FLOWER

a review of Flower
a videogame developed by that game company
and published by sony
for the sony playstation 3 computer entertainment system
text by Hamish Todd

4 stars

Bottom line: Flower is “what has enflamed our desire to behave, and feel, like wind.”

I don’t think people need power fantasy; I’m not even sure if they want it. Marketing can ensure that escapism sells well, but it seems to me that “escapism” is just a simple way of phrasing something much deeper, something that is not always directly appreciated.

Look at Indiana Jones. “Butch guy with whip bangs women and gets valuable treasure” is the obvious way of summarizing the appeal. But any storyteller, and any game designer, any philosopher, knows that it may well not be about that. Indy has to learn something. He has to appear in beautiful environments (by which I mean, his own beauty cannot carry it alone). And that treasure can’t just be monetarily valuable — it has to be valuable to him (he has a personal reverence for ancient artifacts) and to us (the artifact has to be intriguing, or at least very old). And so, in looking at Indiana Jones — an object which seems to be engineered to flatter us — we find something like conscience, something like intellectual stimulation, something like higher pleasures.

This is me intellectualizing a problem in order to get over it. The thing I am trying to get over is my disdain for the conventional themes of video games. This review originally opened with an outstandingly arrogant rant about how our games, our best games, are almost all unambitious. It was disgusting to behold. I’d have kept it, or edited it a little and then kept it, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m going through a slight crisis right now regarding my pretentions.

It’s just . . . pathetic, you know? There’s this experience called “the sublime”, and if I’m honest, it’s what I personally live for. For a couple of moments, something will trigger in me a state of great humility, or something. The enormity of the universe, or the vibrance of nature, or the complexity within my fellow man. It’s indescribable, of course, what is evoked. One feeling I can take away from it is of having no feelings, because a part of it is the realization that to have any feeling (including the one I am currently feeling) is arrogant. It makes me less afraid of death, or less absorbed by my fear of death.

And, later on, I’ll play a video game — a good one. And while I chow down on those beautiful parts I can get out of it (the crunch, the intellectual stimulation, maybe the aesthetics), I’ll feel a little sick that it’s wrapped around the concept of about killing people.

Killing is a pretty integral part of our language, as CliffyB tells us, and I say all this as a man who is actually making a game about killing people. My excuse is the same as Tim’s, I think: he and I are just starting out, and we must examine the language that our medium has already created before we start trying to expand it, because it really does need expansion.

Yeah, this is pretty much the least pretentious way I can open this review.

There is a craft to eating a bowl of Coco Pops. If you’re doing it properly, it’s like most crafts: a balancing act, between avoiding the airy, dusty ‘pops and the mushy, crumbly ones. Achieving this balance is dextrous and beautiful. Pouring the milk such that every surface coco-pop is touched; turning the ‘pops over with measured awareness of the dimensions of the implements involved; scooping a spoonful such that there is a good number of non-mushy pops, but absolutely no black ones. Originally I went into how to do these in great detail; but suffice to say that each one takes a level of intensity that is perfect for waking us up.

I do not have OCD. For one thing, the above is a moderately messy process. For another, I have a good friend who has OCD, and I know I’m not that. Self-diagnosing psychological disorders is going to reach an event horizon one of these days. This friend of mine has a stand-up routine about his OCD and how annoyed he gets from seeing other people self-diagnose it because they caught themselves washing their hands twice in one hour. This friend is also my partner for Sleep is Death (game of the year 2010, when you play it with him. And you’re me).

Try again: I do not have OCD, but I take every opportunity to challenge myself, and in this I have found a challenge that I can indulge in several times a week thanks to variables in milk rations, coco pop pile surface topology, and spoon and bowl shapes.

Flower is a game inspired by the vibrance of nature. It is also a game that trusts you to look for challenges in the world around you. To approach that topic, we’ll talk about one of its more basic themes.

