Posted by (Visited 7413 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Sep 252006

Everyone else is pointing to Flow, so I might as well.

A while back, after seeing Spore, I wrote down in my design notebook (actually a Word doc on my machine), “You could do just the first level as a casual game.”

Lo and behold, here it is. First time I loaded it, btw, no critters appeared at all — so if you find yourself in a completely empty space, try reloading or heading for the circles that pop on the edge.

  29 Responses to “flOw”

  1. http://www.trilobites.com/site/index.cfm), the most commonly recognizable animal of the fascinating time from the Cambrian through the Devonian in which sea-life was still the big show. A blog on Koster’s site (https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/09/25/flow/) convinced me that I’m not the only one who can be absorbed by such simple gameplay, well-presented. The combination of those two realizations makes me wonder how easily kids and adults alike could be captured by a dinosaur game that places the player

  2. I saw this one a while back and was immediately drawn in by the Spore similarity. One big thing lacking (and how can you really complain when, after all, it is a free flash game): there’s no save function that I could find. This was especially frustrating after “beating” what I thought was the entire game, only to find out that it was merely the first “level” that I had completed. The game reloaded with a whole new set of critters with the player-object as, I presume, a more highly-evolved critter.

    Very simple gameplay, but I guess the beauty of the execution just sucks you in.

  3. I got drawn into this one as well. But, uh, you mean that after getting past all those little critters (especially those amoeba things) and earning my segments, there was more?

    Now I’m curious about the console version I read about.

  4. I like the visual/audio design; it looks/feels very minimalist and elegant.

  5. Regarding the relation of flOw to Spore, Chen is a game designer at EA Maxis.

    Xinghan “Jenova” Chen: Thesis | Blog | LinkedIn

  6. […] Comments […]

  7. Am I the only one who didn’t think to cannibalize the first time around? I assumed you couldn’t eat the ones like you, but I was wrong. Interesting game.

  8. Just really awesome, loved it. The music and graphics were very cool, I wasnt sure if the other “biengs” that looked like me were other players, but it was fun eating them. Also wish I could have titled my sea bug and saved the game

  9. I don’t like this or other works by the same guy ( ie Cloud ). They get boring really easy, because you can already tell that there will be nothing for you at the end. It just doesn’t give you enough satisfaction to really make you play. I hate to say it, but grand theft auto is a million times more fun, and it doesn’t oblige you to follow a single activity.

  10. Well, it was a perfect few moments while being early for work. Music and graphics were very relaxing.

  11. @Matthew

    I found it much easier to play if I imagined the ameoba-type creatures as hookers and the bigger ones as cops. Of course, I also just played it as-is and had fun since the “end” was advancing to a new type of organism. But yeah, needs more rocket launchers….

  12. I finally finished a blog describing how Flow’s basic design might be applied to something on a larger scope, and to a topic of near-universal interest (especially among young kids)…dinosaurs. Check it out if you’re interested by clicking on my name.

  13. I guess I’ll just have to miss out on this one. I couldn’t get the online version to play (is it a Flash game? that would explain it)

    I tried to download the offline version but the “mirror” was just a flashy graphical web page with nothing I could identify as a download button.

    Its probably telling that my attention span for these things has grown shorter than the time it took me to type this message. 🙁

  14. Personally I think this game is pretty boring. Yes it has a cool look and sound, but that doesn’t make it fun to play. I can think of 20 better Flash games off the top of my head.

  15. Hmm, looks kinda like Electroplankton on DS. Haven’t played either really so don’t know much except that they look similar in design direction.

    My interest in the genre/style is that it’s can be both fun and educational.

    For example, one can create a game call Antibodies where you control antibodies in their fight against bacteria, virus, etc. Nice visuals and sounds like what you get in flOw and Electroplanton is all so cool.


  16. There’s beauty in the relaxing visuals and sounds, and the idea is neat, but after a few minutes I closed it for good – didn’t find it fun at all. The attention that this is getting everywhere gives me a kind of Emperor’s New Clothes feeling.

    Incidentally, I had pretty much the same impression with Cloud.

  17. Well, there went an hour and a half of my time. Wow. So simple, yet so beautiful. Thanks for the link.


  18. I’m always in favor of revolutionary designs and experiences that are truly different, but I have to agree with Jare. While innovation may not be completely orthogonal to fun, they are not equivalent. It seems to me that often a game is discussed a lot on forums like this because it is different, and how much it is discussed implies that it is fun to play, but the reality is that it is just different.

    I enjoyed Comedy Central’s Deer Stacker game (part of their Redneck Games) much more. They had it at AGC, and I have to admit that it stole away quite a bit of my networking time.



  19. Hmm, to me it WAS fun. Enough so for me to come back several times and play it again. It did have a very slow ramp, though — it’s not until you reach giant organisms or other worms that you first run into any challenge.

    Ironically, I don’t actually think it IS different. The art style is fresh, but the basic mechanic is old as dirt. The movement style is very much like what Spore controlled like when I first saw it.

