Sticking to last weeks’s topic on music and sound in storytelling, I wanted to share a series of development videos around Flower, a videogame released in 2009 by thatgamecompany. It’s one of my personal favourites, and in these videos, music composer Vincent Diamante and sound designer Steve Johnson talk about their experiences crafting an emotionally resonant narrative for a game without text, speech, or even characters. Take a look:
There are eight videos in all. Since portions of the later videos get quite detailed, I’ve extracted some of the comments scattered throughout that seem interesting and relevant to Ekostories.
A Score’s Progression
“One of the only anchor points that [designer] Jenova Chen had was that he knew he wanted to make a game with a strong narrative; he wasn’t much of a story writer, but he knew he wanted that traditional three-act structure. Flower ended up without dialogue or characters, but it could still tell a narrative due to the things you have in games, such as level design, art direction and audio.”
In the videos, Diamante speaks about the importance of establishing a strong aural identity with the score, believing in the power of loops to create comfort and resonance. The music is layered (up to eight layers), interactive, and unlocked as the player interacts and progresses through different areas of each level. The score is composed in D-major; Diamante believed that it conveyed an aura of majesty to the game’s depiction of a swarm of petals flying in the wind.
Diamante also wanted a broader musical arc; the progression of music in the game parallels musical progression throughout history, beginning with a classical feel before shifting to late-classical, romantic, and then finally to a neo-romantic, almost contemporary sound. There’s a lot going on behind the visuals on the screen.
Rising, Falling, Rising Again
Slide from Sound and Music as Narrative in Flower, GDC 2010 workshop.
During the walkthrough of the game, Johnson describes the intended feel of each of Flower’s level and how the game follows the conventional three-act structure.
- Level 1: Freedom, healing, soothing, magical, life-giving.
- Level 2: Beginning, bringing colour to a melancholy landscape.
- Level 3: Energy, exhilaration, movement, thrill.
- Level 4: Night-time, restfulness, calm. (End of Act One)
- Level 5: Lost, shock, terror, desperation (End of Act Two)
- Level 6: Heroic strength, triumph, empowerment (End of Act Three)
It’s very interesting to compare this to the reactions I had playing the game, years ago. Looking back at my own musings on Flower, I think the developers were quite successful in achieving what they set out to do.
A Narrative Open to Interpretation
In this last video, Johnson muses on how Flower’s narrative seems to speak to a broad range of people. For him, he sees it potentially as a story of an unknown and depressed tenant who eventually opens up to the life and colours of the city around him/her. Diamante, like me, seems to perceive the story as a collection of flower dreams.
It’s fascinating to hear how two people who collaborated very closely on a project can still derive entirely different things from it. Both seem to acknowledge that this is a wonderful thing, and that by working with and playing off each other, they were able to create the aural component of a narrative that offers people from all walks of life the space to find their own interpretation.
- Do you have any examples of powerful wordless audiovisual narratives?