GDC 2010: Hands-on with Superbrothers' Sword and Sorcery

Mike Schramm
M. Schramm|03.15.10

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GDC 2010: Hands-on with Superbrothers' Sword and Sorcery
"Superbrothers" is the alias of Craig Adams, a Toronto-based artist who specializes in pixel-based artwork and cinema. He's a big fan of musician Jim Guthrie, and after the two met a while ago (and discovered they were actually fans of each other), he was inspired to create a few music videos of the songs that he heard. Then, a little while back, Adams ran into a few guys from Capy, a game developer (they've made some great puzzle titles like Clash of Heroes for the DS and Critter Crunch for PSN) also from Toronto, and he decided to team up with them to make his first game, and release it on the iPhone.

I got to play the game for the first time at GDC, and what I found was an interesting mix of art, music, and gameplay that shows just how amazing a platform like the iPhone can be, both for independent developers and for artists who just want to express themselves (or music they like) in an interactive format. Read on to find out what the game is like, and how it uses the iPhone's assets and Superbrothers' creativity to create a singular experience.

It's an exploratory affair -- the game slowly unfolds through Superbrothers' art, with Guthrie's tunes slowly building up piece by piece in the background. You play a sort of a knight character, with a sword and shield, who slowly wanders down into a forest where deer and rabbits run out of the path ahead of you. The game entreats you as you drag the character around the screen -- words like "look," "listen," and "investigate" give short commands as they appear on screen, and the whole scene is doused in a moody atmosphere. Adams' art style really takes over -- one sequence where the character walks along a lake with the word "reflect" glowing above is quite serene and beautiful -- but always lets the music set the pace and tone (for this first level anyway). You can even pinch-to-zoom during certain parts of the level, to look for secrets or just to enjoy the scenery.

Eventually, the character gives slow chase to a sort of bear/man monster, and after following it into a gigantic tree, the game's first battle scene commences. You can see video of both of these scenes online, but playing it is obviously more involving -- you must turn the iPhone on its side to unsheath your sword (as the game switches to a vertical view), and even during battle, your moves and attacks are never actually laid out for you; instead the game leaves it to you that you need to swipe at a certain time, hold your finger on the screen to charge up a swing, or touch a certain part to pull back or detect. Even during the boss battle, the music still reigns, with the bear/man you fight bashing on his shield as a bassy drum beat bangs on the soundtrack.

After the fight, with the bear/man vanquished, our knight headed back out into the woods and back home to his wife and hearth, just in time for the game to throw out a quick teaser of the next level: a dark feral shape threatening the tranquil homestead.

Adams admitted that he'd crunched just before GDC to try and get a playable demo of the game ready, so there's probably a little more time in development to go than the "few more months" he suggested to us. But this game is obviously a labor of love for the artist -- he said he's done video game work professionally before, but never under the Superbrothers' banner, so this seems like his chance to bring the aesthetic to a media that's near and dear to him.

We'll keep an eye out for the game when it releases -- it's definitely not the kind of game that's targeting the Top Grossing list or bent on getting as much revenue from users as possible. Instead, Sword and Sorcery seems like an interactive art project, and it seems like an experience that should be very much welcome on the iPhone.
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