Buddha Finger interview: Kung fu fighting

Earlier this year, a pair of Tomb Raider developers decided to branch off from Eidos and create an independent gaming studio of their own. Not much was known about what would be released under the new Lady Shotgun Games banner, other than it would be released on iOS devices. Since then, former Eidos Executive Designer Anna Marsh unveiled Buddha Finger, a cross between rhythm action and beat-'em up. As the game approaches its targeted October release date, she took the time to talk to Shacknews about the game, her decision to go the indie route, and the current state of women in game development. Buddha Finger takes players into the rhythmic world of kung fu. A mysterious old man named Shifu teaches players a secret kung fu technique that allows them to target enemy pressure points by swiping, tapping, touching, and spinning. The object of the game is to take out enemies by nailing pressure points in numerical order, which becomes increasingly difficult under more high-pressure situations. "We based the aesthetic on cheesy 1980's action movies โ€“ straight to video kung fu films and Van Damme/Segal type films, because we love those!" said Marsh. "It seemed to fit the premise of a secret ancient kung-fu technique well. The story is written by Katharine Neil and I think it's extremely funny. We wanted to make a game that was, first and foremost, good fun." Of course, Marsh also cites a more contemporary source for the game's inspiration. "The actual inspiration for it came from watching Kung Fu Panda with my daughter," she added. "The bit where Oogway takes out Tai Lung, then that suddenly fusing itself in my brain with the DS games, Elite Beat Agents and Ouenden โ€“- it was a eureka moment!"

The faster you swipe, the better your score.

Buddha Finger is described as having a "deep" scoring system, but there are no specifics illustrated. I asked Marsh to explain the game's scoring system in more detail. "One of my personal game design rules is to put complexity somewhere in your design," Marsh explained. "Basically, the faster you hit pressure points, the better your score. It's worked out as an analogue between a maximum and a minimum, according to when it was pressed in the point's lifetime, and you get a much higher score if you can achieve a "super time" window. Then we start incorporating multipliers if you're consecutively successful. They go up exponentially and increase exponentially if you are hitting consistently with super time. The end result is that it's very unlikely for two players to ever get the same score at the end of a level. I got to test this in a high score tournament at a Game City event in Nottingham, UK, last week. There was a difference of around 20,000 points between the highest and lowest score, even when all the players had managed to successfully beat the level." Buddha Finger is undoubtedly a large departure from Marsh's previous work with the Tomb Raider franchise. I asked what factored into her decision to leave Eidos to create her own studio. "Firstly and mainly, because myself and Sarah [von Rompaey, Lady Shotgun co-founder] were looking for a way to work flexibly from home, so we could better mesh childcare responsibilities and work. When we met Gabriela [Pavan, lead artist], who was in the same situation and also very experienced, that was the point we thought, OK, we can do this. Of course, we enjoy the other benefits of being independent -- the freedom of concentrating on projects that we really have belief in and not being in a position of having to juggle tons of diverse and often contradictory feedback from many different departments in a large company. If we like it, we make it." While some game developers choose to go the indie gaming route to build a portfolio and get their start in the industry, Marsh's endeavor represents a reversal of this idea. She says that she would not have had the confidence to go into indie gaming without 13 years of experience in game design. While indie gaming represents a learning experience for many, Marsh says that the team is experienced enough to avoid common development pitfalls. "It's easier to keep a focused vision on a small project," Marsh added. "Everyone knows and understands what makes Buddha Finger tick, so we can all work effectively on it as a remote team. I'd like to think that one day, we'll be at a point where we could tackle a large scale game using the methods we have, but the larger the team, the more difficult it is to keep one defined vision of the game. Once you have people pulling in different directions, that starts to make development more difficult and time consuming, and that is something I've learned through experience."

Click for full size images.

Marsh's experience also represents something of a rarity in the gaming industry -- a credible female voice. I asked for Marsh's perspective about the current state of women in the industry and what needs to happen in order for them to gain more prominent roles in game development. Surprisingly, Marsh didn't notice the gender line until later in life. "Until I had my daughter, I never felt I was being treated differently to my male colleagues," Marsh said. "After I became a mother, I did find that it became difficult to put the long hours expected into a traditional studio role, because I needed to get to and from the nursery. I think those long hours are responsible for putting many parents off, and particularly mothers. There's an attitude that you must be seen, to be sitting at your desk, to be working 8+ hours a day to make games effectively, but that's not true. If you work efficiently, you don't need to work like that, but many teams are not organized or managed effectively enough. It was, in fact, one of our main objectives when starting up Lady Shotgun -- to work efficiently so we could work flexible hours from home." With that said, Marsh addresses major publishers and developers and many stereotypical views of women in games. "The industry itself tends to be very friendly," she added, "but I do feel traditional 'core' game companies could do more to make female players feel more comfortable and want to get into development. Lots of women enjoy playing games, but it's easy to see how many are put off before they've had a chance to become 'gamers' โ€“- stupid bimbo female characters and Booth Babes at expos. I know it's meant to be harmless, but it does have a negative effect. And the abuse that women (and other minorities) who play online are often subjected to is disgusting. Surely, any company hosting online servers should be doing their level best to moderate hate chat in online games." Lady Shotgun's first game, Buddha Finger, is targeting iOS devices later in October.