Rag Doll Kung Fu Interview

The Video Game Industry is an odd business. Our artists are often unknown, but when the game is a one-man-show, one can’t help but be interested in the person. Especially when that game is something as cool-yet-quirky as Rag Doll Kung Fu. RDKF is a fighting game where the fighters aren’t animated at all. Instead the player grabs them with the mouse and swings their arms, legs, head, and the fighters themselves around to fight with rag doll physics. Mark Healey is the man behind the curtain, and while it’s a name you may not recognize offhand, you know his work. Assuming of course you’ve heard of great games like Fable, Black & White, Dungeon Keeper, or Magic Carpet. Mark was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions.

Making a kung-fu fighting game itself is very cool. Everyone loves martial arts. But with Ragdoll Kung Fu you took it a totally different direction than other fighting games with your application of ragdoll physics for the animation and mouse-only movement. What was the inspiration for those ideas?

Actually, the game started a bit more like a traditional street fighter type game, (e.g. fixed sprite animations,) it wasn’t until my mate Alex gave me some code for rope physics (he wanted me to put ropes in the game), that the game took a turn – ropes I thought – sod that, I can make characters with this!

I’ve never really got on with learning strange button combinations etc that you find in most fighting games, wanted something more direct, and logical – something that’s easy to understand, but has plenty of room for becoming skillful at.

You’re currently working at Lionhead, a developer that people seem to love or hate. Either way, people are passionate about you and the games you create. (Well, and passionate about Peter Molyneux.) But what’s the day-to-day life like for an artist at Lionhead?

Well, it’s a nice place to work, and I especially have a lot of freedom, as I’ve worked with Peter a long time, and he trusts me. Towards the end of a project though, people have to work long hours, which can be very tiresome (but this is the same in any games company).

Overall, it’s a great place to work.

You’ve been in the industry since (mobygames.com claims) you did some artwork on the DOS version of James Pond 2: Codename: RoboCod. (It was a solid platformer that had an impressive two colons in the title!) Did you seek out this career in games, or was it something that you just ‘fell into’?

I wanted to make games from the second I got my Commodore 64 at school, many years ago – I remember making some small games in basic, making cassette inlays and selling them to my friends – the first one was called agoraphobia, a text adventure with three locations, you had to escape, I seem to remember the solution involved flushing your self down the loo.

My first break came when I met a guy who was making games for Codemasters(they used to sell the games for 1.99 on cassette) – he landed me a contract to covert his spectrum game, K>G>B Superspy – which I did in a few months. (I have fond memories of my Mum phoning them up, and hassling them to send me some money, so I could pay my keep.)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the game was first talked about back in March of 2004 with a planned summer 2004 release. Also the ‘word’ then was that the game would be free. Now there are reports of the game costing £10 ($18.) What happened in that time to push the game so far back? And did that have anything to do with the institution of a price?

Well, I never ever said the game would be free, I don’t know where that came from, not me, that’s for sure. And the release date, well, yes, you know how these things go – I never intended for it to become such a time consuming project – after the initial buzz that was created, I felt this pressure to make something really special – and I am very proud of the result; I’ve amazed myself. There’s a hell of a lot in the game now, 10 quid is an absolute bargain, if you ask me.

Your releasing this brings together a lot of things that, five years ago, would’ve seemed too crazy to work. A modern game with a very barebones team and digital distribution. Personally, I love the idea of Steam. I think the money going straight to developers for their games is an obviously good one. And I think the fact that a single developer could make a game and have so many people looking forward to it is a testament to the power that a good idea still has in modern gaming. That said, where do you want video games to go in the future?

I would love to see all the corporate grey middle men banished from the industry, those that don’t care about games, only about cashing in on factory produced crap. Anything that can help with that vision (such as Steam) has my vote. Making games with your mates can be so much fun, I think more should be done to encourage homebrew projects.

Thanks Mark. For both taking the time to talk with me, and for what looks to be a great game. I’ll guarantee you at least one sale. Look for Rag Doll Kung Fu coming soon on Valve’s Steam network! (Press release here.) (Game trailer, and excellent theme song, here.)

If any other nice people on the ‘inside’ would like to answer a few questions, feel free to drop me an email. I’d love to continue to develop these rusting interview skills.