Flip's Twisted World Developer Journal

Technical Challenges in Programming Flip's Twisted World

by Andrew Woloszyn - September 15, 2010, 4:20 am PDT

Read about how Frozen North overcame having just three programmers on the staff for Flip's Twisted World.

The programming for Flip’s Twisted World was a challenge for many reasons. One of the larger ones being the rather unique composition of our team, consisting of only three programmers at the most and a small number of artists. We had to play to our strengths in order to successfully accomplish the ambitious goal that was Flip's Twisted World. A team of this size has presented us with a large amount of flexibility and camaraderie. Everyone on the team was allowed and encouraged to voice their input with respect to all aspects of the game, and the talents of every person were used to their utmost capacity. The downside to a team the size of ours is that we all must give 150 percent at all times in order to succeed with such an ambitious project.



Oh Where, Oh Where Have the Resources Gone

Our artists came primarily from teams working on systems like the Xbox 360 or the PS3, where system resources are comparatively abundant to those of the Wii. The limitations of the Wii system fall into two categories, the first being memory. Compared to other modern systems, the amount of memory in the Wii is quite limited; many Smart phones have more RAM than the Wii. The other memory limitation is that it is divided into two banks with different speeds, which must be managed accordingly. The second limitation is that the processor is many times less powerful than any other system and computationally expensive systems such as physics must be carefully monitored. Because of this, as programmers we had to be especially careful to allow the artists to use as much memory and processor time as possible in order to produce their fantastic assets. This was achieved using a few techniques. One was a very efficient memory allocator that would waste as little memory as possible in order to maximize the amount we have. Another was to make some modifications to the physics engine that reduced the footprint in memory that it had. Giving the artists the maximum available space to work with was a challenge, but it paid off in the sprawling worlds we were able to create. In many places we come very close to the limit of the Wii's memory boundaries with the size and complexity of the worlds that we have created.

Putting the Twist in Flip's

The other major challenge that the programmers have had to overcome has been the unique use of the rotation mechanic. Whereas in most current games gravity is always constant, in Flip's we are required to account for many more interesting possibilities. The artificial intelligence not only has to allow for a character being in a different vertical position, it also has to adapt for the player having a totally different idea of gravity than the enemy. This has led to some rather interesting and unique behavior that had to be created for many different enemy types. Special attention had to be paid to all flying characters in particular.

Some of the problems introduced by rotation included enemies attacking Flip through the floor, or attacking him when he is in a very awkward position such that he cannot fight back. We had to pay very close attention in order for the AI to feel both intelligent and engaging, as well as to not be overwhelming due to the complexity of being able to fight enemies from multiple surfaces. This mechanic also put further strain on the Wii’s resources since now every character had to make many more tests to determine its orientation relative to other characters and enemies in the game.

The largest problem that we had with the rotation mechanic was that we had to rotate the physical representations of objects. Our physics engine originally thought of Flip as a capsule (a pill shape), and as such he could fit into some tall, narrow spaces. This caused a problem if you wedged flip in a tight space and proceeded to twist the world - pushing his head and feet through walls on each side. This issue manifested in a variety of different ways due to how the physics system dealt with intersecting physical objects. The simplest were that Flip would get jammed, or bounce out of the area he was in, but they got more complex and problematic when Flip would bounce INTO to the level, and as such he could run around inside the walls and floor, and have a hard time getting out. We tried a number of different approaches such as trying to detect and prevent rotation in these areas, or making sure Flip always got pushed to the “outside.” The most effective solution was simply to change Flip's physical representation from a capsule to a sphere, so he could be rotated freely in any orientation.

The final problem with the rotation mechanic was dealing with changing inertia while rotating the world. Originally we were able to rotate the world while running, which presented some very interesting and fun situations, but unfortunately this made it more difficult to design levels that could not be "cheated." This became apparent when we were consistently able to run towards a ledge, time a rotation correctly, and end up running down the edge of the wall. As such we had to remove the ability to rotate the world while running in order to maintain some control over where the players could be. (Although if you try really hard, and know where to look there are still some places that you can get to that may not have been intended).


I feel that we here at Frozen North have, with Flip's Twisted World, put together an engaging game that has really pushed the capabilities of a system . We have introduced a new game mechanic that will hopefully be around for many years to come, and we have overcome many obstacles with both our team size and the system that we are working on. It has been an extremely challenging time but we feel that we have put together something that is unique and fantastic for our fans.

Andrew Woloszyn is the lead programmer at Frozen North Productions. He dabbles with many aspects of programming but primarly loves graphics technologies and artificial intelligence.

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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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