E3 2010: Journey PreviewBy Andrew Pfister - Posted Jun 21, 2010
What We Already Know:
thatgamecompany's game design philosophy is unique in the industry. Best described as beautifullly minimal and thoroughly personal, any sort of traditional "game" elements are subtle and layered into an overall aestethic experience. The well-received Flower was the second of their three-game plan for the PlayStation Network, and at E3 we got a surprise announcement and look at their third, Journey.
What We're Seeing Now:
Designer and company co-founder Jenova Chen was on hand to demonstrate -- and attempt to cryptically explain -- the concept of Journey. Set in a desert environment, Journey is the first TGC game to actually use an analog stick and buttons. Your character is a thin cloaked and hooded figure that glides effortlessly over the sand. The camera is controlled using the Sixaxis motion capability, and there's jump button and a "sing" button.
When tasked with describing his new game, Chen was expectedly cryptic and philosophical. If you've followed TGC's game design progression with flow and Flower, Journey looks like the next evolutionary step that combines some of the principles of fluid motion, subdued presentation, and non-verbal storytelling. It also is the most "regular" game that they've done, with Chen calling it an "adventure game" with areas to explore and an allusion to items that will need to be collected. Journey looks like a stripped-down Shadow of the Colossus combined with a stripped-down Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, employing some gorgeous flat-shaded graphics and wide expanses of land. An epic adventure is certainly implied, and the only storytelling element currently on display is a massive pyramid on the far horizon with a beam of light emerging from the top. The game's story is, unsurprisingly, very simple. You awake in the desert with no memory, and you see this pyramid in the distance. Like Flower, your only directive is "go forward."
But the real hook of Journey is something that Chen was still reticent to share: Journey is an online multiplayer game. Getting details took a group effort from the writers on hand, but we did get Chen to make an interesting analogy to how the multiplayer works. He describes it as a "hiker," where just like you can hike along a trail and get to your destination on your own, you can also find yourself in the company of a stranger on the same path, and you can help each other get to where you are going. All of this is done with non-verbal communication that Chen wasn't ready to elaborate upon (no voice chat, he did say), but the emotional notes that he intends to hit are very simple: the kindness of strangers.
As for actual gameplay, your character collects pieces of cloth that fly through the wind in the environments (the equivalent of Flower's petals). Collect enough cloth, and those pieces combine to create a larger cloth that can be used as a platform to the next area. The aforementioned "sing" function is still being worked on, but one of its uses is to bring in nearby cloth pieces. Your character can use the cloth to fly short distances, and you can slide down large sand dunes, as well as surf along the fast-moving sand "waves" that ripple through certain parts of the landscape.
The idea of Journey, according to Chen, is to provide a different feeling to a video game player that isn't based on the acquisition and employment of power. He introduced us to the game by recounting a conversation he had with a former astronaut, and how people who have set foot on the moon and seen the Earth so far away have experienced some sort of spiritual change; everything about their existence suddenly seemed very small. That's the same sort of vibe he's trying to ellicit in Journey. We'll find out if he's successful when the game comes out, according to him, "hopefully next year."
(And if you care about such things, 3D support is still up in the air, and it will not support the Move controller.)