[Original] Q&A session with Journey's Jenova Chen

Posted on March 9, 2012 - 8:00pm by Sean Hinz

TLDR;

We spoke with Jenova Chen about Journey, its design philosophy, use of multiplayer, and what thatgamecompany's future holds. Enjoy!

We had the opportunity to jump on a conference call with Jenova Chen, the fearless leader of thatgamecompany, to  talk about their upcoming release Journey. Chen and his team are the same guys behind the PSN exclusives Flow and Flower, and like all their games, Journey is designed to “push the boundary of what video games can communicate in the emotional spectrum”.

Design Hurdles

When asked about what sort of hurdles Chen and his team may have experienced try to achieve this design philosophy, he responded that building an accessible UI is very important to communicating with the player. “Everything is a trial and error experience… When I initially worked on Cloud, I designed the control and interface based on World of Warcraft… I just assumed that everybody would know how to use the camera and play the game”.

This wasn’t the case though, and many newcomers to games had a hard time with Cloud. That helped them realize how Flow and future thatgamecompany titles would need to be designed going forward. “I think games are for everybody and in order to make them accessible to everybody the interface must be designed to be more intuitive”

That lead some to wonder why thatgamecompany had never developed anything for the Playstation Move during their three-game contract with Sony. Chen explained that with Journey being one year into development at the reveal of the PS Move, he and his team were faced with a decision to use PS Move controls or traditional controls for Journey. They chose to stick with the SIXAXIS as they had done before. “I believe the best control will only be designed for one device. There is always one device that is best to be playing a game with.”

Multiplayer & Style

In order to move away from the age old philosophy behind most multiplayer games "let’s kill each other or kill something together", thatgamecompany had to remove the sense of empowerment from Journey’s multiplayer. So many multiplayer games are based on single player mechanics that empower users to feel like “a god”. This makes it difficult to communicate, but Journey breaks down that barrier, and “focus on the experience of ‘Hey! There is another human being’”. Someone you can interact with them without being violent.

The desert locale seems to stem from their need to have a minimalist environment, placing emphasis on the characters. If you put two players in a desert, they pop out, you see them right away and visually it gives you a much stronger sense of thinking about these two characters”. Single player is very much about “self reflection”, but when you meet someone it can change your experience. That was why multiplayer was important, because “you have to have both to really get a full picture of the game”.

One design decision that may have players scratching their head might be the lack of voice support in multiplayer. “The idea was to create an emotional activity between the players”. The best way to do this was by removing all distractions. Voice over was considered a distraction during testing. There were also PSN IDs that hovered over characters in the game at one point, but there was too much information you could gather in some players’ names. “Say my name was JenovaChen1981. It is telling people that ‘I am an Asian guy, born in 1981’. It is too much information that is not related to the game itself. It is taking you away from the exotic place we have created…The only thing that is important is that they are another human”.

Having an impact and moving on

Some gamers might argue that Journey is too short or there is an issue of length versus quality. Chen disagrees, because he and his team have a specific story in mind. “If our goal is to communicate a strong feeling or message, I feel we are responsible to do it in the most efficient way possible… If we give them filler, this is a disrespect.” When asked if players have another chance to visit Journey in DLC or see a sequel, it didn’t seem likely. “The world of Journey is somewhat complete. It was designed to be a Japanese Garden. What we left there is what is most important”.

Now that Journey is complete and hitting PSN next week we asked what was next for thatgamecompany? Would Journey come to other platforms? Will thatgamecompany’s next game come to another platform? “At this time, we would rather just talk about Journey. We can talk about the future at a later time”. But when asked if the future were to evolve into a world of emotional games capitalizing on thatgamecompany’s past successes, Chen simply replied “if ten years from now, all games are like this, I would probably pick something more special and unique”. We look forward to seeing what thatgamecompany will come up with next. Journey arrives on PSN March 13th and be sure to keep an eye on the site for our review early next week.

Thanks Jason Bellinger, Stephen Snart, and Jenova Chen for having us!

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