Flower is about that most action packed of action buttons: the run button. We here at actionbutton.net will let go of the run button when you pry it from our cold, dead thumbs. You ought to know that Flower is designed to be played with the run button constantly held down. It does not tell you to play with the run button held down, and it does not reward you for doing so, but it does paint its system so as to yield pretty much maximal joy from the walk-run dichotomy (now that games are art, it has become a dichotomy).

This ethic is a big part of the reason why we say Flower is the best game of 2009. It’s not just the run button. Flower is also, in an unsophisticated yet elegant way, about chaining. It will show you a little procession of collectibles — who could see those things and not want to get them all in one swoop? It’s just beautiful, just fun, to do so. Again, the game never tells you to do it and does not reward you for doing it. It knows the desires exist in us: move quickly, in even, continuous curves — just like the wind. There are explicit rewards for other things — uncomfortable rewards, even. We’ll get to that later. Right now, though, let’s let that masterstroke stew: this game has enflamed our desire to behave, and feel, like wind.

There’s a trend in “artgames” for the creator to express themselves entirely through the environment — Fatale, Every Day The Same Dream, Dear Esther. These games are lovely, but they are also unavoidably inelegant and very noticeably incomplete. Environments are important and are a good avenue for expression, but feelings are more important. You’re showing me this beautiful, fascinating object — it could be a person, could be a jewel, could be a cliff that someone has thrown themselves off. But it won’t be the thing that it looks like until it feels like the thing you want it to be.

To take an extreme example, consider a little girl who, when you approach her, starts flying around breathing fire. When we see something behave this way, it greatly informs the thing which we think it is; thus we know that this thing which we approached, which looked like a little girl, is not in fact a little girl. Systems and behaviour are part of the definition of the thing we call “software” – we must realize that they are an important part of our language. Because they are necessarily present, we can never eliminate them. If the little girl does nothing at all when we approach her, then she will feel like nothing. A “game” that tries to eliminate them may well be very beautiful and thoughtful — but it will be infested by this shallow, badly-thought-out thing called interaction.

The reason it is worth talking about this in a review of Flower isn’t to do with a lumbering pigeonholing of “games wot try to be art” — it’s about navigation.

Moving around is, itself, a system. It’s one of the potentially more beautiful ones! Our proof, of course, is Super Mario Bros. We won’t bother repeating the details. Despite this wonderful heritage, games have such a horrible complex regarding navigation.

Look at the ending of Final Fantasy X-2 (I just happened to watch it last night). This is the point in the game where the creators are ostensibly trying with all their to make you feel as much as they can — a climax needs to be tense, epic, beautiful. So you’ve got this gigantic beetle-robot, all your characters and all the interesting NPCs talking as intensely as they can, and there’s an epic score. Yet the way you experience this is by holding forward on the analogue stick — because there’s only one path, which your character moves down while you look at the last boss, which is meant to be intimidating. There are random battles, so your location holds no significance beyond getting somewhere — the people who made this seemed to think that so long as we are controlling a person who is in an interesting place, we will be interested.

Daft, I say! Adventure games have it even worse — or maybe it just stands out more, as it’s almost all they’ve got. Consider the car in Grim Fandango, which I want to say is theoretically one of the most awesome objects in the history of video games. A souped up funeral car, made for the grim reaper, driven by a demon! The vision is amazing, and the pride is evident. Look at the thing as it appears in the FMVs and during the loading screen, what a piece of work. And yet, such nonexistant friction, such horrible controls — they’re not even different to those of the main character.

And this is without talking about the games where you click to walk. One more: remember the part in Final Fantasy VII where that girl gets stabbed or some shit? There’s a pair of jumps just before the cutscene. They were obliged to put these jumps in, because in order to have any sense of occasion, the environment needed that bare minimum of specialness, that bare minimum of interaction.

The people who envision these things are not being spiteful, or even unimaginative. They just don’t speak the language of video games. They cook up wonderful environments, fascinating narrative contexts for your interaction. They just don’t think about the interaction itself, they don’t realize that it is not enough to hold a controller while imbibing interesting stuff. Thus they end up with a thing that is, in part, dull and thus really quite conscienceless on their hands.

