Superbrothers Interview Part 2 – Sword & Sworcery EP, Jim Guthrie’s Music, Sound Shapes, and More – TouchArcade
Last week, Superbrothers and Pine Scented software launched JETT: The Far Shore + Given Time on Steam alongside updating the PlayStation and Epic Games Store versions of the game with the new free expansion. Having covered Superbrothers for a very long time all the way back to 2010 when Sword and Sworcery was shown at GDC, we obviously were also going to talk about how things evolved over time for Superbrothers from Sword and Sworcery to JETT: The Far Shore. In the lead up to JETT’s new expansion and it hitting Steam last week, I chatted with Craig D. Adams (founder Superbrothers A/V and co-creator of JETT with Patrick at Pine Scented) and Dan Berry (Given Time contributor and UK comics person and broadcaster) in a slightly different format.
Since the team was still hard at work on JETT for Steam and the expansion, I sent over questions about a week before launch and got sent back a video of Dan discussing the questions with Craig. It almost felt like an interview in itself with Dan interviewing Craig. I’ve split that up into two parts and edited for clarity and brevity. The first part which you can read here covered JETT: Given Time, JETT: The Far Shore, and a bit about the future of Superbrothers. Part 2, below, covers Sword and Sworcery, working with Jim Guthrie, Twitter integration, PlayStation’s Sound Shapes that had Superbrothers’ involvement, and more.
TouchArcade: We covered Sworcery over a decade ago right from its showing at GDC 2010. It is one of my favorite games of all time. Tell us a little bit about Superbrothers and how how Superbrothers has changed over time.
Craig Adams: Thank you for asking about Superbrothers. It is extremely cool that Sworcery is one of your favorite games of all time. Something exciting on the Superbrothers side: It is 2023 and we are beginning our relentless 30 year celebration leading up to 50 years of Superbrothers if you can believe that. It has been a long time. What I mean to say is this is our 20th year of Superbrothers existing.
When I got going in 2003, it was a nom de plume for my pixel illustration. I liked the idea of it being unnecessarily pluralized and a little bit confusing. I always had the idea that it would be cool if there were video games that had that kind of tone, style, and vibe. I would try to make those games myself with my limited skill set.
That didn’t quite work. I joined the industry and learned some things. Then I connected with Capy (Games) and somewhere in there I also connected with Jim (Guthrie) and that’s how Sworcery happened. At that time, the snapshot was just me on the Superbrothers side. The concept is supposed to be bigger than just me. It is like a band that I want to be in. I have to do a whole bunch of work to create a structure that other people can plug into it. I should mention that around that time my actual real life brother Mack did step in on the business side. He has been around throughout.
Superbrothers became appropriately pluralized at a certain point. For many years it was just me cooking along with JETT co-creator Patrick at Pine Scented Software and that’s all it was for a number of years until we needed to bring on part-time people as part of the JETT squad.
So then, I guess Superbrothers changed a little bit. I was sort of managing different people and directing moreso. In order to get JETT done, we had to scale up and become a lot more serious. I had to try to learn the ropes as a director and a creative director and all that stuff. So for a few years, it was a different kind of thing. My brother Mack who was in orbit occasionally, he has another job, ended up needing to step in and really help as an executive producer and do a lot of number crunching and admin stuff.
It was pretty white knuckle for a few years at Superbrothers there. It still is just me and some computers out in the woods of Quebec but as a sort of a broader operation, with my brother Mack, with the JETT squad. At some point we had over 30 people in different states, provinces and countries. It was a pretty interesting and wild time.
Fun fact, to get the project done, we needed more producer capacity at a certain point. It just so happened that Mack and I knew a really good producer. We brought our older sister, Sarah, who had never worked in a video game context before, but knew her way around productivity software, and running meetings and stuff like that. For a moment there, three siblings were working to ship a PS5 game.
