Breakthrough Gaming Interview: Switch ‘N’ Shoot

Galaga, Space Invaders and Defender are all games that define the shoot ’em up genre. Matt Glanville however tweaks the classic arcade formula and strips back the gameplay so that one button controls everything. Switch ‘N’ Shoot maybe simple enough to control but having one button control both shooting and moving at the same time makes it hard to master.  Breakthrough Gaming talks to Matt about this unique indie title that recently came out on the Switch.  

Say you’re at a gaming festival and they have no clue what they’re getting into how would you entice them to play?

A lot of the time the big red button does the enticing for me which is the reason why I wanted it. I normally describe it as a retro shoot ’em up with just one button. That’s kind of like often enough for people to be like ‘Ok What? How does that work’? Then they have a go and its really hard. That’s basically my elevator pitch, it tends to do the job.

I love the music in Switch ‘N’ Shoot which retro games inspired it?

The chiptune music is very similar to the Megaman games. It just has this amazing energy you need in that frantic situation. It’s not so repetitive that you get bored of of it hearing it over and over. I’ve played it for over 100 hours at this point because I’ve been making it and I’m still not sick of it (laughs).

The better you get at it the more music you listen too as well. 

Yeah that’s the cool thing about it. I cut off the music when you die so there’s an incentive to hear more of the song

That was definitely my incentive along with the high score of course. So Switch ‘N’ Shoot is on a lot of platforms now what is your ideal way of playing it??

I guess I have two if we’re talking about the awesome kind of experience of playing the game, I really like the arcade cabinets. In the USA we have full size, coin-op arcade cabinets with one big red button in the middle.

Everything is bigger in America including the Switch ‘N’ Shoot arcade cabinet.

I remember you brought one to Norwich.

Yes, that was actually a smaller version like a desktop version. For the authentic arcade experience, it’s got to be that. Not that I’ve been able to play on one of the full size ones because they’re all in America but that feeling of having one big red button is really cool. If I’m going for my high score I go for a mouse because they’re so small the time to press is really, really tiny. With the arcade button there’s more of a press in with a mouse it’s just a quick click. I find I get a better response time. That’s how I got my high score anyway. Actually I tell a lie I got a new high score on the Switch.

Has anyone beaten your record because it’s an insane record? 

Yeah by a long shot I’m no where near the top there’s people who have been getting 2 or 3 thousand on Switch and on the Steam leader boards there’s a guy sitting on the top with 7000 I think he has. He got to like sector 9 and I think sector 10 on the Switch which I can’t get near. It’s bonkers.

Have you got any advice to be that good?

A lot of people are inclined early on to spam the buttons, well the button (laughs) but that doesn’t really work because ‘A’ you kind of forget which direction you’re moving and ‘B’ you don’t hit many aliens that way so while you survive you don’t really get a very good score because you’re not hitting anything. So precision is generally a good tactic. I also find that maybe spamming two or three shots at a time like in little bursts tends to be the best middle ground so you get the precision while you’re aiming freely while firing a few shots at a time so you can account for some misses which could hit something behind it. That’s my preferred technique.

What appealed to you to create such a simple game that harkens back to the style of games in the 80’s? 

The look and feel for it was something that came out of the design so the gameplay mechanic came first. A lot of people ask me where it came from and I don’t really have an answer it just sort of popped into my head one day. This simple idea of boiling down a shooter to one button where you’re moving constantly and you press the button and you start moving the other way. That complete idea was just fully formed in my head one day for some reason so I tried it out and thought; ‘Ok cool this timing works’. Having these aliens come from the top at the time it was just white squares I didn’t have any graphics or anything. I was just prototyping it. I then had to decide what are these things? What’s these things moving left and right on the bottom? What’s these things coming down from the top? This all looked a lot like a retro shoot em up. Let’s just make it look like one of those. Go all out and double down on the low-fi simple block colour style and from there everything wrote itself really having the arcade cabinet artwork along the sides was a nice way of tying all that together and getting some nice high fidelity art flanking the low fidelity art in the middle. So I spoke to an old friend of mine from college, Paul Duffield he’s a professional illustrator and he did the arcade cabinet artwork and did an awesome job. It all just came naturally from that decision to create a retro shoot em up which is a natural fit for the gameplay.

