Flower: a boutique of concernsFebruary 16, 2009
Before I begin on my diatribe on That Game Company’s Playstation Network game Flower, I must make it clear that I do believe it is a good game. I encourage everyone that has a Playstation 3 to download it and play through probably one of the most unique experiences you can have on a console this generation. Flower wonderfully utilizes the Sixaxis controls without being intrusive and its implementation takes into account the cumbersome motion controls making them almost feel invisible. But Flower is probably one of the most disappointing, frustrating, and infuriating games I have had the privilege of playing.
I had to give myself multiple playthroughs before I decided to write this post in order to wrap my head around this game and be certain that my criticism and opinions of Flower were valid and I was not merely attempting to subconsciously form an opinion against the crowd. Never mind the collect-athon of green pedals in the game or the encouragement Playstation trophies have upon the experience. The are more pressing matters and concerns I have that individual come out through the games experience. When I first picked up Flower I was ready to be open to any experience the game gave me. But immediately after playing through the first few levels my heart sank and I grew more concerned with the disconnect I was feeling while playing the game.
Many of my cohorts have touched upon the sense of flight in the game. Michael Abbott immediately had a dream about flying after briefly playing through Flower and a friend of mine made a comparison to this same lucid state while watching my float around the fields in the game. It has quickly become a game focused upon sensation and experience, an easy target for many gamers, such as myself, to propose another evolution in the continuing argument that videogames can become an art form if they are not already considered as such.
As of late, I have become enamored with the Demoscene, a subculture of gamer artists. Previously, I have posted upon my thoughts on transcendent games and That Game Company’s last game, fl0w, was among the few I pointed out in my posting. Immediately when playing Flower I was reminded of the influence of the Demoscene with its simplistic controls, simple objectives and yes, tech demos. Yet, I felt a sense of sadness as if this game was some sort of indication of corporatism of an art culture and in turn signaling its demise because of the release of this game. But that concern is unfair and unwarranted. Flower has very little threat to this scene if at all, but merely takes a similar philosophy of design.To break down Flower, each level introduces a new mechanic or power to your pedals. There’s the intro/tutorial, color, wind, and light. These first four levels follow the designers’ code of introducing new mechanics and utilizing them in each stage. But there is no progression, no growth or evolution as you continue through stages. And it does provide a sense as if this is just demo upon demo upon demo because these mechanics remain isolated within each stage. Unlike fl0w where there is a feel of progression and the cyclical nature of evolution, the world of Flower becomes extremely closed off from one another between stages.
It is easy to make the brash assessment that Flower is merely some sort of tech demo–it is not. But Flower fails in expanding on the many interesting game mechanics and concepts that are introduced in its stages, particularly in two of my favorites levels. In one level the player is introduced the mechanic of painting where pedals will be able to colorize the field. This is introduced at the end of the level but not reintroduced later. It sadly quickly becomes a gimmick because not only are you confined to a single area to paint but also because color pallet becomes inconsequential as the level ends virtually erasing all of your work. As the game progresses this becomes further problematic as it is repeated through levels. Flower also does little to play with the element of water. For a game that focuses on life and flourishing vistas, there is little interactively with water in the game at all after it is introduced. Rather it uses rain once in the game merely to determine a mood. Water takes a back seat while electricity becomes the major forefront of the stage as the player will become electrocuted and lose pedals. Luckily, the death mechanic is not present in Flower. But getting shocked is a surprising development that becomes an anomaly by hindering and disrupting the player experience, an aspect that is absent from the rest of the game.
There is a loose narrative happening in Flower, but I am certain the themes of life and environmentalism in the game are clear. Many gamers have compared the final sixth stage of Flower to the final stage of Rez, Area 5, as a culmination of the game’s mechanics. I could not disagree more and believe that the final stage of Flower is a complete betrayal of the game nor does it take advantage of any of the mechanics in previous stages. In the final stage, the player gains the ability to destroy pylons, pillars, and rusted metal in place of recreating buildings and urbanization. I am baffled that while I was previously neutralizing these electric pillars, summing wind-gusts, and growing floral I end the game by urbanizing these very same areas.
Flower is not supposed to be a destructive game; it is nourishing and creative. When the player has the ability to use his petals to destroy structures it becomes aggressive and completely counter to everything I thought I was doing before. When the player finally reaches the city he continues to destroy structures in order to paint existing urban bulidings—what? There is no advantage taken on the paint mechanic to color the city, no light mechanic to illuminate the city, and wind is reserved to turn on fans in vents. There is no option to creating ecological architecture or green building. Rather the final shot of the game shows an image of a massive tree bursting out of a city out with more pylons and pillars as a result of the wreckage. Flower ends on a counter-thematic tone that completely subverts everything I have done before. What I thought was a peaceful transcendent game ends one what is probably one of the most violent ecological imagery I’ve seen.On a more personal note of taste, I found the musical score in Flower to be extremely obtrusive and distracting. It is too romantic almost too the point of satiric playing closer to the family films of the 1980s and early 1990s rather than a more subtle meditative tone that I would have preferred from a game that I would have used to relax with at the end of the day. The soundtrack does not completely destroy the experience for me, but it was not optimal. It actually is the opposite of white noise notion, and instead takes away from the lucid experience that many gamers seem to have described. Personally, the company credits stage may have been one of the most enjoyable credit sequences I have played in a videogame comparatively to the end result of my experience playing Flower.
Flower is an extremely easy game to like and I can see why so many gamers have grafted onto the ideology, philosophy, and experience I though That Game Company was trying ton convey. It is a unique little game does take advantage of the hardware and doing something completely different in the mainstream, blockbuster game space. But is Flower doing anything different in the independent game space much less the artistic game space, or rather is it an imitation? I cannot say and nor do I want to marginalize That Game Company to taking a chance to do something different for the Playstation Network. In this end, how much does this concern matter if it is completely original? But as a work of media or videogame as art it is a problematic piece. Its faults cannot be overlooked if we are to view games with a critical eye.
I am disappointed I cannot join my fellow gaming bloggers, journalists, critics, fans, and friends to the extent they are proclaiming Flower to be this monumental hyperbole in videogames. Theorist Andre Bazin wrote What is cinema? in 1958 to create a discourse of film as an art form. In it he states that the camera is God in that it creates truth through image. Cinema to be the art provides film the ability to construct and introduce an abstract element into reality, and through cinema’s realism the spectator can no longer sense these abstractions. Flower arrives to us with the unspoken pledge of creating this experience and for a brief moment it does, but as it comes to a close it breaks this assurance with the player and ultimately fails to deliver the artistic integrity of its initial promise.