It’s also not as simple as trying to get some brilliant game designer into the room with some brilliant environmental storyteller; I fear that these games downplay friction by necessity. When our reason to be someplace is in order to examine what we find, our movement will become a means of transportation to that place, rather than a way of examining the beauty of the movement itself. I think that might say something about the meaning of life, but I’m not sure what.

Fatale may be more clever than I am giving it credit for, as the movement system is technically quite detailed; same goes for The Path. But Dear Esther makes it pretty clear that video game designers who believe that expression can be adequately made purely through an environment are missing something. In my opinion, it would take a real delusional to get through that game without once bunny-hopping (and a real twat to continue bunny-hopping after finding out that it screws up the delivery of the audio cues). Dear Esther showed so little understanding of something Flower understands so well: that we human beings look for challenges as soon as we are presented with spaces.

A great example of a frictitiously navigable game is Metroid Prime. It might be the existence of competitive play that takes away a lot of the friction of moving in most FPSs. The fact that you can adjust input sensetivity to your own liking suggests that the people who designed them, well, didn’t care much about the system themselves. Not that we shouldn’t be allowed to adjust sensetivity! And not that FPSs can’t have wonderful behaviour in other respects. Metroid Prime is different though. I can’t remember if you can adjust sensetivity, but movement in that game was put together with great care. It is this, indirectly, that makes the platforming enjoyable.

Flower has some pretty powerful crunch in it. Despite the incorporeal avatar, despite taking place in the air, the game is frictitious and in no way floaty. It’s a game that understands friction. Using a wall to spin yourself around recalls swinging a bat as hard as you can, except that this time you hit something. Getting a full chain of flowers is like pulling the red strip out of a kitkat with one perfectly straight, perfectly clean tear.

 

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Sometimes it involves literal friction! There are parts where you have to rub yourself against the ground, or wrap yourself around haystacks. Actually those parts are kinda troublesome. The game shows you what to do, then you do it, and once you have done it, progress happens.

We don’t see “doing as you’re told” as a legitimate way of having fun — remember Super Mario Galaxy. It seems forgivable here, though. It’s an understandable compromise, and it is beautiful and short enough that it feels more like the game is telling us “hey, try this out.” It is the case that moving is more fun when you are closer to the ground, or closer to something, because it gives you a better feeling for how fast you’re going – the game might just be drawing your attention to this. What may be crucial is that the game has quite a low standard for the completion of these mini-tasks. This makes me think that it is just a cute suggestion of a way to explore the space of the game, rather than a creepy effort to make us feel accomplishment (the haystacks light up once you have done a simple whirl). And, clearly, we can’t accuse this game of being slutty with its rewards.

That justified, Flower has quite a few other problematic bites of structure. In short, it manipulates. There’s micro-manipulation, like when it briefly takes control away from you in order to pretend that you’re doing something awesome, and then macro-manipulation: there is an architected tension running through the whole thing.

Usually in games, “tension” means “will I succeed?”. Usually in stories, “tension” means “will the author have decided that this person will succeed?”. Flower contains both. Architected tension does sometimes leak in to games. In Shadow of the Colossus, you’ll frequently find yourself in a situation where you’re holding on while the colossus tries to shake you off. There is nothing you can do in this situation except hold R1. Whether or not you succeed will boil down to the game’s own number-crunching — in other words, a decision that comes from the author.

Holding on to a rearing colossus is genuinely tense. It’s worth wondering what it is that is at the heart of that tension though. It’s not a film. Wander won’t fail if you fall off. What will happen is that you will have to try again, which will be annoying and take up a lot of time — so much time, in fact, that it feels like a film.

