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Flip's Twisted World Developer Journal

Happy Birthday to Flip!

by Douglas Gregory - October 25, 2010, 3:26 pm PDT

A look back at the life cycle of a Wii game.

Today's the big day! As I write this (on October 19, 2010), Flip's Twisted World is expected to be hitting store shelves across North America. For us it's the last step in a three-year journey, for players hopefully it's the beginning of many hours of fun. This seems like a good time to reflect on all the stages Flip's went through: the process that all games go through to get from the creator's imaginations and into your hands. As you might expect, there’s a bit more to it than:

  • Step 1: Have Awesome Game Idea

  • Step 2: ????

  • Step 3: Profit!

Here's a look at how it usually goes:

Step 1: The Idea

Every game starts with an idea. At Frozen North, most of our ideas come from the whole team talking together – either in a formal brainstorming session in our meeting room, or chatting and joking away as we loiter around the artists' cubicle. It's this collaborative atmosphere where everyone – from new hires to our founder and CEO – has a voice and can contribute ideas as the game takes shape. I think this approach is responsible for our studio's unique style and creativity.

Ideas will also sometimes originate outside the studio, in the form of a publisher RFP (a Request For Proposal). This is where a game publisher has the seed of a successful game – often it's permission to make a game based on an existing series/movie/brand, something we call "licensed IP" – and they need a developer to grow it into a full game. Many developers receive the RFP and are invited to respond with proposals describing what they would do with the game (and how much they'd need to be paid to do it).

Step 2: The Pitch

Even if you're an in-house developer at a large publisher/console-maker, at some point you need to convince the people holding the purse strings that your idea is worth investing in. As an independent studio, Frozen North has to pitch to outside publishers for the funding to get the game off the ground. Pitches can be just about anything, from text/spoken descriptions to a playable game sample, depending how much time and resources you have to put into them. What we've found works best for us is:

  • A target gameplay video: hand-animated by our artists, this gives a visceral idea of how the game should look and feel. Shinier and more reliable than a demo, with less work.

  • A pitch presentation: an image-heavy PowerPoint laying-out the game details and business case, including target demographic, platforms, monetization...

  • A sellsheet: a one-page graphical mini-poster we can leave behind with anyone we talk to, so they have all the info to consider or share with colleagues.

The idea is to give the people you're meeting with all the tools they will need to be your advocate within the publisher. Nobody ever buys a game idea on the spot.

Step 3: The Contract


After passing several "Greenlight" meetings at the publisher, everyone involved is excited about the game and is ready to commit to a business deal. The developer and publisher negotiate a contract that details things like what features are being promised, how much will be paid and on what schedule, who owns various rights at the end of the project, and how to resolve any disputes during the development cycle.

Step 4: Pre-Production


The first milestone in a game's development is usually finalization of the Design Document, the game bible that describes everything that happens in the game and explains how every mechanic works. This is the busiest time for a game designer like me. The art team is similarly busy, compiling the Art Bible that dictates the game's look. Meanwhile, the rest of the team is building-up the tech they'll need for the title – learning/modifying/building the engine that will run the game, and setting up the various tools that will be used to create the game's content. Solid pre-production saves you from surprises later.

Step 5: Development

Once the docs are done and everyone knows what's being built, it's time to go full speed ahead on building the game. This process varies tremendously between studios and even between games, but there are some common milestones to hit:

  • Proof of Concept: if the title contains any weird & experimental mechanics or systems, the publisher will want to see those tested first. Fortunately with Flip's, we had this done before our original pitch.

  • First Playable: the first version where someone can "play" the game. Often there's not much to do at this stage, but early physics and controls are there.

  • Vertical Slice: some studios aim to have a "one of everything" build early-on: one level, one enemy, one weapon, one power-up. The rule is, everything that's going to be in the final game, you should encounter one of it.

  • Alpha: at this point in a game's development the code is theoretically done. There are bugs to catch but every mechanic/feature should be there. Levels are all present but some art assets may still be missing or unfinished.

  • Beta: "almost done" – the game's in a reasonably complete state and ready to open-up to a wider group of testers, sometimes members of the public. The aim is to find every remaining glitch or mistake before the game ships.

Step 6: Approvals

A lot of people have to sign-off on the game before going to all the expense of printing copies. First-off, the publisher has to decide it's ready to sell. The ESRB needs to rate the game's content before most stores will carry it. For console games, the console manufacturer then has to approve it. Since Flip's Twisted World is for the Nintendo Wii, it had to pass the inspection of Nintendo of America, followed by Nintendo Japan. They check to make sure the game displays all the right error messages if things go wrong, that it won't crash or lock-up the system, things like that. This is a nail-biting time for developers like us, as the game is out of our hands and it can take up to two weeks to hear anything back. One little glitch at this point can set development back by half a month.

Step 7: Going Gold

Once everyone's given the game their OK, it's off to manufacturing. At this point the game is said to have "gone gold," after the gold master discs that are used as the authoritative source for burning all the retail copies. Actually, I don't know for sure if gold discs are used in today's process, but it's a cool mental image either way.

Along with the game discs, manuals and boxes are printed, and then everything is assembled and shipped off to the retailers. All of this takes another two to six weeks. It's possible that by the time the first boxes arrive in stores, the developer hasn't had their hand in the process for months. The wait can be a bit trying, like a kid eagerly awaiting Christmas morning.

Step 8: Sweet Release


And here we are today. It's just before 9 a.m. here in Toronto on launch day, so I'm hoping that just around the corner an employee at our local game store is putting the last copy of Flip's Twisted World on the shelf, ready to sell to customers when the store opens. This is our first retail release together as a studio, so we're all tremendously excited! From all of us at Frozen North Productions, we hope you too find excitement in Flip's Twisted World.

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?)

BeautifulShyJuly 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.

BeautifulShyJuly 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. ;)

BeautifulShyJuly 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.

BeautifulShyAugust 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.

BeautifulShyAugust 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)August 31, 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.

BeautifulShySeptember 07, 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 07, 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 07, 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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