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Finding A New Way: Jenova Chen And Thatgamecompany
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Finding A New Way: Jenova Chen And Thatgamecompany

May 5, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

Would you leave the Spore DS development team to co-found your own studio -- to make download-only games?

That's the choice thatgamecompany co-founder Jenova Chen made, and here, he reveals the philosophy behind his successful flOw, the most-downloaded game on the PlayStation Network, and what led to the creation of Flower, thatgamecompany's follow-up, slated for release later this year.

Conducted during Game Developers Conference earlier this year, this interview touches on Chen's hopes for the medium of games, including how Sony is uniquely positioned out of the three console manufacturers to help thatgamecompany realize its current goals.

So, I was going to ask, how has the PSP version of flOw been going? Who did the port?

JC: FlOw PSP is not made by thatgamecompany, it's made by SuperVillain Studios. At the time we finished flOw, we were like, "OK, we're gonna work on the next thing," right? And then, just, there are tons of gamers saying, "I want flOw to be on the PSP!"

Sony decided, "Maybe we should move it to PSP, but obviously you guys are not interested." And then they were like, "Well, you know, this group which we used to work with, they are really nice guys, and maybe we can get them to work on PSP for you." So basically we said, "As long as our [team] members are not distracted from this project? Fine, if you want to do it."

So basically, the project was lead by the senior designer and the senior producer from Sony, who worked on flOw. We really liked those guys, and they totally get what flOw is, so they will keep the product true after the port.

And since the port actually started -- it's really not technically a "port" anymore, because it's a remake, because the code that we had written for PS3 is just not going to work on the PSP. The assets are all too heavy for the PSP, so they basically remade everything, while trying to keep the same feel.

And as the development went on, more and more questions came to us, and our people became more and more involved; we definitely did more than we expected on the project. So, that's how the PSP version is, then.

Are you satisfied with it?

JC: I haven't really played the latest version, so I can't really say anything. We have a lot of feedback and improvements; I don't know what the latest version looks like.

It's mainly Nick, who is the other author of the original Flash flOw, and lead designer on flOw PS3, so he's basically handling that. I am just putting my mind on Flower right now.

What is your process like, at thatgamecompany? From concepts, do you then do prototyping?

JC: Yeah, this is technically the first original IP for thatgamecompany, because when we first started working on flOw, the game was already there, you know? Like the Flash game, the design, the artistic style, it's all there. So the first project we did was more like, we needed to learn how to use PS3, and we need to buff up the look and the sound to make it look like a PS3 game.

So Flower is the first game where we start from nothing. So I started the concept from several concept drawings I did. We always start a game based on a feel that we want to accomplish; that we want the player to feel a certain way. But if I can't tell what that feel is, and if we are not going to that feel, it's like, "Oh, I just missed my progress," right?

In fact, the feel has changed in its nuance. In the beginning I had a very vague direction: "This is the feel that we want to achieve." Then as we develop more and more, we realize certain specific feelings are impossible because of the limitations. But then, the rest of them are still possible. So the game itself kind of grows.

That's the fun part of video games. It's not just art. It's not like a movie, where if you have a script, everything is set. But video games, you have your team with you, and then you have the technology you are developing. What if the technology suddenly does not support what you originally envisioned in the design? Then you have to change your design.

So the game is evolving on its own right now, so we kind of just guide it where it's necessary, but it moves by itself. But, in general, it's like we are driving a car to the East Coast, but are we [going via] Kansas? Are we taking the northern side? We don't know. We are kind of in the middle up there.

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