When a game changes in a big way in a manner that you absolutely could not predict and yet expects you to perform as if you could, we call it unfair (or “cheap”). It feels fair in Shadow of the Colossus, though, because every single colossi is intimidatingly different, and you know there are things to learn about it. That’s part of the terror of seeing them, which is the core of the game. Like absolutely any other game, if you fall off, you can get straight back on, and be the wiser because you know a bit more about the thing’s behaviour or the extent of your grip. Thus does an authored tension turn back in to a personal tension.

Most games have both authored and personal tension though, because most games have a “story.” The separation between the two is much maligned of course; we probably don’t have to talk about it, but here’s a classic example that’ll help illustrate what I just said:

You know when you play an RPG, and a character dies in a cutscene after a boss, and your eyes widen and as soon as you regain control you go to the menu and quickly check to see if you’ve retained the armour and items the character was carrying? You know how the game is now philosophically fucked, because if you have retained the items then the character’s death hasn’t meant anything, and if you haven’t retained the items it feels unfair (like what we described above; it feels as though the boss stole all your items without you seeing, especially because you now have to fight the boss over again: authored tension -> personal tension)?

At least RPGs actually have that possibility for a relationship between “story” and “gameplay.” But we’re not here to talk about that. What goes on with Flower is the same thing that goes on with Another World. There is “story” there is “gameplay”, but they are presented, as it were, without changing cameras. Which is to say, the “story” just means “the stuff that they wanted to put into the gameplay that they couldn’t work out how to do interactively.” This is different to how it normally is, because generally videogame writers don’t even begin with the idea that their story would be a part of the gameplay.

I won’t be satisfied until they don’t think about “stuff that cannot be done interactively” at all. But again, we’re not here to talk about that. Flower is sneakier than Another World. Perhaps because it is short, it thinks it can get away with having an entire storyline of authored successes and failures.

The fifth level is the only part of the game where you are in danger, or rather, where you’re given to think that you’re in danger. It’s like a normal video game level, with threats and failures, except that the way the game responds to the failures is, well, melodramatic. By the end of the level, it’s trying to make you think you may not pull through. Then it has the sixth level, where everything is fine and you are strong again. Because this authored tension unfolds over the whole game, the only way for it to be factored into your understanding of the game (and thus turned into a personal tension) is to play the whole thing again.

Sneaky! This thing is still game of the year though, because:

1) This story arc was treated as a way of structuring and seeding varied challenges and environments

2) It lines up with, and does not intrude upon, your own interactions and personal tension

3) It’s still not actually any more dishonest than a cutscene

Back to the micro-manipulation, though. So you have these parts where hitting a certain place will cause something awesome to happen that you didn’t expect, something that will disguise itself as something you have control over. They’ll last about two seconds, which is all the sneakier. We want to be charitable, so we’ll say that the decision was that lying to you about how good you were was a worthy tradeoff for making you feel a specific kind of friction that they had worked on. A friend of ours had one of those things happen, and did a fist-pump. We don’t let this bother us; we think that deep down he knew he was being lied to.

Again, it’s bad, but again, it’s no worse than a cutscene, and right now it serves to throw the awkward nature of cutscenes in general into sharp relief. Who are these voice-acted asshats, who saunter around pretending that my killing aliens was motivated by a desire to save the world, rather than an interest in mechanical exploration and a half-bored hunger for violence? At least Flower has some humility in its cutscenes, and really it’s just so damn spirited there’s not much you want to hold against it.

There is another way in which Flower might be mistaken for an unconscientious game: it is structured around picking things up. We will begin the justification of this by pointing out that picking things up is actually the entire goal of the game. Collectibles since time immemorial have been afterthoughts or crutches in action-adventure games. In Flower they are placed with care.

To prove this, first I’ll point out that you don’t have to pick up all the petals. I am not telling you this out of apologetics. I am pointing it out as a meaningful aesthetic judgement. Remember, Flower is about chaining, even though it does not flash “10x” “40x” “100X!!” up on the screen. You are presented with processions of flowers at various angles and orientations (don’t miss the spiral) — you attempt to swoop through and pick them all up in one curve. If you manage to, great, if you don’t — I guess I have to go back and pick some up?

