Journey, once called Dragon, was almost rated Teen for being too bloody

Journey celebrated its 10th anniversary this past weekend – perhaps thatgamecompany’s main title. The game depicts players as a mysterious scarf-wearing figure who runs, surfs, and eventually floats over vast mystical landscapes.

Matt Nava is now the creative director of Giant Squid, developers of ABZÛ and The Pathless, but was previously the art director of thatgamecompany during the development of Flower and Journey. To mark the game’s 10th anniversary, Nava shared some behind-the-scenes looks at how certain elements were put together and, in the process, showed how the developers often weave magical brocades out of cardboard and sticky tape.

Travel “set the course for my career and my art,” Nava writes. “I am eternally grateful to the player community for their incredible love for the game.” He starts the tour by showcasing various designs for the main characters leading up to the final surface.

Every character here was playable in the early version of the game. I went from humanoid to very detailed and back to the lowest possible. Each iteration was an essential step in finding the final design. #Travel 13, 2022

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One of the highlights of Journey is what I think you can call the level of surfing. This is a game of its own pace, and this section begins after the player has solved puzzles and moved back and forth across the previous landscape: here, so to speak, the training wheels come off, and you enjoy sliding through giant dunes with a dragging scarf.

This is how the surf level looked in our editor. This was one of the most challenging levels to create. I spent so much time adjusting the angle, position, and shape of each ramp and ravine. #Journey 13, 2022

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Perhaps Nava’s most incredible memory is of one of Journey’s visual spectacles when you suddenly run through a building with massive columns, and the sun shines brightly in the sky, casting shadows on the ground. Here is that moment:

It turns out Journey didn’t have automatic shadows: so Nava did everything by hand. These shadows are applied by hand.

Funny story: #Journey didn’t have automatic shadows. I drew them all by hand. Shadow texture is not high resolution. For the famous sunset columns to cast crisp shadows, I ensured they were aligned to the texture’s pixel grid. Here you can see the shadow map I drew. 13, 2022

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The only things about Journey that can be described as an enemy are these strange (and giant) stone dragons that appear later in the game and try to fly into the player in some vaguely stealth-based sequences. It’s another memorable episode in a game filled with them, and it turns out it could have been more critical to the concept at some point: Nava says the game’s early working title was Dragon.

In early prototypes, the bad guys were snake-like dragons before turning into stone creatures. Initially, the game was codenamed “Dragon.” #Journey 13, 2022

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The entire thread is filled with tidbits about the game: a scarf scrapped level almost gave the game a T rating for teens because the players thought it was blood. How carefully managed the color palette was across the arc of the game and Nava’s memories of the fight to get the climax of the game right “at the very last minute. I still can’t believe we made it. We abandoned the rails version we hacked that didn’t feel right and got a schedule extension to fix it. God bless”.

And finally, how what was conceived at the beginning turned out to be perfect in the end.

The game’s final moment against a concept that I created in one of the very first days of development many years ago. At the time, I didn’t know what the ending would be. I remember the moment when we found time for just that at the very end. It made the game! #Travel 13, 2022

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Travel now 50% off on Steam until March 17., and nothing like that. The thoughtfulness and artistry that Nava’s memories exude is a big part of why.

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