In 2019, the founders of Toronto-based VR game developer Sinn Studio were in a difficult position. They had set out to develop a game on siege warfare, but it proved to be more costly than they imagined. Even after scaling back and refocusing, they still found themselves on the brink of bankruptcy.
“We shifted our efforts to something more manageable, but the truth was that the studio wasn’t in a good place,” remembers Alek Sinn, Creative Director at Sinn Studios. “We were scraping by and we knew that if something didn’t change soon, we would be forced to shut down.”
The more manageable project that Sinn Studio shifted to was a realistic combat simulator known as “Swordsman,” which launched in September 2020 and received immediate success. Not only did it save Sinn Studios from bankruptcy, but it propelled it into the upper echelons of the VR game industry.
“‘Swordsman’ was really our last chance to get into the industry and become a self-sustaining studio,” Alek explains. “When it launched, it became an instant top seller on the PlayStation Store. In 2021 it was the fifth most downloaded game on the whole platform. Later, when we launched on Quest via the App Lab, we found great success there, too. We had one of the best App Lab launches ever.”
“Swordsman VR” has earned a spot on PlayStation’s VR Top 10 Most Downloaded Games virtually every month since its launch, ranking as high as the No. 3spot on the chart in both Europe and North America. As it entered its third year, “Swordsman” was available in more than 90 countries on six continents and in 8 different languages.
Virtual reality (VR) technology allows users to explore an immersive 360-degree environment, complete with sight, sound, and, in some cases, feeling. In VR gaming, headsets allow players to see and hear the activity happening in that world, while VR controllers allow them to interact with the environment. “Swordsman” leverages VR technology to allow its users to engage in sword combat in a virtual environment.
“There are definitely a lot of great sword fighting games on the market, but ‘Swordsman’ stands out as one that allows any user, regardless of their skill level, to have the sensation that they’re actually sword fighting,” says Alek. “Accomplishing that is a difficult thing to do in VR because the player has so much freedom with the way that they can move both of their hands and their head and their bodies. ‘Swordsman’ relies on artificial intelligence that we developed to essentially predict a player’s behavior ahead of time and then act on it with speed that allows non-player characters to block, dodge, and engage in other realistic ways.”
Alek attributes some of the success of “Swordsman” to the decision that he and the other developers made to look to Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) for inspiration. The HEMA style of sword fighting, which dominated swordplay in the Middle Ages, died out in the 1800s. In the 1990s, a renewed interest in HEMA led to a growing community focused on reviving the antiquated method of combat.
“Swordsman’s” unique approach to swordplay, coupled with the immersive environment it created, has attracted an impressive community of fans. The level of success it has achieved earns it a spot among world-renowned companies and brands in the VR space such as Disney and The Walking Dead.
In the near future, Sinn Studio will be introducing a number of enhancements to the “Swordsman” universe. One major upgrade will be the addition of the Training Grounds, where players can experiment with mechanics and weapons to improve their abilities. The Training Grounds will also include challenges that will be tracked on a global leaderboard, allowing players from around the world to compete against each other.
“It is still crazy to me to think that not that long ago we were barely getting by as a studio, ready to close our doors, and now we get to wake up every day doing what we love,” Alek says. “If you bought ‘Swordsman,’ thank you. You’ve enabled us to grow and to do bigger and better things than we ever thought possible.”