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SFTW: flOw

Every week Iain Simons chooses a game so you can while away a few hours. This time it's flOw. Enjoy

I love seeing the fingerprints of developers on their work. Just the occasional sniff of discernible humanity is enough to keep me going through gigabytes of low-grade tat. This week then, a debut work by a young company that has gone on to be one of the most respected of its peers. That Game Company is a developer with a mission - to expand the emotional spectrum of videogames. The radical idea that mainstream players might be possessed of a motivation other than 'pass me the big gun' is central to their manifesto. They're a thoughtful group of young developers, and more importantly - they're not afraid to show it.

Whilst large swathes of the mainstream industry look toward blockbuster movies or armed conflicts for inspiration, TGC tend to get outside more - preferring to look to nature for ideas. Indeed, I was prompted to make this weeks nomination by some new footage which has been released of their forthcoming project, Flower, which is due on Playstation 3 next year. You can check out the footage here, and I recommend that you do.

And so, to flOw... Inspired by co-founder Jenova Chen's MA thesis which examined Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's concept as applied to videogame design, this title was launched as a flash game whilst Chen was still concluding his studies at USC. Following its huge popularity online, Sony picked up the game and commissioned the development of flOw as a Playstation 3 showcase title, thus was born That Game Company.

flOw is a beautiful, hypnotic work that genuinely delivers in proportion to the amount of time you invest in it. Cast as a cellular life-form winding around in the deep, your browser is transformed into an abstract petri-dish guiding you only with provocatively simplistic instructions : "Eat, evolve". Superficially reminiscent of the opening level of Maxis' Spore (on which Chen worked) it has very different ambitions to that uber-sim. flOw requires your submission to its
abstraction, and given some quiet time and a pair of headphones - it'll reward you.

Next week, in preparation for the festive season and the descent of my extended family upon our home, we'll look at a brilliant new game about anger management and smashing up ceramics. I for one, can't wait.

Play flOw in your browser here

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.