Flip's Twisted World Developer Journal

Flip's Twisted Evolution Part Two

by Douglas Gregory - August 24, 2010, 10:37 am PDT

The winding road to Flip's Twisted World.

In part one, I told the story of how Flip's Twisted World went from a web game design on paper to an XNA technology demo, and then to an Xbox publisher prototype. This week, I'm going to describe our journey in finding a publisher and migrating onto the Wii, as well as some of the changes that we made along the way.


Enter Majesco

We'd been developing the Xbox prototype to show to publishers for two months when we got an email requesting to see some game pitches. This was a little unusual; usually the developer has to reach out to the publishers to get noticed, especially a small indie studio start-up like ours at the time. The attention we'd gotten at X07 and that year's Game Developers Conference was really paying off.

The email was from Majesco Entertainment, best known for their wildly successful Cooking Mama franchise, and hidden gems like DoubleFine's Psychonauts. Majesco at the time was looking for original Wii and DS pitches.

We'd mused about the Wii previously – about how cool it would be to twist the world with a flick of your wrist – but couldn't see a way to break into that market as a start-up with no connections to Nintendo, and no prior experience on the platform. Game development can be a catch-22 sometimes: nobody wants to fund your game unless you've already made a game in the same genre and on the same system.

Majesco took a chance on us, new to the platform as we were, and by spring of 2008 we had a signed contract and the Wii development hardware we needed. Now we just had to figure out how to use the system.


Brave New World

While the Wii is a truly innovative system with some dynamite games and a most enviable player base, I would be dishonest if I didn't talk about its limitations. It has a lower resolution than the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, and lacks their powerful shader systems for creating visual effects. The toughest limitation is memory, though. The Wii has less memory than some smartphones on the market. That means that as you add more things to your game, you start to run out of room, and the processor has to fetch data from further away.


Our early builds were crippled by inefficient memory use: worlds a tenth of the size of what you see in the final game would struggle to keep up 30 frames per second. We had to rethink a lot of approaches we took for granted when working with PC and other consoles.

Graphics, too, were a big challenge. With no shaders, we had to learn from scratch how to create a host of common visual effects – something I may write a separate blog post about in the coming weeks. Our early test renders and in-game visuals were flat and lifeless, and suffered badly from artifacts.

We got hammered pretty hard after E3 2009 when we first showed the game, because we still hadn't completely licked these problems. That feedback was a big inspiration to our team to overhaul the game's systems and graphics, and I think the results speak for themselves. It was a long road, but we finally learned how to make a great-looking game on the Wii.


The Home Stretch


Toward the end of Flip's development cycle things started to change very quickly. Majesco's testers gave us a lot of support and feedback at this stage, to help hone the game into something awesome. The tutorial world was added and (the cube) Pivot's role was expanded to that of sidekick and guide. One of the biggest changes in terms of gameplay was the way we handle fall damage.

Even back as far as the Xbox versions, we'd handled falling differently from other ways of dying. The reason is that twisting the world really stretches your three-dimensional thinking, and so it's easy to sometimes make a mistake and fall off the world. We didn't want players to feel discouraged from experimenting with the mechanic – some of the coolest moments in the game come from twisting when you're not really sure where it will lead, and discovering something totally unexpected.

Early on, we'd start players back at the beginning of the room if they fell too far, or deal a little damage for really long falls that weren't quite *too* long. Unfortunately it's notoriously difficult to judge distances in 3D platformers, so a lot of players were getting hurt when they weren't expecting it, and repeatedly starting over at the beginning was getting repetitive.

To address this we added checkpoints throughout large rooms, so a fall would only ever set you back to the last checkpoint. We also removed fall damage completely. Now a fall is either perfectly safe, or sets you back – never hurts you. We still need to limit fall distances to keep players from twisting straight to a goal and skipping a puzzle, but this approach turned out to be much more fun and enjoyable.


The Fun's Just Beginning


All told, we put almost three years into building Flip's (although only two counting from contract to completion). It's been a long road for all of us here at Frozen North Productions, and we've learned a lot and had a lot of fun along the way. I can't wait until next month, when Flip's Twisted World hits store shelves, and the whole Wii world gets to see and play what we've created. I hope you'll take it for a spin!

