Apple Design Award winner Florence breaks new ground in mobile gaming

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Designer Ken Wong’s app Florence isn’t exactly a game. Or a comic. It’s a little bit of both — a new experience in storytelling using a mobile device.

The app — or game, if you prefer — comes from the mind of Ken Wong, best known before Florence’s release as Monument Valley’s designer — another app which broke new ground in mobile gaming by creating a visually stunning world that ended up winning the title of Apple’s Game of the Year in 2014, as well an Apple Design Award.

Now Wong has won for his work again on his first venture post-Monument Valley with an Apple Design Award for Florence.

We sat down with the designer on the sidelines of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Jose this week to talk about how Florence came to be, and what Wong has planned next.

Wong had left ustwo Games (Monument Valley’s publisher) before its sequel, Monument Valley II, because he wanted to try something new.

“I kind of said what I wanted to. The best thing for Monument Valley would be to have other people take over and expression their vision for it,” he says.

Wong moved back to his home country, Australia, from London, to Melbourne, where there’s a thriving indie gaming scene, to launch his new company Mountains.

The team at Mountains is small — just a programmer, producer and artist in addition to Wong.

The company partnered with Annapurna, a film studio behind hits like “Her” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” that now runs its own games division. The studio backed Mountains on the Florence project, but also gave the team advice and input along the way.

As part of this arrangement, Annapurna shares in Florence’s revenue. (Florence sells for $2.99.)

Unlike traditional games, you don’t play the “game” Florence with a goal of getting a high score or achieving goals of some kind.

Instead, you tap your way through the interactive story where a young woman, Florence, meets someone, falls in love and has a relationship. You live through it with her, dealing with everything from parental pressure over her single status, to then first dates and moving in together.

Music is a key part of the experience, and helps the game invoke an emotional response.

When the relationship ends, you’ve been invested in this story and characters, and probably will feel sad.

That’s the point, says Wong.