It was an interesting shape for things to take. Then once JETT The Far Shore shipped, we were able to let that JETT squad go off in their various directions. Then for Given Time, we staffed up just a little bit. That’s where Dan Berry entered the picture along with Richard Flanagan. It was like a tighter squad moving through with Given Time. Now we are reaching the end of that journey so even that squad will dissipate shortly. Then Superbrothers will go back to being just me and some computers out in the woods of Quebec. But then I’ll be trying to figure out what’s the next thing, and how can I make another structure that people can plug into and anyway that’s I guess me trying to describe whatever Superbrothers is. At root, I always hoped it would be a bigger concept that could include a bunch of interesting things and some freshness. Some things come from different angles. I’ll try to keep that dream alive.
TA: Sworcery wasn’t a one and done game for Superbrothers. We saw a special Japanese soundtrack edition for its release there, and more ports following the iOS launch. It was even updated in late 2021 for modern iOS devices. How was it revisiting Sworcery after all these years?
CA: For me, I think Sworcery is pretty safely in the rearview. Maybe I knew about the 2021 update, I don’t remember. Maybe I even pitched in with some artwork to go out on social media. I should say for Sworcery, thank goodness Capy was the developer really, and have continued to be the developer. So any updates that have been happening are things that they have done on their side. I’ve been pretty distant from it. All I’ve been paying attention to is JETT and being in deep space.
TA: The original Sworcery experience with Twitter integration is something lost to time now. I still remember how amazing that was back in the day. How did you come up with the idea to make it such an important part of the experience?
CA: Going way back. Me thinking through what Superbrothers stuff should be on this device. That was back in the day when everybody was looking to gamify this, social gaming was a thing, Farmville was probably top of the pops back then. There was this feeling that we should think about that. We should think about things in that general space to see if there’s some idea.
But what we were more interested in was, We had an experience, Chris (the creative director of Capy at the time and co creator on a bunch of these concepts) and I. We played Animal Crossing back in the day. It was really fun to discover something over here, and communicate it to someone over there, and to have just like weird little nuances that you’re picking up and communicating with other people about. Both Chris and I were on the early adopter train for Demon’s Souls (PS3) which is a little different from Animal Crossing, but similarly had mysterious things happening inside of it, that you just had to just go and talk to other people.
This is where I reveal that I’ve forgotten everything about Demon’s Souls but when the World Tendency is a certain way you get these specific items over here. That level of mysteriousness was interesting. That was the thing that made us think, hey, what if we made a game where there were weird things like that in there, and it would be helpful for you, that when you learn something, you have a way to tell other people. Or if you’re playing it and seeing people talking, that stuff might reel you in. You might wonder what they are talking about. Anyway, the moon phase stuff in Sworcery seemed like a good kind of relatively simple concept, but a weird lunatic concept to kind of underpin some of the puzzles.
We looked at the different social platforms at the time. Facebook seemed like a bad scene. Twitter seemed fun. Remember, back in like 2009 or 2010. People bouncing off each other, jokes, just a lot of handshakes and high fives. It seemed like If we got it right, that’s where we would want to be. If we could do something where someone goes “hey i solved a weird thing”, they could broadcast that and we would get some of the Animal Crossing and Demon’s Souls flavor of that kind of interaction.
The actual integration wasn’t that hard. The API was an always moving target, but the thing we were asking it to do wasn’t all that difficult. Then there was a little miscalculation in there because we had that onboard, but late in development, I just got this worry. I was seeing playtesting that people wouldn’t notice that this cool feature existed. I think it was me that lobbied to make it a little bit more foregrounded, and make it seem a little bit more part of the intended experience, which is not a bad move, but then the blowback from that was that Sworcery had a really strong launch out of the gate. Great. People really wanted to use that Twitter feature. Great. But then they would fire off Tweets about everything, and so the first couple of days, it was like a slightly obnoxious takeover of Twitter, and some people were a little bit put out.
That wasn’t the intent, and it worked out well for Sworcery, but it was also not the intent to step on people’s toes. The good thing is once we passed that first day or day and a half or something, it settled into a nice pattern. It was having the desired effect. People were sharing fun little goofy things. Some of them might include clues and some of them are just for fun. It was kind of part of the golden times of Twitter. Back in the day, I guess that was March 2011.
Dan Berry (to Craig): Explain the Megatome.
