. “And we got on very well. And he was telling me about this videogame company called Artic that was just in its inception, and he said, ‘You’re good at telling stories. I’m going to write this system to allow people to play adventure games, why don’t you write an adventure?’”
Charles ended up penning several successful games for Hull-based Artic Computing while he was at university in Manchester. But by the time he left in 1985, the era of the bedroom coder was coming to an end as the games market became more professional. “I remember getting Impossible Mission,” recalls Charles, “and realising it was so much better than anything that we could ever produce.” Knowing that Artic couldn’t compete with the well-funded companies that were emerging at the time, Charles left to set up Paragon Programming to produce games for US Gold. “And then they asked if I’d come and join as head of development,” he says. “I was hugely flattered. I mean, this was one of the biggest software publishers in Europe.” But he was in for a shock when he arrived. “I was expecting this team of people that I would be leading, you know, a really well-oiled machine. But there was me, a tester and a part-time masterer, and that was it.”
He was then lured to become head of development at Activision on the promise that development would take priority over marketing. But as the Eighties drew to a close, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. Just as Activision was going down, Sean Brennan, a friend of Charles’ and deputy managing director at Mirrorsoft, got in touch. “He took me out for lunch and said, ‘If you wanted to set up a new development company, we’d be keen to support you,’” remembers Charles. After years of frustration in having to manage other people’s games, the idea of going back into development was attractive.
Charles’ mother lent him £10,000 to start Revolution in 1990, which he supplemented with another £10,000 borrowed from the bank. The company he bought ‘off the shelf’ was called Turnvale, Ltd (which is why the town in Lure Of
The Temptress is called Turnvale), and the founding team consisted of Charles, Noirin Carmody (who had worked as general manager for Sierra games at Activision; the pair would later marry), Tony Warriner and David Sykes. Tony was an old colleague from Artic who had gone to work for an aeronautical company when Artic closed down.
Like Artic, Revolution was initially based in
Hull. “It was above a fruit shop in Chanterlands Avenue,” says Charles, recalling that the tiny office was freezing cold in winter. The company started off with an Amiga and an expensive
386 PC that Charles had previously bought to play flight simulators, although the team quickly acquired a gas heater to complement the computer equipment. But the gas heater gave off such terrible fumes that they had to keep the window open while using it, and people took to wearing fingerless gloves while they worked. “It was dire, but we had no money whatsoever,” says Charles.
Revolution decided to work on a point-and-click adventure, but with a more lighthearted tone.
“At Activision, we distributed Sierra games,” remembers Charles, “and I really enjoyed playing them, but my god they took themselves seriously.” At the time, he wasn’t aware of Lucasarts and its drive to make funnier adventures: “We didn’t even know about Lucasarts. I’d never played a Lucasarts game – I didn’t actually play Maniac Mansion until much later.”
However, Charles was no specialist at levity: “I was always writing serious stories, and always have done,” he admits. To add the humour, Charles brought in Dave Cummins, who had been a tester at Activision. “I remember him writing a test report for an adventure we were publishing, and he wrote the test report so beautifully,” recalls Charles. “It was so much better than the writing of the adventure itself.”
They began working with a top-down system, says Charles. “I would write the story and the puzzle structure, and then Dave would finesse that with the programmer, particularly Tony Warriner, and they would work out, based on the puzzle structure, how to actually implement it.” The team was rounded out with two artists – Stephen Oades and Adam Tween – along with long-suffering producer Daniel Marchant, “who spent four years in a row on his birthday sleeping on our office floor” notes Charles dryly.
After pulling together the initial concept for the company’s first game, the next task was to pitch it to Mirrorsoft – and that meant hauling the company’s precious, and only, PC down to London to give a presentation. The team dutifully wrapped it in a blanket and strapped it into the rear seat of the car for the drive to Charles’ flat in London, where they were all staying on the night before the big pitch. Charles recalls that they had a few glasses of wine and went to bed much too late, and when he looked out of the window in the morning, he saw that someone had broken into the car – then realised to his horror that they’d forgotten to take out the 386 the night before.
“The colour drained from my face,” he says, “I
mean, we would never in a million years have been able to afford to buy another, they were so expensive. And I rushed out – and the thief had taken the car radio, but left the PC.” If the ne’er-do-well had realised what was under the blanket in the back seat, Revolution could have had a very short history indeed.