No. Provided that you got the majority, you can just move on to the next procession. The ones that you missed will sit back there, glowing, but not to annoy you — only because they have to. You will still make your quota even if you don’t double back and get them. Doubling back to get them takes an agonizing amount of time and some horrible movements. If we accept that the designers were interested in swooping, not collecting, then this becomes a very common-sensical design decision, and also a righteously cruel trial for the part of our brain that wants to go back and get them.

A word on collectibles: collectibles are pretty dumb and they have been pretty abused. Look at your average platformer, and there’ll be massive piles of collectible things for you to dispassionately smash or pick up. There will be cannons that’ll launch you into a long line of collectibles — collectibles that you cannot avoid collecting, which you’ll probably get an Achievement for later on. They’re a ghost of fun that we had in super mario bros, when collectibles could be pretty intimidating to go for (or you had a time limit, so there was a risk in getting them). When I say ghost, I mean that we can now have all the collectibles we longed for – we remember that longing, we remember that utility, and games to this day capitalize on it by showering us with the things.

Right now, I am going to hold them up as evidence to the effect that games designers have to dissect their own experiences. There are modern games that have sensible collectibles – Braid and Blueberry Garden to be sure, and if you think about it, Guitar Hero and Audiosurf are about collection. But the hedonistic game designer uses collectibles as a person stuck for a conversation topic would use the weather. On your way across a room, there might be that little bit of silence, that developers feel the understandable urge to fill with the tinkling of half a dozen “picking something up” sounds. It is understandable, I say. The tinkling can be part of the soundtrack. The way they zoom into the corner or whatever can be part of the friction of moving forwards. We here at action button dot net ought not to pretend that there’s an easily-drawn line between banal reliance on accidental collectible absorption and the sweeping inhalations of Ikaruga.

Again, this sounds like apologetics, and Flower does not need it. It’s a wonderful game — all the aesthetic dedication and dignity of Soul Bubbles, with more grace, intensity, and thoughtfulness in its core mechanics. I’m not satisfied with the philosophy of it, but there is not yet any game in the world for which I am, and I had to bang on about something within my lifted word limit, so. Game of the Year guys. Honorable mention to Osmos, Igneous, Gridrunner: Revolution, and The Void.

–Hamish Todd

Comments

24 Responses to FLOWER

  1. Addenda: Alex Kierkgaard is a loathsome person, but he speaks his mind and he makes a concerted attempt to have coherent opinions, like the Michael Moore of video games. Wading through the bullshit, you can find moments of insight: his review of Flower is a perfect example of this

    http://insomnia.ac/reviews/playstation3/flower/

    Also last night I got Lit off wiiware, which came out in ’09, and it’s bloody good. It deserves a mention too.

  2. Is it too much to ask that the typical black-and-white threshold photographs be updated to reflect ACTION BUTTON DOT NET’s new DISCONCERTED UNICORN DOT NET color scheme?

  3. I’d sooner read IGN than a fucking word by “Alex Kierkgaard.” Klan members speak their minds and try to have coherent opinions too (as long as they’re in uniform 8)).

    Good review.

  4. @ Inverse Square

    I think I remember typing that on the other review.

    To be fair though… ‘sublime’ was used.

    This review is very lavish.

  5. @Kellhus: Sorry to poke fun, I was quite proud though when I saw your post and it occured to me that I hadn’t used those words.

    I’ll clarify at this point that I don’t think Flower is enough to be called sublime… I call it up because it is what I believe we ought to aim for as opposed to dull power fantasy. Flower is the best game of 2009 though.

  6. Son of a bitch.
    I’ve been planning to do this long ass article talking about the importance of communicating ideas through your mechanics, and doing a review of flower from that perspective, and here you go and do it more eloquently, and literately, than I probably would have…

    Seriously, though, awesome article. It’s made of, like, 80% my own personal soap box.

