It gave me goosebumps. That's about the highest compliment I can pay the upcoming iPhone adventure game Sword & Sworcery EP, and just about all you need to know for now. They were significant, too, for not just being the goosebumps of that media moment where all elements suddenly align -- where pixel and music work in perfect concert -- but for the kind you get when a game anticipates your demands and provides you with an answer to a question you hadn't even asked yet. There's a sense in which the EP is being created just for me: not quite that literally, but it is the collective brainchild of designer Craig 'Superbrothers' Adams (who you'll remember from his just-featured Less Talk, More Rock speech), indie studio Capy (also featured here for their gorgeous Critter Crunch revamp and their Clash of Heroes handheld masterstroke), and musician Jim Guthrie, a long-time favorite both for his golden, harmonic pop solo work and his own collaborative output as Human Highway. I managed to get my hands on Sworcery as soon as humanly possible -- before the Game Developers Conference started proper, and away from the chaotic bustle of this year's crowded Indie Games Fest pavilion. It was a wise and fortuitous choice -- playing alone on a late night Mission district rooftop -- because Sworcery's magic demands quiet and careful attention to properly cast its spell. True to his own words in that Boing Boing feature, the game is about unspoken dialogue between itself and the player: responding to your own curiosity and whispering questions rather than shouting demands. Case in point: just watch that video at top, where a single non-reflected mark in its waters practically evokes more mystery and wonder than most scripted turns-of-events in the majority of the triple-A fantasies the games industry has given us in the past few years.
And while the main adventure mode showcased at top is all serenity now, Superbrothers promises higher intensity drama to follow, showcased via a combat mode against the game's Grizzled Boor -- an antagonist that pays slight homage to Another World's dark beast in subtly leading you deeper into its world while never necessarily proving himself not exactly a threat.
Should you decide to take on the Boor, you're presented with this minigame above where here, too, Superbrothers takes their "less talk" mantra to heart, telegraphing your opponent's intentions with visual cues, in loving and open tribute to NES classic Punch-Out!! (see especially that 'stunned' star that appears overhead).
These two modes were as many secrets as Superbrothers was willing to publicly disclose in the GDC demo, but with months yet left in its development, there's hints of much deeper layers of involvement ahead -- onion peeled layers that Adams has been drip-feeding though ultra-vague hints through his "teletex bulletin" email updates over the past several months.
But this is one I can give away here: if you scroll back through the artwork Adams has released to date, one design element should stand out against the rest -- that razor sharp crescent moon hanging behind his otherwise signature field of muted pixels.
Add that to the release schedule of those teletex updates (February 14th and 28th, March 15th and 29th...) and it should start to snap into focus: your adventure through its world will modify itself based on the phases of moon in the real world. Exactly what shape this will take is another secret Superbrothers won't fully divulge, but there are hints that certain rare mushrooms which pepper the game's landscape will only come out under certain circumstances.
All this adds up to an intricate ecology that rewards multiple playthroughs, rather than a linear and static adventure meant to be experienced once and set aside, and a landscape dotted with people worth meeting and vistas worth traversing. Prior to GDC it was perhaps my most anticipated game of the event (as I might've hinted at myself with my iPad-feature-topping-image): coming away, it might just be my most anticipated game of the year.
- Less Talk, More Rock: a manifesto by indie game dev Superbrothers ...
- What do Indie Gaming's All-Stars think of Apple's iPad?
- "Dot Matrix Revolution", a pixel art history of computing - Boing ...
- The 1console future: Toronto designer Superbrothers goes games ...
- One shot: a peek beyond the peak of SUPERBROTHERS' Alpinist
- DESIGN REBOOT HD: Braid dev's "games as cheap drugs" lecture ...