Images

Talkback

I had only heard the name before reading this, but the game actually sounds fascinating. I appreciate the explanation of accelerometers, because there's a lot of misinformation and general ignorance about how the Wii Remote actually works. But as the designer notes that Wii MotionPlus can actually detect twisting, I hope that accessory will be supported as an option. The blue/orange arrow indicators sound like a great idea, especially since the flip won't take place until you release B. (Maybe a little like throwing in Boom Blox?)

MaxiJuly 27, 2010

Is there a chance that Doug will come on to the forums and talk with us?

That detecting the way you play is a great idea. It was done wonderfully in Helix for Wiiware.
Yes In have been keeping track of this games progress and I do like the concept of it.

I played a demo of the game two E3s ago and really liked the concept, but found myself frustrated and confused by the twist mechanic's controls. I'm glad to see Frozen North spent so much time working on the controls, because Doug isn't kidding when he says there was "trouble".

I also played that demo with TYP and I was initially interested in this game, but then I was so turned off by it. However, they've had more than a year to work on it, and as far as I know, they took the E3 critiques to heart and tried to work them out.

DMGregoryDouglas Gregory, Guest ContributorJuly 29, 2010

Quote from: Maxi

Is there a chance that Doug will come on to the forums and talk with us?

Hello, Maxi!  Doug here.  Sorry for the delay, I was just alerted to your comment by a coworker today.  I'd be happy to answer some questions here.  I hope you won't mind if my replies are a little delayed - we're swamped here at Frozen North working on our next title.

Quote from: NWR_Neal

I also played that demo with TYP and I was initially interested in this game, but then I was so turned off by it. However, they've had more than a year to work on it, and as far as I know, they took the E3 critiques to heart and tried to work them out.

We most certainly have taken those critiques to heart.  Post-E3 we overhauled the game's visuals, including an all-new lighting system, and fixed a lot of inconsistencies in the twisting and combat mechanics.  I'm sorry the early version turned you off; we have to admit it really wasn't ready to show at that time.  I hope you'll give the finished product a try, and have a lot more fun!

Thanks to everyone reading for your interest!

Doug, just on the basis of this first entry in the developer diary, I am very inclined to check it out when it hits, and since I'll be formatting all of the subsequent developer diaries, I expect to get even more excited.

MaxiJuly 29, 2010

Oh wow we don't get many developers here.
Hmm questions...
Was the reason for the delay to work on it more or was it to avoid a certain other platformer from taking away the spotlight of this game?

What type of music will be in the title?

Hmm how much will it cost?

DMGregoryDouglas Gregory, Guest ContributorJuly 29, 2010

Hi Maxi,


You hit the nail on the head: our publisher didn't want to release at a time when we'd get eclipsed by Super Mario Galaxy 2.  The hope is that waiting the summer will give Wii gamers' appetite for 3D platformers a chance to grow again.


The music in the game is all done by the legendary Tommy Tallarico, of Electric Playground and Video Games Live fame. He's easily the most prolific game composer, and what he created for Flip's delivers on his long reputation for musical excellence.  We asked him to evoke some of the memorable feeling of classic platformer games like Mario, Sonic, Donkey Kong Country, with a little of Zelda thrown in. He ran with that, adding his own signature spin, so that should give you an idea.


We don't determine the price for the title, but taking a quick look at a few game retailers' websites, it looks like most are planning to sell it for $29.99. That's not an official statement, so don't quote me on that. ;)

MaxiJuly 29, 2010

What do you think of the resergance of platformers this generation on the Wii?

I mean we have games like Wario Land:Shake it,New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Epic Mickey, Flips Twisted World and Kirby's Epic Yarn.

Do you think it is good to have this many platformers out?

Quote from: DMGregory

You hit the nail on the head: our publisher didn't want to release at a time when we'd get eclipsed by Super Mario Galaxy 2.

That's a smart move. All too often publishers want to simply push the product out the door. Hopefully that also meant the development team got a few more months to tweak and polish.

