Can the dreams of a flower change the world? This is the question explored by flOw creator That Game Company's latest game, Flower. Far from the plant life simulator some imagined, Flower is an enchanting adventure game that explores environmental issues through the subconscious minds of the most unique game characters - potted plants.
That Game Company director and co-founder Jenova Chen explains that the theme of the game is "Life in Balance." As reflected in flOw, The company's goal is explore what is possible to communicate through video games, from the complex concept of evolution and adaptation to the power found in a simple potted flower.
Jenova himself was on hand to demonstrate the game for us. First, like flOw, the controls are simple. You tilt the Sixaxis to control the game, with each button essentially having the same function, making it a very easy game to pick up and play.
The first level were were shown started with a single potted flower sitting on the windowsill of a grungy, worn down, dessicated apartment building in some random city. Far from just a level select screen, this setting is every bit as much of the story of Flower as the actual gameplay. Jenova selected the flower and hit the button, bring us into the world of the plant's dreams.
First, we an image of the city, filled with noise, broken buildings, noisy traffic, etc. Despite all the human life in the scene, to the flower this is a dry, lifeless place. Then we enter the dream.
The screen switches to that single flower, planted in a grassy field, swaying back and forth with the wind. Jenova preses the button and the wind kicks up, sweeping along with it a petal from the flower, and the perspective switches to follow said petal through its windy ride. Are you controlling the wind, or controlling the petal? The answer is open to your interpretation really, says Jenova.
He guides the petal in the wind towards other flowers, which open, adding their own petals to what soon becomes a swirling army of colour against waving green grass. There are barren areas, but when the wind touches a certain sequence of flowers, the brown, dead grass in the area springs to life, joining the up to 200,000 swaying verdant stalks visible on the screen's 120 degree field of view at any time.
There is theme of transformation throughout the game. One flower desires to see more life, and in the dream they deliver it. When the level is complete the dirty apartment building setting is a bit brighter, and another flower joins the first. On to a second dream.
The next dream begins with images of colourless concrete, walls, bricks, and buildings. This flower dreams of colour, and instead of bringing dead grass back to life, the petal in the level that follows brings bursts of colour to an otherwise colourless landscape. This in turn adds colour to the apartment.
The final level we see kicks off with visions of a sky obscured by clouds, buildings, and other man-made objects. In the dream the petal rides the wind to activate windmills, and though the demo stopped there I suspect clearing the sky was the ultimate goal.
It's an environmental game, perhaps, but also a philosophical sandbox sort of title that lets you explore the beautiful landscape, following your flower's desires or straying off the path, letting the wind take you where it will as you explore your surroundings.
The gameplay and challenge of Flower are really yours to decide. Do you want to just explore and relax, or do you want to push yourself to see how fast you achieve your goal? Are you more concerned with getting to the next level quickly, or are you going to focus on hitting the flowers with the wind at just the right moment to let the musical contact better blend with the game's background music? It's all up to you.
So what is Flower? At its heart I would say it is a puzzle game, of sorts. There are no instructions, no introductions...just pick it up and make of it what you will. It doesn't hold your hand...every level it is up to you to puzzle out your character's dreams.
I'd call it a high-concept game, but the concept is really quite simple - it communicates the beauty of a flower through a video game. Using modern technology to communicate a concept that modern technology has put many of us out of touch with? That's beautiful irony.