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Behind the smash TikTok sensation Sword of Symphony

Game developer Stephen Dgungu shares his inspirations and hopes for the future of Sword of Symphony, which has become a viral success on TikTok before it's even released.

Eddie Velazquez

July 19, 2022

6 Min Read
A screenshot from Sword of Symphony's announcement trailer. The protagonist wields a bright sword made up of musical notes.

British game developer Stephen Ddungu’s Sword of Symphony highlights the rhythm and precision of a complex musical performance in the context of an action RPG. The game’s singular premise has made the title a DIY sensation on social media, plotting a path toward significant exposure and eventual funding for the solo developer.

Sword of Symphony takes after several Japanese RPG classics such as the Kingdom Hearts series, NieR: Automata, and other contemporary Japanese action games like Punishing: Gray Raven.

“The game is influenced by the kinds of games that have really nice, fluid animation and movement when it comes to combos,” Ddungu said in an interview with Game Developer. He made direct reference to the aforementioned titles.

In Sword of Symphony, music wielders of the musical kingdom of Sonata, called composers, fight to stave off an evil force called The Taçet, who feed off the creativity of composers. The game, Ddungu has said in past interviews, evokes themes explored in his life as a creative, such as contending with writer’s block and intellectual property theft.

For Ddungu, 23, what started as a university project is now an innovative title developed by a driven, self-taught game developer, animator, and composer.

More than that, Sword of Symphony is a hit on TikTok, where Ddungu has accrued close to a million followers and posts clever reinventions of the traditional developer diary. Here, Ddungu takes full advantage of the TikTok format, incorporating music, creative camera angles, and meaningful snippets that showcase the game’s features.

Ddungu’s unwavering resolve and vision have chartered the way for his online presence to generate the attention of industry titans like Xbox. Eventually, after going through a creative agency, Ddungu struck a deal to receive funding from Kowloon Nights. The popular gaming fund has bankrolled games such as Sifu, Godfall, and Spiritfarer.

On his decision to not enter an agreement with a big publisher, Ddungu said he is privy to how publisher business models work.

“I was very vigilant in terms of that and really looking at the merits of the deal, not necessarily the name of the company,” he said. “I have a long-term plan with where I want to take my projects, and I was very much looking out for anything that would kind of be a caveat in these meetings that I was having with these big companies.”

Kowloon Nights offered Ddungu a deal that allowed him to remain a truly independent developer, which he said was one of his top priorities.

“Realistically I don't necessarily need a whole team,” he said. “I only just wanted a company that would only provide me with just the stuff I just needed, which at the time was funding the game in a way that would allow me to work on it full-time.”

At the time, Ddungu had just finished university, and striking a deal to fund the game was integral for him to pursue development full-time. His ambitions do not end there, however, as the developer also has plans to turn Sword of Symphony into a large property.

“I'm planning to do a lot of ancillary projects, like soundtrack collections, merchandise, and a novel. I do want to have a novelization of Sword of Symphony out there since I've done a lot for the game story, and a novelization will flesh out stuff even more.”

Much like with his decision to stay true to his vision in terms of development structure, Ddungu also said it is important to adhere to a creative focus.

“I remember the comments on TikTok and one person said ‘you should make this louder’ and then another one said ‘you should be this quieter,’” Ddungu said. “So I was thinking, as a creator, you should just stay true to your vision because you are always going to have contrasting perspectives. There is always going to be a for-and-against, and there are always going to be people taking either side.”

Sword of Symphony's creator is a self-taught developer

Not unlike many developers, Ddungu got an inkling toward game development by experimenting with free software. He started out at the age of nine, messing with the Blender Game Engine, a discontinued open-source program. Ddungu did not know he would revisit that “tiny bit of game development knowledge” until working on a prior project called Purpose.

“I was fleshing up the story for Purpose and the story became a bit too large for just what I intended with the animated series, so I decided to split the story into two and thus the video game aspects came into it,” Ddungu said.

Ddungu’s first self-taught passion was music, playing the piano. An element that crosses over between learning both game development and music, he said, is consistency.

“It involves a level of consistent practice for you to be proficient enough, to the point where you are able to see it almost like a language in a sense,” he said. “You want to get to a point where it is second nature.”

For Ddungu, watching online tutorials is not enough.

“I usually learn when I'm doing, when I actually need the lesson to be put in practice,” Ddungu said, referencing learning how to play piano. “When I was playing piano, ever since I started off, I just went in and just tried seeing what sounded good in the moment.”

In both games and music, Ddungu likes to rely on his influences.

“I like being inspired by other things and comparing them to my own style, trying to adapt those techniques, and build on that style almost like I'm building like a house,” he said.

Ultimately, even though the only planned release window for the game is late 2024, Ddungu has a vision for what would make Sword of Symphony a success. He explained that in his mind, the game will be a success when it's done, and when he's in a position to flesh out its story with other spinoffs and releases (he hopes it inspires a passionate fanbase.)

As he put it, “I want people who are engaged enough in this story to want to continue engaging with it."

7/20/22 Update: We've updated this article to more accurately reflect Ddungu's comments surrounding revenue models

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