Ono look sword fight should be enough to tell you that it’s likely going to be completely different than any other shoot ’em up you’ve ever played before. Why is that? Well, because in this shoot ’em up you don’t shoot. You pilot a fast ship, and your main way of engaging with enemies is by dodging their attacks and using their own attacks against them. With the combined emphasis on dodge and speed, sword fight has a core premise that immediately grabs attention, so understandably we’ve been curious to learn more about the game for some time. To that end, we recently reached out to the Digital Kingdom developers with some of our most burning questions and learned a lot in the process. Below you can read our interview with lead artist Benjamin Vurlod.
“From the beginning of the project, we wanted to explore the sensations of dodging and also the fact of using each other’s strength to defeat them.”
sword fight has an intriguing core premise where the action revolves mostly around dodging and getting enemies to hit each other. We don’t see that very often in games. How did the idea for this come about?
From the beginning of the project we wanted to explore the sensations of dodging and also the fact of using each other’s strength to defeat them. We also wanted to evolve with motorized machines implying either the road, the air or the water. We chose the latter because we were more visually inspired and wanted to evolve in this futuristic universe covered by the oceans. We had a very long research period with many unsuccessful iterations between driving and obstacle avoidance. By removing the player’s forward view by flipping the camera, we were able to focus fully on dodging and the project started to evolve.
During development, were there any concerns that swordship focusing on dodging doesn’t make the action repeat itself from moment to moment? How did you make sure that didn’t happen?
We have a game that is built around a repeating structure, so it’s important that the game offers richness and variety even while keeping the storyline simple. The action can be repetitive in itself, but it is important that it creates different things. That’s why we have a dynamic system to generate different configurations as often as possible. The game is designed in such a way that the approach to handling a situation often changes depending on what’s on the screen. There are of course several other elements that we add on top of the base elements, but we try to create emergence with as few elements as possible.
Given the game’s core loop, I would imagine that movement and responsiveness will be key sword fight. Can you tell more about this aspect and what kind of work has been put into improving these areas of the game?
We worked a lot on the Swordship’s movements to make them feel comfortable. Visually, the trail is an element that adds a lot to it. After that, the movements have to be at the forefront of the gameplay beyond the visual aspect, but that’s another story. A first critical element was the camera angle of the main game that we have. The swordship’s movement in depth appears much slower than in width when you have a 45° viewing angle. So the first challenge was to find something coherent. We noticed that depending on the situation and the way you play, the joystick inputs are very different. Lots of little presses and small movements for some, while others move more fluidly. Therefore, it was not easy to handle the sword ship’s take-off and acceleration curves. We worked a lot on the controls of the ship in the beginning and then it’s a lot of small adjustments throughout the project. We are now in a phase where we are working on performance optimization to ensure the game runs as smoothly as possible.
“We have a game that is built around a repeating structure, so it’s important that the game offers richness and variety even while keeping the storyline simple.”
What is progression sword fight both within a run and at the macro level?
Progress within a run is primarily based on managing containers. At the end of each level, the player must decide what to do with the stolen containers: give them away to significantly increase their score, or keep them to save lives and upgrades. Thus, the player relies on his skills at the end of each level. A player who is new to the game prefers to keep their containers to ease their run, while an experienced player progresses through the game with a minimum of lives and upgrades.
The macro progression is more traditional. At the end of each run, the run’s score is saved in a progress bar, which unlocks new upgrades, swordship variants, and other surprises. It is important for us that these unlockables do not make the game easier, but rather expand the possibilities.
sword fight has a pretty interesting narrative premise, but how much emphasis will the game put on that and on things like storytelling and lore?
We like hardened universes with lots of narrative, but it takes a lot of time to build them up well. Currently, our small team doesn’t allow us to delve into things that are too complex and it must also be said that a game like sword fight does not lend itself to too much narration. We want to be honest with players and not suggest anything too complex and poorly mastered. On the other hand, we try to place the game in a coherent universe with some elements that allow you to better represent yourself as a player. We present key narrative elements directly in the game system with the choice to keep the goods for yourself or give them away, the rest being discreetly distilled in a random way between the different environments travelled.
What a balance does sword fight Strike during runs between passive and other upgrades?
Active and passive upgrades have very different roles. The active ones are different variants of Swordship that you choose at the beginning of your run, and the passive ones are chosen between levels. So we only have one active upgrade per run and up to nine passive upgrades. Each run offers very different styles depending on the selection you make.
How works sword fight Approach difficulties?
Our inspirations come mostly from shoot ’em ups and roguelikes, the game is clearly not designed to be easy. Players will find the fast and nervy loop that encourages scoring and the perfect score of shoot ’em up crossed with the procedural generation and advent of roguelike. It’s clearly the full understanding of how enemies and levels work, rather than memorization, that allows you to level up. In parallel, the system of containers to give or keep allows the player to have the choice to make his experience more or less easy.
Will sword fight do you also offer multiplayer content or is it a pure single player experience?
At the moment it is designed as a pure single player.
“Our inspiration comes mostly from shoot ’em ups and roguelikes, the game is clearly not designed to be easy.”
Do you already have plans for swordship Post launch support?
We have some interesting ideas that might come up. It will depend on the progress of the next few months and then the expectation in the month before/after release. After that it is clear that there will be at least some support and a number of technical updates.
What framerate and resolution is the game targeting on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S?
We aim for 4K/60fps.
What do you think of the Steam Deck? Do you have plans for specific optimizations for the device?
We have no plans at the moment to optimize this device, but let’s see what the future will bring!