CA: Because we were going into this direction of integrating Twitter and because Sworcery had whatever the Superbrothers-y approach where it’s aware of the context that it’s in. It kind of brings some of the meta textual elements into the fiction. That’s where the Megatome came from, which I think was just a word that we needed because it sounded like something really cool that you would be intrigued by, and then Clive Holden who was the voice of the Archetype was like, “If you’re calling it the megatome, at some point it has to detonate.” He was right. At the end of the story, you detonate the Megatome, and the megatome is basically like a magical Twitter book where you can read everybody else’s thoughts. The twitter integration was brought into the fiction in that way. It’s funny that the task of the Scythian is to take the representation of Twitter that grants you this amazing ability to read thoughts and to destroy it. And then all the years since then, it seems like that’s probably the right move overall. We probably should not be able to read each other’s thoughts to quite this level. It might have adverse effects.
TA: The Sworcery soundtrack is legendary. Not only is it one of my favorite albums of all time, but it was a huge part of what made the game special. How was it working with Jim Guthrie on Sworcery?
CA: It is great to hear that you like it. I think it is also good. I agree. Working with Jim was a treat. Jim and I got back a bunch of years before Sworcery. I guess I crossed paths with him in 2005. I sent him some pixels when I was doing the freelance illustration thing, and he sent me this burned CD of all these goofy compositions he had been making using a PS1 game called MTV Music Generator (Editor’s Note: Jim uploaded a recent track on YouTube here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cZjRWg3rlo) and I love Jim’s music. My wife and I listened to all his albums back in the day a lot, and so hearing this was wild. He had some of that in his second album, Morning Noon Night, and I loved it there. But this was like a whole world of those sounds. It was very inspiring to me and I took my pixels and made a music video around one of them. Jim and I were in Toronto and we crossed paths and I told him all about the cool things that were going on in video games at the time like Electroplankton and whatever else.
There were actually songs on that album that suggested to me pixel paintings. There’s a song called ‘Under A Tree’. It was always going to be a pre-dawn walk in the woods, or there was a song called Little furnace that I had various visual ideas about, but nothing strong enough but I just knew that I wanted to do something that would hit the magic of that tune.
I couldn’t make these games on my own, so it took connecting with Capy and getting the ball rolling there. It turned out they were big Jim fans as well. We all got on like a house on fire. Working with Jim on sworcery was such a treat, because I was kind of building the game around his music and saying yes to ideas from his direction. Because there wasn’t an ironclad design that we had to honor. He would come in with something and we would go, “that fits, but we haven’t figured out how we would wrap it up.” There was a little bit of us figuring out how to wrap our thing around what Jim would bring.
Then there were some instances where we had a boss battle with these Trigons, and we really needed a piece that would meet these specifications, and Jim would always come in with some beautiful, soulful, kind of piece of music that hits the target. A lot of high fives and it was a treat. Jim’s still a good friend, and of course, a JETT contributor, because Andy (scntfc) had a cameo appearance in Sworcery. It only made sense to see if we could Jim a cameo in a score otherwise dominated by scntfc’s work. So Jim was the one that delivered the Out of Our Hands song that caps off JETT’s prologue.
TA: Following Sworcery, the next project involving Superbrothers and Jim Guthrie was Sony’s Sound Shapes. Tell us a little bit about how that collaboration with Sony came into being.
CA: It is a Sony published game, but the developer of sound shapes was Queasy Games, a Toronto developer. Jess Mak is the key person, and might still be a one pierson shop these days. Jess Mak was a hero of mine back in the days when I was trying to get Superbrothers going, and I was working in the console video game industry. This is like the early days of indie, and it was a treat that in Toronto we had Metanet software making N, and Jess Mak making Everyday Shooter. It turned out that they were in the same city, and we got into each other’s orbits, and there was a really tight community around that time with Metanet and Queasy and Capy and lots of others.
The way I got pulled into Sound Shapes was just that the idea of the game was that they would be pulling this visual contributor and that music contributor, and pairing them together, or at least that was the concept for Sound Shapes at a certain point. It just made sense coming off of Sworcery, to see if Jim and I could show up, and I’ll say I didn’t totally understand what Sound Shapes was exactly going to be, because it’s a very unusual thing.
