08 Jun, 2022
Swords and Sandals Immortals is a gladiatorial RPG now in Early Access. Developer Oliver Joyce tells us about the game’s Flash roots and more.
I was lucky enough to begin my game dev career in the wild west days of the Flash era, when browser games ruled supreme and a game made in just a few weeks could reach an audience of millions via the various game portals. I made the first Swords and Sandals game back in 2006 while working for a Flash games company here in Australia. It was the sequel Swords and Sandals 2 that really took off and became a huge hit, enough so that over the years, I made four sequels and a spinoff game.
Eventually Flash died out, and in 2014 I set out as a solo game developer, formed Whiskeybarrel Studios and began porting the Flash games to Steam. It took five years of working nights and weekends, but in 2018 I found myself in the fortunate position of being able to quit my job and do this full-time.
At the start of 2021, and after spinoff games including a pirate adventure, a platfomer set in ancient Rome and a tactical wargame, I realized the time was perfect to revisit the original Swords and Sandals formula and make a pure gladiator RPG in an arena. The classic games were still the most popular sellers, and I knew this is what the audience wanted.
The challenge was, Flash was all I really knew up to that point. I’d build one platformer in Unity (Swords and Sandals Spartacus) but I’d been interested in the open source game engine Godot for some time, and decided to take the plunge and build this new Swords and Sandals using that – to me it was the perfect halfway point between the simplicity of Flash and the sheer weight of Unity.
And thus, Swords and Sandals Immortals began development. The idea was to take the ‘best bits’ from all the old games and cut out all the things that were boring from them. More detailed tactical combat, a sprawling overland map, more characters, more music, more of the fun intangibles.
At the heart of Swords and Sandals has always been a deeper strategic RPG hidden beneath a cartoony, silly exterior. Gladiators can fart, belch, play guitars and fall asleep in battle, but there’s also the fate of the world at stake. To keep true to that, I enlisted an artist who could make the gladiators look more ‘heroic’ but still silly enough to do handstands in battle.
I wanted the game to feel reminiscent of a Flash game (to stay true to its origins) but also play and feel like a game made in 2022. Godot was perfect for this as it gave me access to tons of nice shaders, coloured lighting, particle effects and so on, that I just didn’t have access to back in the Flash days.
Learning Godot while actually building the game presented its own challenges, I’d have a book on my lap learning how to ‘save your game data’ one day and the next be scratching my head as to why I couldn’t import my animations the way I always used to. Over fifteen years of using Flash had brought me a ton of assumed knowledge and a mountain of technical debt and to break free and do things in a new way was both hugely liberating and a little scary.
Godot made things easy though, and I was able to build Swords and Sandals Immortals faster than any game I’d ever made before, given the complexity. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, and the sleeplessness that comes with raising a 4 year old and a 2 year old, in May this year I was able to bring Swords and Sandals Immortals into Early Access on Steam.
So far the game has been warmly embraced not only by the loyal Swords and Sandals community but also by a new generation of fans who had vague memories of the original, played all those years ago in browsers all over the world. Each day I read fan emails from places as far away as Brazil, Egypt and Norway, people telling me they grew up with the series and how glad they are that I am still making them.
It’s a great blessing to be able to be able to make these games for a living now, but just as good to have created something that has become a small part of many people’s fond memories of childhood. And for that, I’m eternally grateful. I salute you all, gladiators!
You can check out Swords and Sandals Immortals in Early Access over at its Steam page here. You’ll find Oliver Joyce on Twitter at @oliver_joyce and also at the official Whiskeybarrel Studios website.