The pitch went well, and Mirrorsoft agreed to back Revolution’s first game. But the head of marketing, Alison Beasley, wasn’t keen on the name, which at the time was a working title like “Vengeance or something equally crap” says Charles. He sent over a list of alternative titles, with Lure Of The Temptress right at the bottom, followed by ‘this is a joke’ in brackets. “And she phoned me up and she said, ‘We love the name Lure Of The Temptress,’” recalls Charles. “And I said, ‘Okay, but there are two problems: one, there’s no luring, and two, there’s no temptress.’ And there was a silence. And she said, ‘Can you put them in?’” The publisher argued that the game was too short anyway, and agreed to extend the deadline by four months and provide some extra money so the plot could be rewritten to include some luring and temptressing, as well as to make it a bit longer.
The big headline feature for Lure Of The Temptress was the Virtual Theatre system, whereby each of the characters would go about their routines in real time even when they weren’t on the screen – and you could even ask your faithful servant Ratpouch to head into other rooms, fetch items and do various things for you. “That felt absolutely revolutionary,” says Charles.
After beavering away on the game for months in secret, Revolution first showed Lure Of The Temptress to a select industry crowd at the European Computer Trade Show in London in 1991. Charles recalls it received an ecstatic response: “I demonstrated the ability to give commands, and then I stopped, and there was silence. And then somebody started clapping, and then everybody started clapping, and then people stood up, and then people queued because they wanted to talk
“I SAID, ‘OKAY, BUT THERE ARE TWO PROBLEMS: ONE, THERE’S NO LURING, AND TWO, THERE’S NO TEMPTRESS’” CHARLES CECIL
to me! And Bob Jacob [cofounder of Cinemaware] said, ‘I love this game, we want to publish it in America’ and somebody from a big Japanese magazine called LOGIN did a feature, and it was incredible. It was like, ‘We’ve arrived, we’ve arrived.’ And that was such a great moment.”
Development went smoothly, and Charles was delighted at working with Mirrorsoft. “It was a great publisher,” he says. But then Robert Maxwell, the head of the Mirror Group, plopped off his yacht in November 1991, and all hell broke loose. It quickly emerged that Robert had plundered the company’s pension fund to shore up its share price, and the group plunged towards bankruptcy. There was a danger that the rights to Lure Of The Temptress could have ended up in the hands of administrators, but once again, Revolution had a lucky escape. “We had signed an agreement that if either party goes into administration, then the other can terminate – a clause that Mirrorsoft never imagined would ever be used against them,” says Charles. This meant that Revolution could happily extricate itself from the demise of Robert’s company. “We were very, very lucky,” says Charles. “There’s been so much serendipity.” Mirrorsoft’s Sean Brennan then moved to Virgin, and Revolution followed suit, signing a new deal with Richard Branson’s firm.
When Lure Of The Temptress was finally released in the summer of 1992, it received a warm reception: “The reviews were stunning,” says Charles. In a 92% review, Amiga Format said the game surpassed “almost anything Sierra have offered, by being larger, funnier, and a whole lot better drawn”, adding that its “innovative system knocks spots of the Sierra-standards and shows Lucasfilm a thing or two”. And Amiga Power awarded the game 88%, calling it an “expertly written adventure” with “mouthwatering graphics and animation”. Lure Of The Temptress was a big commercial success, too, hitting number one in the Gallup charts – although Charles says that Revolution didn’t see much of that money. “We didn’t earn any revenues, of course. Developers would get together after shows in the pub and talk wistfully about rumours that once a developer had earned a royalty from their game. Nobody actually knew any developers who had, but they knew somebody who claimed to know a developer that once got paid a royalty by a publisher.”
Still, considering the success of Lure Of The Temptress, it’s somewhat surprising that Revolution never made a sequel. Charles puts this down to Virgin driving them to keep creating new franchises. “We did pitch sequels,” he says, “but Sean always wanted new games”. Yet having just made a sequel to Beneath A Steel Sky some 26 years later, surely now is the perfect time to revisit Revolution’s first game? “I could honestly say that it is not something that is top of my mind at this particular moment,” torpedoes Charles. Shame.