I recently had the opportunity to talk with indie game developer Robert Busy. Robert has been working on his game, entitled “Sword ‘n’ Board”, for about eight months now. Sword ‘n’ Board is a top-down adventure game inspired by many of the classic adventure games of eras past. While playing the game, players will find themselves in the role of “Sidd”, an imaginative boy on a grand quest to recover his cherished game console. Along the way he will have to explore an imaginary landscape of his own imagining, complete with tricky enemies, devious bosses, and vexing dungeons. After learning about this, I had plenty of questions for Robert, which he had no problems answering.
Tell me about Sword ‘n’ Board.
“…It’s very much based on my childhood. You play as a kid searching for his lost videogame console and he goes on an adventure in his head, kind of what I used to do as a little kid. I would go in my backyard, make a little cardboard sword and shield and go on these pretend adventures. That’s basically the story behind the game. You come home; you find a note that says you should go outside to try to find the game. So you travel through these dungeons, which are built out of cardboard and blankets. Like the forts we all built as kids like blankets and pillows, chairs from around the house”
“It’s going to be very puzzle oriented, and those will mostly be based around different item combinations. It’s going to be kind of hard and a throwback to retro games; it’s not going to be super hand-holdy and will reward your exploration.
You’ve said the game is very retro inspired, and I’m definitely seeing some Legend of Zelda in it. Could you tell me more about the inspiration for this game?
“It’s definitely Zelda inspired, also ‘Adventure’ which was actually what I played first because it was on the Atari. So compared to that, Zelda just blew my mind; it was just put together so much better. It’s definitely the main inspiration. […]The first one was cool in that it didn’t tell you where anything was, you just had to bomb a spot or light a bush and hope something happened, and I really want to get back to that.[…] I also wanted to keep all the items in the game relevant the whole time. There’s only 10 items but they can each be used four different ways, so you can combine them in different ways and figure out how you want to play. “
Robert went on to explain how items worked in the game:
“Unlike in Zelda, you can unequip the sword and use the axe or the bombs. And let’s say you equip the slingshot with the bombs. Now, instead of just setting the bombs in front of you, you’re shooting them across the room. You also get this little bubble shield that absorbs damage. Well if you equip the axe at the same time, now you get a spinning axe shield. The items can also be used to solve puzzles in different ways, so even though you have 50 different item combinations the puzzles are still super complex because all those different item combinations can be used to solve those puzzles. So it was really about keeping the items from becoming useless later on or just keeping more items interesting throughout the game.”
So are item combinations and item usage sort of the core of the puzzles or are they more on the surface?
“They’re definitely the core of the puzzles. […] So I really wanted to design the puzzles not only around it. Not only do you use a ton of different items, but also using an item’s primary and secondary functions at the same time, since the game is set up so that you can easily swap back and forth between items. […] So a lot of puzzles are going to be timed based off that, so that you have to figure out what item combinations to use at what time to complete the puzzle.”
So it really challenges you to think on your feet as well as testing your knowledge of the different item combinations then?
“Yeah, exactly; […]it’s just a matter of going through the and combining items and seeing what happens.[…] And the cool thing that ended up happening that I didn’t quite plan on, was… say you get an item at the end of the game that you can use with the one of the first; well now you have four more uses for that first item that you hadn’t seen before. And in that sense it feels very rewarding because your equipment continues to change and grow throughout the game. Instead of just being able to shoot better, now you can shoot differently or have a new way to damage enemies. So I think it gives it a cool little dynamic.
Since you mentioned enemies, how are they going to be handled in the game? As part of the puzzles?
“I’m hoping to make them just as interesting as the puzzles. They’ll have their own mechanics to them. Right now in the demo, which is actually up on the Kickstarter, there’s the bare-bones enemy that you can’t attack from the front. If they see you they’ll run up and attack you, but you can’t attack them from the direction they’re facing. However, if you run around them and attack them from the side or rear them you can kill them. I wanted them to be a little more of a challenge than in Legend of Zelda where you can just run up and hit them. There are other ones too that actually require you to equip different items and item combinations. Like the axe can damage armored enemies and knock their armor off so you can actually attack them. There’s another enemy that charges you so you can dig a hole and he’ll fall in the hole, but you have to time it so you can run them through the hole.”
So you’re saying that you can come at them in different ways; it’s not just a matter of running up and hitting them.
“Yeah, I wanted them to be a lot more interesting
Are we going to be seeing any boss-level enemies?