  20. I’ve played it 2 more times now. Once yesterday again at lunch and again last night. Ramp up is very slow, and the “deeper’ creatures have some sembalance of AI and are a bit challenging. Evolving to the “jellyfish” is more of a challenge.

    I ran out of things to “eat” the last time

  21. OK, let me try to delve into this a little deeper.

    I was conflating Cloud and flOw when I talked about innovation. While flOw left me with the same feeling as Cloud after playing it, you are right that the mechanic isn’t particularly original. Chasing after dots and eating them seems simple enough. On the other hand, the fist ‘boss’ fight had a sort of kite fighting feel to it that I can’t say I’ve experienced before in a game.

    Unlike Jare, I played flOw quite a bit longer. I played all the way through to the boss fight at the end of the second level. But the jelly-fish was just too hard to control. I could get the boss down to two energy right behind its head, but could get no further. I looked up some cheats so that I could finish him off. I was also a bit frustrated by the difficulty in locating the boss creatures. I spent a fair bit of three hours simply trying to find the critter so that I could kill it.

    So, after three hours of play and researching cheats, how can I say that the game wasn’t fun? Um…I’m not sure, really. I think it has to do with the feeling it left me with. Or the lack of one. It just seemed too casual in the end. Too futile. There was no sense of fulfillment. This is exactly how I felt after playing Cloud. I kept feeling there should be something more. (And no, not rocket launchers.) I’ve always thought of myself as a casual gamer — time-wise anyway — so it seems curious to me that I wouldn’t like a game because it was too casual. Maybe I want the casual part to be connected back to something bigger? For instance, I enjoy the puzzles in Puzzle Pirates because there is more of a defined sense of progress and direction. The casual part of the game exists inside a larger context that helps me enjoy it. Or something like that.

    In the end, it just seems to me that the hubbub over flOw likely stems from perceived similarities to Spore more so than from the game itself.


  22. I was also a bit frustrated by the difficulty in locating the boss creatures.

    Agreed. What’s up with this? Is that supposed to part of the fun? I tried reading something in the hopes that the boss would find me, but no such luck. I did like the dogfighting aspects, and the feel.

  23. Reading up on how Flow thinks (yes, as you suspected, it is that flow) I can only conclude that the game thought boss monsters were too dangerous for me, and had him run away. 🙂

  24. Paul-
    “Or the lack of one. It just seemed too casual in the end. Too futile. There was no sense of fulfillment”

    Almost as if you were a Sea creature wondering: is there more to life than swimming around eating stuff and getting bigger? (or not wondering since you couldnt) (Do sea amoeba’s dream of evolution?)

    I think theres a bit of Theory of Fun relavence in this game, I cant recall the chapter and its not handy atm (loaned out) but it had to do with humans using games to learn, because our evoloved mind allowed for it.

    The game is by nature sea amoeba-like and very immersive, but we have to “de-volve” to play it. This seems to mean you need to shut down the complexity of your mind and um….get into the flow?

    So yeah, no hookers, pimps, rocket launchers…amoebas dont need those, but humans do 🙂

  25. The most interesting part of the game for me is complete lack of any user interface.

    Your creature’s health is indicated by it’s shape and physique. Levels are shown as shades of background color. Buffs are directly reflected on creature itself.

    While a simple game in itself, it makes a really nice break from health bars, xp monitors and quest journals. This seems to be a heavily unexplored area of user interfaces. While many games offer high character customizability, it is in no way tied to character’s game style or gameplay performance. At most, the apearances of characters in applicable games are denoted by their role: tank – big bulky brawler, healer – fragile monk and so on. It would be quite interesting to have character’s apearance directly reflect past experience, but most likely, it would be too demanding on art department.

    Same goes for interaction itself. Instead of a discrete absolute bar show character’s health, have the posture change depending on overall power, and wounds display on body itself: severity of bleeding indicated with particle system, poison changes character’s skin color, or whichever aspect would be applicable.

    But most likely the entire concept of character-environment interaction would have to be rethought for such an experiment to succeed, compared to what seems to be the norm today. It would most likely not apeal to many of current more dedicated gamers.

  26. Allen said,

    The game is by nature sea amoeba-like and very immersive, but we have to “de-volve” to play it. This seems to mean you need to shut down the complexity of your mind and um….get into the flow?

    I take issue with that very notion, but I think I’ll settle for saying your reading of Flow and Raph’s Fun is simply flawed. =)

    First, the complexity of your mind has nothing to do with your ability to be in flow. Flow refers to total engagement in an activity. It occurs when a mathematician ponders the 11th dimension, when a physicist contemplates black holes, when an artist produces a masterwork, and so on. All three examples are highly complex concepts, none of which I could claim to grasp beyond superficiality, and yet they can and do produce flow. (Note: because I suck at coming up with examples, the above can also be argued. That’s beside the point.)

    Second, Raph’s theory of fun is that “fun is another word for learning” (p46).

