Before Call of Duty: Treyarch's experimental fantasy game

I'm fascinated by what developers did before they became famous. Peter Molyneux's first company wasn't a games developer, and it failed, but he had so much fun running a business that his first game was a management simulator called The Entrepeneur. Before DICE hit it big as the creators of Battlefield, they made the excellent Pinball Fantasies. And before Treyarch became the keepers of Call of Duty, they made a third-person sword-fighting game where you controlled the sword directly by moving the mouse.

The game is Die By the Sword, released in 1998. It's sort of incredible, filled with the kind of ingenuity you'd hope for from a new company. It's also got the same lunatic flailing as Trespasser, released the same year. Since the descriptions sounded great—and Tom got all excited when I mentioned it—I've bought a copy and started playing. I've taken video of the game's intro and my first pathetic sword-swinging attempts below.

If only Call of Duty: Black Ops had cutscenes as good as this. Here's my first couple of minutes trying to play the game.

After a couple more embarrassing defeats by kobolds, I decided to try the tutorial. Michael York! The tutorial is narrated by Michael York from Logan's Run.

The technology for controlling your swinging sword was called VSIM, and while it's hard to learn how to use, it's clearly an ambitious idea. The game's readme.txt gives an idea of the expectations the publisher had for it:

"Die By the Sword is the beginning of a new generation of games and technology. Once you play and become accustomed to the greater control of your character, you will never be able to go back to the old technology that limits your control. The physics based modeling technology created by Treyarch called VSIM is a huge leap forward for games, bringing with it new techniques of gameplay that were not possible before. This technology is just in its infancy and we haven't begun to scratch the surface of its possibilities. Imagine that someday hooking your whole body up to an input device and having the character in the game react exactly as you do. While it's been attempted before, it's never really been possible to do it as accurately as we can with VSIM. And while you may not want to play a game where you have to hook your body up to an input device, VSIM is not bound to any restrictions that would prevent this. [...]

"The VSIM technology is really the future of animation and character control. Die By the Sword will become a classic and forever known as the game that set the standard."

It never quite took off like they hoped, but when all I previously knew about Treyarch was that they made the bad Call of Duty games, this makes me like them a lot more.

Die By the Sword is available from