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The Gamasutra 20: 2008's Breakthrough Developers

August 13, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 18 of 21 Next

Gamasutra 20 'Breakthrough' Honoree:


Studio overview

The company was founded in 2006 by two USC grads who had a goal of making games that evoke a specific feeling. The company's first title was flOw, which was part of cofounder Jenova Chen's thesis for graduation from the Interactive Media Division.

Key staff

Creative director Jenova Chen graduated from USC in 2006, where he helped develop flOw and concept the as-yet unrealized Cloud; after graduation, he worked at Maxis for a brief period of time but left to continue on full-time with thatgamecompany.

Kellee Santiago, who is the president and cofounder of thatgamecompany, worked with Chen on Cloud; she also was involved with developing Darfur is Dying, which highlighted the plight of Darfur refugees and received a grant from MTVu.

Resume highlights

Thatgamecompany's first release, flOw, which has gamers evolving an organism over a series of levels, began as a student project for graduation. Based on the theory of Active Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment (ADDA), the game was built with the idea that players should be able to adjust the difficulty of a game without having to exit to a menu or start over.

The project eventually led to a three-game deal with Sony for PlayStation Network, the first of which was flOw, which was released in the spring of 2007; the game was later ported to the PSP in 2008.

What's next

The developer's next game, Flower, continues the themes of flOw -- both in terms of its naturalistic world, and its innovative, technology-driven gameplay. It will be released later this year.

Our take

"The company's single release, flOw, has gotten lots of press, not just for its thoughtful approach to casual game design, but also as early proof of the PlayStation Network's worth as a service. As a company, thatgamecompany is different, from its unassuming name to its small-team structure and lofty goals.

TGC is one of a new breed of students-turned-professional-developers, with plenty of theory under the members' collective belts, and a different approach to what constitutes "fun".

The next release, Flower, should prove the company is not just a one-trick pony. Not that I know anything about it..."
- Brandon Sheffield

Article Start Previous Page 18 of 21 Next

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Chris Remo
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In most cases, games are also made by a lot of people, not just a few. I'm not sure, Mr. Gamemaster, what you would have had us do, considering as you seem to be aware, we do list key personnel--at the end of the day, these companies' games are still made by a lot more people than the few individuals we list, and we're looking to highlight the collective efforts of all of them, because there is no practical way we could have possibly distilled the proportional amount of creative contribution every individual developer made on these games, so we could better highlight this game designer, that programmer, or this artist.

Brandon Sheffield
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ah, grassroots gamemaster. I feel you are accusing Gamasutra of an industry-wide problem, one which we're actually attempting to address directly. We can only know who we know, and we put them in the articles where possible. We can't go in to these studios and evaluate their skills and find that hidden gem. Nobody will pay us to do that. It's the responsibility of two parties, the companies themselves, and the persons themselves. And to be frank, we know way more game creators now than we ever did, and I think lists like these, and extensive interviews with key people in these studios are part of that.

I'm...not sure what you want!

I sure am making a post on the internet. Hi mom!

Shane Stevens
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We can't go in to these studios and evaluate their skills and find that hidden gem. Nobody will pay us to do that. It's the responsibility of two parties, the companies themselves, and the persons themselves.

-end quote-

There IS a completely logical and near-effortless alternative: contacting the developers before these articles are written and polling them directly for key personnel on their staff. For instance, some noteworthy people who work/have worked with Dave Gilbert are Peter Gresser (Lead Musician), Ian Schlaepfer (Lead Artist for Blackwell Legacy/ Portrait Artist for Blackwell Convergence), Erin Robinson (Lead Artist for Blackwell Unbound), and myself (sprites/animations for The Shivah and Lead Artist for Blackwell Convergence).

I'm sure a quick email could've gotten you all this and more, though! :)

Simon Carless
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Fair comment, Shane. We did, obviously, do research on the individuals at companies, but we'd love other commenters to highlight further folks at those firms who deserve kudos. That's what feedback is useful for.

Charles J Pratt
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Look, everyone wants credit for the hard work that they've done, but this is a strange battle to pick, Grassroots. I mean, these are clearly quick little write-ups and mentioning more than one person would not only be impractical, but a little overboard. Frankly, it's nice to see some of these companies, like area/code or Wadjet Eye, get this exposure at all. Do you have a beef with Gamasutra or do you rail over on sites like or GameSpot as well? Seems those places might be more deserving of your wrath.

Gregory Peng
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Truth be told, I still don't have a clue as to what "breakthrough" means. Considering there is at least an ongoing dialogue for the definition of "indie", in comparison this list seems to be formed without a real sense of context or direction.

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"with Activision apparently opting not to publish the title after acquiring Vivendi Games. "

Err... Sorry????

It's Vivendi who aquired Activision & merged it with Vivendi Games. Yes it's true that the Activision board now lead the game branch of Vivendi but still.. Vivendi IS THE BOSS.

Vivendi holds 54% of Activision Blizzard, so I'm not sure you can tell that Activision aquired anything..

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@Grassroots Gamemaster:

Citing other industries and media is no excuse. I find it just as bad in the film industry that the talent of a whole team and the culture of the company that team resides in (which contributes hugely to how a game is produced) is neglected in favor of single-person worship/stardom.

So, I think that naming the companies AND some of the names of the leads there is appropiate.

Just naming the few leads - like you suggest - is just not enough.

Chris Remo
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No, Vivendi Games is indeed now a subsidiary of Activision. Also, Vivendi (the parent company, not Games) owns a controlling interest in Activision.

John Lockwood
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I was going to suggest starting a game version of

someone started but it has no content yet...

Rikard Peterson
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@ John Lockwood: Try

Harold Pichol
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I can't believe how Grassroots Gamemaster is alone on this one! I know the companies, Gamasutra is for game dev people, I'm a game dev dude and all those companies are well known if you have rss enabled and some good feeds.

What is wrong to actually SHOW some people, see the people who make consumers and gamers enjoy and have good time for HOURS. Show the people we want to cherish, copy and celebrate.

Claiming it's unfair for the ones who are not on the picture is pure BS and so lame. If they work on a project they love next time they will, and next time they will demand to appear on the "collective shot for Gamasutra, the gamedev industry bible".

It's all about making change! We're not made in the stone.

I love to see the face of Introversion guys, or have a big picture of Ken Levine or Will Wright or Jon Blow speaking on a video stream... Watching Raph Koster playing guitar and all,

Of course you can be a big fat nerdy gamedev and so what, making efforts like Gabe Newell (he did lose weight and it was not to use Outlook) isn't bad for you.

And it's certainly good for us, gamedev people. Step up and exist!