Some early concept art and the design doc:
Journey and the search for emotional gaming
Journey is a game of catharsis, a hero's journey. A game that spurred emotional emails from fans and nearly destroyed the company that made it.
Speaking at the 2013 DICE summit, thatgamecompany co-founder Jenova Chen said that Journey started out as a simple idea in 2006: catharsis.
Chen had grown disenchanted with how emotionally simplistic and repetitive most games were. Games often served to fulfill the emotional needs of a younger male audience, giving them a sense of empowerment and freedom. But Chen said thatgamecompany was created to deliver emotional experiences, specifically to deliver catharsis through emotional play.
Earlier in the day, Chen told Polygon that the first game the group created while at USC's Interactive Media Program was inspired by that idea.
"Each game we worked on were based on psychological theories and three act structures," he said. "Our goal is to touch people and help people reach a cathartic moment."
Each of their creations, he said at the time, took a different approach to achieving that moment.
Cloud pursued a sense of calm. Flower was about love. Journey, he said, was about the connection people form with one another in their journey through life.
During his talk, Chen said that it was after flow and Flower that he decided to try to tackle the problem of online gaming and use that to pursue a cathartic moment empowered by those interpersonal connections.
In trying to identify that emotion that he called "connection," Chen said he did some market research. That's when he ran into the astronauts, two men who described to him the experiences of the people who traveled to the moon and back.
One told him how changed those few were, they were more spiritual and more philosophical. The reason, Chen came to believe, was because while on the moon they were freed from distraction and left more emotionally charged and introspective.
That notion helped shape some of the design of Journey. Chen returned to his ideas for the game and worked to strip away as many distractions as possible in order to create a focused experience.
"There is no HUD," he said. "It is a very simple. There is no lobby."
Thatgamecompany then stretched that pure visual experience over the game's levels, designed to loosely follow not just a three act structure, but the monomyth. The idea, he said, is that the journey of Journey has to include a peak, a valley and then a cathartic-delivering final moment.
Chen said the company played around with different forms of multiplayer gaming before settling on a system that allowed players to game together anonymously, but still somehow form a connection with one another through their shared experiences.
After the first year of development, Journey's basic structure and look was sound, but neither were where thatgamecompany wanted them to be. After the second year the game was visually ready, but Chen said the valleys and peaks of their journey were too shallow to deliver any sort of emotional connection to gamers.
The studio decided to spend another year on the game, burning through the reserves of their money as they worked out the kinks of their game and tweaked the experience.
"A lot of people weren't paid," he said. "We also went bankrupt as a company."
The experience left Chen wondering whether Journey was worth it's own journey. The answer, he said, came in the 824 emails the company received after the game was released. Many were very personal, very emotional letters to the developer.
Journey wins out at 16th annual DICE awards
Wrapping up the DICE Summit in Las Vegas, Thatgamecompany's Journey picked up eight awards, including Game Of The Year at the DICE Awards, in a banner night for the evocative downloadable PlayStation Network title.
Hosted by The Nerdist's Chris Hardwick at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel, the show also saw four awards go to Telltale Games' The Walking Dead, another standout game from 2012, as Gabe Newell was inducted into the AIAS' Hall Of Fame.
Although Journey didn't avoid its share of jokes from host Hardwick - he said the title gives gamers valuable experience in "going outside and meeting people," it received a standing ovation as the now-split team picked up the Game Of The Year gong at the end of the night.
In accepting, Kellee Santiago called out Sony's Shuhei Yoshida for giving the team a start out of USC, and TGC's current mainstay Jenova Chen said "tough times" birthed the game. (In fact, it was so delayed that the company essentially became bankrupt directly after shipping it.)
An emotional Robin Hunicke ended that final acceptance speech by saying simply: "Journey connects people across cultural, gender boundaries, age - and the games of the future will kick Journey's ass!'
Earlier in the evening, Infocom veteran Steve Meretzky had given out the Pioneer award to Infocom co-founders Marc Blank and Dave Lebling, praising interactive fiction's amazing "one on one dialog with the author".
Accepting and talking directly to the audience, Lebling said simply: "You're keeping the flame alive... thank you so much, everyone." And later in the acceptance speech, Marc Blank quipped that the early '80s text adventure pioneers were "Neanderthals", and therefore today's games must contain "between 2 and 3 percent of [Infocom's] DNA."
Elsewhere, ex-Epic head Mike Capps gave out the Hall Of Fame award to Newell, giving the Valve co-founder massive credit, and noting wryly: "you need to be a bit crazy to push the industry that far & that fast."
Newell, onstage to a standing ovation, kept his remarks brief, following appearances in two other longer lectures at DICE, simply saying that "it's all about collaboration" and crediting the team at Valve.
Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)
Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)
Casual Game of the Year: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)
Outstanding Innovation in Gaming: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)
Outstanding Achievement in Online Gameplay: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)
Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)
Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)
Game of the Year: "Journey" (Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Developer: thatgamecompany)