Resolution at Develop - 15th/16th July 2009

Resolution at Develop - 15th/16th July 2009

Jenova Chen on games as art, and making Flower

DevelopPosted by Lewis Denby Wed, July 15, 2009 11:45:28
"Does a game offer more than a toy?" asks thatgamecompany's Jenova Chen.

It's a question that's been bandied about a fair bit lately, but Chen knows what he hopes the answer is. "As a grown-up gamer," he says, "I really don't want to see games becoming toys. I want to see mature content and intellectual stimulation."

Talking about the way people view games, Chen refers to us pressfolk. "Game reviews talk about technical features as if they're talking about cars," he says, "but they don't really talk about how a game feels. Whenever reviewers do talk about feelings, it's usually just 'this is fun'.

"If we look at the feelings that games evoke, they're still primal feelings - power fantasies. But this is only a small portion of the emotional spectrum. As a teenager, I was really into these feelings, but I think, as I get older, I'm wondering what's on the rest of the spectrum."

Chen feels that the majority of games still sit around this collection of primal, instinctive emotions, rather than more thought-provoking content. He wants to diversify. "Variety is the sign of a mature medium," he says, "and that's what thatgamecompany is about."

But what about that big old topic of games as art? thatgamecompany's fl0w, and more recently Flower, were very much placed in that category by many. "I'm not an artist," says Chen, "I'm a game designer. But I think the value of art is in how much the audience actually reads from it. So from that perspective, good art is about clarity - in videogames, having good instructions to tell people what to do, for example. I think a common problem in big budget games is a lack of clarity and consistency."

On his inspiration for Flower, Chen cites his move to America. "Where I grew up," he says, showing a picture of the city, "you'll notice there's no green. When I got to America, I started driving on the freeway a lot, where it's everywhere. So I thought, how can I show this to people? And could I communicate this experience through a videogame's interaction?

"It was all about nature. So I searched for the most popular thing about nature on Flickr, and it was flowers."

But Chen's inspiration didn't stop here. "You can ponder the beauty of nature, but after a while, you start to wonder 'well, where's home'? And I started to feel a little bit empty. So I started to add things to the concept art, like a little house in the background, pilons and all these things. So when I started the game, I wanted to give people the sense of freedom, but also an extension of the home space, and for it to be about peace and harmony."