Flow Developer Jenova Chen speaks to the Escapist News Room about his new game studio, his Spore-related work for EA, and how his master’s thesis ended up as a downloadable title for the PlayStation 3.
At the Tokyo Game Show last week, Sony unveiled Flow, a previously unannounced downloadable title for the PlayStation 3. Conceived as an elegant, evocative struggle between hungry microorganisms, Flow was originally developed as a master’s thesis project by University of Southern California student Jenova Chen. The game made its debut in 2005 as an unassuming online Flash title, and it quickly garnered praise for its simple, evocative design. Flow even drew the attention of Sims creator Will Wright, who at last year’s Game Developers Conference jokingly thanked Chen for prototyping the early levels of his upcoming game, Spore.
Fresh out of college, Chen and his colleagues have now founded their own game studio, thatgamecompany (TGC), to focus their efforts on developing games like Flow and the ethereal flight action game Cloud . In addition, Chen has been hired by EA Maxis to help develop a yet-to-be-announced Spore-related project.
It looks like Flow for the PlayStation 3 will retain the original Flash version’s simple, unusual imagery, and reports from the TGS show floor indicate it makes use of the upcoming console’s tilt-sensitive controller. Chen can’t yet comment on the new version of Flow‘s features, price, or distribution methods, but he took some time to speak with us about his new company and how Flow made it onto the PS3.
The Escapist News Room: Can you tell us a little bit about how Flow ended up as a PS3 project?
Jenova Chen: At the end of this last school year, my partner and I started a company called thatgamecompany. We really wanted to see games like Cloud on consoles, so we started talking to different publishers. Because we were students, and we’d been in school, we didn’t really have any experience in that path. We found that at that time, no one was willing to invest in a project like Cloud, which is rather big. In the end we said, ‘What about this little game I made,’ Flow. And actually, lots of publishers were interested in it, because it’s such a simple game and it’s a proven concept. I think publishers think that it is much safer [to invest in a game like Flow] than put their money into a bigger game like Cloud.
We see Flow as our first step in making more and more creative games for consoles. The project is purely just for us to step into the console region and start making games on next-gen platforms. We’re doing Flow as a rather small project for Sony. I’m pretty sure that Sony wants to have more inventive games on their downloadable platform, so it’s a nice fit for them. There were also other publishers who were interested in this project, too, but at the time, Sony was the first, and they were the fastest, so they were our first choice.
ENR: Is your current work with EA Maxis on the Spore-related project a direct outgrowth of your creation of Flow?
JC: I knew many EA people at school, and EA Maxis came to me and said, “‘Well, we have this opportunity for you to work on a project like Spore. Are you interested?” At the time, TGC was negotiating with publishers, and nobody knew whether or not we would get a deal. I had to choose between the two, and I chose to work on Spore. But right after I spoke to Maxis, TGC got the deal with Sony [for Flow], and we had to make the game. It was kind of an interesting situation.
I wasn’t hired for Spore just because of Flow. There’s a lot of other game design philosophy involved in Spore, and they liked my philosophy, so I was hired to help with design. You might think the Spore game will have very similar gameplay to Flow‘s in its early stage — I think that’s probably assumed. I can’t tell you exactly what the Spore game will be like, but it’s not designed by me, and it is very different than Flow. It’s not going to be very similar at all.
ENR: Can we expect to see versions of Flow on other next-gen consoles or onhandheld systems?
JC: We can see Flow as a game that will fit many other platforms. But we are also planning on making new games. So we can’t really tell you what’s going to come next.
ENR: Thanks for your time, Mr. Chen.