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Every year, the town of Birstall in the United Kingdom holds the annual White Horse Rubber Ducky Race. Unbeknownst to the organizers, the races would inspire a game designer.
Matt Marriot, game developer with Touch.Play.Repeat, grew up in Birstall and loosely based his iOS game Dash and Bash on the yearly duck races. He said, “The village I grew up in had a rubber duck race so that lent itself perfectly to the game.”
Dash and Bash is part race game, part endless runner and it is told with a cartoon flair. The rubber duck influences are clear enough as protagonist Dash the duck competes in the Spring Banks Racing Championships. He floats through the water, dodging every obstacle that protagonist Bash the beaver throws obstacles in his way.
“I wanted to combine three or four things of different genres to make something quite fun and unique,” Marriot said. “I didn’t want something that is obscure. I wanted to make it accessible.”
Marriot said the game was designed to be played by his young daughter. He implemented simple touch controls and used an art style that was influenced by the likes of Doctor Seuss and the Simpsons.
“I wanted her to be able to pick up and play it without having to read instruction,” Marriot said. “The concept for Dash and Bash fit in quite nicely”
The entire production process took about eight months before the game released in May. After several weeks on the app store, Dash and Bash has seen success even though it hasn’t made it on the coveted feature page. Featuring is when Apple puts an app on the front page of the App Store. Every week they adjust what goes into the ‘What’s new’ or ‘What’s hot’ category. This is how most iOS users find their games.
“It’s been doing nice so far and hopefully that will continue,” Marriot said. “We’re running about five figures for downloads, which is not too bad.”
Marriot was a game developer with the now defunct Eurocom games. He saw the company was struggling to adapt as the console game market started to shrink and decided to go indie. “A lot of smaller titles were struggling and the studio started to close down,” he said. “I recognized it wasn’t the greatest place to be so I started to look around at other possibilities.
Going indie was a natural choice since he’d been considering it for quite a while. He worked as a senior artist at Eurocom so there were some significant adjustments. The biggest hurdle was learning the programming side of things, but he saw some big advantages in going indie.
“I’ve worked on some big titles. There was a lot of publisher input and not exactly a lot of creativity,” Marriot said. “It was a lot of being told what to do as opposed to being creative. I wanted to get that back.”
Dash and Bash was the best of the initial ideas for his newly formed studio Touch.Play.Repeat. Marriot said he wasn’t out to make the next Skyrim considering he was working on this game by himself.
“I didn’t want to make a game that was too ambitious in scope. I wanted to make a good game, make it polished and get it on the app store.”
The biggest appeal of Dash and Bash is the art style. Marriot worked mostly on the art side at Eurocom and his game has a distinct style that sets it apart. The game tells its stories in comic book style in with a page comic introducing the theme in each chapter.
“I knew from art side that I could make it appealing,” Marriot said. “It had that Disney cartoon look and that would help it.”
Marriot created a game that fit the art style. He opted for simple up-and-down touch mechanic that was easy to understand. The challenge was making sure older players didn’t get bored so he implemented a gradual learning curve.
Early levels were quite simple, introducing obstacles slowly. The game got complicated as more and more elements are added with each passing chapters. To keep the player from getting discouraged, Marriot added some of the elements were helpful to the player.
Titches and Duckeenies are fellow ducks that aide Dash’s quest for the finish line. Titches are like missiles that destroy any obstacles in front of Dash. Duckeenies add a strategic element to the game. Collecting three of them activates a temporary shield of invulnerability around Dash.
“I wanted to make it accessible to a lot of different skill levels. It was really tough to balance it so an eight year old can get through and a 30 something can get through and still feel challenged,” Marriot said. “I didn’t want someone to breeze through the game.”
Marriot added a couple of extra game modes to accommodate both sides of the spectrum. An easy mode blunted the difficulty on many later levels and for hard core players there is an option to race Bash. Racing Bash is reminiscent of facing a ghost on Mario Kart. He embodies the perfect run, flying over the level while Dash tries to beat him despite the myriad of obstacles in his way.
“That was one of the biggest things that came about halfway through the project,” Marriot said of Bash mode. “The original mode was time trial, but that comes about with the story. I thought ‘well, got this character as a rival and it’d be nice to go head-to-head.’ I wanted to toy with some kind of reward or a perfect mode.”
Marriot added one last finishing touch that paid homage to friends and family that supported throughout the process of making Dash and Bash. Many of the ducks available to purchase are a all named after people that helped him along the way. There is one duck in particular though that he loves just a bit more than the others.
“(My daughter) is in the game in the outfit shop,” Marriot said. “You can buy different ducks her name is Faryl. It Seemed like a nice thing to do.”