Journey Impressions

The minds behind Flower explore the human heart in their next abstract journey for the PlayStation 3.

Game designer Jenova Chen of ThatGameCompany seeks to explore the emotional possibilities that few games have been able to tap. Our final appointment at E3 2010 was with the renowned developer, who talked about his vision for his upcoming game Journey before showing us this beautiful, rapturous game in action. Clearly, Chen wants to make triple-A games, but his "A's" have real meaning: abstract, artistic, and accessible. Using these three pillars, Chen seeks to expand the emotional palette his games have already explored. Chen says that most games explore a very narrow emotional range and that he aims to elicit feelings few games can. And importantly, Journey is the first time ThatGameCompany will be taking its vision to an online space.

Before he showed us Journey in action, Chen outlined his inspirations. He talked about how all of us wield power via modern technology. We use mobile phones, computers, and other technology to exert our will on what is around us. In turn, games focus on giving us further power to wield in their worlds--through guns, superpowers, magic, and more. But Chen felt there was something missing. In a discussion with a NASA astronaut, Chen heard the pilot's stories of how colleagues that walked on the moon returned as changed individuals--more religious, more spiritual. Chen thinks that change is a result of seeing Earth from the moon, which instills a sense of wonder or, as he called it, "a sense of small."

Chen wants to bring that kind of experience to Journey. While most games focus on giving you power, Chen wants you to feel that "sense of small." He wants you to be in awe. And he wants to expand on that emotional gravitas by allowing you to encounter another player within an awe-inspiring, expansive world.

With that, Chen showed us Journey in action. The game begins with a gorgeous cello melody, and we see that we are in a desert. The sand stretches in front of us, and we see a close-up of our own character, an abstract form in a hooded cloak. Chen then briefed us on the controls: you use the Sixaxis tilt-sensing to move the camera, move your character with the left stick, and press one button to jump and another to sing. (More on singing to come.) What is most striking at this point is the sense of loneliness and wonder. Chen echoed this idea by telling us that you will be asking yourself "Who am I? Where am I?" The game is about discovering the answers to these and other metaphysical questions.

The camera zooms in on a mountain in the distance surrounded by clouds. It's immediately clear that reaching this mountain is your goal. And with that goal in mind, Chen lithely runs forward through the sand. He mentioned how important it was for you to feel as if you were moving through sand. You will slide through the sand from the tops of mesas and can even surf on the sand in certain places, where the waves ripple through the sand as if it were an ocean. Soon, Chen encounters a series of stones that light up as he touches them. The glow they produce is beautiful, but Chen remained mum on their purpose.

Soon, Chen finds that the bridge he is traversing has crumbled away, and he must search for a way across. He jumps down, floating as if carried on wings, the cloth of his cloak rippling. We see bits of cloth floating above mesas dotting the sandscape, and Chen heads to one such place. Here he collects the swirling pieces and tells us that these strands are a form of currency that allows you to fly. To show us, he then flies effortlessly through the air before landing once again in the sand. He continues the journey, pointing out a waterfall of sand (a sandfall?) before discovering a stone adorned with hieroglyphs. These and other discoveries will fill you in on the world's history, as well as fill you in on the ongoing narrative, such as it is. Journey features no voice acting or language, so all the storytelling is done with visual cues. However, storytelling might not be the best word used to describe the narrative: Chen refers to it as "story digging."

Chen then discovers a large banner attached to a stone. He is able to leap on it, and it becomes a sort of floating platform from which he can jump and float. He then approaches a spaceship-type structure that opens and releases more bits of cloth, which then float away to create an undulating cloth platform to bridge the gap we had first encountered. We see the character glide across a series of these cloth banners, marveling at the fluidity of the movement and relishing the mysterious music and ambient sound. On the other side, Chen discovers a statue that glows, emitting a flurry of runes and giving us a clue as to the next step of the journey.

Journey is a desolate experience, but you won't be completely alone. You might run into another player--just one at a time--that may join you on your journey. Chen likens this mechanic to hiking: you may come across another, and it is up to you to join each other if you want to. You can't talk with each other by normal means, but you can use the "sing" button to communicate. Chen wants you to develop a relationship with your companion. Perhaps you will ignore this player, or maybe you will join him on his journey. Or perhaps you will see him as an adversary. In any case, while you can finish the game on your own, finding another soul wandering in this forlorn desert is part of Journey's emotional impact.

Journey makes quite an impression. The visuals and sound combine to create a beautiful tapestry of music and color, and it seems clear even at this stage that the game will have a unique voice in an industry crowded with games that seek to offer you immediate power. Jenova Chen is approaching Journey from a different angle, and if what we saw is any indication, this will be one expedition worth embarking on. This PlayStation Network title won't be available until at least next year, but if you appreciate games that can move and inspire you, this is one you should keep a close eye on.

Written By

GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play Rock Band because he always gets stuck pla

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Discussion

95 comments
Enrico_Roberto
Enrico_Roberto

This kind of games show us how gaming should be considered an art someday. First you have paintings, then you add realism. You have fotographs. You add movement, movies. You add interaction, games. Games are also a kind of art. They can be, sui generis, a way of showing your thoughts and feelings - and make people feel whatever you want with an intensity that is exclusive to this kind of artistic expression. I hope we can someday consider games as a means of expression, and not only as a way of blowing things up and killing peasants on the pavement (although, I must admit, these things are pretty fun as well.) (p.s.: sorry for my poor english, I'm brazilian and sometimes it's hard to express yourself meaningfully in another language...)

CruiserCaptain
CruiserCaptain

I love games like this. Looking forward to it. I enjoy blowing things up, shooting all sorts of virtual guns, and all the general mayhem of most games, but I strongly feel we need more games like this. I look forward to an experience, not just getting "xp".

clyde-frog
clyde-frog

spinergy69 his name is Jenova Chen :D

spinergy69
spinergy69

What was the game designer's surname? I don't think it gets mentioned anywhere. game looks interesting though.

gobrock
gobrock

I think this game is no game (like heavy rain), but more an expirience, a movie you can decide what happens, and that's great! Although this isn't my style of games, i'm still very interested! But i hope this game isn't going to be that onesided... Because then it will get boring after a while. Can't wait for the release! =D

shooters125
shooters125

The setting is probably where the small town girl got off the midnight train going anywhere.

roll450
roll450

I would really love to see some concept art, and some videos for it.

kain1202
kain1202

more proof games are art.

bowlingotter
bowlingotter

I definitely like the impression that ThatGameCompany seems to be thinking bigger and bigger. I'm in.

Keiner
Keiner

Living in a sandy wo-orld

SubZezo
SubZezo

I think this will be the first time we get to move the camera by using the Sixaxis tilt-sensing, GREAT

josh1002
josh1002

Putting it on Track list!

slitcanvas
slitcanvas

If this is half as good as flower this will be 100% worth playing!

oista
oista

I'm yet to play Flower or flow..But this Chen guy seems to know what he's doing. I read through this thinking "finally". Someone who knows how to create a porper, immersive game. Whether it be Uncharted, Red Dead Redemption or Oblivion.. I always find myself looking across those vast expanses and backdrops in awe.. It's about time somebody made a game that focuses on just that. Also music, artistic style and all around fluidity are key to creating an enjoyable experience, for me anyway. Too much realism in my game collection atm....

naughtygames
naughtygames

Great look crossin my fingers for this one!

dan_001
dan_001

Cant wait, i love flower i play it all the time.

Wam11
Wam11

wow i wish i had a ps3 just for this game. or at least game style. it reminds me of the lonelyness i got from reading abstract japanese comics. the ones that show an individual who is alone in a huge world. mearly telling a story of how the person is able to move on and also illistrating the emotional reactions to many small various things :P.. needless to say. this game is sweet lookin

b1ack5nake
b1ack5nake

Very interesting... if they can achieve an emotional immersion like Heavy Rain, this will be one for the ages

Tripleseed
Tripleseed

@Tanzil Flow had a deep message? And what was that exactly? That it wasn't actually a videogame? Hmmm...

mikeycj7
mikeycj7

this game reminded me why I loved "Shadow of the Colossus" so much, the wonder, the sense of small and the impossible adventure fueled by a timeless story....just reading this put me in a calm emotional state....geez think of what the game could do.... !

CruelLegacey
CruelLegacey

This might actualy make me dust off my PS3... looks very interesting!

Tanzil_
Tanzil_

Flower and Flow had a deep message in the game. Let's hope this keep's in line with the whole idea. Also, probably inspired by SotC, so I'm getting this one for sure! Just like i got the other 2

Kane04
Kane04

this looks epic but i bet it will get underrated and will pass unnoticed, people always complain that games are all alike and there's not creativity anymore but when one does come out they look at it like its undress on a fancy party

DarkAngel421
DarkAngel421

Looks interesting , I'll pick this one up for sure!

GodsPoison
GodsPoison

That first picture with the crumbling stone bridge somehow remids me of Shadow of the Collosus......

Leir_Bag
Leir_Bag

I aways liked different games (and suffered for it...). I am ashamed that i didn't buy Heavy Rain at this time (but i will!) and this game seems it's gonna be one of my kind. I really liked the way the online it's going to be, kinda like what it would be to explore such a desert. It is wise to wait for a review though.

Hugo_Fahkov
Hugo_Fahkov

Flower was pretty amazing, and that's saying something coming from a guy that is very very at home with butchering Helghast, ect. Definitely will be keeping an eye on this game. Sounds quite unique.

ninn1000
ninn1000

I think I'm going to need a PS3 pretty soon... This game looks so beautiful. Like the Dune that Morrowind tried to become but couldn't. I truly might actually have to get enough money to buy an actual console apart form my usual PC gaming just because of this article. This sounds like practically everything I ever wanted in a game. That sense of just true desolation and freedom that games like TES or NWN preach but fail to give. Just reading this, I am in complete awe and admiration. If this fails like so many others behind it...

kaychun88
kaychun88

there is potential in this game but I will definitely wait for review first

RazerBlade13
RazerBlade13

I want this so badly. ThatGameCompany is awesome at making games that will affect you in an impactful way. I wish more games would do what they are doing.

KO4U
KO4U

absolutely incredible.

tlow0678
tlow0678

being that flower was one of the most beautiful and emotionally engaging games I have ever played, and flow was extremely engrossing despite its simplistic premise, i will definitely be buying this game when it comes out. ThatGameCompany is kind of becoming the Pixar of the video game industry--it's games, despite there being only two available on ps3, are both extremely well done, and hopefully Journey will follow this trend.

Radar331
Radar331

I enjoyed flower and flow this new one is looking to be just as good.

Permafry_42
Permafry_42

wish i didn't have to wait a year to play the game...