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  • A Look Back At PAX 10 Finalist A Flipping Good Time

    - staff
  •  [In this article, first published in the October 2011 issue of Game Developer magazine, the Digipen student team behind the PAX 10 finalist A Flipping Good Time reflects on the production of this gravity-bending platformer.]

    Earlier this year, a student team at the Digipen Institute of Technology debuted A Flipping Good Time, a challenging 2D platformer that lets players manipulate gravity to navigate a series of complex underground caverns. We recently spoke with the team behind this PAX 10 showcase winner to learn more about how the project came to be.

    How did you arrive at the overall design concept for the game?

    Richard Weschler (game concept, game designer, level designer): Being big fans of classic platformers such as Yoshi's Island and Donkey Kong Country, we really wanted to make a game that captured the traditional feel and fun of those games but with some sort of twist. The original design had a weight-changing mechanic that allowed the player to change the weight of the main character depending on different-sized ore he picked up. The player's current weight could be tracked with a weight bar, but after prototyping this concept, we quickly realized this was just too much for the player. The mechanic was streamlined to a simple flipped or non-flipped state which made the player lighter when he picked up a cape.

    What tools did you use?

    Ryan Davison (physics programmer, art, animator): Our development environment was Visual Studio. The game itself was written in C++, and we used DirectX 9 for graphics and input. External tools included Photoshop, a school-hosted SVN, and of course, the support of our fellow students and DigiPen.

    What were some of the technical hurdles you had to overcome?

    Mark McKenna (lead programmer): There were plenty of technical issues that had to be resolved throughout the development process. Our level editor, for example, was a bit of a challenge, and never did work quite right. There were also quite a few little things like camera movement, player movement, and the death animation that took several iterations to get to their current state.

    One area we put a great deal of time and effort into was the drawing of the environment. Originally, we just needed to get something drawn so we could start creating levels, playtesting, and developing new features. In our early builds, the levels had a really ugly checkerboard sort of look. From there, without abandoning our simple tile-based approach to level representation, we developed some techniques for mapping larger textures over the environment, and trimming the borders between different tile types to soften hard edges. The result was a reasonable balance between visual appeal and content creation costs.

    What sort of design challenges did you encounter during development?

    Stephen Fogg (graphics designer, level designer): One of the biggest challenges we faced revolved around the difficulty of the game. Are we targeting the casual platformer? Do we go after the hardcore Super Meat Boy fans? How soon and at what points do we ramp up the craziness? We decided that we wanted a game that someone entirely new to video games could sit down and have a good time with, but we also wanted to appeal to those individuals who crave an insane amount of challenge from their platformers. Our solution to attracting both groups was to create two tracks of levels: a normal track that would introduce all the various gravity-flipping mechanics while being easy enough for a beginner to get through, and then a challenge track of levels that would only unlock with the collection of gems hidden within the normal track. The more the players proved themselves capable in the normal track levels, the more comfortable we were in allowing them to experience the higher difficulty of the bonus content.

    The other major design challenge was sticking to a core concept and avoiding feature creep. Fairly early on in development we knew from our prototype that we needed to have gravity balls, pads, and beams. Beyond those, we had a gigantic list of ideas that we thought might work well in the game: springboards, wind, water, break-away platforms, moving platforms, timed gravity, enemies, bumpers, and so on. Ultimately, 90 percent of these ideas had to be scrapped because they either clashed with the already established feel of the game, or we simply didn't have the time during the school year to implement and experiment with them. We had to shoot for the best (or perhaps the simplest) ideas, and experiment with those select few. The mine cart proved to be both. Not only was it fairly easy to implement (we just force the player in a certain direction while in the cart), but also provided some of the most exciting gameplay moments.


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