How much does it mean to you to have Switch ‘N’ Shoot on the Nintendo Switch?

It’s really really awesome. I know a lot of people say this but for me it’s absolutely true I grew up playing Nintendo. My first games console was a SNES. I’ve always played Nintendo and I look up to Nintendo’s games and Miyamoto’s games as masterpieces of design. Having my game on a Nintendo console is just so awesome. It’s like beyond words. It still boggles the mind looking at it on the little library screen when I boot up my Switch it’s on there now and I’m like ‘huh’. I finally made it (laughs).

Is it selling well?

It is yeah I don’t know specific numbers but it’s done really well. My goal was to outsell Steam and it did that really really quickly and the Steam version has been out 2 and a half years so that’s been really awesome. 

So you worked on some pretty big titles before you decided to make indie games such as the Oddworld games what made you step down from working on these bigger budgeted games? 

For me it was like a calling in the back of my head which comes and goes over the years but gets really strong sometimes. It’s this urge to work on my own things which is how I started out by originally making games as a hobby like 15/20 years. I made some RPG maker games called Legion Saga way back in the day. I would sit down in a room on my own and make the whole thing. I didn’t do music or anything we used to just rip music from commercial games like Final Fantasy, it was how the community worked back then, it was pretty bad. It was really rewarding for me to do the whole thing myself to let this stream of creativity loose. The process of working with other people is amazing and you can get amazing things done the team I worked with on Oddworld were really awesome. I have no doubt that game will be amazing but it’s like for me personally I stumble a bit on the collaboration process. When I’m working solo I can run with ideas and can try stuff and do stuff without having to filter it through with other people. There’s this element of things getting lost in translation or you have to explain or sell an idea to someone before it gets implemented. I find all that quite frustrating. I’d rather just do it, you know. It’s going ok so far (laughs).

What I’ve noticed while playing Switch ‘N’ Shoot was it’s incredibly tough and unforgiving yet quite addicting at the same time. I always want to go back and boost my high score a little bit each time. Why do you think it has this addicting quality?

I guess their is this personal desire to better yourself which is quite an innate thing for some people. Ironically I don’t really have it that much.  I’m not really driven by high scores unless the game really clicks with me. It has to be a good game first and foremost. With Switch ‘N’ Shoot I tried to make the core gameplay feel good even if you don’t get a high score, it feels good to hit the button to see these big bullets flying out and seeing the aliens explode into blobs of goo. That feels all chunky and nice and tactile so that was a big part of it. Another thing was the rapid reload when you die you restart within a few seconds. That was a super important thing for me to do right, to let people jump straight back in so then you don’t have to think if you do or don’t want another go (laughs). That compulsive low response time is a huge part of it.

My favourite part of the game is collecting the power ups when you keep getting them it’s really satisfying watching your little peashooter become this super sonic death ray. Were there any other weapon ideas for power ups?   

Yeah there were a bunch of things that I thought of but didn’t really get round to implementing them. Some ideas were this little drone that would sit next to you and fire shots at the same time as you. Some other stuff involved modifying the ways that you can shoot for example holding the button to fire a big shot. My friend gave me the idea of a power up that was active until you pressed the button again so instead of firing when you press the button it was constantly firing until you next pressed the button. It was like a mega death ray almost but you’d have to change direction at some point because the aliens are coming down that’s when it turns off so you have to keep it going as long as you could. I did have to draw the line somewhere because this game needed to get shipped so I kept it simple. 

Switch ‘N’ shoot is available to purchase now on Nintendo Switch and Steam.