This summer, Sinn Studio dropped the Advanced Combat update to Swordsman VR and brought never-before-experienced sophistication to virtual sword fights. “We released the free update on MetaQuest, PSVR, and PCVR platforms on May 26,” says Almir Brljak, Chief Operating Officer at Sinn Studio Inc. “We also launched Swordsman’s Advanced Combat update on Quest, PSVR, and PC VR.”
With this release, Sinn Studio stakes its place among top developers, but the company hasn’t always basked in the spotlight. Just like the medieval warriors the team created to square off in its virtual realm, this tech startup had to fight tooth and nail for a position in the VR space, battling some of the biggest names in the industry.
Swordsman fights its way to the top
The founders of Sinn Studio — Alek Sinn and Almir Brljak — have been childhood friends since seventh grade. “In an industry most people didn’t even know about yet, I spent a year trying to get the funds to start a VR game on my own,” remembers Sinn. “One day, I was explaining to Almir why the business wasn’t working, and he offered to help with the project.”
“I trusted Alek’s passion for VR and his ability as a developer,” says Brljak. “Because I come from a business background, I offered to take over the business aspects and let him focus on the creative elements.”
At that point, the VR industry was small, but the team hoped to get a jump on the competition. This would prove to be no small feat. After all, they were lining themselves up against industry experts with 30 to 40 years in the gaming field. The group of friends released three titles on PlayStation: Steam, Viveport, and Oculus. By the summer of 2019, they had pursued a spot in the VR space for two and a half years with nothing to show for it.
“We invested a lot of our time and capital into the studio, and the company wasn’t what we envisioned,” remembers Brljak. “We all agreed the experience had been worthwhile, but it was time to move on. After that, we went our separate ways.”
Brljak knew he needed to dissolve the business but was dragging his feet. “I kept the company running and checked in with Alek monthly. After some time away from the business, I could see Alek was still excited about the industry and that there was a possibility I could convince him to come back. I told him, ‘We know enough now to do this right.'”
The team reconvened to brainstorm a new idea. “In terms of sweat equity and personal finances, we put it all on the line,” Brljak says. “We invested everything in one last ditch effort.”
In 2020, the friends released Swordsman VR. “We had nothing left in the bank,” recalls Brljak. “We held our breath and watched as Swordsman launched to 2021’s third-most played game on VR and the fifth-most downloaded game on PlayStation VR. Now, we sell in over 90 countries. Our full-time team of 13 is self-sustaining through recurring revenue, and we reached this place without taking any investment.”
What gamer doesn’t love a good comeback story? One spectacular title took Sinn Studio from the brink of bankruptcy to a thriving company. This talented trio developed and marketed Swordsman VR in direct competition with world-renowned brands such as Disney and The Walking Dead. They clashed blades with the big dogs and came away with a spot on PlayStation’s VR Top 10 Most Downloaded Games, ranking as high as #3 in both Europe and North America. What’s more, they’ve maintained this position since launching in September 2020. Swordsman VR is currently available on six continents and in eight languages.
How Swordsman VR vanquishes the competition
At its core, Swordsman VR is a physics-based sword fighting game, often compared to games such as Blade and Sorcery, Gorn, and Gladius. “We set ourselves apart by focusing on realistic swordplay,” says Sinn. “Swordsman is not just about killing NPCs, although there’s plenty of that. The game is about emulating realistic duels in which your opponent is also skilled and trying to kill you.”
Swordsman VR brings the back-and-forth dance of a sword fight to life. While playing, players gauge parries, strikes, and thrusts and react in real-time.
When designing Swordsman, the game’s creators spent a lot of time researching HEMA and watching actual sword-fighting competitions. It was about finding a balance between realistic combat and fun factor, allowing anyone to jump in and feel like a skilled combatant without any real-life experience in the sport. “Real sword-play isn’t about dramatic swings or flashy presentation,” observes Sinn. “Of course, you can do whatever you want in Swordsman, but most of the action is in tightly-executed touches. These understated movements create a constant back-and-forth between two combatants, enforcing very fast-paced strategy. With dense animation sets of hundreds of subtle moves, we were able to bring the true pacing of a sword fight to life. Our mission is to provide a genuine combat experience with a touch of Hollywood magic to make you feel like the powerful and skilled swordsman you’ve always dreamt of being.”
The team spent days in a Mocap studio with professional actors developing every possible combat move for every weapon and every boss. “When we paired these realistic move sets with our proprietary AI tech, we were able to achieve incredibly intense combat with realistic and intelligent opponents,” says Sinn. “Our algorithms can predict your actions into the future, allowing the AI to anticipate (and react to) almost anything you try, creating a life-like experience.”
The game provides two ways to access combat. First, a campaign map allows players to progress through a variety of factions and thematic environments, each having its own boss waiting at the end. Second, players can utilize an arena mode to customize their combat experience without conquering levels. Ultimately, Swordsman VR is a realistic combat simulator with RPG elements and player progression; something that we really needed in VR.
We’re constantly adding new features. Recently, we added over 1,400 new animations and completely overhauled the AI to enhance the combat’s realism. It’s been an incredibly fun project, and we’re still calling each other up with new ideas.” says Sinn. “The best part of this business has been building it from the ground up with great friends.”