INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Robert Busey (Sword ‘N’ Board Kickstarter Campaign)

By Marty Mulrooney

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Sword ‘N’ Board is a puzzle orientated adventure currently being created by indie game developer Robert Busey, formerly of Big Fish Games and Hashbang Games. Robert hopes to raise $7,500 via Kickstarter to fund the game by the 6th September 2012. In Sword ‘N’ Board you play as Sidd, a kid with an active imagination who must battle his way through imaginary enemies, cardboard forests and dark pillow fort dungeons, solving challenging puzzles in order to find the pieces of his lost video game console! The story behind the creation of the game is particularly touching and it is therefore with great pleasure that AMO presents an exclusive online interview with Robert Busey!

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Hi Robert, thank you for your time and welcome to AMO!

You’re definitely welcome, thanks for having me!

Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself please?

Sure! So I’ve been playing games and doing artwork my entire life, and went to school for Game Development several years ago. I started at Big Fish games, which is a larger casual gaming company in Seattle Washington, where I’ve lived my entire life. I then became a concept artist and User Interface designer with Hashbang Games and worked on their game ‘Gravi’ which you can find on Steam Greenlight currently! After Hashbang I left to focus more on my own project, which is Sword ‘N’ Board, and that’s currently where I’m at now!

You recently announced Sword ‘N’ Board – a puzzle orientated adventure game – via Kickstarter. What’s the game all about?

Well from a story base, you play as a kid named Sidd, who comes home one day and finds his power turned off and his video game console gone, and he ends up going on a pretend adventure to go find it! It’s something that my dad used to do with me when I was a kid, he’d send me on little scavenger hunts for my presents during Christmas time and things like that. From a gameplay standpoint it’s very retro inspired and I really wanted it to be like the games that I played when I was a lot younger. I wanted the game to reward exploration and figuring things out on your own. I feel like a lot of games today shove tutorials in your face and treat players like they are stupid, and I really wanted to avoid that.

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It reminds me a lot of old school The Legend of Zelda – is this intentional?

To say that the Legend of Zelda didn’t inspire it would be a complete lie. I’ve always loved the Legend of Zelda, especially the original on the NES and also The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but between those two games I felt like it lost some of the charm. The exploration was still there to an extent, but you always knew where you could bomb and things like that, so I wanted to kind of bring the exploration, and rewarding that exploration, back to it. Plus, I felt like more interesting things could be done with the item mechanics which would then make more challenging puzzles in the long run. While I love the Zelda games, I thought newer more modern mechanics combined with a more retro inspired theme could make for a really interesting game!

How difficult will the game be?

I’m hoping that if someone were to sit down and play it for the first time, and completely ignore walkthroughs on the internet and just kind of go about the game themselves, that it will take at least 5+ hours to get through. Of course I’m sure some talented gamers will come along and just completely crack that, but I’m hoping to make it pretty difficult. Like I mentioned, there’s not really a lot of “hand holding” in the game, so it’s really going to depend on how experimental the player wants to be, and how open they are to trying new things, because they will definitely be rewarded for doing it!

Item Combinations - Sword 'N' Board

How will the items in the game work?

Unlike a lot of adventure games, you don’t have to have your main attack weapon equipped at all times. In fact you can swap it out for another item, and still have a secondary slot open for something else! You can also decide which key to put the item on, so you can find what feels good to you as you play!

You have 10 main items, and each item has it’s own single use, and can also be used with 4 other items that you find along the way. Each of the items change the mechanic of either one, or are able to be used in combination with another item. For instance if you use something like the mortar shells and the slingshot together, you can then shoot bombs in whatever direction you’re facing! Or, you can use something like the bubble shield, and use it by itself, or you can equip it with the axe and give yourself a more offensive shield made of 3 axes that spin around and follow you around the screen!

Each of these different item mechanics will also affect puzzles differently (or not at all) so you definitely have to experiment with different weapon combinations to get through each of the puzzles. In the long run you end up with something like almost 50 different item combinations!

I think the story behind the game – reflecting upon your own childhood – is very touching. Can you tell us more about this period of your life?

It was really an odd and hard time in my life for the most part. I was still very young, and my parents had just split up, so I was trying to deal with that still. I wasn’t used to my father not being around constantly, and that was really hard for me. Luckily my dad always made sure to come around often and spend time with me, but it was a hard adjustment period for a long period of time. Unfortunately, to make matters worse, shortly after my parents split up, my mother was having a really hard time paying the bills and so our power ended up getting turned off. Once that happened I had to find some way to entertain myself, so during the day I would go on these little pretend adventures in my yard! Then, when night came and it was too dark to do anything beyond the light of a candle of propane powered lantern, I would sit and read or draw!

Were you still happy during this time – even when the power went off?

At first, I was absolutely miserable. It was hard for me being young, and knowing what it was like to have power before that, and then all of a sudden not having it. Not only that but I couldn’t really talk about it out of fear that someone from Child Protective Services would come by and take me away, so it was something I had to keep tight-lipped about. Then, I would go to school and everyone would be talking about shows they were watching, or games they were playing and I couldn’t talk about that stuff anymore.

Over time, I got used to it and I found things to keep me from getting depressed or thinking about things too much. Since I couldn’t play video games, I would pretend to be in them basically, and I would go on these pretend adventures in my backyard and that became my way of escaping from reality for a little while. Going out and using my imagination became a way for me to forget how bad things were at the time, and with that things got much easier.