Quote:

The music in the game is all done by the legendary Tommy Tallarico, of Electric Playground and Video Games Live fame. He's easily the most prolific game composer, and what he created for Flip's delivers on his long reputation for musical excellence.  We asked him to evoke some of the memorable feeling of classic platformer games like Mario, Sonic, Donkey Kong Country, with a little of Zelda thrown in. He ran with that, adding his own signature spin, so that should give you an idea.

Jonny held a fantastic interview with Tommy shortly before E3 2010 to get the word out about Video Games Live. He shares a lot about the process behind running a show like VGL, also talks about his work on Metroid Prime. Anyone who missed it should really check it out.

DMGregoryDouglas Gregory, Guest ContributorAugust 01, 2010

Quote from: Maxi

What do you think of the resergance of platformers this generation on the Wii?

Platformers are one of my favourite genres, personally, so I think this can only be a good thing. Having more platformer options on the market:
- gives players more choice and more gaming opportunities
- encourages more experimentation and exploration among devs, to distinguish their offering
- (if they sell) demonstrates to publishers the business case for funding more platformer titles


When it works, this feedback loop creates more fun (or profit) for everyone involved. There is the risk of a flood of mediocre titles riding the coat tails of more successful ones, but so far I haven't seen that in the latest platformer surge. In any case, there are enough sources of solid review information available now (like this site) to keep most gamers from being stung by shovelware. So, bring on the platformers, I say. There's still tons of room to explore and innovate in this genre.

Quote from: TheYoungerPlumber

That's a smart move. All too often publishers want to simply push the product out the door. Hopefully that also meant the development team got a few more months to tweak and polish.

Unfortunately, a delay in shipping doesn't necessarily come with more funding to extend development. To keep our studio in the black, we've had to move on from Flip's to new paying work in the meantime. While it would be nice to refine FTW even further, I think you'll like what we've been creating since then.

Hey everyone! There's a new entry in the diary about the character design of Flip.

MaxiAugust 05, 2010

Hmm while most of the designs look nice there wasn't really a hook with them.There was something missing in them.I'm not sure what though.

Killer_Man_JaroTom Malina, Associate Editor (Europe)August 07, 2010

Is there a video I can watch? It sounds like you've come up with a robust system with which to realise the original concept, but I'm struggling to visualise how it all plays out. Camera viewpoint, for example. I assume you'd need quite a lot of control over the camera to examine the level layout ahead of you. But how does the camera track Flip as the gravity changes while making sure you still know where you are and where you will be? That's what I'm trying to wrap my head around.

The third entry, about the game's story and voice acting, is up.

MoronSonOfBoronGarnet Red, Contributing WriterAugust 10, 2010

NEEDS SPOILER TAGS, ARRRGH

ToruresuAugust 13, 2010

I wonder if the name acronym FTW was intentional.

MaxiAugust 13, 2010

I didn't even notice that. Maybe it was.

MGladneyMitch Gladney, Guest ContributorAugust 16, 2010

Hey guys,

The synopsis doesn't give the WHOLE story away, just touched on a few key events.  ;)

As far as Flip's Twisted World matching up with FTW, that was purely coincidental. The name of the game we pitched was actually called up & dn. (Up and Down) The logo worked both right side up and upside down.

Thanks,

Mitch

These guys are good writers. I'm totally fascinated by this game's development.

Killer_Man_JaroTom Malina, Associate Editor (Europe)September 01, 2010

I just read the latest entry pertaining to the http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/devjournal/23954 boss design and really, it is a fascinating prospect, the idea of fighting a boss with the twist mechanic. I can't even conjure any imaginary scenarios, but there's absolutely a lot of potential there.


It has made me more enthusiastic to try out And Yet It Moves on WiiWare, which is probably the closest thing to Flip's Twisted World at this moment. Sure, I respect that a direct comparison might show them to be very different, but it is nevertheless also a platformer that lets the player alter gravity. In fact, it sounds like it has complete freedom in rotation as opposed to 90 degree increments; apparently, the answer to making complete freedom of rotation viable is to ensure none of the terrain or platforms are flat.

