[This feature was published in the May 2013 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad.]
Developer: Lady Shotgun
Who are they? A co-operative of experienced freelance games developers founded by three mothers in November 2011
What is it? A twitch action fighting game that was critically acclaimed on iOS, and is making the leap to Windows 8
The rise of mobile platforms has led many developers to leave their roles in commercial development in favour of projects that give them greater flexibility.
That was certainly the case for Anna Marsh, who was enamoured by touch screen and the possibilities it presented, and started her own virtual studio, Lady Shotgun, when she became a mother for the first time.
“I was itching to do something different from those massively long console projects, to make games that felt great to play on a touch screen,” Marsh tells Develop.
“That was the seed of Buddha Finger for me – something that would really feel good on a touch screen. I like focusing on game feel and I think touch screens give us something genuinely new there.”
Buddha Finger was Lady Shotgun’s first title. Inspired by kung fu and 1980s action films, it’s twitch action meets fighting, and the game’s ‘punk’ aesthetic adds to its home-grown, tongue-in-cheek feel.
“We had a great laugh with the aesthetic and narrative,” Marsh says.
“There’s a section where you help a woman in labour give birth to her baby with your awesome martial art technique, you fight a car, the lady boss is called Mai Shirona [in reference to The Knack’s 1979 song ‘My Sharona’] – we had a great time making the game, basically. You don’t get to have a sense of humour in triple-A, which is another point in indie and mobile’s favour.”
The decision to release Buddha Finger on iOS initially was because that was the platform Marsh and her small team of freelancers had the most experience on. But, as Marsh explains, getting on to the App Store doesn’t guarantee instant success.
“We did discuss doing cross-platform from the get-go, but finally it seemed like the best decision to get the first title from Lady Shotgun finished in as timely a manner as possible. Which had pros and cons – we got somewhat buried on iOS because, as you know, visibility is so difficult there. But it did let us prove our abilities to make a compelling game experience and it’s on the strength of that version that Microsoft were keen to speak to us.”
Marsh says it was the enthusiasm from Microsoft staff that led Lady Shotgun to make its first ports for Windows 8 and Windows Phone.
As part of the agreement, Microsoft recommended some changes and additions to the game from their experience of what customers are looking for.
For example, they were keen to have a game that parents could pass to their small children to play, so Marsh and her team altered the few images that pushed its age rating up, such as cartoon images of alcoholic drinks, to make it suitable for children over three.
They also added an easy mode which slows everything down so it’s much easier. “That’s something we had overlooked, and it’s not something you’d get from analytics alone,” offers Marsh.
And that was just the beginning. “They loaned us hardware for the W8 build, which, when you’re a tiny independent developer, is super helpful,” she adds.
“And we’ve had access to a technical evangelist who’s
always available by email to help out with code and tech issues – especially with getting the game working on both the ARM and x86 chipsets.”
LIFE BEYOND IOS
In reflection, Marsh says her experience with Microsoft has been a positive contrast to the ‘big business’ approach she felt while in triple-A development.
For instance, she believes an issue Lady Shotgun encountered, and reported, related to their game being a non-Xbox game has now been incorporated into the submission rejection feedback, so others devs with the same problem will get precise feedback on how to fix it.
“The number one plus point has been the ability to talk to Microsoft. You find out very quickly on mobile that the real factor in making sales is being featured by the platform holder, so simply the fact that someone got back to us to discuss what they look for in a featured product was great,” she concludes.
“The great thing for me has been to realise just how much life there is beyond iOS for mobile titles. Certainly, if indies are in the same position as us of having released a game that’s been a critical success, but haven’t had the luck to be featured by Apple, you don’t necessarily need to write the game off.”
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