Journey: 'That feeling of connection and smallness is what we focused on'
25th Dec 2011 | 18:00
Indie developer thatgamecompany's has made a name for itself in the game development world with games that are boldly simple and at the same time beautiful and evocative.
In flOw you swim in an underwater world, causing microbes to evolve and in Flower you control the wind. Journey follows its simple design and premise, in it you play a a nameless cloaked figure, you must reach the light beaming from a distant mountain by walking. That's it.
Naturally, there's much more to Journey than first appears so we accosted thatgamecompany's Robin Hunicke for a chat about the innovative game, life at the studio, the universe and online...
Journey is a broad idea - a walk down a very long road. How do you build boundaries to make that interesting?
We really wanted it to feel like when you go on a hike - even though the place is the same, it's different because of what you bring in your head. We thought it'd be better for you to choose to play with someone else rather than to feel you had to.
It's about really embracing that level of choice, and really letting the player drive it. I think it's a common thread in both Flow and Flower - trying to create a world that embraces your choices and respects them.
As vague as it sounds, that's a really hard rule for us. If something feels unnecessary or arbitrary, we wouldn't put it in just because it would look cool.
It has to have a meaning, it has to be there for a reason, it has to respond to the player's choices in a way that makes sense. If it doesn't, then we cut it.
Journey brings the lonely travel of Shadow of the Colossus to mind. Some loved that. Others didn't...
[Nintendo's Zelda game] Wind Waker has the same thing. I loved being in the boat in Wind Waker, but a lot of people hated it.
Are you expecting the same kind of polarised reaction?
I have no idea. This is something we're really excited to see. It's an experiment; we made it to see what online could be, to challenge expectations about what it means to play online with someone else.
That's the only reason we made it, the rest is kind of up to everyone else. It's their experiences that matter... what they take away from it in the end, we have no idea. What makes our experiment so interesting and worthwhile is that we're really waiting to see what other people say.
Who do you look to when you're trying to innovate?
[From Software's] Demon Souls and Dark Souls are things we've talked about a lot in the office. They've been inspiring to me. Also Minecraft - the idea you can create a server and people can go in and share that experience of crafting and creating without necessarily collaborating.
There's a lot of interesting work to be done in asynchronous but reflexive gameplay. I think that's a real fruitful area for designers to discover. That's a really fascinating idea and I think there are some really interesting designs there.
How do you play Journey?
When I play with someone who's pretty good, I take advantage and see how high we can fly and how we can dive. Another thing is I try to land without falling flat on my face; if you land at a certain speed and you aren't careful, you'll do a roll and then faceplant.
You've said you want to create new feelings. What sort of feelings?
The guiding light for this has been to create a human connection for that time when you're playing with a stranger - to take away the anxiety about performance. Journey is an opportunity for people to play in a safe way, which embraces the fact there are strangers and embraces the fact they may not even know the world in the same way. That feeling of connection and smallness is what we focused on for most of the project.
In a world where everyone's just fine shooting others in the face, are those feelings worth creating?
It's what we're passionate about. I don't think we have a choice. Life is short and you should do what you believe in - I believe you should work on things that make the world a better place, that increase the peace and bring people together.
Working on Journey has allowed me to experience a real dialogue about what it means to be on your own journey, what life means, and to ask, why are we here? Is it worthwhile? I feel like it is.