Buddha Finger Developer Interview

Fans of touch screen rhythm games have been treated to a number of different types of games, each of which finds its own way to explain why you’re tapping all these moving targets. While many games, like Elite Beat Agents, get away with having you just tapping for fun without any context, the upcoming iOS game Buddha Finger attempts to tie accurate and varied touch screen prompts to a context that ties the experience together, being a kung fu master attacking pressure points.

Coming from Anna Marsh, founder of Lady Shotgun Games, Budha Finger sees you travelling the world fighting off enemies with nothing but your mighty index finger. The art style and sense of humour in the game are great and it looks like it’s going to keep me entertained for a good while to come. I was able to sit down with Anna and discuss the game, the challenges of creating an accessible but deep touch screen game, her studio’s unique set-up and more. Read on to find out why her game seems so interesting.

Laura: Firstly, for anyone who doesn’t know you, could you briefly introduce yourself for our readers and tell us a little about how you got into working on video games?

Anna: Sure – I’m Anna Marsh, I’m the founder and design director at Lady Shotgun Games. I’ve been a game designer for around 14-15 years and prior to setting up as an indie developer I used to work on “core” titles like Tomb Raider, Aliens, that sort of thing!

I really loved games when I was a kid, I played a lot on my ZX Spectrum (I’m that old!), but I didn’t really get into making them until I started making levels for Doom and later mods for Quake. I was really into the mod thing for Quake, and it was through that that I got my first job at Psygnosis. I did game design MA at Bournemouth University too, but I think it was mostly the modding that got me the job!

Laura: And what can you tell us about your newest game Buddha Finger?

Anna: It was pretty heavily inspired by the DS games Ouenden/Elite Beat Agents. I really wanted to make a casual game that anyone at all could pick up and play and get into, and the touch interface on iOS is so great for making games really accessible; I wanted to use that.

So, in the story the player learns this secret kung fu attack called “Buddha Finger” where they can target pressure points on enemies by touching, tapping, swiping and spinning. Every enemy has a bunch of pressure points on them and you target them according to type as fast as possible. We’ve tested it on families who never play any kind of games at all and on “core” gamers and it’s really cool – they all love it! I mean, it’s cool when you’ve spent ten months working on a title to see them enjoying it… not being big headed!

The aesthetic of the game is based on those cheesy 1980s action movies, the kind that Steven Seagal and Van Damme are in. The narrative, which was written by Katharine Neil, I find hilarious. It really plays on all those clichés.

There are 61 levels, bosses, special levels – it’s just fun to play really, and it has a scoring system that’s pretty deep. It’s very unlikely for two players to get the same score on any level beyond the very basic first level. It’s iOS universal so iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad.

Laura: Some “core” gamers are opposed to playing games on touch screens because “they were not designed for gaming.” Why do you think your game works so well on touch screen devices?

Anna: I find it odd that people would say that! Man, you can play a game on ANYTHING if the game is designed for it – console joypads are just a convention that core gamers have learned, that’s all.

Anyway, I think if you’re going to use the touch screen, let the player actually touch the elements of the game, you know? That’s the beauty of it, you can be really in touch with what you’re playing, you don’t have to go through the medium of a controller.

So for example, the pressure points in our game – that legendary kung fu type attack, like the Five Point Exploding Palm in Kill Bill? That would be really difficult with a traditional controller to make it feel good, but it feels great on a touch screen because you can actually ape that kind of feeling, that you have this great pokey ability to drop enemies with your fingertips! Also, you use the same feedback as any game to let the player know constantly what they’re doing right and wrong whenever they touch stuff, so if feels nice and responsive!

Laura: How big is the team working on the game? Is it just you and Katherine? What challenges do you find working in a small team versus large scale game development?

Anna: We ended up with a team of ten, but that is because we all work part time hours. Some people put in just a short stint, some a lot – it was a deliberate decision on our part to work flexible hours from home because the three of us first on board – me, Sarah and Gaby – had young children to look after and we wanted to juggle work with the childcare better.

So the rest of the team aren’t mums but they all have other commitments that would make working in a traditional studio a no-go. Working with a small team, well relatively, I think its easier to maintain a clear focus on the game. We all knew what made Buddha Finger tick so you know, we could all get on with our tasks happy that we were all going in the same direction.

But I have to say, I’m really happy with how our production worked out. It was very smooth, very efficient, I’d totally take the plunge to make a much larger project in this way. When you have the right people and the right focus, I think you can do anything.

I think the thing that makes traditional game dev difficult is that there are so many people and departments wanting to get a say in the game direction, it’s hard to maintain one clear vision. Brand, marketing, directors, leads, QA – whereas if you’re indies, you have much less of that. You can all sign up to a clear direction and get on with it.

Laura: And what sort of reception have you had showing the game off so far? While you mentioned people have said it was cool, is there anything specific that people have been commenting on?

Anna: Its all been so positive! The art style, which is great, that’s Gabriela Pavan our lead artist and she’s coming from a graphic design background so it’s quite visually distinctive, different from many games. The scoring, the fact that we have all these boosts and multipliers and ways of getting “supers” on scores; people who are gamers like that! The story and aesthetic, anyone who loves those cheesy kung fu movies appreciates that.

The responsive feel of the touch interface, you know, every time you do something the game is giving you sound and graphical feedback, lots of bells and whistles so people enjoy that too, even my daughter who’s three and can’t count properly likes pressing the points to get the feedback.

The franticness of it! People think it’s going to be really simple at first and then they get a couple of different point types and the countdown going and they suddenly go “oh my gawd,” and start tapping away frantically – and people who are really good just like showing off how fast they go.

I want to give a special shout to the soundtrack because its so 1980s funk I love it – not many people have got to listen to it yet though because it went in at the last minute and at the last public showing it was too loud to really appreciate it.

Laura: What sort of challenges have you come across trying to promote the game as an indie developer?

Anna: Well, I guess getting people interested in playing, sites interested in taking a review copy. Although we’ve not done too badly, there are lots of really good supportive game journalists who are willing to talk to indies, and the Tomb Raider link has helped us. I’m just hoping that we pop up in enough places that mobile gamers will hear the name of the game and will be interested in checking us out when we hit the App Store on Sunday the 28th of October.

I’m a little out of my comfort zone doing the marketing having been a pure developer for the last 13 years, but having a product I really believe in does help immensely. I don’t mind going around shouting about it because I actually think it’s a good fun game!

Laura: Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into game design for themselves?

Anna: Mod a lot, whatever games with SDKs for making your own versions you can get your hands on. It’s so good for getting you conversant with all areas of game development, the art/code/level design/weapon and object balancing. Unity now would be a good one to get to grips with.

Don’t expect to steam into a company with a brilliant concept and get it made – the design is really in all the little details – how the weapons feel, how the scoring works, how the enemy displays its AI to the player, a lovely fluid level that you just flow through… get to love doing those kinds of teeny tweaks that make a game great.

I guess the last thing I would say also would be that when I got my first job I could have been a programmer rather than a designer and I sometimes wish I had done that. The designer can often be the unloved dogsbody in the team. Programming is cool though. I vow every year to dust off my code skills and get less rusty and one day I will do it!

Laura: When can our readers expect to be able to get their hands on Buhdda Finger?

Anna: We are expecting to have it on the App Store on Sunday October 28th!

Laura: To finish, do you have any last words for our readers?

Anna: Um… thanks for reading. I really do appreciate people taking their time to read about us! And to quote the old Depth Charge tune that I pinched the title of the game from (which is sampling a great kung fu film called Shaolin Sticks or something, I think!) “Use the Buddha Finger and you will win!” 🙂

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