Saturday, July 4, 2009

'Pain' and 'Flower' show what gaming can be.

by Anand Ramachandran. This article first appeared on my weekly 'Game Invader' column for the New Indian Express.

On a recent visit to Milestone Interactive, I had the opportunity to play two absolutely refreshing and innovative games that reminded me again of how simple, yet effective gameplay ideas can make for great gaming experiences.

The first of these is 'Pain', a game in which your objective is to catapult yourself into objects in the level at great speed, in order to cause yourself as much pain as possible. I'm not kidding. Think 'Burnout Party Crash', but with a guy instead of a car. Hilarious awesomeness.

Catapult yourself into the landscape in creatively agonizing ways. Pain is teh_shite.

The level I played was a city junction, with cars, billboards, construction sites. a moving train, and assorted strategically positioned explosive crates, naturally. You have to launch yourself from a giant catapult, trying to hit specific targets and cause the most spectacular accident possible. The trick is to find the perfect angle, so you'll bounce off things, set off explosions, and damage yourself in unexpected, surprising and delightful ways. It's a joy to watch your charactr sail through the air, crunch into a billboard, and then bounce of numerous ledges, lampposts and the like, to eventually land and get run over by a train. Perfect rag-doll physics add to the fun, and no two launches are the same. 'Pain' is addictive, and offers hours of laugh-out-loud fun, especially as a party game.

Flower is impossible to describe, really. You must play to truly understand.

The second title is the hauntingly beautiful, and extremely strange 'Flower'. It's hard to describe 'Flower', really, as it's hardly a game in the traditional sense. It's more of an interactive audio-visual experience. Think of it as exploring and interacting with a beautiful painting by entering it and flying around within.

In 'Flower', you begin by controlling a single petal blowing in the wind. Using the sixaxis controller, you can guide its path, rising into the skies, or swooping down to kiss the blades of grass. You can waft gently, or carry yourself further by strengthening the wind. As you explore the field, you can pick up other petals from different coloured flowers, until you're eventually controlling a stream of flower petals breezily flying around. You can soar right up into the sky, glide back to ground level, and fly through the tall grass. There are some loose 'objectives' – if you touch all the flowers in a specific area, then the dry grass will be magically transformed into a lush green. All of this happens to some soothing, relaxing music. It's a completely unique, strangely moving experience.

'Flower', in my opinion, takes an important experimental stuff towards exploring different kinds of experiences using videogame technology. It is the first game I've ever played that is not meant to challenge or excite the player. No adrenaline rushes or mental satisfaction here, folks, just a calming, trancelike sensation that is as wonderful as it is unusual in videogames. I'd like to see more games like this in the near future, as an example of where the medium itself can go.

Games like 'Pain' and 'Flower' are great examples of simple, innovative games that can deliver experiences that are memorable and enjoyable. They demonstrate that you don't need sweeping storylines, hollywood-scale production budgets, and BFGs for a game to be great. And, as experiences, they're diametrically opposite. Pain looks to amuse and excite, while Flower chooses to stimulate wonder and soothe. For me, it was delightful to play through games that put me through such a diverse range of emotions.

Both these games are available exclusively as PlayStation Store downloads, but the store isn't available in India yet. It's a travesty, and PlayStation owners in India are being hard done by.

1 comment:

  1. I read about the Pain game like a year back on IGN. Sounded quite interesting. But since I don't play much on consoles I gave it a pass =D