“Yes one in every single dungeon, mini-bosses also. Each dungeon is going to have its own boss, but there will also be Key Pieces you’ll have to collect in order to face them. Because it’s [the game] is so puzzle-based, I always wanted there to be a reward at the end. […] So yeah, there will be plenty of bosses and mini-bosses.”
What are you currently thinking in terms of game length?
“It’s definitely something I’ve thought about. There will be either eight or nine dungeons. […] I really want it to be something you can actually sit down and play for three or four hours, well if you don’t look up stuff online or anything that is.”
After a brief discussion about the effect of the internet on our ability and willingness to figure out games on our own, the interview continued.
Going back to the retro elements again, will there be any secrets to find like in The Legend of Zelda? Any easter eggs?
“Yeah there will be a ton! In fact, through the Kickstarter you can become a secret NPC. You get your own secret room and people have to find you. We have a tier where you get to design a little puzzle already, […] and I showed how to find one in a little video update I did. […] But again, it [the game] doesn’t tell you at all that there’s anything there, you have to just bomb a wall and hope something happens. At the same time I’m not limited to the technology of the day, so unlike the original Legend of Zelda where they had to put everything on a wall because that’s what worked, I have trees that explode, doors that open up for you to go into, ponds that dry up if you use a certain item. So it’s definitely a game that aims to reward you for taking the time to explore. It’s actually one of the reasons I made bombs so cheap, so you go bombing through the walls.”
So there is a definite reward for going around trying random things to see what happens. This is something easter egg hunters are really going to like?
“Yeah, there are definitely a lot of easter eggs that a lot of older nerds will get. Like…you know what, I can just spoil it. In one of the secret rooms there’s a sign that says ‘It’s a secret to everybody’, as kind of my nod to the original Legend of Zelda. Kind of paying a little homage…then there’s a little chest.”
So this is something people will be able to compare notes on and enjoy talking about their experiences in the game?
Yeah, I definitely want it to be one of those games where a person can say to their friend ‘Hey, did you find that one secret in that one part?’ and their friend would say ‘No! There’s a secret there? How did you find it?’”
Could tell me a little bit more about the art direction? Why it looks the way it looks?
“Well, I really like pretty games with saturated colors. I remember one of my favorite games growing up was Earthworm Jim, and it was awesome! It made me feel like I was controlling a Saturday morning cartoon; that was the first time I ever felt like that with a game. So I was like ‘I really wanted it to feel that way and look cartoony’. And a lot of the games today, and it’s kind of funny, are trying to look pixely and going the nostalgic route. While I like pixel art, I just feel like that’s being done a lot so I just wanted to go back to a more modern art style, a little more cartoony. But also I didn’t want to put restraints on myself, cause with pixel art there’s a lot you have to account for.[…] So really didn’t want to have to work my art around that, I didn’t want to be restrained by that. I just wanted to swing for the fences I guess!
Where are you currently sitting in terms of development?
“I’ve been working on it for about eight months now, and it probably has another eight months to go. It’s pretty far along. For the first eight months it was doing the art and getting all the assets put together. Doing animations and getting all the basic functionality programmed, like the user-interface and the controls and such. So now that that’s all done it’s pretty much designing puzzles and the different item combinations that I have. […]So, now it’s just about getting everything designed and working bugs out.” I’m hoping it will be done by August next year, so hopefully around this time it will be done and good to go.”
You said there were preview videos and a demo on the KickStarter page, correct?
“Yeah, there’s a demo on the Kickstarter page and there’s a Mac demo, a Windows demo, and a demo that will run on Linux OS’ like Ubuntu.”
What platforms will we see Sword ‘n’ Board on?
“Well it’s got a Steam Greenlight page up now, and the Wii U is definitely going to be a priority, cause I’ve always wanted to get a game on a Nintendo console and Nintendo’s making it very easy for independents to get on Wii U which is awesome! […] I’m also going to be doing a tablet version for iOS and an Android tablet version. Phone [versions] might come later on since that would require redoing the entire user-interface. […] Once the PC stuff is all done then, it’s basically going to be focused on the Wii U.”
So you intend for the game to very available then?
“I definitely want to get out to as many people as possible. […] But my goal isn’t to get rich off of it. Honestly I’d just like it to make enough money for me to make my next game.”
To learn more about Sword ‘n’ Board, check out the Kickstarter page for videos, updates, and demos. You can also find info on IndieDB, Steam Community, and Facebook. I don’t know about you, but after talking to Robert, I’m pretty psyched to see Sword ‘n’ Board next year!