Welcome to the first Week in Games: Special Edition! A one-off issue celebrating 10 years of ThatGameCompany’s masterpiece, Journey.
Released on March 13th 2012 and created in conjunction with Santa Monica Studio, Journey was the last of a three-game deal penned with Sony which previously saw Flow and Flower hit the PlayStation 3 in 2006 and 2009 respectively. Both were slow-paced ‘non-games’ with loose objectives and unique, relaxed gameplay. And both were stunning from an audio/visual point of view. This focus on aesthetics – alongside the sense of wonder found in Flow’s growing organisms and in Flower’s bursting colours – would reach its peak with Journey.
The entire game was designed with subtraction in mind – to remove as many elements as possible so that the core experience would be left to shine brightly. There are no mission markers, maps, quest lists, NPCs, cutscenes, or leader boards here. Nor are there items, weapons, or traditional combat. Only a stunning world, fluid controls, and visual cues to subtly guide you towards the game’s end.
“We build our games like a Japanese garden, where the design is perfect if you cannot remove anything else. I think that by doing that, the voice of your work is more coherent. If you have a lot of clutter on top the work may be more impressive, but you won’t really know what it’s trying to say”– Jenova Chen
Journey took everything that was good about the studio’s previous titles and upped the scale dramatically. But it also added something that elevated the game far beyond its predecessors; co-op play. Of course co-op was nothing new at the time, but the way in which Journey integrates it into the game was what made it truly unique. Other travellers like yourself appear sporadically throughout the game, but there is very little to suggest that these are actually other players until a list of online user IDs that you have crossed paths with appears at the game’s end. In keeping with the game’s goal of subtraction, voice chat is not available, nor is there any form of in-game messaging save for the ability to call out short musical notes. It’s an incredibly subtle and poignant addition, and the first discovery that these companions are actually other real-life players is one of gaming’s most surprising and affecting revelations.
“We wanted to create an environment where the cooperation is not forced… If you choose to cooperate, then that is the real essence of connecting two players.”– Jenova Chen
Although the finished product is a stunning example of minimalistic game-design, the development process was far from plain-sailing. Sony originally agreed to a one-year development time. This was extended to two when it became obvious the game was far from complete, and then again to a third-year when the team needed even more time to perfect the ending and to increase its emotional connection to the player. The studio fell victim to in-fighting and creative differences, and the extended delay even meant that the studio succombed to bankruptcy and couldn’t afford to pay some of its developers during the final months.
Ultimately, the risks and hard work paid off. Journey won over 100 industry awards, its soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy, and it became the fastest-selling PlayStation Network game to date. Journey is one of gaming’s true masterpieces.
More experience than game, its stunning art, score, and design combine to create something truly special.
This article is an extract from The Week in Games newsletter.
Sign up for free: