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Climbing Mountains of Beautiful Sand in Journey

We've played with Jenova Chen's crazy multiplayer experiment.

I have no problem saying Flower was my favorite game of 2009. That any game was able to make Sixaxis controls fundamentally interesting is remarkable enough, but Flower was something special, a calming experience more therapy than game. It’s why I’ve been acutely interested in thatgamecompany’s next experiment, Journey. At first glance, it looks…traditional.

I say that as though it’s a dirty word, but only because the abstraction in thatgamecompany’s projects are part of the appeal. I knew there was more to this, so when I had the chance to play the first 15 minutes or so of the game and speak with designer Jenova Chen, we immediately dove into Chen’s intentions with Journey--and how he’s kind of sort of messing with you.

Journey, like Flower, is about isolation. You’re piloting an avatar this time around, which grounds the gameplay into constructs basically all players will be immediately familiar with. You can jump, collect power-ups that amplify the power of those abilities over time, and solve simple puzzles required to make progress. When the game opens, as you catch your bearings, you’re in the middle of a massive desert with very few buildings, objects or characters. You’re alone.

Journey reveals its “a-ha” moment when another character appears, one who looks very much like you. They look like you because they are you, they just happen to be another player who could be on the other side of the world or down the block for all you know. There are no nicknames, real names or even an indication the character’s not secretly driven by artificial intelligence. You don’t have to cooperate with them, either. That choice is up to both of you.

== TEASER ==

Unfortunately, this feature wasn’t working when I sat down the play the game, but I asked Chen to explain why he chose to strip the multiplayer down to its most core components.

“We decided to focus on innovating the feeling between two players in the digital space,” said Chen. “In a world like this, if you see another player, you will feel like you want to get close to him. In a big city, you’re walking [a] downtown street, you don’t care about [people], because they’re everywhere. You care about your cell phone or whatever. But if you go to the mountain, go to the wild, hiking, you’re so small, you don’t feel you know a lot about the world. You’re insecure. Whenever you run into another person, you naturally want to go and say hi to them. Very simple psychology. I wanted to see an online game where we delivered the mountain.”

Chen decided to push back on traditional multiplayer design because he’s plays a bunch of multiplayer games himself, from Left 4 Dead to Street Fighter IV. While a fan of competition, he became tired of competition. Even when cooperation does occur, it’s forced.

“The fact that you have two-player online, the social experience is there, asking for you to explore, but most games, 90% of the time, you’re shooting zombies,” he said. “You only get 10% time to look at each other and usually that’s forced. People kill me before we reach the end; they steal my health pack. I think if we really want to make people feel better towards each other and have a different impression compared to what the general consensus of online play is, you need to design a game differently. “

You can finish Journey without working with another player, but that's your choice. Chen wants that to be your decision. When solving puzzles in Portal 2’s co-op mode, you’re doing so because you booted up co-op. What if someone appeared in the middle of the single-player experience and asked to help? You’d probably turn them down, wouldn’t you? I know I would. And besides Journey intentionally masking names, your Bluetooth headset means nothing; you can't talk.

"When you run into another player [in Journey], you don’t think about ‘oh, this character’s hot, this character has history.’" said Chen. "You think ‘okay, this is another person who’s controlling the same kind of thing and I know that’s a person.’ That interaction happens at the level of a human being. I know someone’s playing a game. I don’t know how old he is, what gender he is or she is, but I can tell he’s a human, I can tell he’s doing things, I can tell he’s trying to communicate with me. I think, at that level, the multiplayer’s the most beautiful. As soon as you have language, you have ‘okay, this guy is clearly a twelve-year-old.’"

He (it?) has no feet and no arms. Creepy.

I'm not the first and I won't be the last person to draw comparisons to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. If you were told Journey was a Team ICO project, you wouldn't blink. Chen doesn't have a problem with the comparison, arguing both him and designer Fumito Ueda are actually designing around the same ideas of establishing emotional connections. Even in my brief time spent with Journey, the wide open vistas, flowing sand (by far the most impressive use of Sweet Sand Technology I've seen) and long, quiet moments of running in isolation brings echos of Ueda.

"Ico is trying to use the environment to focus on the connection between the main character and the girl," said Chen. "We are using that same feeling, which is more of a sense of wonder and not knowing, to force the players to be together. It’s kind of interesting that I heard Shadow of the Colossus was supposed to be a multiplayer game. It makes sense. Fortunately, they didn’t do that because of the limitations of PS2. We get to do that here! I don’t feel bad if people say ‘oh, this is kind of like Shadow of the Colossus’ because really we are trying to go for a similar feel in a multiplayer game."

And even though Journey appears to look more traditional, the controls are not. You might be tempted to look around the world with the right analog stick but the game won't let you. Tilt the controller around, however, and you've discovered the camera controls. Chen admitted the team has not made a final decision on whether the camera controls will be locked to Sixaxis. We had a lengthy off-the-record discussion about the merits of forcing players into this unorthodox camera method. For my money, I dug the deliberate, methodical approach to looking around. Sixaxis moves slower, and you shouldn't be rushing through Journey. You're meant to slowly take in what's around you. That said, Journey isn't Flower and I can see people upset at limited options.

With thatgamecompany, however, one expects subversion. Journey looks poised to deliver that. We'll see if players decide to engage with Chen's multiplayer experiment later on this year.

"I want to see a genuine choice of two human beings of wanting to be together," he said. "I think the connection between the players after they go through the journey together will be much, much stronger than a forced experience. To me, that’s a big experiment. The game design is very, very challenging. I’m glad that we’re using a more traditional adventure game form. That’s also what I want to do if I get to make an adventure game."

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by patrickklepek

I have no problem saying Flower was my favorite game of 2009. That any game was able to make Sixaxis controls fundamentally interesting is remarkable enough, but Flower was something special, a calming experience more therapy than game. It’s why I’ve been acutely interested in thatgamecompany’s next experiment, Journey. At first glance, it looks…traditional.

I say that as though it’s a dirty word, but only because the abstraction in thatgamecompany’s projects are part of the appeal. I knew there was more to this, so when I had the chance to play the first 15 minutes or so of the game and speak with designer Jenova Chen, we immediately dove into Chen’s intentions with Journey--and how he’s kind of sort of messing with you.

Journey, like Flower, is about isolation. You’re piloting an avatar this time around, which grounds the gameplay into constructs basically all players will be immediately familiar with. You can jump, collect power-ups that amplify the power of those abilities over time, and solve simple puzzles required to make progress. When the game opens, as you catch your bearings, you’re in the middle of a massive desert with very few buildings, objects or characters. You’re alone.

Journey reveals its “a-ha” moment when another character appears, one who looks very much like you. They look like you because they are you, they just happen to be another player who could be on the other side of the world or down the block for all you know. There are no nicknames, real names or even an indication the character’s not secretly driven by artificial intelligence. You don’t have to cooperate with them, either. That choice is up to both of you.

== TEASER ==

Unfortunately, this feature wasn’t working when I sat down the play the game, but I asked Chen to explain why he chose to strip the multiplayer down to its most core components.

“We decided to focus on innovating the feeling between two players in the digital space,” said Chen. “In a world like this, if you see another player, you will feel like you want to get close to him. In a big city, you’re walking [a] downtown street, you don’t care about [people], because they’re everywhere. You care about your cell phone or whatever. But if you go to the mountain, go to the wild, hiking, you’re so small, you don’t feel you know a lot about the world. You’re insecure. Whenever you run into another person, you naturally want to go and say hi to them. Very simple psychology. I wanted to see an online game where we delivered the mountain.”

Chen decided to push back on traditional multiplayer design because he’s plays a bunch of multiplayer games himself, from Left 4 Dead to Street Fighter IV. While a fan of competition, he became tired of competition. Even when cooperation does occur, it’s forced.

“The fact that you have two-player online, the social experience is there, asking for you to explore, but most games, 90% of the time, you’re shooting zombies,” he said. “You only get 10% time to look at each other and usually that’s forced. People kill me before we reach the end; they steal my health pack. I think if we really want to make people feel better towards each other and have a different impression compared to what the general consensus of online play is, you need to design a game differently. “

You can finish Journey without working with another player, but that's your choice. Chen wants that to be your decision. When solving puzzles in Portal 2’s co-op mode, you’re doing so because you booted up co-op. What if someone appeared in the middle of the single-player experience and asked to help? You’d probably turn them down, wouldn’t you? I know I would. And besides Journey intentionally masking names, your Bluetooth headset means nothing; you can't talk.

"When you run into another player [in Journey], you don’t think about ‘oh, this character’s hot, this character has history.’" said Chen. "You think ‘okay, this is another person who’s controlling the same kind of thing and I know that’s a person.’ That interaction happens at the level of a human being. I know someone’s playing a game. I don’t know how old he is, what gender he is or she is, but I can tell he’s a human, I can tell he’s doing things, I can tell he’s trying to communicate with me. I think, at that level, the multiplayer’s the most beautiful. As soon as you have language, you have ‘okay, this guy is clearly a twelve-year-old.’"

He (it?) has no feet and no arms. Creepy.

I'm not the first and I won't be the last person to draw comparisons to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. If you were told Journey was a Team ICO project, you wouldn't blink. Chen doesn't have a problem with the comparison, arguing both him and designer Fumito Ueda are actually designing around the same ideas of establishing emotional connections. Even in my brief time spent with Journey, the wide open vistas, flowing sand (by far the most impressive use of Sweet Sand Technology I've seen) and long, quiet moments of running in isolation brings echos of Ueda.

"Ico is trying to use the environment to focus on the connection between the main character and the girl," said Chen. "We are using that same feeling, which is more of a sense of wonder and not knowing, to force the players to be together. It’s kind of interesting that I heard Shadow of the Colossus was supposed to be a multiplayer game. It makes sense. Fortunately, they didn’t do that because of the limitations of PS2. We get to do that here! I don’t feel bad if people say ‘oh, this is kind of like Shadow of the Colossus’ because really we are trying to go for a similar feel in a multiplayer game."

And even though Journey appears to look more traditional, the controls are not. You might be tempted to look around the world with the right analog stick but the game won't let you. Tilt the controller around, however, and you've discovered the camera controls. Chen admitted the team has not made a final decision on whether the camera controls will be locked to Sixaxis. We had a lengthy off-the-record discussion about the merits of forcing players into this unorthodox camera method. For my money, I dug the deliberate, methodical approach to looking around. Sixaxis moves slower, and you shouldn't be rushing through Journey. You're meant to slowly take in what's around you. That said, Journey isn't Flower and I can see people upset at limited options.

With thatgamecompany, however, one expects subversion. Journey looks poised to deliver that. We'll see if players decide to engage with Chen's multiplayer experiment later on this year.

"I want to see a genuine choice of two human beings of wanting to be together," he said. "I think the connection between the players after they go through the journey together will be much, much stronger than a forced experience. To me, that’s a big experiment. The game design is very, very challenging. I’m glad that we’re using a more traditional adventure game form. That’s also what I want to do if I get to make an adventure game."

Staff
Posted by GeneralZod37

sounds cool

Posted by Danteveli

cool

Posted by nicksem

Pretentious bollocks

Posted by MisterMouse

This game looks awesome.

Posted by jaymorgoth

I am so very interested in this game. Thanks Patrick for getting more news on this!

Posted by TomA

This game just, wow, it looks amazing. I want a PS3.

Posted by csl316

interesting take on mp, for sure

Online
Posted by SaturdayNightSpecials

And that's how Patrick got fired for using asterisks to emphasize words in an article.

Posted by Elliotpage

I'm a bit leery of the game now. When the game first debuted it looked like an awesome solo exploration sand (ha!) box. Unless I'm missing the mark in a big way, this article makes the game sound linear, much like flower was.

I hope the co-op can be present, but optional - like it was in Demon's Souls.

Posted by GioVANNI

Everything I've read about this sounds awesome... except for sixaxis camera controls.  Seriously, that just sounds awful.  Hopefully, if they decide to implement it, they make it an option.

Posted by Lelcar

If anything this game looks beautiful.

Posted by Dixavd

I might get this, it looks beatiful and it owuld be fun to play a game where just feeling the setting a game is in rather than pushing to a story or to intense specific gameplay (a lot of game sI play require either a lot of thinking of what to do next or a lot of idea of how the AI or how th ebets ways ot get the bets items ect... are so this might be a nice change) - Will be looking out for this game.

Posted by Olivaw

God this game looks so fucking good. As long as I get to explore those ruins and maybe interpret who built them and why, I will be happier than a pig in shit.

Posted by kerikxi

I really love this idea, actually. I hate talking to other players in online games, it's much better when the communication is just part of the gameplay. L4D with it's voice commands is sort of what I think of. Jumping and singing is more fun though.

Posted by Gerhabio

I really like the concept of playing with perfect strangers online with no communication or identity whatsoever. Sounds like a game of solitude.

Posted by 02sfraser

This sounds amazing. I love the idea of wanting to work with someone rather than being forced. Very excited for this.

Posted by bucky

happy to see some people trying to push boundaries. very much looking forward to this game.

Posted by Olivaw
@Elliotpage said:

I'm a bit leery of the game now. When the game first debuted it looked like an awesome solo exploration sand (ha!) box. Unless I'm missing the mark in a big way, this article makes the game sound linear, much like flower was.

I hope the co-op can be present, but optional - like it was in Demon's Souls.

They just said, and have said, that the co-op is always present, but always optional. You can just run right past people if you want, or you can roll around with them and press the sing button a bunch.
 
That's the whole POINT.
 
That the game is linear? I don't know. They said that the mountain with the light on it is supposed to be your eventual destination, but they've also said that you can go off and explore elsewhere if you want and ignore the mountain, but maybe the design has changed some.
 
WHO KNOWS! I want to know.
 
As long as there's something cool at the top of the mountain.
Posted by Creigz

It's a very fascinating concept to me really. I like the idea of no real social interaction, but just mere visual interaction. That would make multiplayer a more challenging factor.

Posted by Afroman269

I have no problem saying Flower was my favorite game of 2009.

Damn, I was just beginning to like you, Patrick.

Posted by Raciend

A very good article Patrick!

Can't wait for this game, love what thatgamingcompany is doing! Flower is one of my top 5 games of this generation.

Posted by Catarrhal

Philosophizing with Mr. Chen! Seriously, the man has some great ideas regarding the multiplayer experience. I'll be interested to see how this works out.

@528seven said:

And that's how Patrick got fired for using asterisks to emphasize words in an article.

Yikes, man.

Online
Posted by Nick

This game looks like it could be amazing, I don't own a ps3 though...

Posted by Mayu_Zane

Looking forward to this one, definitely.

Posted by golguin

I'm really digging the art style. Unfortunately, I don't own a PS3.

Posted by Xeiphyer

Awesome article! 
 
I'm really looking forward to Journey, still don't know exactly what it is, but reading the philosophy behind it, I know its going to be something special.

Posted by H7O

like the concept. wish the developer success at this.

Posted by Vortextk

Could I say Flower was my favorite game of 2009? I don't know. That said, comparing it to titles that year I loved, could I even really call it a video game in the same way I think of Arkham Aslyum or Assassin's Creed II? That's part of the wonder, I think.
 
Journey looks so much more traditional, it almost seems like a fake out to lure you in, to be part of this grand experiment. I'm absolutely waiting for this to hit PSN.
 
 I hope they keep the camera controls to atleast have an option of six axis. I really hated lair, six axis was ok in folklore, but it absolutely defined Flower. Until kinect, there was probably no other control scheme in the world better suited for Flower.

Posted by Xpgamer7

If this is emulating the multiplayer that was supposed to be in shadow of the colossus I'm already sold. Also I like that you're also bored of the repetition in today's market and yearning for new things Patrick. I can understand that.

Posted by chan05

Wow what an amazing art design. i need a ps3 now

Posted by Ulong

In no way is this post a criticism of Journey.
 
I think it's very interesting that he said: "People kill me before we reach the end; they steal my health pack. I think if we really want to make people feel better towards each other and have a different impression compared to what the general consensus of online play is, you need to design a game differently. “
He's essentially saying that "for people to feel better about eachother, the other people have to not matter, you have to not rely on them". And he's probably completly right.

Posted by Subjugation

Pretty sure I will still be able to identify twelve year-olds. They will find something stupid to do.

Posted by liquidmatt

This game interests me more and more.
 
My only worry is that people will find some way of ruining the multiplayer experience, like on a large number of games.
 
They'll probably be too busy on Call Of Duty, anyway.

Posted by Winternet

I know this is not Journey related, but, FRIDGE CAM!

Posted by clstirens

Everything sounds beautiful and nice and refreshing. I have heard a lot about this game for a while now, I'm always wanting to know more, but had been skeptical of it considering I hadn't seen it.
 
Seeing it just now has convinced me.

Posted by abara

god this game looks fucking gorgeous

Posted by Dudacles

Sounds exceptionally interesting. I'll be keeping my eye on this one.

Posted by JackSukeru

I never found Flower to be a particularily calming experience, probably because of the completionist way that I play games and missing a single petal could be very frustrating considering the controls. Still, I enjoyed it for its simple beauty and the small arc that it had.

Journey on the other hand seems like the thing that, in the right circumstance, could relax me. I really enjoy games that have big wonderous worlds to explore. Worlds which makes you feel small compared to nature, yet not entirely helpless.

Looking forward to checking this game out.

Posted by AlianthaBerries

This game seems similar to The Endless Forest, google it if you haven't played it yet because it's the most serene and therapeutic "non-game" game I have ever played

Posted by rmanthorp

Looks so sweet.

Moderator
Edited by Nomin

It is funny to hear that players continually strive and scheme to undermine their involvement in suspension of disbelief in games while strenuously exhorting deveiopers to deliver more immersion into their gaming 'experience' by all means possible. The retort is to remove many conventions and structures of modern multiplayer archetypes. 

Posted by Skullomania
@nicksem said:
Pretentious bollocks
My thoughts exactly.
Posted by CandiBunni

I can absolutely not wait to play this. I'm super excited for this.

Posted by kennybaese

I liked Flower. I never played Flow,but this game has me intrigued.

Posted by moelarrycurly

"Don't stop.... believing!  HOLD ON TO THAT FEELIAANANANANANG!"

Posted by Sayishere

game is fucking beautiful.

Posted by LordCmdrStryker

@Skullomania said:

@nicksem said:
Pretentious bollocks
My thoughts exactly.

Thirded. Make a game, FFS.

Posted by Ak1mbo

Hopefully Sixaxis camera control is removed. This game already looks plenty "edgy" without the additional barrier of an unorthodox control method. No need to give skeptical players an easy excuse not to play what looks like a rewarding experience.

Posted by Rolyatkcinmai

Wasn't it a girl at one point? Or were we all just assuming that from looking at the images?

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