Q&A: Rag Doll Kung Fu <i>sifu</i> Mark Healey

Ex-Lionhead veteran talks about the development process--and reveals a little about his new top-secret PlayStation 3 project.

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Mark Healey decided to develop Rag Doll Kung Fu as a side project while working at Lionhead Studios. However, it turned into a cult hit when it was picked up by Valve's Steam online distribution service as its first third-party product.

Healey in a Rag Dog Kung Fu cutscene.
Healey in a Rag Dog Kung Fu cutscene.

Healey talked to visitors at Nottingham's GameCity event last week about the creative process behind the cult hit game, which started life as "wanting to make a silly kung-fu film with some of my mates."

The budget kung-fu film was made in Healey's back garden, and then he used selected parts of the project as cutscenes in the game. "There was no script; we were just filming and mucking around," joked Healey. "The movie was the real kick-start for the game. We had about £50 [around $95] to buy some props--I wore a bald cap, we bought some ninja hats, some plastic swords, nunchuks, and a blow-up doll who was our stunt man. I think 20 mates were meant to come and make this thing--four turned up. We totally made it up as we went along and had a great laugh."

RDKF's original design concept was to make a fighting game that used the mouse as a controller. The idea evolved into a rag-doll character game while Healey was working on a physics problem using some ropes and made the decision to make the game characters out of the ropes.

Healey kept a variety of notebooks in which he worked through ideas, bugs, and processes during development of the game, and he said: "The team size was always, well, me. And it grew to a massive three people by the end of it, which was because I roped in a few friends to help... You don't need 300 people to make a game. You can have a small team with a lot of passion... Basically, a lot of the time in RDKF it was just me sitting at my kitchen table in my underwear."

As to whether or not there will be a sequel, Healey admitted to not being excited by the idea. He said: "I don't like sequels... It's not that I'm turning my back on it--I just want to take it to the next level. I'm really proud of RDKF, but it's a simple, basic game, and the ideas we have are much more ambitious."

After the success of RDKF, Healey left Lionhead to cofound Media Molecule and is now working on a top-secret, big-budget PlayStation 3 game project for Sony. He admits that it was a big jump to move from a one-person project to a "triple-A monster." "Oh, yeah. It's a completely different kettle of fish," said Healy. "I'm very used to working with huge teams, but it's been the first time to deal directly with a publisher. It's kind of scary but exciting at the same time."

As to details of the game, Healey was cagey, but he did throw one interesting snippet out there. "It's quite a novel control mechanism, not a mouse but..." he said, implying the game would use the PS3's motion-sensing Sixaxis controller.

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