IronSword - Wizards & Warriors II © 1989 Acclaim Entertainment, Incorporated.
Sequel to Rare's 1987 title Wizards & Warriors. In Ironsword, the player controls the knight warrior Kuros as he ventures in the land of Sindarin. He must defeat the evil wizard Malkil, who has assumed the elemental forms of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. Kuros must collect the parts of and assemble the legendary IronSword in order to defeat Malkil, who resides at the top of IceFire Mountain.
GAME ID: NES-IR-USA
Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II was first unveiled in North America as part of the 1989 Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada and was displayed with other games to be released later that year by Acclaim. It was then released in December 1989 in the USA. The game was fairly well-received, selling 500,000 copies in North America. Various video game magazines praised Ironsword for its size, graphics and sound, detailed characters and bosses, and gameplay. Other reviews criticized its lack of originality as compared to other games that were released at the time.
Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II was developed by UK-based computer game company Zippo Games, headed by Ste and John Pickford; this was the first game Zippo developed for fellow UK-based video game company Rare. At the time, Zippo Games had just completed a previous game titled Cosmic Pirate - a game that was published by Palace Software and released for the Commodore 64, Atari ST, and Amiga in 1988. New to the technical capabilities of the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Pickford brothers visited Rare and were pleased with their NES library, though they thought they were backtracking by deciding to develop games for the console. According to Ste Pickford: "The NES seemed primitive by comparison, sub-Commodore 64. But the games were ten times better than everything being released for home computers, which we appreciated, and we wanted to try to make games as good as that." Rare decided to hire Zippo Games to develop this Wizards & Warriors sequel; Pickford remarked: "Rare showed us Wizards & Warriors and asked us to develop the sequel, and pretty much left us to it." Rare felt that Zippo Games was trustworthy enough to develop the sequel without much help from them.
Development started in early 1989, when the Pickford brothers were still learning about the NES and what it could do. At the same time, as being new to developing console video games, they were also learning about the market aspects and Nintendo's policies and restrictions on games. Feeling that the graphics in most of the games in the NES library were poor, they placed emphasis on the graphics and animation. Pickford was particularly pleased with the animation of the enemy eagles and their movement. Rare assisted with the sound, and all of the game's background music was composed by video game composer David Wise, who Pickford said "did a fantastic job on IronSword". As far as gameplay was concerned, they tried to expand upon its predecessor, introducing more adventure-based gameplay and additional RPG elements such as magic, inns, and money.
Ste Pickford developed the gameplay map for Ironsword. According to him, he basically copied the map that was used in a conversion port of Ghosts 'n Goblins that he developed a couple of years earlier. Moreover, the Pickford brothers were trying to resemble Ghosts 'n Goblins and similar games by Capcom as part of their attempt to earn the rights to develop the game from Rare. For the map screen, Ste Pickford used specific character data in the ROM itself, used the font from elsewhere in the data that was inserted separately, and overlaid the Elementals' floating heads over the top of the graphic. According to Pickford: "The job of graphic was always about 30% drawing, and about 70% fiddly technical stuff (which was why so many terrible artists – people who couldn't draw at all – made decent video game artists back then, if they could manage the technical side of things well enough)."
In developing the game's graphics, Ste Pickford translated black and white sketches into the character maps in the game. For the bosses, the plan was to use the entire screen while involving as few moving sprites as possible "to fool the player into thinking the whole thing was alive". The same was done with the Dragon King, which was not one of the game's bosses; the dragon's head and neck were composed of sprites, while the rest of the body was considered part of the background. The dragon's neck stretched out vertically due to NES hardware sprite limitations horizontally.
The animation of the eagle (the "Eagle King") that transports Kuros to the Wind Elemental was one of Ste Pickford's first graphics which he drew for the NES. It was done in Deluxe Paint for the Amiga with sketching done by mouse - without assistance from graphics tablets or other scanners. He took eagle drawings from a book on animals in motion by Eadweard Muybridge. Pickford wanted to show off the possible graphical capabilities of the NES; he said, "I wanted to do something 'flashy' early in the game, trying to show off my amazing graphic art skills on the rather primitive NES. We were working on Amiga and ST games at the same time, so were always trying to push the NES with bigger and better graphics, right from the start of our work on the machine." The eagle consisted of only three colors and between 11 and 17 sprites per frame of animation. There was a smaller version of the same eagle, which was used as a regular enemy in that level.
Development of the game's title screen was inspired by loading screens that were used in most computer games at the time; the objective was to create a nice-looking graphic while waiting for the game to load, even though the NES, more rooted in arcade traditions, did not require that. Pickford spent most of his character space on the title screen image; he was limited in the number of available colors due to the more limited graphic capabilities of the NES (as opposed to most home computers), as it was more designed for scrolling and animation and not for stationary graphics. The sword in the title screen used character sprites and used a different palette from the picture of Kuros himself; the sword had to be vertical as the NES hardware did not allow for too many sprites horizontally. Pickford planned to use, and completed, an Ironsword logo of his own when Acclaim made him use their planned logo, which he said "was a bit more bland and blocky, with detail that didn't work very well at such a low pixel resolution".
For the game's cover, Acclaim hired Italian male model Fabio Lanzoni to pose as Kuros; Fabio was presented on the cover bare-chested and without armor. When Zippo Games saw the image of the cover a week prior to its release, they were perplexed. According to Ste Pickford, "Our jaws hit the floor when we first saw this image (which was, being merely the developers, probably about a week before the game's release). Why on earth did they choose a photograph of a bare-chested barbarian to promote a game starring a knight in shining armour?". Pickford added that "We used it as an example of the lack of imagination of Americans", while suggesting that having an actual suit or armor would be too costly to use for a photo shoot.
Software: Steve Hughes
Background Graphics: Ste Pickford
Moving Graphics: Ste Pickford, Tim Stamper
Sound Effects: Steve Hughes
Music: David Wise (Rare Ltd)
Concept: Tim Stamper, Steve Hughes
Critiquing: Tim Stamper
Licensed by Nintendo.
Marketed by Acclaim Entertainment Inc.
Produced by Rare Ltd.