Florence is a gentle narrative-driven game about modern romance and daily life. Its mobile-first design enables you to tap, touch, and drag your way through two characters’ conversations and interactions as they get to know each other and fall in love. It’s the debut game from Australia-based indie studio Mountains, and Annapurna Interactive will publish it on February 14 for iOS devices.
When I played the Florence demo, it felt sort of like interacting with a video game version of a slice-of-life indie film. It’s quirky, featuring a graphic novel aesthetic with charming line drawings and soft colors. And it’s got a playful soundtrack of pianos, strings, and the occasional horns. It stars a woman named Florence.
Mountains creative director Ken Wong says that the team wanted to create an accessible experience that could reach those who aren’t regular gamers. Before he founded the studio, he was the lead designer for Monument Valley, a hit puzzle game that appealed to a wide audience.
“As recently as last night, someone was telling me about their friend, who doesn’t play computer games or video games, but did play Monument Valley. That’s always lovely to hear, because I think it means that Monument Valley tapped into something that is out there, and is just maybe underserved by games,” said Wong in a phone call with GamesBeat. “And so Florence is kind of designed to bridge that connection, to make use of the huge mobile platform, and make use of the app store to connect stories about love and beauty to that massive potential audience.”
At the demo’s start, I helped Florence through her daily routine — getting ready for work, browsing social media while riding the train, and nodding her head through a phone conversation with her mother. Then she meets Krish, a cellist, and the two begin a relationship that’s rather sweet and relatable.
I played the first few chapters, which sets up the familiar steps of a new relationship. They go on a few dates. Krish moves in with Florence. They get into their first argument. Though Mountains wants to tell a universal story, it did so with specific details. In the chapter about moving in, you see Florence’s and Krish’s belongings, and they tell a story of who these folks are. They are also both people of color, and Wong says the studio made that decision to reflect the diversity that exists in Australia but isn’t often represented.
“I’m really proud to be an Australian,” said Wong. “I think maybe the rest of the world doesn’t always see the ethnic diversity here in Australia. I don’t see a lot of stories with people from my demographic. I thought it would be really meaningful for this story about two people set in Australia to have two people of color.”
To tell Florence and Krish’s story, the game uses tiny clever interactions that match the tenor of whatever is happening in a scene. For instance, the same replies pop up over and over again as Florence converses with her mother, and you get the sense that this is the kind of conversation that’s happened many times. On a first date with Krish, you must assemble a speech bubble from puzzle pieces as she tries to decide what to say. As they get to know each other, fewer pieces are needed to form a response and the conversation begins to flow more easily. When they argue, the puzzle pieces are jagged and more aggressively shaped.
“The early versions of the project were actually entirely based around jigsaw puzzles,” said Wong. “We started varying it up and coming up with, as you mentioned, touch screen interactions. What are all the things we can do with a touch screen on a mobile device? As we added these other mechanics, our concept changed. Okay, now it’s a series of mini-games. Every level is going to be different.”
The inspiration for Florence came from how ubiquitous romance and love is in everyday conversation. Wong points to how often it comes up when he’s talking to his friends, and how people are always trading tips and stories about dates in an era of apps and websites. Florence won’t just be a rose-tinted view of what a relationship is either; the team explores both the ups and downs and various challenges of being with another person.
“I think it’s kind of a condensed roller-coaster ride of emotion,” said Wong. “You’ve played the start of the game, but as it goes on you’re going through all the different beats that you can go through in a relationship. I think going through that in a compressed amount of time, without words, having that told through images and gameplay, allows people to interpret it and allows them to project themselves into the story.”