Destructoid interview: Kellee Santiago, president of thatgamecompany

I’ve always had a hard time describing thatgamecompany’s Flower. Every time I write a blog post about the game I feel as if I’m excluding something important. I’d like to think that I haven’t in the past, but it’s completely possible. The thing about Flower is that it has depth that resonates differently from person to person.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with thatgamecompany’s co-founder and president Kellee Santiago about Flower. One of the topics covered pertained to the buzzwords “zen gaming” that I hear quite often when others are talking about the title. I asked her what made Flower “zen” and she was able to shine some light on the matter.

“The concept of being imaginary flower field, and experiencing nature in this unique way led to the choices we made about interaction, visuals, and audio,” she said. “I think it would be hard to start with the inspiration of playing in a gigantic flower field and end up with a game that isn’t somewhat peaceful. But there’s more to “Flower” than meets the eye. Flower is about balance between the peaceful and the violent, the serene and the chaotic. But that’s something we want players to experience for themselves.”

Hit the break for the full interview.

DESTRUCTOID:
Every time the press gets a peek at Flower, the majority of them come back unable to immediately explain what the game is. I think the question, “What is Flower?” is a bit tired, but I wanted to try it out on you. Could you give me a sense of what Flower is from a gameplay perspective? Also, where did the idea behind Flower’s gameplay come from?

Kellee Santiago
The idea for Flower grew organically (no pun intended) from a number of inspirations. One was to try and capture the feeling of being in a large flower field; to capture both the sense of beauty when you see them all, but also the visceral feeling of being up close to an individual flower. If you do a Google image search for “flower” you discover photographs from people all over the world, all fascinated with this aspect of nature. Technically, it was an exciting challenge. What would happen if we took this aspect of video games that is normally an afterthought on the edge of the world – the bushes and grass – and put it right in front, and make the entire game about it?  

What I really like about Flower, though, is that it feels like a very personal expression of Jenova’s.  The story and the themes that are expressed in the game really evolved from what I see as his current interpretation of the world around him, and the game invites the player to participate in that space. It has an intimate feel to it.

Flower is visually pleasing. I think that’s easy enough to see from the screenshots and video of the game in motion. But I can’t help wondering how the audio components will factor into the game. Will the audio play a large role? What do you hope players will get out of it?

Players familiar with flOw will notice a similar approach to the soundscape. As you move through a level, the music will slowly grow and change. As you collect petals, each one also releases a note, so the player creates their own unique melody as they play. We really love the idea of games as imaginary worlds, and in our imaginations we can create our own audio, independent of the real world. I think of the world of Flower as a place where everything around you is humming a tune. The music for “Flower” was composed by Vincent Diamante, who also composed the score for our student project, “Cloud.”

What makes Flower a “Zen gaming” experience?

It’s not that we set out to make a “Zen” gaming experience with Flower. The concept of being in this imaginary flower field, and experiencing nature in this unique way led to the choices we made about interaction, visuals, and audio. I think it would be hard to start with the inspiration of playing in a gigantic flower field and end up with a game that isn’t somewhat peaceful. But there’s more to Flower than meets the eye. Flower is about balance between the peaceful and the violent, the serene and the chaotic. But that’s something we want players to experience for themselves.

What do you want people to get out of Flower?

Flower is an invitation to this unique experience, and all we hope for is that players engage with it.  We don’t want to be explicit, because everyone takes away something different from Flower, and that’s part of what makes it unique.

Two of the biggest criticisms of flOw were its lack of replay value and direction. Will Flower address either of those concerns? How?

I’m not sure. I think part of that is actually something that exists outside of Flower itself. The games journalism and criticism cultures have changed quite a lot over the last two years, in part because other unique downloadable games have come out, and have helped open up the perception of what a downloadable video game can or should offer. For instance, one of my favorite games of 2007 was a very small game by Jason Rohrer called, Passage. The game itself takes five minutes to play, and yet it left me thinking for hours.

That being said, I think fans will see we learned a lot on flOw and applied that to Flower. The game itself is definitely more substantial and provides a deeper experience in many ways than flOw.

Is it tough to develop a game that uses SIXAXIS extensively?

One of our main goals at thatgamecompany is to create games that are accessible to a wide variety of people, both in content and in playability. For Flower, using the SIXAXIS controller to fly around and having every button do the same thing so players could choose for themselves (or switch it up) was an easy choice for us.  People who wouldn’t normally get near a PS3 controller suddenly relax when you tell them all you have to do is tilt it to move. Again, we learned a lot from flOw, and the use of the motion control in Flower is really fantastic and much more natural than even flOw was.    
 
Will you continue to do downloadable titles in the near future?

Yes, definitely! Creating downloadable games allows for so much flexibility in the kind of games we can create, that it’s a no brainer for us. Downloadable, FTW!

[Destructoid would like to thank Kellee Santiago for her time.]

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