Flower: A Dad’s Expirience – User Experience Design

Last weekend after a movie I sat my Dad down and started up Flower for him to try out. Now my Dad hasn’t tried a video game since the mid-90s and those were the PC adventure games. We’d play them together. But given Flower’s casual nature, simple controls and pleasing aesthetic, I figured he would get into it and I wanted a non-gamer’s take on it.

I quickly explained the controls, all two of them, started him on the opening level and then watched him play. It took a little while, but he was enjoying flying all over the place.

While the overall experience was pleasant for him, if I wasn’t there to nudge him in the right direction when asked he might not have gotten as much out of the experience as a normal gamer would have. For starters the game doesn’t explain the controls explicitly. If you are paying attention throughout the start up screens and the room you might figure out that it works by tilting the controller. Then you’d only have the problem of pushing a button to move forward. But on your own you would have had this problem in trying to understand what the buttons do.Through experimentation you’d learn that X would send you forward, but it might cause problems if the player didn’t realize that all the buttons do the same thing as they try to figure out any differences.

At one point my dad asked me, “what am I supposed to do now?” This was before he hit his first flower. As an environment he thought it was pretty, but it needed a purpose and that purpose wasn’t obvious. Once he got the hang of it he began looking for the halos that surrounded the colored flowers, but to find them he often went to get an areal view, because he couldn’t find his way or where the next one was. Many of the visual clues that gamer’s take for granted escaped him. In the first level he didn’t connect yellow grass with where the flowers would be based on the earlier experience at the beginning of the level. he often ignored the few seconds where the game took the camera away from him and kept trying to play. This was a problem, because he then found he didn’t know where to go next.


The problem may come from the total immersion style that Flower goes for. Most games have a definitive break between gameplay and cutscenes or in game indications to signify them as such. Flower just moves the camera. There is no switch in the engine or even a cut in camera angles to signify a change. The simple shift in the camera in the same manner that the petals flow doesn’t signify stop laying and pay attention to this. A person who plays games even only occasionally would be able to pick up on this, but a non-gamer might not be able to understand some of the language games have crafted for themselves. Flower is using the basic language of games, but is doing it far more subtly than nearly ever other game out there. The break between the parts are nearly unnoticeable.

Finally there is the last section to the design.  The end of the level. To end the level you simply enter the swirling vortex at the end. This wasn’t understood at first by my dad. At first he took no notice of it and was looking for more flowers despite having bloomed them all. He then saw it, but just saw the swirls as wind and nothing special. I eventually gave up hoping he would figure it out and just told him.

The design choices for Flower seem a bit divided. On the one hand they are creating an environment to be experienced, but also they are creating a symbolic narrative. The first requires a quick rundown of the controls and what some basic interactions, but the latter needs a non-intrusive interface. The designers did a good job in trying to meld the two together, but I think that it only ended up  going against one of the things they were shooting for. The choice to rely on game language to convey the game requires the player to be a gamer or at least subconsciously aware of it. However, this is not the case with non-gamers that Flower is trying to be open towards.

That was a look at the design of the game, now you can follow the link to the game’s aesthetic effect on the experience.


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Eric Swain

A graduate of Boston University, majoring in English and Creative Writing and has spent significant time studying story structure and theory in the mediums of books, film and video games. His articles offer unique perspective on deep game development and design through his eclectic prose. you can find his critical analysis on www.thegamecritique.com.

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