  7. I had a huge pile of arguments ready for that other review, but this one seems to have shut me up nicely.

    When I first got my hands on Flower, I thought that because the point was to pick up petals and suspend them in the you/air, if you touched the ground, you’d die. As a result, I barely touched the Run button at all, except in quick, giddy bursts, mostly upward; my movement was slow and deliberate, and I actually had a lot of fun being caught up in the tension of moving so laboriously, as if I really did have no better control of myself than a gentle puff of air would. Later, my boyfriend ruined it by pointing out that the ground would not in fact kill me, and I spent most of the rest of the level whooshing around like a cracked-out dragon, but still stopping occasionally to turn the controls over and over and admire the ponderous tumbling that comes from letting go of the damned Run button.

    Later, watching my friends play, I was kind of annoyed that they all seemed obsessed with Running, and never slowed the hell down to enjoy the tenuous rolling that, in my opinion, feels an awful lot more like being the sort of breeze that would poetically carry a bunch of flower petals around. I’m really glad I got to be the first person to play it that day, and that I got to get my hands on it before the experience was ruined by watching someone else Run endlessly, and thinking that that was what I was Supposed to Do. I think starting with that preconception would have given me much more of a “meh” impression, rather than the “ooohh” one that I actually got. Running in games, to me, feels like its primary function is to get you someplace else as quickly as possible. In Flower, right here (wherever that is) is so pretty, why would you want to hurry up and whoosh off elsewhere? Keep that Run button mashed, and you miss out on an awful lot!

    Whaddaya think of that, boys?

  8. I can absolutely, positively agree with you about sampling the beauty of a slow turn. I watch a lot of people play this game, and when they get to the end of the third level (the one that ends with the windmills, and has the most petals in it), I always suggest that they stop, whirl around a couple of times, and then travel through themself. It’s technological masturbation, but it’s such sweet technological masturbation.

    I definitely think you should play Dear Esther, as should most people. Like I describe, it’s a “story communicated in an environment”. It’s a very good game, if you evaluate it that way, but the part of it that fascinates me is the part I described in the article. You said “Keep that Run button mashed, and you miss out on an awful lot!” – this is very literally true in DE. The story is communicated in soundbites like System Shock and Bioshock. The soundbites start playing at predefined points in your environment. You walk through this environment – you are forced to walk, and it’s an (inexpertly put together) source mod, so that’s very slow, but you CAN bunnyhop. In fact, you WILL bunnyhop, because it is slow and because it is the only way of really engaging with the mechanics of the game. If you’re not bunnyhopping, you’re just holding forward, and turning when the path tells you to turn. Unfortunately, the mod’s makers didn’t know about bunnyhopping, or didn’t know how to remove it, because the speed boost it gives you screws up the delivery of the soundbites!

    So the player has a rather awkward proposition: “play” the game in the dull way the designer wants you to in order to hear the (really very interesting) sounds, or bunnyhop through it, which will be more fun but somewhat pointless (the level design isn’t designed with it in mind of course), or maybe try and combine the two, trying to predict the next place a sound will commence. It’s daft, but as a choice this actually makes DE much more fun than Every Day The Same Dream – if that game were as long as DE, I would have given up on it long before the end.

    I think you’re way off the mark in your general judgement of the run button: it is not a way of getting somewhere else as fast as possible. I can prove this – your average Super Mario Bros player will find it easier to play if they don’t run, right? And there will be some levels (possibly all of them) which will be harder, (take longer!) if they try running. Yet, they will still want to run. Partially because it is “faster”, yes, but mostly because it is a way of more deeply engaging with the system of the game – because it is more fun.

    Like I say, I believe that environmental storytelling, interesting as it can sometimes be, is not the best avenue of expression for the game designer. It will necessarily draw attention away from the mechanics. Not the player’s attention – because I say to you what I say to the makers of these games: the player will always be thinking about the mechanics. It will, horribly, draw the designer’s attention away from the mechanics, and encourage them to express themselves in a way that is not so well suited to games – as DE and EDtSD show us.

