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.