    Third, the difference between fun and flow is the former is achieving mastery and the latter is exercising mastery. (p98) You might notice that the game isn’t actually terribly fun. (At least, that was my experience.) But it can be highly engaging, without being very intensive. Indeed, it’s usually very relaxing.

    Fourth, the comment about devolution makes me wince. A lot. We should never devolve; as the word implies, it’s retrogressive. The point of games is supposed to be progressive: to make us more masterful. It’s teaching. Yea, there’s a touch of personal prejudice in that.

    Bruce Lee describes (though it isn’t his, originally; Suzuki’s, I think) three stages of knowledge: ignorance, sophistication, and mastery. I think that your notion of “complexity” is actually merely “sophistication”: to “get into the flow”, you need to progress beyond sophistication into mastery, at which point you can relax into doing what you’ve mastered doing, if it happens to be an activity in you can relax. Most people have mastered walking, for instance, and thus walking can be very therapeutic.

  27. Michael Chui wrote:

    First, the complexity of your mind has nothing to do with your ability to be in flow.

    Allen’s reference to “getting into the flow” was probably intended to be sarcastic and clever; hence, the “um…” No doubt that Allen can read Jenova Chen’s online thesis as well as any of us can.

    Second, Raph’s theory of fun is that “fun is another word for learning”.

    I think you’re oversimplifying Raph’s theory. The context in which he used that phrase concerned thinking of games as teachers. I’m not certain that he intended to claim that “fun” is a synonym for “learning” because that’s simply not true. Ernest Adams wrote in his Bill of Players’ Rights that “fun is the emotional response to playing”. Chris Crawford wrote that “true fun is the emotional response to learning.”

    These quotations have since been morphed into “fun is an emotional response to learning.” The message is clear, and the message has been accepted in psychology for awhile: arousal emotions can motivate change and therefore arousal emotions can benefit learning. Yet, fun is not the only arousal emotion. Fear can be an effective motivator too. Learning can be fun, not all learning is fun, and some learning should not be fun.

    Player engagement strategies should effect the elicitation of an emotion or emotions that are appropriate for use toward an objective, such as achievement.

    The point of games is supposed to be progressive: to make us more masterful. It’s teaching.

    Games can be progressive or retrogressive. Games can encourage mastery or encourage unlearning. Teaching is not always a matter of advancing knowledge or mastering skills. Teaching can build behavioral limitations for social goals. The Ten Commandments from the Old Testament, for example, reinforce the social goal of maintaining the welfare and opportunity for growth of a people by discouraging unnecessary murder. Tribal traditions often dictate marriage within a tribe to the virtuous to prevent the unnecessary introduction of disease. There are many psychologically negative lessons that aim for a lesser status whether for social goals, religious benefit, or political motivations. Read Susan Blackmore and Richard Dakwins’ The Meme Machine.

    To always being moving forward and to always be training is considered a fundamental strategic error. The mobility and flexibility of games should never be artificially restricted to promote some bias or preference. Games should enable players to learn about unreal worlds and experiment with environments no longer thought viable. Knowledge is built upon knowledge. Without the ability to reflect on the past, we would hardly be capable of sustaining our view of the future.

    Most people have mastered walking, for instance, and thus walking can be very therapeutic.

    Most people have not mastered walking just as most people have not mastered writing. Simply because the action can be executed does not mean the action has been mastered. Walking is a skill, and there are many features of that skill that most people do not utilize. By the way, death can be therapeutic, too. Just ask Bruce.

  28. Ew, my lack of clarity strikes again….

    Ok, the first and second statement you quoted should be taken as separate, mostly:
    1. As to a Theory of Fun, my meaning here was that Raph addresses learning as fun and how games are an intergal part of both (in general). Trust me I do not pretend to interpret (or define) an authors book on his own blog site. Unless an author clarifys a concept I claim only to have “grocked” its meaning as it applies only to me.

    We have a frontal lobe, it allows for learning, we use imagination and games to facilitate that. Fun is a Chemo-electrical response to stimuli you experiance from your CNS. It means your doing something you like (and likely learning).

    2. In my first paragraph you will note a comparison with the author I quote. This was to give an example of what the point of a low level organisims existance is. Followed by a strange question (cf. Androids

    and Seagulls) Because it illicits a abstract link to evolution…

    Much like Zen (and many other beliefs) asks us to “unlearn” so that we may learn…

    Flow is old, (and goes by many names) and does not always concern the Martial, and does not always correlate to a perceptable goal and progression. Although that is the underlying goal, often missed by those looking for rocket launchers…

    Perhaps “de-volve” was a loaded word, I should have selected something better.

    All that said, I enjoy the game, it illicited fun, and the total experiance I would say was representative of the concept defined by the author as “Flow” for each sessions I played. So I think he successfully accomplished his goal. Which allowed some players to learn an abstract concept like “Flow” through gameplay.

    “Be master OF mind rather than mastered BY mind”-Zen

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