Florence is an iOS touchpad game released just a couple of weeks ago on Valentines day. It was created by a tiny (four person) team called Mountains out of Australia, and published by Annapurna Interactive. It is a short, linear narrative game about romantic relationships which is playable in about an hour and which may or may not make you cry (speaking from personal experience).
Florence tells a single, linear story, and the game element is figuring out which interactions will progress that story. This is the only game element; there are not really “puzzles" to speak of, or obstacles to overcome. I imagine it like a book; except that, instead of words, there are images, sounds, and animations; and instead of flipping the page, the player has to figure out which touchscreen interaction will progress the story.
I played through this game because so much of the pitch seemed similar to my ideas of how my own MFA thesis game will unfold, down even to the art style. Mainly I wanted to see if a game like this - a completely linear narrative without player choice; with a graphic, 2D art style; and inventive touchscreen interactions - was fun. Spoiler alert: it is. Although "fun" wouldn't be the first way that I'd describe it. It transports you into the world of the story, and once you're there, it has the capacity to really move you.
It is within the touchscreen interactions themselves that a lot of the story is told, and that is what makes this game so elegant and worth note. I’ll describe two here that have stayed with me in the week since I’ve played through the game:
When Florence and Krish go on their first date, the puzzle is helping her find the words to say - so to speak. Really it’s putting together a small jigsaw puzzle that, when completed, pops a dialogue bubble up above her head that “continues the conversation."
At the beginning of the date, the jigsaw puzzle is a little tricky.
But as their date goes on, it gets easier and easier, until eventually it's not hard at all.
It’s a lovely way to show the chemistry of the two characters.
2. Let Go
For a "heartbreak" interaction - Mountains nails it. Farther on in the game, after the protagonist and her boyfriend have broken up, the player sees Florence walking beside a ghostly version of her ex. She walks slightly faster than him, and gets farther ahead bit by bit. The player is used to needing to interact at this point, so they try the first interaction they think of - tapping on the ex. When they do so, Florence immediately stops in her tracks until he catches up with her. Then they keep walking. The only way to pass the level is to not do anything, and to allow Florence to walk away completely.
Both of these interactions are among a whole host of mechanics that tell the story in and of themselves. It allows the game to be spare, because every element works hard to add to the player experience. Spare and effective means elegant, which is what this game is.
A design choice worth noting is that the instructions within the game are very forgiving. If the player is stuck for more than a few moments, UI will demonstrate the gesture needed to advance.The game obviously does not want to skill-test its players, and tries to do everything in its power to keep them moving forward.
Another fascinating thing that the game does - it switches orientation mid-game! And for a single chapter! I would’ve assumed this to be anathema to design, but it was so unobtrusive that I almost missed it. The majority of the game is in portrait mode, and then a chapter begins with it’s title in landscape. I swiveled the iPad in my hands, thinking absolutely nothing of it. Genius!
In other news, I have spent a lot of time with Annapurna games of late! So, well done Annapurna! Maybe California wouldn’t be such a bad place to live...