Die by the Sword

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Die by the Sword
Die by the Sword.jpg
Publisher(s)Tantrum Entertainment
Director(s)Peter T. Akemann
Don Likeness
Producer(s)Peter T. Akemann
Christopher A. Busse
Mark Nau
Programmer(s)Peter T. Akemann
Artist(s)Chris Soares
  • Rick Jackson
  • Ron Valdez
  • Brian Luzietti
Platform(s)Microsoft Windows
ReleaseFebruary 28, 1998
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

Die by the Sword is a swordfighting action-adventure video game developed by Treyarch and published by Tantrum Entertainment (a sub-brand of Interplay Productions) on February 28, 1998. The game allows players to independently command the movement and swordfighting of their in-game avatars; running, jumping and turning with one hand, while simultaneously slashing, stabbing and parrying with the other. Die by the Sword also offered deathmatch and cooperative multiplayer play in its arena mode, where players could stage fights with up to three other players.

The expansion pack Limb from Limb was released on December 31, 1998, and added another main quest for the single-player campaign, enhanced multiplayer through a selection of significantly more creative arenas, and introduced new playable characters such as the Minotaur. A spiritual successor to Die by the Sword was released in 2000 exclusively for the Dreamcast, entitled Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm.[1]


The game allows the player to fully control their sword arm, removing the need for pre-recorded animations and statistically based gameplay.[2] Instead, a physically correct model is used for each avatar and each weapon, and both movement and damage are calculated through forces.

The sword arm can be controlled by using a joystick, the numeric keypad, or a mouse. For example, with the keyboard, to perform a slashing attack with the default key combination, a player would press the '4' and '6' keys on the numeric keypad in succession. This will move the weapon from extreme left to right. The '8'-'2' combination will likewise perform a top-down striking motion. Blocking is accomplished similarly, not through a separate key or state like in all other games of this genre, but instead through the simple physical principle of positioning the weapon so that it intercepts, and blocks, the enemy's weapon. Shields operate like swords in this respect, though it is generally not possible to directly control the off-hand.

Alternatively, a player may opt to directly control his sword arm with mouse movements or a joystick to gain more subtle control. This allows a player to fluidly move his weapon in any direction instead of being limited to the eight points of a keypad. However characters featuring a weapon for either arm can only be properly controlled by keypad or by using predefined moves, due to their unorthodox movements.

A third and simpler method to using the mouse or keypad (as the mouse control can be awkward, and some laptops don't have keypads) is the game's "arcade mode", which uses the Y, U, and I keys to block low, medium, and high, respectively, and H, J, and K keys to chop, slash medium, and slash high, respectively. Turning, jumping, and other acrobatics can be used in tandem with sword control to add velocity to the weapon, increasing its damage potential significantly.

The player can target and eliminate specific body parts. A well-placed swing to the head can in some cases behead an opponent. Strong blows to the arms and legs can sever limbs, leaving the opponent with reduced mobility, or in the case of the sword arm, no way to inflict damage. This system encourages multiple hits to a specific region on the body, thereby slowly cutting the opponent, and reducing his effectiveness. Delicate locations such as the head and neck, while difficult to strike, offer a quick conclusion to those with the appropriate finesse.

In the expansion, Limb from Limb, the player can choose to play the original quest as an Orc, Skeleton, Mantis, and other monsters.

The Arena[edit]

The Arena mode in Die by the Sword consists of as many as four players or AI bots fighting in an enclosed arena. With the Limb From Limb expansion installed, there are a total of nine Arena 'Pits'.

Tournament Mode[edit]

Tournament mode allows the player to choose one of nine different fighters, and work up through different arenas with different combinations of other creatures. It ends with a final boss fight.


Project lead Peter Akemann cited The Bilestoad as a major inspiration for Die by the Sword.[3] Instead of motion capture, the dominant animation technique of the time, Die by the Sword's animations were built with a physics engine that Akemann created over five years of post-graduate and doctoral work.[3] This approach eliminated the need to use pre-recorded animations, thus enabling the player's free-form control over the character's sword swings.[2]


Die by the Sword was a commercial failure, with sales of 28,603 copies in the United States by April 1999. Interplay's Alan Pavlish attributed the failure to the game's control scheme and "a dark period when it slipped nine months ... [and] lost momentum."[5]

Next Generation reviewed the PC version of the game, rating it five stars out of five, and stated that "DBTS' humorous slant on the all-too-serious fantasy genre is a welcome relief. In most respects, it is everything that games like Deathtrap Dungeon aspire to be. Tantrum has innovated in both story and gameplay at a time when most game companies are churning out derivative sequels and clones."[6]


  1. ^ Justice, Brandon (July 22, 1999). "IGNDC Interviews Draconius [sic] Producer Christopher A. Busse". IGN. Ziff Davis. Retrieved February 25, 2022.
  2. ^ a b "Die by the Sword". GamePro. No. 114. IDG. March 1998. p. 70.
  3. ^ a b "NG Alphas: Die by the Sword". Next Generation. No. 33. Imagine Media. September 1997. pp. 94–95.
  4. ^ "Die by the Sword: Limb from Limb for PC". GameRankings. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on December 9, 2019. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  5. ^ Saltzman, Marc (June 4, 1999). "The Top 10 Games That No One Bought". CNET Gamecenter. Archived from the original on June 16, 2000.
  6. ^ "Finals". Next Generation. No. 42. Imagine Media. June 1998. p. 144.

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