With Flower being one of PSN’s stand-out products, Jenova Chen’s That Game Company’s next step has always been one of interest. Dan Boutros went along to see the firm’s next title, Journey, in LA during E3 week.
This is what came back.
At E3 earlier this month, I was invited to a presentation led by Jenova Chen, creative director of That Game Company, the nine-head team responsible for flOw and PS3 download hit, Flower.
During a last-minute press conference, Journey was shown for the first time. The new game’s inspirations, its features and goals were shared, along with a Chen-powered playthrough of two small sections.
The game includes a single-player journey, as well as a unique take on multi-player.
What is it?
The game is an adventure. You control an entity that looks like a Jawa made from an ornate Arabic tablecloth.
His goal is to travel towards a beam of light atop a mountain in the distance, which is almost always within the player’s view. He can also sing, but we weren’t told why.
On the way, he picks up symbols from cloths that he can use to power flight and other abilities. If he finds an upgrade, his cloth-body gains pretty patterns. I imagine by the end of the game he’ll look like a $1,000,000 palatial rug. Wrapped around a Jawa.
Anyway – the jaw-drop beautiful world is a giant desert. Its sense of sparseness is similar to the isolation-evoking environment of Shadow of the Colossus. The key difference here, though, is that there’ll be more play-centric locations than in SotC’s world.
Some of the locations we saw included a navigational puzzle involving huge cloth banners with symbols. When your character touches them, they flatten out, parallel to the floor, and become platforms, allowing the protagonist to generate momentum and ‘surf’ across them. Very graceful.
Another area included a graveyard-like setting where a ghost character appeared and gave Jawa-man an upgrade. The ghost gives missions or abilities.
The player’s character is able to glide across the sand, in a manner akin to ice-skating.
The character can ‘surf’ with his feet along the sand, and glide around with the same spirit of graceful movement TGC including in prior games.
Of particular note, the sand in Journey is very realistic, with some abstraction allowing it to behave a little more like water. In one key area, the sand moved in wave-like forms, and the character’s surfing was influenced by it. It creates a playful and beautiful environment.
The character also leaves marks in the environment – mainly long lines – meaning potential drawing of shapes and objects in the sand. Why would this be relevant? Multiplayer mode.
Journey’s multiplayer mode doesn’t allow voice comms between players, meaning the player has to communicate by using the ‘sing’ move, character movement, and sand drawing.
Multiplayer was described by Chen as a ‘hike’ experience, where players would participate in someone’s journey. As Chen walked onto a sand dune, he rotated to camera to show another Jawa character representing another player, not far off in the distance. Multiplayer details were left at that.
Chen detailed a conversation he had with an ex-astronaut, who told him that other astronauts – many of them atheists – would often become religious or spiritual when returning from space.
After more digging, Chen concluded this was because of the sense of feeling small within a larger construct of something beautiful. He wanted to recreate that same sense with Journey.
While the grains of sand are a great metaphor for Chen’s desired experience for the player, I sensed his creative quest would succeed through the relationship the player would have with the goal on the horizon and that sense of distance from it. And whatever else TGC is yet to reveal.
My takeaway from the presentation was a definite sense that the game is shaping up to be something very special indeed. A one-off game experience that people will treasure and value for years to come. Team ICO fans would especially do well to follow this.
Definitely keep an eye on this one.