The Art Of Journey -- Behind The Pixels With Thatgamecompany Developers


Posted September 20, 2012 - By Mike Rougeau

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The Art Of Journey -- Behind The Pixels With Thatgamecompany Developers

One of the biggest games this year turned out to be a downloadable game that you could beat in only a couple of hours. No guns, no bosses, and no equipment to speak of; Journey offers far more than your typical game as you explored the endless rolling sand dunes or the crumbling ruins of a dying civilization with a complete stranger. It’s a game that invites the player to discover a world unlike any other both in gameplay and visuals.

G4 sat down with thatgamecompany's Jenova Chen and Matt Nava, Journey's creator and art director, respectively, at the launch of "The Art of Journey" art book in LA. The book compiles concept art, sketches and more from the game's three-year development, and our discussion touched on everything from thatgamecompany's future games to sexual themes in Journey.

How did Journey come together visually?

MN: With a lot of time. It took three years to figure it out. But you know, it's a great game because it's a new IP. It's a blank canvas, you know? We really had the freedom to do whatever we wanted, and to make something that made sense for the gameplay in terms of visuals. It took a lot of time to figure that out.

What was your inspiration?

MN: Everywhere! But a lot of it was - I traveled a lot when I was a kid. In high school I went to India. I've been to Japan, Mexico, and lots of ruins. Stuff like that. So it was really great that we're making a game about climbing over ruins in the desert, because it's kind of like oh, I kind of know about that stuff.

I got to kind of take my life story and kind of take bits and pieces of it, you know, and put it into the game. And I think that that's what the game became, it kind of became this life story in a very universal sense for people to experience. So these people can kind of reflect in that way.

What's in the art book?

JC: I think Matt is pretty much the author, right? You decided what to put in there.

MN: Yeah, I wrote the book, and I designed the book, and then Blue Canvas, their designers helped me just finish that thing up and make it really sweet. So I put in all the artwork from behind the scenes, and there's screenshots of the actual game, there's 3D models, tons of pencil sketches that I did during the design process, and then it also has kind of four-D augmented reality images. So you can now look at your smartphone and see 3D pictures. The text really takes you through the behind-the-scenes process that the art went through to get to where it needed to be.

JC: The other big thing is that because it took three years to make, a lot of the art had multiple iterations, but it doesn't mean that the previous iteration is bad, it's just that we are tweaking it to match with the final game. And a lot of art that we did earlier is actually pretty good, you know?

And it's kind of a shame that the final game doesn't have the exposure of all the art we've created in the past. So having the book and being able to show some of the early ideas are also kind of a way to show how the game-making process is, particularly art and style evolving over time.

The Art Of Journey -- Behind The Pixels With Thatgamecompany Developers

You've said in the past that you almost feel like you have a responsibility to change how people see games. How do you think people see games, and how do you want people to see them?

JC: I mean the responsibility doesn’t come from me, but comes from a lot of people who write emails to the company who are saying, "Hey, you know, we really love the games you guys are making. You need to show this game to others. You need to make this game available so that more people can play it and realize that games can be something else."

For me it's just kind of seeing this medium getting mature, letting people realize that games are not just about the fun and the competitions and the thrill. The game can be about emotions that are more subtle and more nuanced and deeper. Playing certain challenging games like Temple Run, it's challenging, but sometimes frustrating. Can we make something that's actually sad and just explore the whole spectrum?

MN: For me I think it's like, can we make something that's more meaningful and deeper, or something that resonates with people on a more meaningful level? Because, you know, there's lots of games that I play from my childhood, like Mario Kart or some things, those games last. But they are on the surface, you know?

The things that last are the gameplay and the game mechanics, moment-to-moment things. But really with Journey, I think we were trying to make something that people would think about as an experience for a long time, and maybe something that would affect them in the way that they think and the way they live. It's a big kind of ambition. And so I think that games are trying to do that more now, because like Jenova was saying, the genre has been expanding and maturing. And we've kind of covered all the bases; in terms of we've done all the fun mechanics. Now let's do something different.

JC: It's supply and demand, right? We grew up with games. When we're young we don't know what we want. But now we get older, and we're getting tired of what we've been playing, and what do we really want to play? It's hard to say, but I think like, if we have the games that we want to play, it's probably going to resonate with a lot of gamers who are our age or older.

Are you excited to go multi-platform with the next game?

JC: I mean, certainly, PlayStation has done great things with us.

MN: Of course.

JC: And without their support, we can't make all of these games. But you can tell that all our games are trying to be very accessible, because we are designing these games for, like, pretty much everybody. And we wanted to see these games be on more platforms so that more people can have a different view on what video games are. So yeah, we are very excited about it.

The Art Of Journey -- Behind The Pixels With Thatgamecompany Developers

This long after the game's release, and your other games, do you see any residual effects in the industry? Are those games having an impact?

JC: [To Matt] What do you think?

MN: I definitely think so. I think that with Journey especially just the amount of stuff that's happening on the internet, you can definitely see its influence. I mean there's like, 10 or 15 blogs completely devoted to Journey. So it's affected fans, and also the developer community.

Whenever I go to things like GDC [Game Developers Conference] or whatever there's always, the indie developers, the indie scene, and they're really trying to do things more personal and smaller projects that are more arty and more kind of unique. So I think that that's definitely a trend, and I think that these kinds of games that are doing that and becoming kind of successful are encouraging to those people who have that kind of vision. That's something that's really cool.

In three years of development on Journey, is there anything you had to cut that you'd like to use in future games?

JC: Yes. For a while, there was a space ship in the game. And for about two days, there were rocket launchers in the game.

MN: Yeah, that was fun.

JC: By the way, you can do rocket jumps in the game.

Can you?

MN: Yeah, there is a secret jumping mode.

JC: Rocket jump. Yes. Right. But we had very elaborate stories about what happened in the past, to the extent which is not needed in the game. But we were like designing a lot of space ships and space suits and -

MN: It was really crazy.

The Art Of Journey -- Behind The Pixels With Thatgamecompany Developers

So the next game's going to full sci-fi?

JC: [Laughing] Well we were kind of talking about like how the world of Journey is like - it's not pure sci-fi, it's like fantasy sci-fi. But in the end, we thought the game only really needed the very minimal part of it. And that kind of also happened with Flower. Flower originally had a character. He had a certain age. He goes to the place to do his work. But eventually we just stripped it down to the bare minimum.

MN: In the art book, though - speaking of things that we want to try and that didn't actually make it into the game - that's what the art book is. And there's so many different visual ideas in for the character, for the environment, for the whole look of the game that we tried out and they didn't work, and then we changed them and iterated and made them quite. So that's what the whole art book is about. That process.

Where in the games industry do you look for inspiration?

MN: A lot of it, I look outside the games industry.

JC: To tell the truth, no, we try to look away. But there are people in the industry who we respect, like Fumito Ueda, who worked on Shadow of the Colossus and Ico; David Cage, who worked on Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy; you know, and Miyamoto, right? A lot of Journey is 3D platform navigation, and wherever we have problems, we look up for Zelda, we look up for Mario 64, just trying to see how they did those things correctly.

MN: Mario 64 is like a bible for game development, really.

The Art Of Journey -- Behind The Pixels With Thatgamecompany Developers


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