Mop it upSeptember 07, 2010

I must've missed this somehow, but I've just read this article. This game is starting to sound like a winner. I like what I saw on the quick list of game mechanics, especially the one about being able to try things without punishment. It leaves more room to experiment and have fun figuring out puzzles. Interesting visualization of the Wii Remote... it sounds like it's a bit complicated to work with. I guess I now know why some companies have such trouble getting it to work right. Their way around the different positions people hold it is rather ingenious. I hope it works like they say.

Quote:

Platformers are one of my favourite genres, personally, so I think this can only be a good thing. Having more platformer options on the market:
- gives players more choice and more gaming opportunities
- encourages more experimentation and exploration among devs, to distinguish their offering
- (if they sell) demonstrates to publishers the business case for funding more platformer titles


When it works, this feedback loop creates more fun (or profit) for everyone involved. There is the risk of a flood of mediocre titles riding the coat tails of more successful ones, but so far I haven't seen that in the latest platformer surge. In any case, there are enough sources of solid review information available now (like this site) to keep most gamers from being stung by shovelware. So, bring on the platformers, I say. There's still tons of room to explore and innovate in this genre.

I've got nothing to add to this, I just wanted to say I pretty much agree with all of it.

New entry is up! Like A Boss Part Two

MaxiSeptember 08, 2010

I'm really liking the design of the bosses. These days most bosses are realistic looking. It is nice to see this type of design.

Formatting and posting these every week has been an absolute pleasure. I will be sad when I don't have an e-mail from Majesco PR in my inbox every Monday or Tuesday.

FlipsterSeptember 08, 2010

"Originally, Butch was in the Glacier World's seas cleaning up a chemical spill from a potion sucked in from Master Fulcrum's lab, but when we decided to go in the direction of collecting Chapter Stones, he became a surly porpoise resolute on drilling the ice, searching for an elusive Chapter Stone."

Could this maybe have had anything to do with being controversial towards oil spills, or no? I guess since your idea of Chapter Stones has been around before the recent oil spill that is unlikely, but it still seems like an interesting coincidence, or maybe it's just me over-thinking it  :P:

I also enjoyed your guys' throwaway story, mostly for two reasons:

1. For me it's always been about the events and characters in a video game, not necessarily the main plot, but how the player progresses through that main plot and what memorable characters and events are experienced along the way.

2. Since Flip is actually in a far-off land inside of a magical book, if a sequel ever arises not only could you show a more consistent or in-depth universe if desired (much like what Banjo-Tooie was to Banjo-Kazooie), but it would also be less constraining for the plot to create a whole other universe with new characters and worlds without it seeming like an inorganic or unnatural progression.

Personally I always tend to love the first of a platforming series the most for having all of the basic themes (Super Mario 64, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, Banjo-Kazooie, etc.), but more and more am I starting to appreciate a series' progression into a universe that is more of it's own, although that doesn't mean it NEEDS to be dark like Jak 2 or Banjo-Tooie.  :)

Mop it upSeptember 08, 2010

Part Two? Where is Part One?

EDIT: Silly me! I totally missed the sidebar with all the other entries posted. Looks like I have some more reading to do...

UltimatePartyBearSeptember 15, 2010

This developer diary has been a real treat, and it worked to not only put this game on my radar, but make me very interested in it.  I especially liked the bit about Flip's hit box getting wedged in the level geometry and doing weird things.  I've seen some really hilarious, but also some really frustrating bugs that come from that kind of thing.

I really appreciate the latest entry.  The TEV is a mysterious black box to most, so it's nice to not only see it getting use, but mathematical explanations of how it can be used creatively.  Heck, I haven't even seen NintendoWare mentioned anywhere since 2007.  I hope you guys have a chance to play with the lower-level TEV stuff and give Nintendo and High Voltage Software a run for their money!

ejamerSeptember 27, 2010

Wow, what a great (ongoing) read.  Thanks very much to the Frozen North Production guys for sharing, and for NintendoWorldReport for hosting.


Best of luck with the game.  If it turns out half as good as it looks then it'll be worth owning.  :D

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