I will never forget the first time I played Journeys.
Throughout the game, real-life players can join you in your quest towards a mountain on the horizon. Players may fade into your adventure – maybe they want to go faster than you, maybe they give up – but in the second half of my game I found someone who stuck with me. Journeys There is no voice or text chat and no identifying names of other players you meet. The only way we could communicate was through our movements, sticking together to recharge each other and singing songs. Despite those limitations, we built a relationship.
Near end Journeys, you have to scale up the mountain, and as you get close to the top, you’ll encounter a storm. Much of the game is filled with sunlight, flight, and upbeat music, but the mountains are gray, the wind blows over your character, and the music is annoying at times. Although the water level was low, I was glad to have my companion, and we huddled together as we marched towards the summit.
Eventually, the music fades and you can only hear your footsteps shuffling slower through the elements. Then, when the game went silent, my friend collapsed in the snow. I literally screamed out of frustration. Then my character also fell, and the screen faded to white.
In many video games, you die a lot. It was the only time a virtual death made me feel like I had actually lost a friend.
Fortunately, that’s really not the end. In a cutscene, I’m revived right after I fall, and then, in a dazzling celebration of color and music, perhaps my favorite video game “level” all the time, soaring towards the top of the mountain – with my once fallen friend flying with me.
Journeys Today is 10 years old, March 13, and I have yet to experience a moment like it. To mark the anniversary and learn more about the multiplayer attached to the game, I spoke with Jenova Chen, president and creative director of Journeys thatgamecompany developer. While it might feel like the game easily pairs you up with your companions as you go along, based on what he told me, it’s not quite that simple.
Aim for Journeys Chen said. “Can we create the right environment, the right response, to create something we are more proud of? And to have an online game where people feel friendly and kind to each other? ” He explained further later in our conversation. “We wanted to see the two of you through the journey together, [like when] In our lifetime, we meet someone special, and we travel with them, and in the end, we may be apart. ”
While it’s a profound ideal, “the reality is: humans, unfortunately, are giant babies in the virtual world,” says Chen. “No matter how old you are, even if you are in your 70s, if we move you off Earth and into a virtual space, [that person] will become a giant baby. A child does not know what is a good moral value and what is a bad moral value. Babies just know: if I’m in a new environment, I’ll try to push buttons and see what kind of feedback I can get, and babies are good at finding the maximum response. ”
To encourage compassion, the team tested a variety of ideas. They tried a system inspired by Gears of War that allows you to help a friend who can’t but find that even in tests between developers, players don’t want to help others. “That way, they create a lot of anxiety in the other player and make the other player angrier. And they actually get more satisfaction from the feedback,” says Chen.
They also tested a mechanic in which one person could push the other up, and then that person would pull the first. “But when we gave this physics simulation to the players, they chose to push each other off the wall and watch them fall off the cliff and die, waiting for help,” Chen said.
During those checks, people would say, “I’d rather play this game alone. Why do you force me to play with this or that? I hate them,” according to Chen. That’s because “murder is a much bigger response than just helping someone get off a cliff,” says Chen.
The challenges of getting those mechanics to work affected Chen. “At that time, I wondered ‘Is the core of humanity just darkness?’ ‘, I said. But a child psychologist helped Chen see things the way infants view feedback. “If you don’t want babies to do something terrible, leave them unresponsive,” he recalls learning from her. “Don’t give them negative feedback because they will misinterpret it as positive feedback.”
That leads to a change that has a huge impact on the game: when you get close to someone, you recharge them. (In the last game, you use your energy to fly.) “And that makes people feel like, ‘Oh, I like being around someone because I don’t have to run for energy,’” he speak. “So they end up together, and they travel together, and they form a friendship. It was just a simple change. From assholes who want to kill each other and dance around their dead bodies, creating hatred, to ‘hey, they’re both lovebirds, they’re helping each other, and they just can’t leave each other .’
The team also had to experiment to land on chirping tracks that players could use to communicate with each other. They tried a “likes and dislikes idea” where you could push your thumb up to show a green ping and push it down to show a red ping. But during testing, most of the pings were red because players were spamming to get their partners to do what they wanted, which created a sense of tension.
“In the end, we realized that it was better to just keep it neutral,” said Chen. “And then we let the frequency and amplitude [of the ping] interpreted by other players. But we’ve found that when we don’t add context, people often interpret other people’s intentions positively. I think it’s deep in our human nature.”
Although the rattle is intended to be neutral, it is not static noise. It’s almost like an instrument and its sound evolves throughout the game, Journeys composer Austin Wintory told me. “At the beginning of the game, it’s very bird-like, and there’s flute and a little bit of cello,” he said. But throughout the game, you’ll hear more human voices in the sound. “So by the time you’re in the clouds and the finale is huge, especially if you’re doing one of the [pings], you can actually hear a human voice in it. (The human voice used in the ping is Lisbeth Scott who sings Journey of final credit.)
Humanity in the design of Journeys, from the human voice in clang to the multiplayer design that encourages cooperation, is a lot of what makes the game so memorable for me. As I climbed the mountain with my companion for the first time playing the game, I now realize that although I may be gathering near my friend to try and share my energy, deep down , I just wanted to do everything I could to help them get up that mountain – and I knew they would do the same for me.
Before talking to Chen and Wintory, I replayed Journeys for the first time since its launch. Despite how much I love the game, I’m always worried another run will change how I feel about it. I was so scared about how it might change my memory so I actively delayed playing it.
To my surprise, the experience was just as powerful. Ten years on, there are still players Journeys, and I met four other companions who joined my adventure. I even got a new friend who stayed by my side during the snowy climb – and through the fun flight to the summit.
Journeys available on PS3, PS4, PS5, PC and iOS. Composer Austin Wintory also just released a remix of Journeys soundtrack performed by the London Symphony Orchestra titled “Travelers – Journey Symphony”. I listened to it and thought it was great.
https://www.theverge.com/2022/3/13/22972989/journey-10-year-anniversary-multiplayer-jenova-chen-austin-wintory 10 years later, still nothing like the multiplayer part of Journey