“I’d love to say it was a stroke of genius on our part where we just came up with this grand design (for ‘Race the Sun’), but the truth is that it was an iterative process.” -Aaron San Filippo, Flippfly, LLC.
>>IDEAS AND THE ENDLESS UNKNOWN
It’s amazing how an idea is formulated in our heads. Smelling a campfire in the distance, listening to a song, having a conversation about one subject that totally leads to another; ideas are a wonderful and mysterious reaction to the world around us.
When it comes to gaming, ideas are awesome. They can lead to totally unique storylines, characters and gameplay or they can get in the way of them. Regardless of whether an idea inspires or discourages progress, both lead to outcomes that we never thought possible only moments before.
But what of the unknown? Why is it that more and more games today have “procedurally-generated” worlds (like Minecraft or Cloudberry Kingdom) that are never the same? Come to think of it, why is it that we find them so interesting? Well in this case, the question IS the answer.
The unknown is fascinating. It can be dangerous, relaxing or even scare you so much that you have to step away from your game for a few days; and that goes for both developing and playing games. Playing games that are dynamically generated provides an even more memorable experience because, as in life, we never know what is going to happen next; unlike the games of yesterday that had a definitive beginning, middle and end.
>>BROTHERS IN DEVELOPMENT
“First came the stark, simple world (inspired by a Google Sketchup drawing I threw together), and soon we thought it would be cool to add a sun…so on and so forth.” -San Filippo
Gaming has seen a major surge in independent game developers over the last few years. The online, game service Steam has been THE platform for indie developers to publish their games to an international audience in ways that weren’t previously available due to high costs and copious amounts of red tape that were required to get games published on any platform (mobile, console, desktop, etc.).
One indie game development company out of Wisconsin, USA that understands both the challenges of making games unique and endless, as well as, what it takes to publish games in today’s ever-changing game industry is Flippfly, LLC. Made up of two brothers, Aaron and Forest San Filippo, their latest game entitled Race the Sun is, “an endless racer where you’re a solar craft racing into the sunset, and the sun acts as your death timer.”
Both poetic and geometric all at the same time, Race the Sun is a game that doesn’t hold back when it comes to pushing your reflexes to their limits in order to survive the nonstop barrage of geometric obstacles that come at you faster than an Indy Car racing by at full speed:
“A feeling of tension through a sensation of speed was something that was a constant goal for us, so I feel we’ve definitely succeeded there.”
A ‘sensation’ is putting it lightly. Out of the hundreds of games that I’ve played over the years, I can count on one hand the list of games that have provided such a rush.
>>THE EVERGREEN COMPONENT
As with any other indie game development studio, the San Filippo brothers work in unison to bring their creations to life. Aaron handles programming, while Forest does art, graphics design and audio. But when asked about why they developed Race the Sun to be endless, I found their answer to be both interesting and, well, economical:
“With limited resources, it’s a good way to add a lot of gameplay value without adding a ton of content, and we tend to think it makes for more interesting gameplay situations when there’s a procedural element.”
When you have a small crew, as in the case of Flippfly, you need to maximize on every second of the day (more so than triple-A developers with triple-A budgets) because the sooner you can bring your ideas to life and publish them to the world, the sooner you can (hopefully) get paid.
The Evergreen Component, or having an ‘automatic extension’ to the world of Race the Sun, is key to focusing on providing the gaming community with an experience that is unique every time they play the game. As many have learned before them and many will learn in the future, if you don’t develop your game, or any product for that matter, FOR the community, the community will move on…quickly.
Speaking on this, Flippfly talked of how they updated the game and continue to update the game in order to provide the community with both unique experiences and tools to make their own experiences within the game:
“We really want the community to be a focus for the game. The ‘world creator’ seemed like a natural way to involve the community and to extend the life of the game. The daily world generation just seemed like a cool way to keep things interesting.”
>>REMOVING THE COG FROM THE MACHINE
A lot of indie developers have a background in triple-A game development. They’ve worked for developers like Electronic Arts, SQUARE ENIX, Nintendo, Microsoft Studios and others only to realize that even though companies like these make great titles that sell in the millions of units, they tend to get to a point where it’s a ‘go-big-or-go-home’ mentality. Flippfly, in particular Aaron, is not an exception to this:
“I worked on X-Men Legends 2, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Singularity, and most recently Modern Warfare 3. If you know about these games, you’ll notice that each of them is progressively bigger. The industry is moving into a ‘go-big-or-go-home’ mentality, and by the time Ieft, I was just another cog in a very big machine. I didn’t feel that the work I was doing was the work I set out to do when I decided to make games as a career. I’m much happier now because I get to focus on small projects where I play a bigger creative role, and because I can connect directly with our fans.”
Even though I’m an advocate for indie game developers and the overall indie community, I do understand and respect the need to work on triple-A-sized game projects. Neither is better than the other, but both are very much their own entity within the gaming industry. With the principal differences being (a) budget and (b) number of team members, they both have great ideas, strict deadlines, varying budgets and a widespread array of talent to make some fascinating games that the world will hopefully embrace.
>>DRM, FREE-TO-PLAY AND WHAT’S NEXT
Prior to downloading Race the Sun, I noticed that the game is Digital Rights Media (DRM)-Free – meaning that I can purchase it and, if I want, I can ‘legally’ distribute it to as many people as I want. But as with any, which there are many, games that are now DRM-Free, I always wonder why developers distribute their games in this manner.
Asking Flippfly why Race the Sun is DRM-Free, they responded as such:
“We don’t feel that DRM is an effective tool to prevent piracy, but usually has some downsides for our paying customers. The choice is simple; if someone wants to buy the game, they will.”
Even though Race the Sun and a lot of other DRM-Free games are not Free-to-Play, they still follow the relatively same mantra as Free-to-Play titles because once a game is released to the world, if more people can legally get their hands on it, then there is a much higher chance of success.
To continue the success that they’ve had with Race the Sun, Flippfly is now working to get their game “greenlit” on Steam, as well as, to update their game in order to add even more features for the community:
“We’re working out the details for the first major post-release update. We’ll probably add a ‘featured user world’ to the main menu, and I’d like to add leaderboard support for high-quality user-created worlds. Beyond that, we plan to use our ‘flippfly vote’ system to let our customers help decide what to do next; like an asynchronous relay multiplayer system!”