Journey Developers Discuss Game Philosophy and Relationship With Sony
Long in the works, Journey is the ambitious upcoming PS3 title by acclaimed indie studio, thatgamecompany. Set in a vast desert with minimalist principles, producer Robin Hunicke has recently discussed many of the team’s inspirations, design philosophies, and challenges that have gone into it’s creation.
“We’re all really inspired by games that make you feel like you’re small, like you’re in a huge place,” she explained. ” So we talked about how we could create that feeling of smallness, so a lot of the artwork comes from that place of wanting to create a historical look. So everything in Journey has a reason for being there, it’s all architecturally sound, we might build a building then break it, rather than build a broken building.
“Matt really believes that’s part of what makes an environment holistic and I think that if you look at Miyazaki films, or the games of Team Ico, or Another World, which people often say they’re reminded of when they play Journey, I think the theme that runs through all of these is the feeling of continuity is so strong, like it really feels the world should exist – that it’s a real place. It’s not gamey, it’s not fantasy, it feels like it came completely from someone’s mind. That I think has its roots in our understanding that the environment is so important to putting you in a different place. You can’t have a different emotional experience if you aren’t in a different place. And then just influences in terms of the actual look ranged from Turkish churches to Navajo stuff all the way through deserts.”
For those keeping up with the news, you may notice that this sounds incredibly similar to Fumito Ueda’s own goals of creating a natural environment in one of Sony’s other upcoming exclusives, The Last Guardian.
When asked about other environmental influences, Robin responded, ”I would say the single most influential thing we did as a team about what Journey should be was we took a team trip to the dunes outside of LA and just ran around the sand for a while. It was crazy awesome.
“The lead programmer was totally obsessed with the way the sand would fall from the dunes when the wind would blow, how it would get on your clothes. From the very beginning of the project, John Edwards would say, we really need to get that feeling of grit, and expanse, the feeling that it’s everywhere, the sand. And we all just got it – ‘okay, we’re going to do it.’ It’s a huge chunk of work, but let’s make it happen. I actually have a bunch of sand, and some bones and shells from the dunes in a jar on my desk. Just as a reminder that there is a real place in the world that was so inspiring to us.”
The inspiration certainly shows, as highlighted in the video above, as sand sways and blows across the vast desert landscape, showing off the game’s beautiful visuals, but what about designing the game itself? The team mentions some of the challenges they were faced with during development.
“We’re always talking about what could be next. Not even just for us, just in general if a cool game comes out, we’ll send a link around and talk about it. So on that level there’s always a dialogue. But Journey specifically was a pretty huge undertaking for us. It has a bipedal character, there’s cloth and sand, it’s online, there’s multiplayer. Its like, when we first started talking about it, we thought ’Sure, yeah you know,’ and then later we realized this is going to be a lot more work then we thought. But it’s always that way with games.
“I would say it’s probably a combination of the intention to design things that create new feelings, and our experience – building on top of the engine, building on top of our knowledge and understanding of what works, and what doesn’t work.”
Robin also spoke about the company’s relationship with Sony and their future development now that their three game exclusivity contract will be over with the release of Journey. While unsure of their future, she reaffirms their strong relationship and the support Sony has given them throughout the years, and how their games embody their continued development as a company.
“We’re independent, but they’re our publisher. So we signed a three-game deal with them, so flOw, Flower, and Journey will be the three games of that deal. That was actually a fantastic relationship. They were really supportive of TGC growing into a company.
“We started in their offices and then we moved into our own offices eventually. There was a lot of scaffolding, a lot of help from producers, especially through Flower and flOw, just getting the process right. Because everybody that started the company had just graduated, so there wasn’t a lot of experience there. So without Sony, I don’t know that TGC would exist.”
When asked about future projects, she replied, “We have no idea. The answer is that we’re just so focused on getting Journey done. It took a lot longer than we thought to make it happen, and we’re so close now that the temptation is to think ’Oh it’s almost done. Let’s daydream about the next project,’ but for the most part we’re really, really focused on making Journey happen. There will be an announcement about the date soon. We get notes on our Facebook page from our fans saying they’re ready for it. It’s pretty hard to ignore that stuff – you have to pay attention.”