  9. @ Navi1101: I think the situation we were playing in had a lot to do with it as well. The fact that I’d brought the game over to show it to people and we were playing it there at the party, and the fact that it’s a relatively short game, meant that people wanted to finish it then and there. They wanted to see the whole game in that day. There’s also a sense of preformance in that kind of situation. You don’t want to dawdle too much because there’s people watching, and because there’s people waiting for their turn to play (and we did eventually want to get done with it and on to watching movies)

    I think that, given a more solitary playing opportunity, everyone might’ve taken a little more time to stop and smell the flowers, so to speak.

    We’ve more or less had this conversation, but for the sake of the discussion here- I don’t entirely understand the appeal you see in the slow movement… I wonder if, just playing the game on your own, you could actually just play the whole game like that (to the extent that it lets you) I mean, I kinda get it. It’s not like I never slow down and tumble around a bit, but the dashing is what I’m there for.

    I will admit that it’s partially driven by the impatience that plagues a lot of my gaming habits since college, the feeling that I’m taking foooreeeever to do anything, (the constricted camera angle when you’re moving slow has something to do with it, too) but it’s…
    Don’t you ever go to a park or something and run just because you can? Not because you’re trying to get somewhere, or to get away from somewhere, but just because you have the room to? Because you like the wind on your face?

    That’s what Flower’s all about to me. It’s flying because I have the room to. I will load up the game, pick a level and just zip around, twisting in and out, and spiraling up into the sky to see as far as I can. It’s… actually the perfect embodiment of the feeling I get standing on the edge of the Valles Caldera (a place which looks rather a lot like one of the early levels from Flower)
    I do, personally, feel that the goal-oriented nature of the game is somewhat at odds with the sense of freedom inherent to the movement mechanics. Granted, like he said in the article, a lot of it is optional. You don’t really gain anything for getting everything (except maybe a painting of a mountain), but… the way it’s presented really does push one to exercise any OCD gaming tendencies one might have.
    I’d love to see a spinoff of Flower that goes more the way of Noby Noby Boy. Just give me the power of flight and an wide open playground full of toys made for the wind.

    On that Super Mario Brothers comment, I don’t know that the average level really is easier if you don’t run. Granted, yeah, you can be a lot more cautious about not running into enemies or running off cliffs or anything if you just walk, but your core abilities are hindered if you don’t run. Mario is less agile when walking. Not only does running make him jump farther, but it gives you a lot more room to change direction in the air and alter the distance of your jumps. You can go super far, or only as far as you would have with a walking jump. Moving slowly is risky because you’ve got a timer, but also because it hinders your jumping ability.

    I’ll admit, there are often times in Mario games where I’m having trouble in one area, wishing I could go a little slower and more carefully, then remember that he’ll just walk if I let go of the button.
    It’s also interesting to note that in Mario games where you can carry things, they kind of assume that you’re always running by making the grab button the same as the run button.

    Now I’m picturing Every Day the Same Dream with bunnyhopping…

  10. I think it also had a lot to do with the level I played then. The first level is small, and the flowers are relatively close together, in broad clusters and rings rather than long trails; it works better for slow tumbles and quick bursts. I certainly wouldn’t play the level Beka played that way – numbers escape me, but it’s the HUGE! one with all the flowers in kleptomaniacal rows that lead you down a long path across sunlit hills. I think I would have slow-tumbled through the narrow gullies in that one, just because I enjoy being in tight spaces, but that level is all about the whooshing and the swooping, so what appears to have become my argument is invalid there. I would have slow-tumbled the HELL out of that city.

    As for the run button, I don’t know, shouldn’t you be able to engage deeply in the system of the game anyway? It seems like the usual reason for putting in a run button is because walking isn’t as fun (WHY, Pokemon, do you insist on waiting until the second town to give me my shoes? I appreciate that it’s a running joke (haw haw) by now, sure, but ACK!). I’m all for the basic joy of character movement; why not just make walking more fun, instead of making the joy of movement rely on a separate thing? In Flower, depending on the context, walking is *at least* as fun as running, which is part of why I despise the idea of running all the time.