When the power came back on – what games were you into growing up?

All kinds of games, especially once I got a GameBoy (since that’s all I could use with no power). The first game I ever played was Wizard on the Commodore 64 and Zork, and then I got into old Atari games like Adventure, and then Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda and Castlevania. It wasn’t until I played Earthworm Jim on the Sega Genesis that it finally dawned on me that I wanted to make video games! Because I had spent so much time living without power I was pretty good for my age when it came to drawing and I really wanted to make a game like Earthworm Jim. That was the first game that made me feel like I was watching a Saturday morning cartoon, that I had full control over.

SiddKickstarter

What makes Sword ‘N’ Board stand out from the crowd?

I think there’s a lot of heart in the project, as it’s a very personal premise, at least for me, and I think that part of it shines through. It was never meant to be some sort of moral dialogue on games, or the power of the imagination, but I can also see people taking it that way. Aside from the overall passion behind it, I think once the items are in the game and people are able to play with those items and those mechanics it will really start to shine. I think the difficulty of the game will also make it stand out from a lot of other games that are a bit more forgiving or a lot more “hand holding” in nature. Plus, in an odd way, I think the fact that the game isn’t done with pixel art will also make it stand out, as that seems to be the norm these days.

Will the game be changing over time from what you are currently able to show?

I definitely think some features may be added to the game, but for the most part the artwork won’t change I don’t think, so it will in a large way look the same. There are some changes that are already planned though, like the animations for Sidd are going to be redone and things like that. Not only that, but the demo has very restrictive controls for Sidd currently, which I will be adding more movement to and further refining. So for the most part the game won’t change much in appearance but will definitely get more polish in specific areas, and there will also be more sound design in the final game than there currently is in the demo.

Will anybody else be joining you in the creation of the game?

I’m hoping that with the money from the Kickstarter I’ll be able to bring on a sound designer to help with sound effects and the overall theme, as well as bring someone on to do the larger more story driven animations for the game as well.

What rewards are available for Kickstarter backers?

All sorts! At the $10 reward tier they get a DRM free copy of the game, as well as their name in the credits, and then it goes up from there! Higher tier rewards include a copy of the soundtrack and at the $25 mark you’ll receive the “Art of Sword ‘N’ Board” PDF! I also have lower end (starting at $30) creative tiers to help design an environmental asset for the game as well, so you can have some minor impact on the game! Not only that, but around the $100 mark, backers get a Sword ‘N’ Board t-shirt, and in higher end tiers they will receive the ability to become an in-game NPC, with their own secret room, as well as the ability to design a small puzzle to reach their secret room! The rewards run all the way up to getting a producer credit on the project!

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Will you still make Sword ‘N’ Board even if you don’t reach your goal of $7,500?

Absolutely! The money from Kickstarter really is only to add polish to the game that I don’t feel I’m capable of pulling off well myself. Regardless of what happens with the Kickstarter, even if I’m not able to add more to the sound design, or the overall animations, the game will still get done! I’ve been working on it for the last 7 months or so, just doing artwork and getting the overall functionality working, so at this point to simply hang the project up and not finish it would be absolutely heartbreaking.

Is the game being DRM-free important to you?

Definitely! Especially for the backers of the Kickstarter. I feel like these people are the early adopters and the early fans of the game, and deserve to have a version of the game without a special client that’s needed to launch it or something like that. I miss the days of being able to grab your game cartridge, scribble your name on the back of your controller and run it over to your friend’s house to play it. You can’t do that now, because everyone is so worried about piracy and losing money. Now, you need to have someone’s login, and connect to a specific server in order to play a game, and I really don’t want that. You can’t fight piracy, it’s going to happen no matter what. So if someone has the game, and wants to give it to a friend, I’m fine with that. At the end of the day, it just means more people will have access to the game and will be able to play it.

What has the support been like so far?

Absolutely incredible to be honest and completely unexpected. I’ve been pretty much in my office for the last 7 months working on this game, and only a few people have really seen it, and even fewer have played it. The first time I showed the game to anyone outside of my close friends and family was at Casual Connect at the beginning of August. I got a lot of people to play it then, and that was a completely new experience to me. But ever since I’ve launched the Kickstarter, I’ve gotten so many people sending me messages and commenting, and giving feedback about the game, that it’s really been a completely life-changing experience to be honest. When I was working on the game, the support that it would get wasn’t really something I ever thought about, so the support that I got was completely unexpected and out of the blue. All it really did was make me want to make the game that much better and give the people who have taken up the banner for the game something they can really enjoy!

What platforms will Sword ‘N’ Board be available for?

Right now the main plan is for PC, Mac and Linux. With an iOS tablet, and Android tablet build coming soon after that. I’ve also been in talks with Nintendo about becoming a Wii U developer so I can get the game on the Wii U, but given the expense of a Wii U dev kit, that would be something I would either need to do another Kickstarter campaign for, or shove into a stretch goal should the Kickstarter get a bit further along.

Thank you for your time – and good luck with reaching your funding goal!

Thank you again so much for having me, this was a ton of fun!

For more information – and to pledge your support – please visit:

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www.kickstarter.com/projects/817647846/sword-n-board-your-adventure-is-his-imagination

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