So the way that it boiled down was Jessica and Mathew Kumar who were working there kind of gave me an asset list after I’d done some sketches, and I just turned in all those assets Superbrothers style characters and locations. They bric-a-brac-ed it together, and I got a chance to check it out at the end. It was a pretty cool experience overall, to just be a part of that machine.
In that mix, I also did get to know some of the folks at Sony, here and there.
TA: Sworcery saw a special Moon Grotto EP from composer scntfc. What led to this collaboration?
CA: In Sworcery times a friend had connected Andy (scntfc) to me, and there was this idea of number stations ending up in Sworcery. It seemed like a mysterious game with that kind of thing would fit. At a certain point the Moon Grotto concept came into being, and it occurred to me that Andy scntfc whose music I was now familiar with, would be a good fit. So that happened. Andy composed the music you hear in the Moon Grotto and he created the number station transmission that we ended up playing at the end of Sworcery. Probably a short time later, the same friend, who had Venus Patrol which was a website blog around that time, motivated the idea of getting a physical release, a 7” together.. It was mostly a reason to put a whole bunch of puzzles and mysteries together in a physical package. That’s pretty much how that came about.
Fun fact, that’s kind of its own story, is the number station transmission that you hear at the end of Sworcery, if you dial that number into your phone, I think it dead ends now, but that’s recent. For a number of years it would lead you to a mysterious answering machine. It was a little creepy. We recorded all the messages that people left on this answering machine. But then the weird thing is there was an internet ghost story that got started, that if you called that number, somebody would come to your house and kidnap you which is not true, we don’t have that kind of infrastructure (laughs). Yea, there were the top 10 weird internet phone numbers, and we made the top 10. But then we got uncomfortable with that, so we unplugged it.
TA: What have you been playing recently across different platforms?
CA: This is where it is revealed that as the father of two kids, and with a project running, I’m not getting like a lot of deep video gaming sessions regularly. But, with two kids, we have been playing a lot of Mario Strikers: Battle League the last little while. The kids are 5 and 8. The 5 year old especially, is way into it, and it is great. We can play two kids against each other or the three of us. We went through Super Mario Odyssey which I played on release. It was a treat to go through with each of the kids. Gotta get those moons man.
On my side on the PS5, I loved God of War (2018), and I know that I have to allow that outsider indie credibility is going to suffer when I say that. It was just a big juicy cheeseburger. It had Metroid Prime vibes inside of it deep in there. I don’t think Ragnarok is reaching the heights of 2018, but it is very expansive so that’s fun. I guess it is pretty well made. Then Sable, I’ve dipped a toe into it, because just came to PlayStation and I tend to play on PlayStation. But yea, there’s a zillion games that I should be playing like Rollerdrome. I enjoyed the hell out of that for a little while, but I haven’t come back to it. Immortality, seems amazing. I gotta dig in. That’s pretty much where I’m at video game wise these days. I’m a pretty conventional video game player, I think. Im looking forward to Star Wars: Jedi Survivor, the sequel to Fallen Order. They have just the right amount of Dark Souls flavor with just the right amount of Sony Santa Monica-inspired accessibility.
DB: You (Craig) spoke about what your kids are playing so I’ll talk about what my kids have been playing. They’re very much into Marvel Snap, obviously there’s the obligatory Roblox and Minecraft that they will just spend time on all day long. We’ve been playing Bugsnax. They really enjoy Bugsnax. They’ve been enjoying the Kirby game which is a delight. Personally, I’ve been playing The Curse of the Golden Idol which is great, a little bit of Luck Be a Landlord, I dipped back into Deathloop a little while ago which was fun, Elden Ring. There’s always a hundred hours of Elden Ring. Pentiment was a good thinker. For not thinking at all, I quite enjoyed playing Wreckfest. Just driving a car around and smashing it up. It was good.
Thanks to Craig D. Adams and Dan Berry for their time here leading up to the launch of JETT: The Far Shore + Given Time and also to popagenda for facilitating this interview.