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flOw Afterthoughts Interview

With flOw already released on the PlayStation Network for download and gamers playing in a world of extrodinary and imaginitive art and gameplay, PSU thought it would be great to get the development team's afterthoughts on the title.

Our interview was conducted with Kellee Santiago, president of thatgamecompany.

PSU: What were some of the influences behind the development of flOw?

Kellee Santiago: flOw was originally an MFA Thesis project, created to demonstrate the application of Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow Theory in games. The idea is that in order to reach more players, games should give the player the ability to determine their own experience, so no matter who you are or what kind of mood you are in, you can have some fun in the game. Although completely different in style from flOw, Grand Theft Auto is a good example of this. You can run around, or complete missions, or create your own goals.

For flOw, we wanted to also experiment with a very different emotion then what’s usually found in video games, so we chose “relaxing.” That’s what fed the overall design of the game. It’s meant to be a relaxing, Zen experience.

PSU: Critically, many of the reviews complained that there simply wasn't enough to do, and that it didn't last long enough to justify the price. How does the game company feel about complaints like that?

Santiago: Wow, that’s a really interesting question. What we saw was that reviewers didn’t know how to talk about the game, which we think is pretty exciting because it means we are doing something new. That is, there aren’t a lot of “features” in the game, but there is a lot of soul. The player is supposed to create their own goals in order to determine their own experience. You can eat everything in sight, or eat nothing and beat all of the creatures, or play with two controllers simultaneously, or make up something with your friends or your kids, whatever. If you just want to unlock all of the creatures, you can barrel through the game very quickly, but it’s all about what you want. Some people play for 20 mins, some play for hours. It costs less than a movie, slightly more than a fast food meal, we think it’s worth it.

PSU: We understand that your next PS3 downloadable game is currently underway; will the basic design philosophy as open-ended and user-driven as flOw, or are you looking to create a more traditional "game" experience?

Santiago: Our next few projects, at least, are all going to be small experiments in creating different types of games, trying to expand the communicative and emotional possibilities of the medium. The downloadable forum is really the best place to do this, since there’s not as much risk involved, and the development cycle is shorter, so we can hear back from our players sooner.

PSU: Many of flOw's "rules" are discovered as you play, with no instruction beforehand. Are there any secrets left to find?

Santiago: Players on our forums surprise me every day.

PSU: flOw has yet again sparked many "games as art" discussions - would you classify flOw as a game? What's your take on that discusssion?

Santiago: Hmm, well there are two things you are asking here, so I’ll try to address both. First, “games as art” – games are certainly an art. I don’t think you can look at a game like chess, for instance, a game that has lasted centuries and continues to entertain and challenge old and new players, and not consider that a great work of art, and an important piece of our culture. With video games, in addition to just the rules of the game, you also have the added possibilities of visuals and sound, so it’s like taking these three mediums of games, films, and music, and mixing them all together to create a Super Medium. However, it’s only been recently that game makers have really explored what this means.

So, is flOw a game? Well, we tried to use all of these resources to give the player an emotional experience. There are rules, and a win state, so it’s definitely a game. But is it not a game because it isn’t competitive? Because your palms don’t get sweaty and it doesn’t send adrenaline through your body? That’s what people seem to be saying.

PSU: Will there be downloadable content for flOw in the near future and if so what additions can we expect to find?

Santiago: I can’t really say anything about this.

PSU: If you could go back and add or change something in flOw, what would it be and why?

Santiago: On many fronts, flOw could be taken to another, higher level. There were a lot of cool things we wanted to do with the audio mix that we didn’t get to do. We have tons of sketches for creatures and special play abilities that we ended up cutting. But, maybe this is just how every developer feels about their game – you know, there’s always something more!

PSU: Anything else you’d like to add about flOw or perhaps your next PSN title?

Santiago: One of the best ways we know how to do better on our next game is by getting feedback from the players, so come to http://www.thatgamecompany.com and tell us what you think!

We'd like to thank Kellee Santiago, President of thatgamecompany, for answering our questions. Look out for coverage of thatgamecompany's next title in the near future!