Superbrothers creator Craig Adams on making an blockbuster iOS game

May 13, 2011

When Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP came out in March, it was one of the most anticipated iPad (or really any iOS) games of the year. This is for good reason. With stunning graphics and a world class soundtrack, the retro adventure game brings a bit of a Legend of Zelda vibe to the mobile […]

When Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP came out in March, it was one of the most anticipated iPad (or really any iOS) games of the year.

This is for good reason. With stunning graphics and a world class soundtrack, the retro adventure game brings a bit of a Legend of Zelda vibe to the mobile media space.

In this edition of Game Theory, creator Craig Adams explains how the whole project – including his collaboration with singer/songwriter Jim Guthrie – came together. Adams also discusses his prediction (back in 2003(that Apple would become a dominate mobile gaming player back, why he won’t develop for Android, and his sadness over a “doomed” Nintendo 3DS.

Appolicious: So Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is not so much an iOS application as it is a multimedia work of art. Describe the early stages of making this very ambitious concept into a download-able reality.

Craig Adams: When I met Capy, the independent videogame company here in Toronto known for Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes & Critter Crunch, they knew the Superbrothers style and so they said ‘let’s make a videogame’. I had worked with Jim Guthrie before so we looped him in. We decided we would make something that would be ‘the archetypical videogame’ and so we decided on a sword and sorcery aesthetic. We knew the project would be all about Jim Guthrie’s music & we wanted to make sure people didn’t take us too seriously, so we called it Sword & Sworcery EP. We decided on the name, logo & iPhone platform early on. We knew there would be adventuring and combat and some communication aspect, and then it took about eighteen months of very hard work to figure out the specifics.

APPO: Last month you released an iPhone-specific version of the app. Talk about the process is making Superbrothers shine on the small and semi-small screens.

CA: S&S EP began on the smaller screens so releasing the project for iPhone & iPod Touch was a real homecoming. There was nothing much for us to do on the art or design side, however we did face a technical challenge in trying to support several generations of machines. Personally I love it on iPhone 4 – when a whole little pixel world is jammed into that tiny screen it’s just a real treat to see, and the performance is so nice & smooth… plus I think the ‘rotate to sheathe’ mechanic feels a million times more natural on iPhone & iPod Touch.

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APPO: For a game of such high production value developed by such an accomplished team, getting your app noticed was probably not as difficult of a proposition as what is typical in the app store. Still, can you share how you go about driving downloads and maintaining interest and momentum for the app over time.

CA: It has only been a few weeks since launch so we haven’t done anything to maintain interest yet, but there seems to be some positive reviews & some positive word-of-mouth so the audience is growing. We have some schemes we’re scheming on to keep the audience engaged & we’ll explore other options once a little time has passed. But for now we’re ok to just leave things as they are.

APPO: Do you have any plans to develop versions of the game for Android devices (smartphones and/or tablets?)

CA: Nope.

APPO: What are the three biggest reasons why developers like you are drawn to the iOS platform first?

I began creating pixel art animations using Hypercard on a Mac Classic as a youngster. I founded Superbrothers in 2003 shortly after the first iPod was released because I had a feeling that Apple would make the machine that eventually everyone would have in their pocket. When the iPhone was unveiled it was clear to me that it was a machine that would last. As a creator seeking to create relaxed, interesting videogames with visual style and an emphasis on music, Apple’s machines are the clear choice.

There is a broad, literate audience, a low barrier to entry, a fairly seamless distribution system & a fairly healthy ecosystem of interested people on these platforms. Personally, as a player, I much prefer to play more involved videogames on the PS3 or the Wii – I’m currently playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow & Monster Hunter Tri – but I’m hopeful that the iOS library will grow & deepen with increasingly interesting efforts.

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APPO: Within the mobile media landscape, what keeps you up at night and is your biggest area of concern?

CA: I personally think the Nintendo’s 3DS is doomed & Sony might be in an awkward spot, and that makes me a little sad because I much prefer ‘real’ videogames to disposable Apps, but this doesn’t keep me up at night. I think it will be unlikely or impossible to replicate the success of S:S&S EP, but nevertheless the thing I’m most concerned with going forward is in creating other interesting projects with soul & style, probably for Apple’s machines, so it’s important that I remain optimistic that there will be an interested audience for this type of thing. I am actively trying to problem-solve the logistics in this direction.

APPO: Where do you see untapped opportunities that are held back by either technological or market-based restrictions?

CA: I think the Apple platforms are the place where videogame-type-things or videogame+music+film hybrids can reach a broad, literate audience of every age, gender & background. The creative potential is huge, and as someone who has been paying attention to videogames since the early 80s I think this is significant & in many ways unprecedented. I think the relative success of S:S&S EP has shown that there is an audience for these types of experiences.

APPO: What’s next for you?

CA: Jim Guthrie & his amazing seven pieces band are rehearsing for a Sword & Sworcery rock show & film screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox on June 30th, this is a really exciting opportunity for all of us in Toronto to come together and celebrate a happy ending to this unusually collaborative project.

After that – it’s summer! I hope to swim in the lake & walk in the woods.

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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