Whether you're spending Valentine's Day with a lover, a side piece, or just your life-size Totoro plush, it's the perfect day to play the new iOS game from Monument Valley designer Ken Wong. Florence is the story of a 25-year-old woman meeting a musician named Krish and falling in love. The game uses music and simple jigsaw mechanics to capture the moments of first date awkwardness, grocery store fights, and serious feels. It's relatable, charming, and unlike anything you played on your mobile before. We spoke to Wong to find out more about this interactive romance, how he went from perspective puzzles to passion, and dealing with making a game about love with a broken heart.
GamesRadar+: When you're making a game about love, do you listen to sappy songs and watch endless romantic movies?
Ken Wong: It was sort of the opposite. I found myself mostly staying away from love stories specifically. I think I was looking at films a bit differently, looking at how they did storytelling and how they developed characters. Often in wordless ways, like when characters did an action or were in a setting that helped you understand who they were.
The other aspect is to be a bit more personal. I'd been recovering from a breakup during the course of development, so I was staying away from love stories for that reason as well.
Oh wow, that can't have been easy.
It's not easy for anyone, and I think that's part of why the game resonates. Some of the biggest events in our life are to do with relationships, whether it's finding someone that you've been searching for or flirtations. Or, you know, having difficulties or friction with someone you really care about. It seems obvious now that if you want to connect with an audience, you should just work with the emotional material that we have between us.
Did it feel cathartic working on the game?
I feel like "catharsis" isn't quite the right word. Catharsis to me implies a sense of release, and for me, it's more like processing. Having to go into work every day and talk with my colleagues and my collaborators about how the stories of these characters should go, and what their beats should be, and what we want for these characters, I think helped me personally as well.
Now I'm worried! I've played Act 1 and I want Florence and Krish to have a happy ending.
A lot of internet culture is really gross and grimy - but what we search for, and what Buzzfeed is good at sharing, is stories about strangers. People that we've never met just having good and charming experiences, right? And we like to share those. I wonder if that's another form of falling in love: we want to see other people having the kind of experiences that we want to have.
I don't think we're going to break your heart in any way, or any more than a good film or a good book will.
Florence feels very different to Monument Valley. Was that part of the appeal of the project for you?
I think there are a little bit of similarities between Monument Valley and Florence. They're both short experiences, they're both wordless, they're both not really about skill or completing goals. Instead they're about going through a story, going through an experience. I think there's some overlapping tissue there.
You mention it being wordless, but when you're playing you feel like there's a dialogue, because of the music.
There were some things which I wish I had figured out at the start. Like if your characters don't have dialogue, then music can substitute for that. I really should've known that, because I'm a huge fan of movie and game soundtracks. That's like the main thing that I listen to.
Recently, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has been playing the Star Wars film with the full orchestra. Preceding that, they put on a little talk where discuss how different motifs are used to signal to you. Which character is on screen or even what character someone is thinking about. That's the same principle with Florence, where Krish - being a cello player - any time that he was on screen, or any time that we're thinking in particular about Krish, we're going to be using the cello. The piano kind of emerged as Florence's voice.
Where did the name Florence come from? Was there a lot of Jessicas and Rebeccas first?
I'm not a writer, really - I've never studied it. I don't know how people name characters. I think if you're George Lucas, you just look around and pick something vaguely exotic-sounding and say "Yep, that's the name of a Jedi!" For Krish, it was very methodical. What's an Indian name we can use that people who aren't from India can pronounce and remember? So that was more straightforward.
Florence is Chinese-Australian. People like me - whose parents immigrated to Australia and English isn't their first language - one of the things is they tend to do is pick slightly old-fashioned names. So Florence was like that - it sounds old-fashioned in Australia, and Florence means blossoming. I thought that was perfect as a metaphor for what this young woman is going through.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.