Released: FEBRUARY 12, 2009
Publisher: SONY

By Alex Kierkegaard / November 19, 2010

Flower makes for an excellent case-study of the diabolically cunning tactics of the indie bums: Take an old and venerable genre, dumb it down almost beyond recognition, to the point where it'd take a genius to discern what you've done, so that everyone else loses all points of reference and it appears to them as if your game has suddenly materialized out of nowhere, then dress it up in some effeminate theme that panders to the sensibilities of women, fagots and mentally stunted men-children the world over — and voilą: sit back and watch your Metacritic score blow past Civilization's, GTA III's and Deus Ex's, and your bank account swell into six-digit territory. Neat trick, isn't it? Someone should write a book about it — it's not even illegal.

So let's examine what the indie bums have done here in a little bit more detail. Flower is, believe it or not, a flight simulator. — "WHAT! BUT IT'S ABOUT FLOWERS ZOMG!!!1" — Shut the fuck up, fagot, and listen to me carefully. In videogames, genres have nothing to do with colors or textures, but with mechanics. A flight simulator, therefore, does not necessarily have to have "aeroplanes" in it — it is simply a game THAT SIMULATES FLIGHT. More precisely, in mechanical terms: A FIRST-PERSON ACTION GAME IN WHICH THE PLAYER'S AVATAR CAN MOVE, MORE OR LESS FREELY, IN ALL THREE AXES. In other words a game like Flower. Get it?

Now, if that's all you could do in such a game, i.e. fly around more or less freely, it'd be BORING. No one would want to "play" it (have you tried Microsoft's Flight Simulator?) Which is why most of the games that have employed THIS MECHANICAL MODEL in the past have adapted it to the simulation of warfare: because warfare IS MOST CERTAINLY NOT BORING — it is in fact THE DEFINITION OF "NOT BORING", i.e. EXCITING: there's tons of shit to do in it, such as for instance TO AVOID GETTING KILLED, while also, of course, figuring out a way TO KILL THE OTHER GUYS.

That's not to say that there haven't been flight simulators (or space-simulators; same thing but without the gravity) in the past which were not modeled (or at least not entirely modeled) after warfare, while at the same time avoiding the dreary boringness of Microsoft's approach to the genre — there have been plenty of those, and what's more they've been mostly excellent: I name just David Braben's and Ian Bell's Elite (1984), EAD's Pilotwings (1990), Peter Molyneux's Magic Carpet (1994), Sonic Team's Nights into Dreams, and most recently Nippon Ichi's Tori no Hoshi [ > ] as splendid examples of alternative approaches to the whole "flying" experience.

Now, what makes all these games and many others like them good, is, above all else — surprise, surprise — their complexity. Conversely, what makes Flower bad is its simplicity. In the 33-year history of the genre we've seen the basic "flight" premise wedded to: more or less realistic flight simulation (countless examples, starting with Microsoft's series, which kick-started the genre), space combat (X-Wing), space exploration + trading (Elite), cinematic space opera (Wing Commander), cinematic space opera + exploration + trading (Privateer, Freelancer), space exploration + combat + massively multiplayer mechanics (Eve Online), score-based arcade mechanics (After Burner Climax), cinematic flight combat (Strike Commander; the later Ace Combat games), and even dungeon crawling (Descent) and, most recently, first-person shooting (Shattered Horizon [ > ]) — in addition to the oddballs I mentioned earlier, and no doubt many others that escape me right now. After all, I just rattled this entire list off the top of my head; I am sure that if I spent a few hours refreshing my memory I could easily double, if not triple it in size.

And the question now is, what sort of specialized mechanical model does Flower graft onto its basic flight controls? In other words, what exactly do you DO in Flower? Well, you fly around from flower to flower in a wind-swept plain (your avatar being the wind) COLLECTING stuff. In other words, the model that these bums have chosen to adopt for their latest "indie sensation" is THE COLLECT-A-THON — not merely the SIMPLEST model that there is but, even worse, the most universally derided and reviled one in the history of videogames (excepting JRPGs, of course). The collect-a-thon model itself, as is well known, derives from the platforming genre, originally the two-dimensional variety, and subsequently extended in the bloated 3D games of the late '90s and early 2000s, with their sprawling hub worlds, lack of challenge and dull pacing. So what the indie bums have done here is take A BAD 3D PLATFORMER, DISTILL ITS ABSOLUTELY WORST CHARACTERISTIC, WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY REMOVING ALL THE THINGS THAT MADE THESE GAMES SOMEWHAT PLAYABLE (i.e. precisely the fact that you CAN'T fly in them, and that you have to navigate across platforms, around enemies and obstacles, and the like), and grafted it onto their rudimentary flight mechanics — which, moreover, Sixaxis gimmickry notwithstanding, are absurdly simple. For this is the problem with games of this kind which do not adopt the warfare model — they require a great deal MORE IMAGINATION on the part of their designers, in order to come up with some kind of mechanical model that's fun to mess around with and makes at least some kind of sense. Because you see the great thing about the airplane THEME is that airplanes are complicated machines, which therefore give the designer ample opportunities for injecting as much complexity into his game as he likes. An avatar modeled after a plane can basically be made as little or as much complicated as the designer wants, from something as simple as the After Burner model all the way up to Microprose's simulators that come with 200-page manuals. An avatar modeled after THE FUCKING WIND, on the other hand, is a somewhat more difficult proposition, because NOTHING NEEDS TO BE DONE IN ORDER TO MAKE IT FLY — THE FUCKING WIND BLOWS AROUND ON ITS OWN FOR FUCK'S SAKE. In other words, THERE'S REALLY NOTHING MUCH TO MODEL THERE. — Do not mistake what I am saying here, I am not talking about realism: human beings for example do not fly, yet we have plenty of games in which they do. It's just that the designers of these games had to think a little harder to come up with some sort of imaginary flight model which they'd then mechanically implement — and this is where CREATIVITY comes in. The airplane guys just model, while the fantasy guys invent AND model, so their work is even harder, at least conceptually, if not technically (but sometimes, as in a masterpiece like Gun Valkyrie, it's both). — But nothing even remotely like this has occurred here. Your "wind" has no special powers, no limited fuel supply, no timer-based shut-off system, no gauges that you have to keep filled up and keep an eye on: you simply fly around from flower to flower in an empty plain, collecting petals until you've got enough to unlock the next stage. There are no hazards, no way of losing, no special powers — nothing to do in this game other than wave the stupid controller around while soothing music plays and you blow across the screen. It's boring to EVEN WATCH for more than 30 seconds — let alone play.

But aren't I forgetting something? That, in contrast to all other entries in the genre, Flower is art? After all, it's got flowers in it, doesn't it? In contrast, Tori no Hoshi is not art because it hasn't been localized for the North American markets, Privateer, Eve, Strike Commander and the like are not art because they have explosions in them, and Elite, Pilotwings and Magic Carpet are not art because... well, because they are old I guess (on top of not having any flowers in them).

Fucking fagots.


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