Interview: Sorcery’s Brian Upton

Sorcery returns: the interview.

December 14, 2011 / 12:01 PM EDT / (@salromano)

Sony lifted the lid on its newly revamped version of Sorcery today. Matt played the game and shared his impressions, while I sat down for a chat with the game’s creative director Brian Upton.

What took you so long to show this?!

We would have loved to have shown it earlier if it was ready earlier – that’s basically what it boiled down to. We knew after showing it at E3 that there were some changes we wanted to be made, and we just weren’t able to get it in a shape where we thought it did the title justice until this point.

Those changes are exactly what everyone noticed about Sorcery tonight – it looks completely different than it did back at E3 2010. What happened? What motivated this revamp?

Even when we showed it at E3, we knew we wanted to take the title in a slightly different direction from what was already there. The way it was shown, it was basically a dungeon crawler, it was very focused on interior spaces, corridors, rooms – and even then, we thought we could get a lot more interesting gameplay by opening it up and having more open, exterior spaces. But part of that meant having an artistic reinvisioning of what was going on.

The other thing that happened was that, we realized that the gameplay that we had was really suited to a teen and an adult audience. It’s really targeted at more traditional gamers, people who can handle some complexity in a game. The look we had back then was giving a mistaken impression that it was intended to be a kids title – which it never was – and so we actually took some time to do a revamp, to make sure that it looked the way it should look, to meet the market that we thought it should have.

Can you give us a bit of background on Sorcery?

I can give you the basic background of how it starts, but I can’t give you all the twists and turns. When the game starts, you’re a sorcerer’s apprentice, you’ve been one for three weeks, but you’re really ambitious, you want to learn how to cast magic. Your master has this magical talking cat who thinks you’re rubbish – she doesn’t think very much of you. She taunts you into going into the realm of the dead to show that you can’t cast any magic at all. When you’re there with her, you accidentally unleash a really big, nightmarish evil. And once that happens, then it’s up to you and the cat working together to get things in order, put back the way they are.

Most of the game is a quest through various Faerie realms as you’re working your way to the heart of the fairy kingdom, in order to put an end to this big evil you’ve unleashed. The cat is with you through almost the entire game, so she can talk – she talks a lot – she starts off being a little, sort of, sarcastic and nasty, but as you get to know each other and travel together more, you start to like and respect each other, and you actually start working as a team later on. She gives you help through the entire game, suggests things to try, fills in backstory, things like that. And you’ll actually find out that there’s much more to her than just being a magic cat.

How are you approaching the PlayStation Move controller? It doesn’t feel like a game built specifically for Move, and by that I mean, it doesn’t feel like “General Move Title #15.” It looks to have the quality of a standard, controller-based game.

That was by design – it was built for the Move from the ground up. It was never intended for a controller. Our attitude was: a lot of motion controlled games are basically “Simon Says.” You’re told something to do, and you do it. And you’re told something to do, and you do it. We thought that it’d be possible to create something that uses motion controls to control the game but played something like a real console game. Something that played like a shooter, or an action adventure game, the sort of game that most core gamers play.

That’s really what Sorcery is: an attempt to take motion controls and translate them into a gaming experience that going to appeal not just to a casual audience, but to a hardcore gamer audience, because it has the sort of deep challenges that I think gamers would want out of this sort of game.

Where did the idea for this game initially come about?

It originated with Sony Santa Monica with an idea basically for an alchemy game. Because the idea of using this as a way of brewing potions and — there’s still an alchemy element in the game, but as we started investigating what could be done with shooting [spells] in this sort of magic combat system, that’s when it evolved into the combat system that we have now.

Is there anything from the E3 2010 demo no longer in the game? Considering you mentioned alchemy was once a bigger part of the game.

The rat transformation is still in. The pumpkin was overpowered – that was replaced by other spells. [laughs] It was too easy just to change everybody into pumpkins.

Sorcery is a full retail release? Yes. How much gameplay time are we looking at for the full campaign?

Right now, we have our play testers, who can play through it in about five to six hours. It’s hard for them to make it through in five hours – you’ll have to skip a bunch of content to do it – you can do it if you blaze through. Some people take longer than that.

Are we looking at additional gameplay modes (next to the single player campaign)?

For right now, no. We want to see how the publicity is received, we want to see — right now, we’re just focused on getting the game done as we ramp up to release, that will sort of evaluate whether there should be other stuff beyond that.

The player’s main arsenal in Sorcery comes in the form of spells. How many are we looking at in the final game?

There will be seven spells in the final game, and eight different combos you can do by combining those spells in different ways.

[Upton goes on to show us a combo, which involves casting a streak of fire on the ground, and flinging a standard spell shot through the fire, creating a fireball. Another combo involves mixing a fire wall with a tornado, and firing the standard spell shot, which is caught by the tornado and flung out at surrounding enemies.]

What’s your favorite spell?

It varies, depending on what I have! Uhm… playing today, I’ve become really fond of wind. There’s all sorts of like, really subtle, creative ways, like, wind isn’t an obvious spell. Fire: you blast ‘em, they’re dead. Wind requires a lot of nuance, it’s like “How do I suck somebody up, and drag you over and drop you off a cliff?” So, actually, I’ve played more and more during the day today, I’ve been doing more and more wind kills just today, just for the challenge of it. And I find it more satisfying, it’s a little more indirect way to do somebody in.

Any closing comments, Brian?

I’ll just say this: I’ve been playing this game for nine hours today and I’m still having fun. So, I’m very encouraged, I’m thrilled.

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