Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Third Rate Game Play: Flip's Twisted World

Game: Flip’s Twisted World

System: Wii

Developer: Frozen North Productions

Publisher: Majesco Entertainment

Player: Tony

Experience: Blind

Check after the jump for the article!

Over the last few generations, there has been a steady change in the way platformers have performed.  Initially with the first 3D gaming generation, platformers openly focused on wide exploration and item collection, and as the next generation grew and ebbed away, the focus began to shift to a more action-oriented platformer.  By the time this latest generation began, most 3D platformers had shifted entirely to action-adventure games, and what was left shifted to becoming side-scrolling 2.5D titles to cater more toward lapsed gamers and new gamers alike.  However, a number of unique 3D platformers still emerged into this generation, notably the Super Mario Galaxy series, but there were still a couple of more obscure projects in that genre.  Flip’s Twisted World would be one of those games, even though its release was not as highly received.

Flip’s Twisted World was the first project from Toronto-based developer Frozen North Productions.  The company first began in Waterloo, Ontario, located in the University of Waterloo Accelerator Centre.  With assistance from Infusion Angels and Infusion Development’s CEO Gregory Brill, Frozen North Productions became incorporated in September 2006.  The company’s first major project would become Flip’s Twisted World.

Before joining Frozen North, most of the company’s small staff had been in college.  The company’s CEO, Julian Spillane had come from the University of Waterloo into game development.  Lead Designer Douglas Gregory came from OCAD, Lead Artist David Campbell came from Toronto’s Humber College, and 3D Artist Devon Powell was still getting a CS degree part-time at Wilfrid Laurier University.  The only game industry experience known to the team was 3D Artist Mitch Gladney, who worked at Pseudo Interactive during the company’s final months in 2008.  Pseudo Interactive had developed such games as Cel Damage and both games in the Full Auto franchise, but when Eidos dropped its project entitled Crude Awakening, the company could not secure another publisher in time.  Knowing this, Frozen North Productions was as new as new could get, so making a 3D platformer on Wii (originally Xbox 360) was going to be a challenge!

The only real element not new to game development besides the publisher was Tommy Tallarico, the game’s music composer and a producer of the game’s sound effects.  He began creating music in 1991, having been credited in the compositions of such games as Shiny Entertainment’s Earthworm Jim and MDK, Virgin Games USA’s Cool Spot, Namco and Full Fat’s Pac-Man World, and GlyphX Games’ Advent Rising.  Tommy Tallarico created Tommy Tallarico Studios in 1994, and he co-produced the game review show The Electric Playground in 2002.  Most recently, Tallarico is best known for running Video Games Live, a concert dedicated to video game music which continues to this day.

Publisher Majesco Entertainment was formed in 1986, focused initially on the resale of older Nintendo and Sega games.  Majesco was behind the Genesis 3, the rereleased Sega Genesis, while Sega worked on the Sega Saturn; the company also rereleased the Game Gear as the Game Gear Core System.  Majesco would begin game development under Pipe-Dream Interactive, producing such titles as a Dreamcast port of Q*bert and a number of Game Boy Advance titles, including Iridion 3D from Shin’en Multimedia and Boxing Fever by Digital Fiction.  It also worked with Terminal Reality on BloodRayne and BloodRayne 2, both of which were met with relative success.  However, in 2003, the company was met with great financial difficulty; Double Fine Production’s Psychonauts struggled despite a big marketing push, while Advent Rising was a critical and commercial failure.  Another unique IP in development, Taldren, Inc.’s Black9, was cancelled in the final stages of development.  Further large cancellations occurred in 2006: Terminal Reality’s Demonik and Taxi Driver.  The company was on the verge of pulling through the hard times, however, when it began publishing casual games, specifically the DS hit Cooking Mama (developed by Office Create, now titled Cooking Mama Limited).  Majesco’s focus remained on Nintendo DS and Wii, where it produced casual products such as Sandlot Games’ Cake Mania as well as smaller core titles such as WayForward Technologies’ remake of A Boy and His Blob.  Before releasing Flip’s Twisted World, Majesco also published Attack of the Movies 3D and Swords from Panic Button Games as well as Croteam’s Serious Sam HD games for XBLA.

Flip’s Twisted World is a 3D puzzle-platformer that follows the adventures of Flip who is accidentally trapped inside a world where up and down are just a matter of perspective. By turning a magic cube, he is able to turn the entire world, opening up new paths and possibilities. Players must think “outside of the box” as they navigate the world that is literally in the palms of their hands.
-Official PR
Our biggest challenge was the sheer amount of content we needed to produce. Each of the six worlds contains easily hundreds of assets — from textures to 3D models, animations, sound effects, camera cues, event triggers, materials, and particle systems. To do it all with such a small team, we were working long hours for most of the two years of development, even with some of the asset creation outsourced. Learning to squeeze all that content into the Wii without slowing it down was yet another challenge.
-Douglas Gregory, Lead Designer (Nintendojo)

Flip’s Twisted World is a third-person platforming adventure which spans multiple worlds all within a magic book.  The game stars Flip, a young wizard’s apprentice who was also raised by him.  Flip disobeys Master Fulcrum’s orders and reads from a forbidden magic book, and he ends up sucked into a twisted universe which he must save in order to escape.  With the help of his cube companion Pivot and its many faces, Flip has to venture through the universe’s many worlds to collect the Chapter Stones.  With those stones, he will be able to face off against the evil mage Axel and save the world and return home.

