The Joystiq Indie Pitch: To-Fu: The Trials of Chi

Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We at Joystiq believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, we're talking To-Fu with Terry Haynes of HotGen.

What's your game called, and what's it about?

Our game is titled To-Fu: The Trials of Chi and it's an action-platfomer for the iPhone and iPad. To-Fu, a block of To-Fu wearing with a red head band, is the game's protagonist and is controlled using a very simple 'drag-and-ping' mechanic. The player taps and holds their finger on To-Fu, stretches him to adjust their aim and then releases their finger to make him ping. It's not unlike a rubber-band. The other unique aspect is the fact that To-Fu is able to stick to the majority of surfaces, so this forms the basis of the game's navigation. The player pings To-Fu across each level -- using the different surfaces to their advantage while avoiding the various traps. The main objective is to reach the level's exit.

What kind of traps are there?

We've got various surface types for To-Fu to interact with. For example, we have a glass surface which he slides down as well as a metallic surface that causes him to rebound. The metal surface alone enables us to create some interesting level designs where the player has to ricochet To-Fu rather than stick him to the surface.

We also have a host of booby traps. Some of these include teleports, rotating platforms, lasers, circular saws, switches, spiked floors and crumbling blocks.

Where did the soy-based idea come from?

The game started life as an experiment here at HotGen Ltd. We wanted to see if it was possible to create a traditional platform game without the need for virtual controls. Although there are examples of games that work well with virtual buttons, we thought we could take the virtual- controls concept in a new direction.

At first, it seems unusual to have a platform game where the player is unable to manoeuvre their character left and right across the level, but once the "ping" mechanic was applied, it opened up new design possibilities and felt completely fresh.

What are you proudest of about To-Fu?

I hope that we've managed to create a game that has universal appeal. We get that there are so many different types of people playing games on iPhone and iPad so we wanted to create a game that was completely accessible, that had that "pick-up and play" appeal but pulled players looking for more in with tons of variety and increasingly challenging levels. We believe To-Fu: The Trials of Chi delivers on that. We also wanted our game to have personality. We took great care in making our hero To-Fu come to life through various facial expressions, animations and sounds as he stretches, pings, ricochets and is sometimes even electrocuted on his journey.

Does To-Fu cater to a specific type of gamer?

The game can be approached in different ways dependent on what type of gamer you are. We don't have difficulty modes or force players to play in a certain way; the choice is theirs and it's a lot more freeform.

Each level has the main objective of reaching the exit. This gets progressively harder across all 100 levels, and although there is a challenge involved, most players should be able to accomplish this. However, each level also has two optional sub-objectives. The first one is to collect all of the Chi pick-ups that are littered across the level, and secondly, we have a "Par" objective which tasks the player with
We don't have difficulty modes or force players to play in a certain way; the choice is theirs and it's a lot more freeform.
having to complete a level within the required number of pings and moves. Some of these are pretty tough and require the player to re-think their approach. These sub-objectives can be completed at any time, so the player is free to go back and achieve them at their leisure. If you're a completist then it's going to take quite a while to achieve all 300 emblems; it's no easy feat.

What's next?

For To-Fu: The Trials of Chi specifically, we've recently added "Game Center" support and released a Lite version of the game. The Lite version consists of 6 various levels that people can play for free to get a feel for the game before they download the full version. Being able to fairly easily expand the experience is part of the fun of developing for iPhone, iPod and iPad!

Overall, we realize the importance of supporting the game. Not only does it attract new fans but it also acts as a "thank you" for the people who are already supporting it.

Bigger picture, the team at HotGen has really enjoyed the process of developing for iOS. We have a new game called Spacelings scheduled to release next month and To-Fu 2 is already in development.

To-Fu: The Trials of Chi now has 140 levels -- check all of them out on iTunes and release your inner ping.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.