In this issue of Mr. PSVR’s Interview Corner, we take a closer look at Swordsman. A story-driven physical medieval combat game that is designed for Virtual Reality. Where you get to experience combat is physics-based, from the weapons to the bodies.
Interview with Chief Operating Officer at Sinn Studio, Almir
Welcome to The PlayStation Brahs. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at Sinn Studio?
My name is Almir, I hold the title of Chief Operating Officer at Sinn Studio. Although in start-up culture, a title doesn’t mean much as everyone’s responsibilities overlap in the process of game development. My primary focus is on marketing, administration, and finance, but I actively join in on development meetings.”
Growing up, was there a particular game or genre that really made you fall in love with gaming, and what was that one VR experience that hooked you in and made you realize that you had to work in Virtual Reality?
“I grew up a huge fan of the Call of Duty series. The ability to live through such insane scenes (war) while being able to control the outcome had me really intrigued from an early age. I never thought of a career in game development until our CEO, Alek Sinn, approached me with his idea to develop VR games. He had invited me to try Job Simulator, and from then on I was hooked on the idea of VR gaming. The ability to interact with a virtual environment was awesome. I saw it as the future of gaming and I wanted to be part of that.”
Sinn Studio Inc. has been responsible for games such as Warzone, The Perfect Sniper, and Wraith. What has the feedback been like and what is the one thing that you learned from each game and the feedback and try to apply it to the next?
“That’s a good question. In an overall sense, the biggest lesson we learned was to approach ambitious goals with caution. However, each game individually brought forth a great learning experience as well.
We developed Wraith on the idea that people wanted Brookhaven and wave shooters because that was incredibly popular when VR first started gaining traction. Post-launch we realized that we had missed the first zombie wave shooter train and people were over it. Wraith’s lesson for us was to do detailed market research and listen to what gamers are asking for.
During the development of our first three titles, the majority of the development was done by Alek Sinn, with the exception of some tasks that were contracted out. Warzone was incredibly ambitious; we were a one-man development team attempting to compete in the competitive gaming space of multiplayer FPS. Our lesson with Warzone was that we needed to learn to better scope our games based on the budget and team size available and not solely based on what we wanted in a game. Both of these lessons contributed to the development of Swordsman. Now that our team is bigger, we’re trying to set more ambitious goals while still being realistic about what we’re capable of.”
Your newest game, Swordsman has been out since September of 2020. For those that may
know, what can you tell us about the game?
“Swordsman VR is a story-driven, physics-based medieval combat game where the player has to stop the Jötunn who has enslaved the world. The game features Knights, Vikings, Mongols, Samurai, epic boss fights and powerful boss weapons, a zombie survival mode (Horde), player progression and customization, a Blacksmith, Armorer, and Skill Master to help you build a character suited to your playstyle and lots of items to buy and unlock, all in an effort to stop the Jötunn before it’s too late.
We’ve released several big updates since we launched Swordsman, but a total of 25 updates so far. These updates include realistic enemy armor physics, the zombie horde mode, Claus (a Holiday-themed boss fight that is available permanently), and new boss swords. However, our most anticipated update is yet to come and that is dismemberment and Pirates. It will be a game-changer for Swordsman.”
What can you tell us about the fighting mechanics and how the player progression works?
“Combat in Swordsman is entirely physics-based. We do a lot in the back-end to simulate realistic weight (without going overboard on fake drag), allowing for realistic collisions between weapons and human bodies. If you want to stop an incoming sword from striking you, you’ll have to stop it for real. In recent updates, we’ve expanded the capabilities of our physics system to allow for accurate detection of armor. This feature can be disabled to make armor cosmetic-only, but when enabled, it allows for a deeply immersive experience in which you’ll need to be more strategic with how you attack your opponents if you want to do any damage at all. You’ll be looking for clear openings and
weak spots in their armor.
Player progression affects gameplay in every way. Through the Skill Master, an in-game NPC, you can upgrade your stats and skills using skill points you earn in combat. Your stats will determine your strength, vitality (HP), agility (speed), and more. Different combinations of upgrades will make it easier to wield weapons effectively, especially heavier ones, or move more swiftly while wearing heavier armor. It all depends on how you choose to play and we love that about Swordsman. You can be a glass cannon or you can be a slow but devastating tank.”
You really did add a battle on a pirate ship in stormy weather to fight Blackbeard?
“Of course! I mean, fighting Blackbeard in other environments wouldn’t do justice to the battle. We believe this update has the best map, boss sword, and boss fight so far, so we’re incredibly excited to share this update with the VR gaming community. We recently revealed in our official trailer for the update that the boss sword will actually be a Gun Sword (inspired by AC: Black Flag) and a Kraken that spawns on the map to terrorize the player. The pirates, the boss, and the Kraken will all have to be dealt with when playing in the new arena.”
