Sword & Sworcery

Dudebro in the moon. Needs High Life.

If you’re like half the internet, your first exposure to SuperBrothers’ Sword & Sworcery for the iPad came through your Twitter feed. Someone you follow made a seemingly nonsensical comment, such as “We just woke a slumbering sylvan sprite from a curious nestbox surrounded by three rain-soaked songbirds. #sworcery,” or “We got The Megatome & we are the smartest. #sworcery.”

Within hours of the game’s iTunes store launch, Twitter was exploding with Tweets like these. That a game has Twitter integration is nothing new. That thousands of people were going through a three-step process (register, click on a button to Tweet, confirm) in order to expose the outside world to snippets of a story was. That a game like #sworcery was ever even made seems the rarest thing of all.

During the Twitterstorm, the world, for a moment, divided into two camps: those who were enraptured by the world that artist Craig Adams had built, and those who were pissed off, thinking some virus had infected their social network.

“I think is really significant that we are not auto-Tweeting in the least, that it is something that you do have to press a button that’s barely even there most of the time and then press it again,” explains Adams. While the idea of having the game connected to the outside world through Twitter had always been part of the design, Adams was concerned nobody would ever actually notice.

People noticed.

#Sworcery, as it will likely forever now be known, started out as collaboration between Toronto indie-rock legend Jim Guthrie and Craig Adams, known mostly for the occasional retro-inspired illustration in Wired magazine or his history of the internet video, “Dot Matrix Revolution.”

The latter turned out to be a prelude to what would become #sworcery, as it was also a collaboration with Guthrie. The combination of Guthrie’s music, Adams’ art style, Twitter, the iPad, and a love for classic Robert E. Howard blood-and-guts adventure boiled down into a single idea.

“It’s a set of paintings, a set of ideas, and it really is just an environment for people to hang out in and enjoy the music,” he modestly explains. Much like classic rock concept albums, its best enjoyed in the dark with a pair of headphones and a brain-space open to altered state of consciousness (pick your poison there). “What comes out of it is more of a conversation than a test of skill or a test of reflex.”

This vague idea—to create a series of paintings and musical backgrounds to “hang out in” kicked around for years. “I was continually hitting a wall because I had never studied programming. I’d be using a Game Maker tool, and it’d be going pretty well, and then I’d hit a snag and I wouldn’t know how to problem solve it,” he explains. What he needed was a partner in crime who knew about something other than pixel art and music. He needed someone who understood, you know, games.

Help turned out to be right down the street at Capybara Games in Toronto. Through a chance meeting at a party at GDC 2009, Adams met the team from Capy, and a deal was sealed, as they often are, over drinks. They decided to focus on a small project, targeted at the platform with the highest installed base to corporate bullsh*t ratio: iOS.

And the platform decision informed the design. “When you’re using the machine, there’s a kind of rhythm: I’m going to open an app. OK, now I’m sort of going to scroll up and down. It’s sort of the pace of a conversation.” Rather than focusing on making the user adjust their play style, he and the team at Capy tried to slow things down to the natural pace of an iPad user. Swipe, listen, read. Swipe, think, solve. Tap, tap, smile.

Without the constraints of a traditional development process, a studio pressing on a deadline, or any preconceived notions from an existing audience, what #sworcery evolved into is something unique. While it could be described as a simple point-and-click adventure—it contains dozens of simple puzzles that anyone who’s ever played a LucasArts game would find almost trivial—such a description belittles the real accomplishment here.

Through the use of setting, music, minute snippets of recorded dialog, and an elaborate script told in first–, second– and third-person, #sworcery has finally taken the mantle of thinking-man’s narrative from the interactive fiction diehards.

Of course, doing something this ambitious isn’t without risks. After all, Capy, as a developer, isn’t deliberately attempting to be bizarre, having made the straightforward arcade game Critter Crunch and Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. They’re a real business trying to make successful games, not art projects. And as in love with the project as Adams and the team at Capy were, by January of 2011, they started to panic.

