In combat, swords are a great leveller: in the right hands, even a less physically capable fighter can still defeat a highly trained opponent with a bladed weapon – something developer Peter Adamondy knows a thing or two about. “Spears were the main weapon for lots of armies,” he tells us, “because even an ill-trained soldier equipped with a yari (traditional straight-head spear) could kill a highly trained samurai, if he had just a wakizashi (traditional samurai sword) or some other short-range weapon.”
Adamondy knows this because he’s the lead designer on Die by the Blade, an upcoming one-hit-death fighter in the mode of such bygone corkers as Bushido Blade and Way of the Samurai. Like those games, Die by the Blade will eschew lightning-fast combos in favour of nervy bouts of feints, parries, and fatal blows: fights will often be over within seconds, and almost always with copious amounts of blood splashed about the place. “It certainly takes some ideas from Bushido Blade, although we needed to modernise the gameplay,” Adamondy tells us. “We haven’t shied away from the fact that these games were a source of inspiration. The original games were a bit obtuse as you didn’t really know what was happening behind the scenes – there weren’t any combo lists or strong tutorials.”
So while Die by the Blade won’t skimp on the complexity you’d expect from a fighting game, it’s also being designed so relative newcomers can pick up a controller and get into it. “Aspects such as parrying, blocking, stances, and so on, had to be reinvented so that they work for a contemporary audience,” Adamondy explains. “We’ve also added mechanics that weren’t in these original games. One example would be the advantage mechanic – each attack has a specific amount of frames for which your enemy is stunned when hit, and you have the attack advantage for those frames. Skilled players will know how many [frames] for which attack and could use this information to quickly kill their opponent. If you don’t know that information, your first instinct is to go into block instead, to parry a counter-attack. We wish to encourage players to fight to their instincts and learn to use these advantages and similar mechanics.”
Die by the Blade began life as a concept at Japanese studio Toko Midori; looking around for developers who could help them realise their gory vision, the firm turned to Slovakia’s Triple Hill Interactive. One 2020 Kickstarter campaign later, and the devs had the funds they needed to hone their fighting sim to perfection. And while Triple Hill is now handling the production side of things, Toko Midori is still working on marketing, game testing, and “cultural feedback” – which is handy, since Die by the Blade’s identity is rooted in the Far East, from its setting to its weapons and fighting strategies.
“Currently, we have katana, nodachi, naginata, and wakizashi,” Adamondy says of the bladed weapons currently in the game. “These are the most distinct swords in their fighting styles, so we picked them for that. Nodachi is a type of long sword and it isn’t as heavy as you’d expect. Naginata is a polearm-style weapon, so you should hold your opponent far away. Wakizashi is a short, dagger-like sword that you will be able to dual-wield. You need to get closer to your opponents though, but you are more agile. Katana is a ‘middle of the road’ classic sword. It works as a baseline we use to balance other weapons with. So, I would say that this is close to a ‘rock, paper, scissors’ system.”
Although there’ll be a single-player campaign in Die by the Blade, it’ll be a comparatively brief “in-depth tutorial” – the team’s real focus being on local and online multiplayer. It’s the technical side of these online bouts, Adamondy says, that has proven the biggest hurdle to clear so far. “We want to have an online multiplayer system, but we know it’s almost impossible to have an identical physics simulation running on multiple machines,” he explains. “Therefore, we have to accommodate implementation and gameplay with that in mind and use a deterministic approach – pre-recorded animations, deterministic character status, etc. Our goal is to make the game fun first, then make the best simulation second.”
Development is in its final stages, though Triple Hill recently announced that it’ll need a few more months than originally planned – understandably, the pandemic has played a part in the delay. “We’ve had plans to record new animations, but the country’s now in lockdown,” Adamondy says. “We’ve been in quarantine for some time, so it’s slowed us a bit. Currently, we’re working on the tournament system. We’re also working with Edgegap on a distributed server system, so that lag in the game will be as minimal as possible. Multiplayer’s a big part of our development effort, and we’ve just finished the weapon customisation system – you’ll be able to unlock weapon parts and create your own skins.
“And last but not least, we’re also working on the single-player system where you’ll be able to freely move and explore the game world a bit more than in usual fighting games. The audio team’s also doing their best to get the sounds and music just right too… So I’m pretty excited about the future.”
Genre: One-hit-death sim | Format: PC / PS4 / XBO / Switch | Developer: Triple Hill Interactive/Toko Midori | Publisher: Grindstone | Release: TBA 2021 | Social: @dbtbgame