    There’s this shrub-tree-thing outside my next-door neighbor’s house that I walk past almost every day. It’s thorny and has pretty little leaves. I’ll stop and look into it and admire the tangle of branches and interlacing of thorns and unfurling of new leaves when I walk past, and it’s quite nice, but from the middle distance, when I can focus on the whole tree, it’s not very interesting. Conversely, the way that tree lines up with the cottonwoods and mulberries that line the rest of the block makes for an interesting composition from across the street. So.. I guess what I was getting at with that was, in Flower at least, I feel like running all the time keeps you in the uninteresting middle distance. You can take in bites of scenery as you enjoy moving past them, but it’s hard to really appreciate the beauty of the landscape unless you either stop and slow-tumble through the middle of it, or run up to the top of the sky like Krail does and stop to enjoy the sweeping vistas. Besides joyous, frictive character movement, the biggest draw a game can have for me is beautiful scenery that makes me wonder. Shallow, I know, but Flower has both of those in abundance, and I think it’s a shame not to spend at least half your time slowing down and admiring them.

  11. Also, I will check out Dear Esther and EDtSD as soon as midterms allow. ^^;

  12. Well, both of them are very short. I would appreciate it if you could post your response. For years players (including myself) have been stopping playing games to admire the scenery, and for years designers have been investing more and more in that scenery. Dear Esther, EDtSD and also Fatale skip to the end of this movement; they can all barely be said to be “played”.

    I don’t think we can address the problem in terms of “making walking more fun”. It’s not that running versus walking is a “choice”, like in an RPG. They’re “moves” – we decide to walk or run several times a second while playing. We will run more often than we will walk for the same reason that we will walk more than we will stop – it’s just another level of engagement, it’s literally another button.

    Those who have completed flower – try and go through it without letting go of run, just to try, and you’ll see that it can get pretty deep!

  13. Pretty sure Gears of War has solved “the problem” of movement across terrain in 3d games.

  14. Scenery in games is awesome. Though sometimes the absence of scenery can be just as awesome. Thinking mainly about Vandal Hearts and Final Fantasy Tactics, where floating on a square in an infinite void gives a weirdly perverse sense of seriousness to the events in question. Though it’s mainly because of the willingness to jerk that square around considerably with the higher-level spell effects.

    Flower is an expensive and sadly unromantic way to explore navigational mechanics. I like BIT.TRIP.BEAT for actually DEVOLVING its bosses from pattern-telegraphing lumberers to the bare essentials. No romance but in limitations, you understand, and you can’t get much more limited than pixels and beats. Slightly more room for the imagination, in any case.

    And in any case, the cool, fun, and ACCESSIBLE indie games are all in that Potato Sack thing.

  15. The thing about Indiana Jones is that he was based on a real person. A man who lived the action-archeologist lifestyle. It’s being that person that Indiana Jones and Uncharted and The Riddle of Master Lu are all about — or should be. The Indiana Jones films are just one way of putting that material into art, to tell people about it and let them live it. Most games and films that rip off Indiana Jones really, honestly rip off Indiana Jones, while they should rip off what he was based on. Only The Riddle of Master Lu does that, which is why it’s so amazing and one of the best adventure games out there. Even though close to nobody knows that in the non-German speaking world. That’s because the only appropriate review of the game — that gave it a stellar 90+ rating and called it the best “modern” adventure game, at the time — was by a German PC gaming magazine.

  16. I understand that Action Button is a site with a lot of humor, and seeing these two starkly contrasting reviews I know at least one of them was a joke. But which? Am I supposed to take this review seriously? It gives praise where it isn’t due. Problems are ignored that wouldn’t be in other games. I happen to agree with the short points brought up in the other review more, but it was written anonymously and was robotic in delivery, so it seems clear that I wasn’t supposed to. If this was really intended to sway me, it didn’t. This review, like most others of the game, is too (I guess appropriately) flowery.

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