“I was playing though and just thinking we’d made the strangest thing,” says Adams of the months up to launch. “All of these ideas that were all ludicrous we ended up committing to, delivering on. The result is just really, really strange. I’m very proud of it now, but in January it really seemed like we were about to go off a cliff.”

Worried they would be dropping the game into an audience expecting something much more traditional, they decided to release a trailer of sorts, called the “Audience Calibration Procedure,” which gave us all a sense of what to expect—and it was indeed odd.

“That clip was really an effort on our part to get ahead of the strangeness of the project,” says Adams.

Yes, #sworcery is strange. But it’s strange in the same way that Dr. Strangelove, Ziggy Stardust and The Persistence of Memory are strange: It defines a genre through a masterful embrace of the absurd, without for a moment falling into self parody. Like Kubrick, Bowie and Dali, Adams has shown bravery in equal measure to his talent. For this, I am grateful.

Comments

Worried they would be dropping the game into an audience expecting something much more traditional, they decided to release a trailer of sorts, called the “Audience Calibration Procedure,” which gave us all a sense of what to expect—and it was indeed odd.

This is precisely what got me interested in playing the game. I finally had a chance to indulge during my flight to London.

I am so far finding the game to precisely as they hoped:

It’s a set of paintings, a set of ideas, and it really is just an environment for people to hang out in and enjoy the music...

Relaxing, humorous, with great music, and playable when high. As in 30k' high. Whiskey helps.

Sounds clever - I was interested by the discussion of it you had on the CC last week. Waiting for an Android port

There is no experience on the iPad I am waiting for more than this. Not sure I can swing the purchase yet, but I am forcing all those in earshot of me at work who can to download and play this. Great interview.

“Audience Calibration Procedure”

That video made Sword and Sworcery my first iPad App purchase. No regrets.

As if I wasn't having enough trouble trying to stay off the iPad-wagon already.
Looks mighty interesting this.

Smartypants wrote:

As if I wasn't having enough trouble trying to stay off the iPad-wagon already.
Looks mighty interesting this.

It's coming to iPhones soon, I think, if that helps.

I'll have to wait for the iPhone version (I sure wish they would do some sort of PC version) I love the art style and am listening to the soundtrack now contemplating on whether or not to buy the $30 CAD vinyl soundtrack. Those stupid limited vinyl runs always get me.

I just bought an iPad, and this was one of the first things I got. So far, I'm loving it. I'll have more thoughts later, but wow. Anything else like this on the iPad?

There aren't really any other good threads to discuss this, so here it is.

Hurray! It's coming to Steam. Playing this game on an iPhone was incredibly painful. I imagine the iPad would be a bit better, but still not ideal. I will definitely be picking it up again.

tuffalobuffalo wrote:

There aren't really any other good threads to discuss this, so here it is.

Hurray! It's coming to Steam. Playing this game on an iPhone was incredibly painful. I imagine the iPad would be a bit better, but still not ideal. I will definitely be picking it up again.

Still no Android version? Odd. I'd have thought that would come before PC/Mac.

Tanglebones wrote:
tuffalobuffalo wrote:

There aren't really any other good threads to discuss this, so here it is.

Hurray! It's coming to Steam. Playing this game on an iPhone was incredibly painful. I imagine the iPad would be a bit better, but still not ideal. I will definitely be picking it up again.

Still no Android version? Odd. I'd have thought that would come before PC/Mac.

Well, I'd say this is much better news. Like I said, playing it on a phone is painful. You have to pinch zoom all the time. A tablet might be a bit better, but will be nowhere near as good as being able to play on a big 16:9 or 16:10 screen.

Sword and Sworcery is now available on on Stweam. Swoundtrack is free with it too. Sweet.

Sold! I already have the soundtrack, but that's cool that they bundled it in. The game is 25% off until April 23rd which is nice as well.

stevenmack wrote:

Sword and Sworcery is now available on on Stweam. Swoundtrack is free with it too. Sweet.

