How Demon’s Souls Inspired Journey’s Gentle Social Systems
Long before he started working on The Journey,
Jenova Chen was, in his own words, “a rebel who wanted to do things that no one else wanted to do.” He started pursuing this goal as a college student with Cloud in 2005, a game about a hospital patient whose imagination takes him to the skies while his body stays in bed. With the formation of Thatgamecompany in 2006, he released Flow and Flower, equally wordless, emotional, and zen-like games that gained acclaim despite—or perhaps because of—their drastic differences from anything else available in the mainstream at the time. But Journey, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this weekend, has gone even further. While also an emotional, wordless, and beautiful adventure like its older siblings, Journey included a new element that they didn’t have: social play
In Journey, players are automatically
paired with another random player in the same area and can travel together. Although they cannot interact directly, players can use the enter button to issue a “chime” to each other, which players used to indicate where to go, what to do, or express joy or enthusiasm for overcoming obstacles. . The system has sparked countless stories of human bonding over the years of strangers helping each other. Chen told me that he heard from players who played the game dozens or even hundreds of times for the sole altruistic purpose of referring new players.
The brilliant and, at the time, utterly new Journey social system was conceived from Chen’s declared rebellious spirit. In 2009, when Chen started working on Journey, he simultaneously oversaw the rise of Zynga as the dominant force in gaming. Looking at FarmVille and Zynga’s big promises of “social gaming,” he felt disappointed in the descriptor. “How is it social? It’s just an exchange of crops and numbers.
“Let me work on a game that is truly social, emotionally engaging, and where two people connect, bond, and care for each other,” he continues. “That’s what I consider social: a meaningful, emotional exchange between two people. Can we create a game that makes you feel it? I didn’t know how to do it, but we wanted to see if we could do something that people had never seen before.”
That’s what I consider social: a meaningful, emotional exchange between two people.
That’s also what Journey was doing: making these players feel vulnerable and tiny and the world filled with awe.
“Then we [said] The games felt like work because the boss said, “Soldier, your mission is to take over that hill and kill that boss.” With Journey, we wanted to capture that you don’t know what’s behind that hill. All information is shown to you; you will . Therefore its maintenance is relatively cheap and effortless. But nothing lasts forever.
When we transfer ourselves into a virtual world… all the moral values we have created for reality will be reset.
“One of the biggest challenges for video games is how can we keep this experience when Journey was originally made for the PlayStation 3 and then ported to the PlayStation 4, and now everyone is moving to the PlayStation 5? We can’t just keep porting these decades. – old games, huh? There won’t be a single Journey that can be played on the PlayStation very soon. And ports to PCs and mobile devices all have their pros and cons.”
But that day hasn’t arrived yet, and Chen is looking forward to the community gathering again next week to celebrate Journey’s 10th anniversary. When I asked Chen if he thinks Journey has made video games better in general, he said it’s not up to him to claim it anyway.
“[When you] trying to do something new, the first person is usually not the one who decides it, he says. – They simply [one] a person who contributes. If, after all, someone else did [the idea] successful, then we are happy to be among those who paved the way, and I think that Journey is just one stone in the history of the gaming environment, its evolution.
If you did something that you thought was perfect, how could you do something even better?
Chen says that even after ten years and one massive live-action game, if he made Journey for the first time today, he wouldn’t change a thing about it – a thought he admits is a little sad.
“If you did something that you thought was perfect, then how could you do something even better?”
Chen adds that he has received many letters of appreciation in addition to the critical praise and awards received by Journey, which helped him realize that his and his teammates’ efforts were recognized and worth it. He told me a specific story about how he heard that Journey was IGN Game of the Year 2012 from various employees while visiting family in Beijing.
“When I woke up, I saw the emails and thought, ‘What’s going on? Who are these people? Why are they so happy?” After I closed the computer, I couldn’t control my emotions, I had to get up, I looked out the window, it was snowing in Beijing, and at that time I just… I felt loved; I felt people from the other side. The Earths loved what you did, and as a result, I felt like you were loved a little, and it was a compelling experience for me.
“It just makes me feel thrilled and grateful for everyone who made me experience this. [Journey was] transformational. You can feel such bitterness in my early games like Flower and Journey when I was a rebellious young artist, but it’s a different person if you play Sky. Yes. Traveling was a significant milestone in my life.”