BRIGHTON, UK--Even in an industry that relies on risk taking and novel concepts, Jenova Chen is in a fairly privileged position. At only 28, the creative director of thatgamecompany has complete creative freedom in his projects, thanks to a three-game deal that he struck with Sony. His first two games, flOw and Flower, have both offered unique game experiences, and his third game aims to continue his track record of innovation. He talked about all of these issues at the Develop conference in Brighton today and answered some questions about his development ethos.
While he didn't leak any specifics about his next project, Chen did offer the slightest of hints. "It's really early in the process, a totally different game, but a natural extension of what will come after flOw or Flower. I can't use a first-person shooter engine to make this game," he joked.
Chen also let slip that he was having some slight technical limitations in terms of building the game with Sony, although he did say that the publisher enforced absolutely no creative restrictions on his games. He also claimed he was interested in the possibilities offered by Microsoft's Xbox 360 Natal technology. "It seems like Natal makes a huge step that I wouldn't have expected this year," he said.
Of course, most of his lecture centered on Flower, and although the session was titled "Games and Art," he spent little time talking about the latter. "I'm not an artist, I'm a computer science guy," said Chen, addressing the criticism that some of his games may be overly pretentious. "Art is a component with an input and an output," he claimed, showing graphs that focused far more on emotional involvement than artistic desire. Talking specifically of Flower, he plotted out the emotional intensity that he wanted players to experience in the game, and then told his artists and musicians to make visuals and music to fit.
Talking about his lucrative three-game deal with Sony, Chen claims that he originally tried to sign up with all the major Western publishers, but it eventually came down to Sony and Nintendo. His student game, Cloud, was originally shopped around, but it was only when Chen showed Sony flOw--a game he developed in three months as a side project--that Sony became interested. "Sony is very serious about games as adult entertainment," he said.
Questioned about exploring new emotions, such as love and hate, Chen claimed that he was interested in the whole range. "I love games about hatred," he noted. "God of War is a great game about hatred."