Yes!

That's a very nice deal. Definitely worth buying if you don't have an iDevice.

I am playing it on the bus now. The PC version is beautiful.

It's so beautiful...

IMAGE(http://i.imgur.com/lHepYl.jpg)

IMAGE(http://i.imgur.com/r0wZDl.jpg)

IMAGE(http://i.imgur.com/ekWldl.jpg)

Played the first episode and I completely agree tuffalo, what an engaging experience. I'm going to start over and play an episode each week with my movie night (i.e. non-gamer) friends.

Awesome!

*Ka-CHING!*

Oh, wait... that's the sound that Superbrothers will be making....

So is this higher resolution than the iPad version? I know there was a Retina update before the new iPad launched, and I'm really tempted to double-dip on this if this runs at a higher resolution.

shoptroll wrote:

So is this higher resolution than the iPad version? I know there was a Retina update before the new iPad launched, and I'm really tempted to double-dip on this if this runs at a higher resolution.

It plays at 1920x1080 perfectly (See the screenshots above). I don't know how it would play at 2560 x 1440 or the equivalent 16:10 ratio if you have a monitor like that.

I like it in a 16:9 aspect ratio. It makes the game feel more like watching a film or something.

I finished the PC version. I forgot how f***ing frustrating one section of boss combat was. It was definitely not done well. Also, even after playing the iOS version a year or so ago, I still got a bit stuck in a couple places. There are definitely some issues with the game, but overall, you forget about them when you get to the ending.

For anyone playing, I recommend using walkthroughs if you get stuck. The solutions just aren't satisfying enough to waste your time.

I noticed that I can't help but click/tap on the sprites in time with the music (click/tap on beat 1 in the 4/4 meter). Anyone else experience this?

First I was suprised when Logman started talking to me.

Spoiler:

Then i was suprised when I realised it was Robert Ashley :)

Spoiler:

I haven't listened to that podcast and did not recognize his voice, but I did enjoy that character's musings. :)

Just finished the iOS version tonight since I was holding off on beating it until I could experience the proper way (the games works on the iPhone but it's a ton of pinch-zooming which sucked), and hey tonight was the dark moon so it all came together.

It's a good game/experience but it's flawed in the sense that it's a bit on the obtuse side. Like Myst level of obtuse which basically required me to keep a walkthrough handy primarily for Session III. This is definitely a game I'd recommend to people (the music is awesome) but I really feel a strong need to send a link to the walkthrough (I think there's only one online?) along with a link to Steam or the App Store for purchase.

Did the ending feel a little Journey-esque to anyone else or is that just me?

shoptroll: I completely agree with you. I said the same a couple posts up. Machinarium is the same way. Solving the "puzzles" can be frustrating and unrewarding. It's easy to get stuck.

I definitely got the journey vibe at the end too.

I'm playing Botanicula right now and that seems to be balanced a little better for this type of game. I haven't been frustrated yet after about an hour. Holy crap is the sound design good in that game. You should pick it up at humblebundle.com.

I took a ton of 1920x1080 screenshots for use as desktop wallpaper. If you are interested, PM me an email. I'll select the best and throw them together in a zip file.

You can view all the ones I took here.

tuffalobuffalo wrote:

You should pick it up at humblebundle.com. ;)

I was already planning on doing so

Forgot to mention: I double-dipped and got the Steam version as well since I had a coupon from their PAX East booth, I didn't get full completion status on the iPad, and I'd like to play through this again with proper speakers (or better speakers than the iPad).

shoptroll wrote:

I'd like to play through this again with proper speakers (or better speakers than the iPad).

Hell yeah! It was an absolute pleasure playing it on my desktop with a very good audio setup.

Finished. Loved it (especially the soundtrack). I didn't need a walkthrough for chapter three but I definitely think they could have maybe done with splitting it down into two separate, smaller chapters.

I just finished the game on PC and will fight anyone who doesn't love it as much as I do.