The game plays much like any 3D platforming adventure.  Players control Flip with the usual set of abilities such as double jumps, and for an attack, Flip uses a large spell book to deal damage.  His cube companion Pivot provides assistance for him with hints as well as a unique power to rotate the world in 90 degree intervals.  This proves to be very necessary, as the world itself is twisted in many directions, causing normal traversal to be impossible.  Players are tasked with going to each linear world, solving each puzzle and level in it, and defeating the boss at the end to collect the game’s Chapter Stones and subsequently to complete the game.

The game was originally being made for Xbox 360 under the name “upanddn,” but it was moved to Wii mid-development and became the game we see today.

Flip’s Twisted World was a victim of constant release date shifts.  At one point, the game was thought to be releasing early 2010, only to end up delayed all the way to October of that year.  A European release never really surfaced, and ultimately the game was poorly received and hidden away.  Many reviewers felt that the game was unpolished, needed a number of control tweaks to feel more fluid, and had too many long, linear areas in the game.

Another problem hit Frozen North Productions shortly after the game’s launch.  One ex-employee, Emily Schooley, had worked at Frozen North with public relations and other aspects of the company.  According to her blog, she was sexually harassed at work by members of the team, and as she continued to pursue any compensation for it, members of the company tried attacking her on the Internet, harassing in a few other ways.  This was not entirely proven in court, as legal battles seem to have not happened in relation to the situation.  Whether this or Flip’s Twisted World’s critical issues caused the closure of Frozen North is unknown, but in the end, Frozen North Productions ceased to exist by February 2011.

What happened to the novice developers which made up the team?  Well, some of the members left to join Silicon Knights, and of those, at least one has moved onto Digital Extremes, currently producing Star Trek and Warframe.  The company’s Lead Designer now works for Ubisoft Toronto, working on such games as Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6: Patriots.  Meanwhile, some of the team has moved back to education while the rest continue with game development.

Majesco Entertainment continues to release games focused on motion controls and the Cooking Mama franchise to this day.  In regards to the Mama franchise, the company published Crafting Mama, Babysitting Mama, Gardening Mama, Camping Mama: Outdoor Adventures, and Cooking Mama 4: Kitchen Magic.  The most recent string of major releases for Majesco is from the Zumba fitness craze: Zumba Fitness (developed by Pipeworks Software), Zumba Fitness 2 and Zumba Fitness Rush (both developed by Zoe Mode).  Other significant titles published by Majesco since Flip's Twisted World include Monster Tale (developed by DreamRift), BloodRayne: Betrayal (developed by WayForward Technologies) and Nano Assault (developed by Shin’en Multimedia).  Currently, Majesco is working on publishing three key titles: Double Dragon Neon from WayForward, a Kinect-based basketball music game called NBA Baller Beats (from HB Studios), and Zumba Fitness Core from Zoe Mode.

There is always an interest in us to try out obscure platforming games, regardless of the consequences.  After having received Flip’s Twisted World, Alex handed Tony the controller and decided to watch him experience the oddity that the game had to offer.  They knew the game had poor reviews, but the screenshots and the colorful world enticed them to try it anyways.

In this episode, we take a look at the game’s introductory world as well as some of the Keep world.  However, we do not finish the world in our hour-long expedition.

Our ending the game so early is partly caused by the game’s quality leeching at Tony’s mind.  The game unfortunately had a lot of polish issues which continued to permeate throughout the experience.  It began with the game’s poor camera design, shaking with each movement of Flip’s body.  The flip mechanic would have worked if it did not give false positives all the time.  Dying from falls is understandable in a game with flipping mechanics, but when a single jump from one platform to the boss platform yields a death from heights, the game had not gone through enough playtesting for corrections.

Was the game as bad as reviewers say?  It is an unfortunate thing to consider.  The game had a lot going for it as we entered.  The world was colorful and modeled well, and the concept was unique for a platforming game.  Its quality could stem from the fact that this game was made by a team of a very new set of game developers.  Perhaps they had bit off more than they could chew.  In fact, knowing that the team was almost entirely new to real game development makes me willing to cut Flip some slack.  I mean, it is still not a great final product, with all its bugs and issues here and there.  Maybe Frozen North should have aimed a bit more realistic for its first endeavor.  Then again, seeing as the company ended after one project, perhaps going as far into a big project as possible was best for the team.

This was our first recording using a new capture card: the Hauppauge HD PVR.  If anything, the jaggies show up a lot more than I would have liked, but that’s the case with capturing direct feed footage.  Furthermore, this was edited a while ago, so the presentation is not as great as it is in more recently-edited episodes.  Otherwise, it was a good episode from my standpoint.

Want us to continue this run?  Want us to play a different game?  Send us messages here, on Facebook, Twitter, or on the video itself! 

3RM Says: Ooo, hello, smiling sugar cube!  Seems I've been on my side for too long.
Time to help get these suction cups off my feet!

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