The makers of Explodemon!, Curve Studios, developed a creative WiiWare game called Fluidity where you control water. Nintendo picked up the concept during a Game Developer’s Conference meeting and we have Jonathan Biddle, Design Director on Fluidity, here to tell us the story.
My name is Jonathan Biddle, but most people call me Bidds. I’m the design director at Curve and therefore responsible for all of our game design. Additionally, I was the game director of Fluidity, a role which saw me looking after the overall vision of the game while liaising with our producers at Nintendo on all creative aspects.
How did Curve Studios get in touch with Nintendo?
Jonathan Biddle, Design Director: We met up with Nintendo at GDC in 2008. By the time we met them, the people who would become our eventual producers, Masa Miyazaki and Azusa Tajima, had been at GDC all week being pitched game ideas relentlessly. We were one of their last meetings on the last day, so they were pretty tired by then! I think we made them laugh a little and they liked our Fluidity concept, so I think we stood out a bit. They got back in touch soon after telling us that they’d like to pursue Fluidity further.
Why did you want to make a game where water is the main "character"?
Well, water is something that is absolutely universal. It has lots of positive connotations, we drink it, wash in it, swim in it, and it is strongly linked with life and the planet. No one thinks water is a bad thing! We all also know from our science classes how water works. If you freeze it, it becomes ice, if you boil it, it becomes steam. We see ice outside when it snows, and steam when we boil a kettle. It’s a completely everyday thing.
When we first saw the Wii Remote we were struck by the possibilities that the new interface offered. We’d had this concept for a water game before, but now that we’d seen this most intuitive of controllers, we felt that the two matched perfectly. Everyone has poured water from one container to another at some point in their life. We knew that the Wii Remote would allow us to take that innate knowledge of how water works and create an invisible interface that wouldn’t ever need to be explained. This was in 2006, when we first created the Fluidity concept.
What kind of powers can the pool of water acquire during the game and were there any you wanted to add, but couldn’t due to time?
The water can be in any of three different states, water, ice or steam. You change the state of your water at set points in the map by freezing or boiling it. Each state has different attributes; water can carry things, flow through gaps, put out fires; the ice has lots of inertia and is great for smashing things, weighing switches down and for climbing; the steam cloud lets you fly freely and rain down as water whenever you choose.
Every state has its special powers too. For example, the water can be pulled together on a button press and exploded out to move things; the ice can stick to surfaces, allowing you to climb up; the cloud can blow wind or strike with lightning! These different abilities and how they integrate with the puzzles in the game have allowed us to create a very broad and varied game experience.
Let’s talk about level design. How did you plan stages and decide where to hide puzzle pieces?
For a while, the game featured A to B levels that didn’t have any choice of route. The idea was to solve the puzzle without losing too much water and move onto the next section. During the later stages of development we decided that we needed to rework this element to give the player more choice. This was when we moved towards a more Metroid-like level design structure. To do this, we took the puzzle sections of our A to B levels and placed them around a larger map.
We created hub areas and routes off the hubs that lead to the puzzle areas as the player explored. We wanted the world to open up as you gained more abilities and solved more puzzles, so we sealed sections behind doors that would open as you collected Rainbow Drops, or behind physics puzzles that required particular abilities that you might not yet have. By exploring and trying out things, the game slowly opens itself up to you. As the levels got more and more complete we found these little nooks and crannies where we could hide the secrets. We especially tried to hide them in areas only accessible to certain states, and often states that you might not expect to be using in those areas!
Physics appear to play an important role in Fluidity. How did you fine tune the game, especially for the liquid form where a stream of water can break into multiple pieces?
The game is built on a solid physics system, with all elements of the game interacting with each other in a believable and predictable way. We developed this as we progressed, slowly adding new capabilities to the engine as we came up with new ideas. Working this way we never outstretched the engine’s capabilities, and the game always ran at a smooth 60FPS.
Working with water as a main character was certainly not without its headaches though. With most games, players control a character that is only in one place at once, but with water, the player controls hundreds of little particles that can be spread all over the level at any one time! For example, the player can have a pool of water at a switch at the same time that a different pool can be in trigger area that closes a door. It was a really complicated problem to solve but we feel that we managed to sort most of the issues.
Now that Fluidity is finished, what other kind of game would Curve Studios like to create with tilt control? Another platformer? Shooter? Quiz game?
I don’t think the idea of applying tilt control to another game is something we’d really consider unless it was right for that particular game. We like to approach each game separately and create the best control system we can for that title. In the case of Fluidity, the intuitive interface that resulted when we combined a tilting Wii Remote with flowing water was exactly right for that title.