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IndieCade 2010: Superbrothers' Sword and Sworcery EP preview

I first saw Superbrothers' Sword and Sworcery in person back at GDC earlier this year. This past weekend, developer Capy's Nathan Vella met up with me at the IndieCade festival in Culver City, California to show off the latest build of the game. It's much farther along in development these days. While the GDC demo was more of a working prototype, Vella said the title is basically content-complete, and the creators are just polishing out the kinks at this point.

What they've created is one heck of an experience. The concentrated story that I saw at GDC has grown into a gorgeous, expanded universe for your Superbrothers-style warrior to explore and interact with, and the game plays like an interactive piece of art, with mystery and magic around every turn. It's a game that's hard to categorize; there's not much text, and what's there is pretty incoherent, with phrases like "she knew whence we had come," and a quest for a book called the Megatome. When I asked Vella what genre he considered the game to be, he said it was "inspired by old-school adventure gaming, but we call it an exploration and experience."

The basic mechanic is this: touch. Almost everything you touch in the world reacts in some way -- if you touch plants or animals, they will shake or run and hide. You can drag to move your character, or double-tap to send him around the screens. The general theme is exploration -- find caves, meet people, and learn about the world you exist in.
Outside of that, there is a combat system. You turn your iPad from landscape to portrait mode in a weird mimic of pulling your sword out, and the combat is very tit for tat; it requires you to dodge and attack enemies at just the right time. There are also some puzzles that start simple (pull your sword and hold it up in the air in the right place for the right amount of time), then they get complex later on. Vella even shared with me that the game will play differently during different cycles of the real-life moon, so by the end of the game, the systems in it are very complex indeed.

I asked him if he thought that complexity might make some players miss that interesting gameplay, and he replied that "In a weird way, we're hoping that people miss it." Players who just want the main story should be able to enjoy the game, but players who want more should find it as they dive into the game itself. "Even though the complexity sounds exclusive," Vella said, "it's meant to include people who care about it."

Vella also showed off one of the game's later systems, which is the "Sworcery" in the title. After a certain quest has been completed, the game's hero has access to a kind of magic, and he can use that magic to interact with the environment in new ways. Vella showed me how to "draw" the glowing magic around the screen and even bring it to animals, who can then be directed in various ways. It wasn't completely clear how it all worked, but again, that's kind of the point: "The whole experience thing sounds so hokey when you talk about it," said Vella, "but with the visuals and touch and all of that, it is just meant to be part of the overall experience."

Vella said the iPad version would be out first, and Capy and Superbrothers are aiming to have it on the App Store by the end of the year. I asked if they'd decided on a price yet, and true to his intentions to make this game "a 'bigger' experience" on the iPad, Vella confirmed that it won't be as simple as 99 cents. "I hate when people sell games for 99 cents when they shouldn't," he said. "I think one of the things that's very difficult about the App Store is valuing your own work versus the expectations of consumers."

And that's fine. Sword and Sorcery EP (and it is called an EP for a reason, said Vella -- the music is very integral, and the game even begins by spinning "side A" of a record) seems like a one-of-a-kind experience on the iPad, and whatever they decide to charge for it will probably seem like a bargain to those willing to take the journey. We'll look for the game on the App Store later this year.

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