Sun Runner

Race The Sun by Flippfly

Published: June 26. 2013

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Flippfly soars into the sunset with its upcoming infinite sandbox racer, Race the Sun

Over the past several years, Kickstarter has quickly become one of the most important vehicles for funding game development and publishing. One studio that has benefitted from the can-do crowd-sourcing site is the tiny Flippfly, based in Redgranite, Wisconsin, whose upcoming Race the Sun made $21,579 of its $20,000 Kickstarter goal earlier this year.

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“One day I was just messing around with Google Sketchup with some abstract shapes, and came up with something that really caught our eye,” says Aaron San Filippo who, along with his brother Forest, makes up Flippfly. “We thought it would be pretty awesome to be flying through this abstract world at incredible speed.” The idea then came to use the sun setting as a gameplay element, and Race the Sun was born.

The game’s title is pretty much a description of its core mechanic: You play as a solar powered craft and race to keep the sun from setting in front of you. If the sun sets you die, and the only way to keep going is to collect speed-boosts that accelerate your craft and turn back time. “We felt like the whole concept was pretty interesting, and it evokes a certain sense of mystery, so we named the game after it,” says Forest.

Each run is divided into regions, and each region adds something new to the table: triangular prisms and spheres, falling pillars, and groups of emerging cubes. The team is also building an editor, dubbed Simplex, which will allow for users to create their own levels. “One thing that we want people to see is that the game isn't just another endless runner,” says Forest. “The ability to create infinite 3D worlds, essentially from scratch, and to have team-based relay runs provide a lot of depth, and the extremely high-speeds make it feel like a hybrid racing mechanic.” The brothers sometimes describe it as "Star Fox meets Temple Run," for some parallels in graphics and mechanics, respectively, but they believe that the community focus and multiplayer modes it’s working on set the game apart.

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Of course, creating a compelling, aesthetically appealing game with a team of two has taken some figuring. “One of the things we've really come to grips with is that we're not experts at everything, so we need to play to our strengths and find ways to take shortcuts wherever possible,” says Aaron. Rather than try to compete with AAA games in terms of realism or detail, the two have focused on the core goal of creating an incredible feeling of speed for the player. Of the unexpected limitations, Aaron points to something outside of development itself: “Just the difficulty in making people aware of the game, and trying to find a balance between development, fan interaction and promotion.”

The requested Kickstarter dollar amount came after months of development, which had brought the game into its basic form. “We decided to go for $20,000 by scheduling out our remaining features, and basically just asking for the minimum amount needed for the two of us to keep working on the game full-time,” says Aaron. “It'll be tight, but it should get us through! A steady stream of preorders on our store page is also helping.”

The visual style of Race the Sun came together over several months of development. Forest had started making models that leaned toward a quasi-realism, but they didn’t quite seem to match the feel of the game. “Ultimately we landed on the current look, that combines grayscale with subtle color effects,” he says. “Aaron had some great ideas for geometrical styling that harkens to the early days of 3D gaming, and we both loved the feel that gave to the game. It was definitely a process of trial and error, but we’re extremely happy with the way things came together.”

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Flippfly turned to Unity as its choice of development software, as a company, early on in its planning—even before work started on Race the Sun. “I'd worked with several other engines before, both in a professional capacity and as a hobbyist, and Unity just seemed like a superior solution in terms of features, flexibility and workflow,” says Aaron. “It's proven to be a great choice for us so far—I've been pretty amazed at each step how many solutions the engine provides out of the box, and how in the cases where it doesn't provide a solution, the community has.”

Once it was stumbled upon, the team had its basic concept working in a matter of days. “Initially I used a rigid body collider for the player ship, and simply spawned game object instances randomly in the world,” says Aaron. They had a solid playable alpha within a couple months, which they exported and put up on the site Kongregate for early feedback. “This turned out to be a great thing for us, as it helped us get some exposure after they featured it, which led to all kinds of other opportunities. The Unity web player feature really made this possible!”

“As someone with a graphic design background, and little game development experience, the asset workflow of Unity just made sense to me,” says Forest about coming to grips with the software. “The ability to create an asset and just drop it in is amazing, and allows me to get things looking and sounding good in a hurry.” Aaron, having come from other middleware solutions, also appreciates the process. “On the programming side, I'm just totally in love with the workflow and power of the scripting engine,” he says. “The ability to write custom shaders has also been awesome for us.”

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Indeed, it wasn’t something that always seemed like a viable proposition for the team of two. “When Aaron came to me with his expanded vision for the world creation tools, I was pretty doubtful,” says Forest. “We were right in the middle of our Kickstarter and I was thinking, ‘This is an awesome idea, but it will never happen in time.’ Then, when the tools actually started coming together, I was blown away. We basically recreated every object in the main game mode in about two weeks—and I was, happily, proven wrong.

As it stands, the team is proud of what it has accomplished, and continues to push the limits of its abilities as a small developer. “I’m extremely proud of the level of innovation in the game,” says Forest when asked what aspect of Race the Sun he’s most pleased with. “I feel like the world creator and the multiplayer system each approach gaming in new ways, and create experiences that can't be had elsewhere. There are tons of great indie games out there, and I feel like we’ve made something that contributes a high level of quality.”

Size Wise

“There just the two of us, my brother Aaron, and myself,” says Forest San Filippo, one half of Flippfly. “Although we could theoretically do more with more people, this is actually our ideal team size. Our core values are all about innovation and creativity, and we find that can happen more easily with a tiny team. Modern development tools really help us in this regard. We can spend more time actually making a game, and less time dealing with tech.”

Race The Sun

Find Some More on the Asset Store

Central to the Flippfly team’s success has been the many third-party Unity solutions available to developers. “The [Unity] Asset Store has been great!” says Flippfly’s Aaron San Filippo. The team picked up Camera Shakes from ThinkSquirrel, and is also using NGUI for much of its UI, as well as UniParse for communication with its Parse.com backend service. “Grabbing these packages just makes a ton of sense for us as a two-man team with such limited time.”

Read more about Race The Sun and Flippfly

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