Flipping Out

Posted by on February 5, 2012 | 4 comments

First, apologies for the long radio silence, that’s just us working so hard to get The Splatters ready for release with not enough time to write a decent post! We are getting dangerously close to being done and the thought of wrapping up development and pushing on to launch is pretty scary.

Onto the subject at hand, which is one of main mechanics in The Splatters and the one I’m most excited about. We named it ‘The Flip’ – you’ll soon understand why.

Sandbox physics-driven play

The physics based game-play in The Splatters has a sand-box feel to its mechanics. Even more so the ‘Flip’ mechanic which is free to use, once you unlock it, whenever you want and without limit. This turned out to be so versatile and deep as a game mechanic that it opened up so many things to explore. It’s a bit hard to explain what Flip does and the best way to wrap your head around it is actually trying it out in the game. I’ll try, but no matter how I put it, it’ll either sound technical or just not as impressive as it turned out, but it’s one the game’s best features. Trust me on that ;)

So before we continue, here are few examples of Flip during real gameplay. Watch for the “LT” button symbol whenever the player is flipping.

Watch HD version on Youtube

Flip vs. Rewinding time

Our ‘Flip’ move looks like it’s rewinding time, but in reality it’s doing no such thing. When you ‘rewind time’ (like in Braid) everything goes back exactly to where it was, but with our Flip – it probably won’t.

In a very sterile environment where there is a single bomb flying in the air in one direction, hitting Flip will make it go back to the opposite direction, which might seem exactly like rewinding time – at least for a short while. But the main difference here is that as soon as you hit Flip and the motion changes direction, normal physics of the game kick back in and everything continues normally from there.

So for example, if liquid is falling down from the ceiling, it won’t start flying up just because you hit Flip. What it’ll do is go up just for a split second and resume its free fall right after that. You can hit Flip again and again to keep doing a little ‘Liquid Dance’ in mid-air – but the liquid will hit the ground sooner or later.

Timing is everything

While activating the flip requires a single button press (actually pulling either trigger on the controller will do), the choice of when to time it becomes the most significant choice. If you flip before a Splatter hits a wall, it will come flying back pretty much from where it came from. But if you let it hit the wall, which will absorb some of its energy, then hit flip, you get a totally different result. The same goes for when you push some bombs away by slamming hard into them. If you flip before your splatter is “liquified” they might not all get soaked. But if you wait a little and let your dude explode to liquid and only then flip, you’re much more likely to get them all.

Of course this is not as ‘binary’ a choice as I put it (before or after), it’s much more nuanced and ultimately (after some practice) gives you an impressive amount of control with a single key-press. Also, it integrates so well with the game’s stunt/combo system, giving players even more ways to execute stunts in unexpected ways. Some you’ll only discover after spending a lot of time with the game and experimenting with the controls.

It also turned out that overusing Flip has its own disadvantages built-into the game, so we didn’t have to limit the player’s use of it in any way. He is practically already ‘penalized’ for using it too much and it’s up to him to figure out just how and when he wants to use it. This is done in two ways:

  • When you flip too much, without generating new stunts, your combo will eventually time-out and reset.
  • The way liquid is simulated, flipping too much after the Splatters explode will eventually make the liquid explosion cover a smaller area just by a result of the liquid simulation’s dampening forces.

Keep your finger on the trigger

Overall, we ended up having a control mechanic which seems to have all of these properties, which I think is pretty amazing:

  1. Easy to use (just a single button press).
  2. Profound – the effect of this mechanic is felt everywhere on the game.
  3. Versatile – can be used in a wide variety of game scenarios with a different effect to each.
  4. Requires skill to execute well – the choice of when to time. Notice this is not a ‘timing challenge’ – there is no concept of a ‘correct’ time.
  5. Self-Immune to player abuse – we didn’t need to implement any limitation on using the mechanic as it, in itself, was not useful when used excessively.
  6. Integrates and complements the rest of the mechanics/rules of the game.

Granted there were a few ‘special conditions’ I had to code into the game to make it as useful as it can be, but my objective was to keep everything flowing naturally so only the very keen observers will notice the game actually behaves a bit different during the flip period.

Next post I’ll cover a totally different aspect of the game, which is how we addressed the issue of ‘teaching’ people how to play without resorting to over-tutorializing the game. Hope you enjoyed this.