So in fighting many of the enemies, including now Blackbeard, players will need weapons and armor to help even things up. What can you tell us about the different weapons and armor in the game and which one is your favorite?
“There are lots of different weapons and armor to choose from and to combine for different and unique playstyles. This coming update (1.25) features the Gun Sword, which is particularly unique in the game. When charged up like any other boss weapon, it can be fired long-range to deal very high damage (and even decapitate/rip limbs apart). If you enable the modifier that instantly recharges special attacks for you, this sword is especially fun to use. But in general, you have access to swords, daggers, axes, and shields to pick from (and we’re constantly adding new weapons and new weapon types). Different weapons and armors have different weights and many of them have “effects” that passively influence gameplay.”
Do you find it a little challenging when developing for one platform compared to others due to maybe the controls or any limitations?
“The controls are drastically different between PCVR and PSVR (with the Moves), and we always need to be extra careful optimizing the game for the base PS4. It’s easy to get things running smoothly and feeling good on PCVR (which we develop with), especially with good hardware. But making sure the game runs smoothly and feels as good on PSVR without any thumbsticks is always a uniquely nightmarish challenge.”
When developing a game for Virtual Reality, what is your number one rule that you follow to make sure the game is the best that it can be?
“VR development offers an interesting spin on game development. The thing we’re always thinking about is how we can take advantage of virtual reality to make a game that absolutely needs to be in virtual reality. There are lots of standards in non-VR game development and they often don’t translate very well to VR. Simple VR ports of non-VR games can be nostalgic if they were enjoyed in the past, but thinking about how we can utilize the presence that VR offers to create interesting and interactive experiences is a vital and new way to think about game development. You can pick things up and drop them, for example. But what else? What can we do with the thing we picked up that you couldn’t do in a non-VR game? We’re dealing with (literally) a whole new dimension and we want to make the
most of that at every turn.”
Sound can help or break the immersion in VR. Have there been some sounds that are more difficult than others to help with the immersion?
“We can’t fully emulate spatial audio for average consumers using ordinary hardware. Whenever we need something to emit a sound in physical space and for it to be very obvious where it’s coming from, it can be a serious challenge. It works out in most cases because things tend to be at eye level, or close enough that you can extract the information you need from that sound, but whenever something needs to be above or below you, giving the player enough information to figure this out easily can be nearly impossible.”
Is there anything that you still find to be challenging when developing content for VR?
“Performance is a VR developer’s greatest nightmare. We have to render every frame twice and sometimes, like in the case of the Quest hardware, we’re dealing with a mobile renderer. It’s a very unfortunate situation to be in because in this day and age, where video games are starting to be indistinguishable from real life, VR feels like developing games in the 90s. We try our best to stay ahead of the curve and to make our games look as good as they can, but the hardware sets a very unforgiving ceiling for how far we can go.
If you could go back in time and tell yourself three things, what would they be?
- Listen to the community
- Market effectively: no one wants to play your great game if no one knows about it
- It’s better to launch a finished project a year late than a partially finished project on time
Right now for Swordsman, you have seven different combat environments. Are there any plans for more to come in the future or any future DLC for the game planned?
“Yeah, there are, we’re looking to keep building on Swordsman for as long as possible. However, the next environment type will depend on the faction we decide to add. I don’t have any concrete news but we’ve been discussing a Roman and Tribal faction. In the case of the Romans, we’d like to add animal enemies in a big gladiator arena (like a lion, maybe even a bear). Like previous additions, future factions will include new environments, new boss fights and new boss swords.”
So what’s next for you and Sinn Studio?
“We’ve started to prototype a new project but it’s still very early so there isn’t much to say about it just yet. We hope to release some teasers later this summer. The goal is to be an influential studio in the rise of virtual reality gaming and to continue to push the limits of both ourselves and the VR medium. We have an incredible team and an invaluable community and we’re very excited to grow alongside all of you.”
With the content for Virtual Reality continuing to grow at a fast pace, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Swordsman.
“We understand that there are a lot of great sword-fighting games out there; however, we do feel that we stand out when it comes to realism. So if you’re looking for a more realistic game that has different modes, continuous updates, and constant contests with big prizes, then I genuinely think you would enjoy Swordsman VR. Oh, and you get to be a part of an awesome community!”
I really want to thank Almir for taking some time away from his day to talk about Swordsman and also about Virtual Reality.
Swordsman is out now on PlayStation VR.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.