How The Journey’s Gentle Social System Was Inspired by Demonic Souls

Before starting work on Journey, Jenova Chen was, in her own words, “a rebel who wanted to create things that no one else wanted to do.”

He began pursuing that goal while still a college student with Cloud in 2005, a game about a hospital patient whose imagination sends him into the sky while his body remains in bed. . With the founding of Thatgamecompany in 2006, he followed it up with Flow and Flower, the similar wordless, emotional and “zen” games that received acclaim despite – or perhaps because of – differences distinct from everything else available in the mainstream at the time.

But Journey, which this weekend celebrates its tenth anniversary, has gone a step further. While just as emotional, wordless, and beautiful as its siblings, Journey includes a new element they lack: social play.

Journey’s official screenshot

In Journey, players are automatically paired with another random player in the same area as them and can choose to travel together. Although they couldn’t interact directly, players could use button input to make “bell” sounds with each other, which players used to indicate which way to go, what to do, or just to express joy or enthusiasm in the face of overcome obstacles. The system has sparked countless stories of human connection over the years as strangers help each other. Chen told me he’s heard from players who’ve played the game dozens or even hundreds of times, with the sole selfless purpose of educating new players.

The social system that was completely novel and brilliant at the time was formed from Chen’s stated rebellious spirit. In 2009, when Chen started working on Journey, he also saw Zynga’s rise as a dominant force in the gaming scene. When he looked at FarmVille and Zynga’s big promise of “social gaming,” he was disappointed by the description. “What kind of society is this? It’s just a trade in crops and numbers.

“Let me work on a game that’s really social, emotionally engaging, and two people that really connect, bond, and care about each other,” he continued. “That’s what I think society is: a meaningful, emotional exchange between two people. Can we build a game that really makes you feel that? I don’t know how to do that, but We wanted to see if we could create something that people had never seen before.”

That’s what I think society is: meaningful, emotional exchange between two people.

But all is not rebellion. Chen was also playing FromSoftware’s Demon’s Souls around the same time, and was intrigued by the concept of players leaving messages to each other throughout the game, as well as the ability to see other players’ ghosts without actually seeing them. direct interaction. Through that limited system, players have created an invisible, active community of support and guidance as they explore the dangerous world together.

“[The] The Dark Souls series is very antisocial,” said Chen. It puts the player in a very vulnerable situation where the whole world is trying to kill you and makes the player feel very small. That’s also what Journey did: make these players feel vulnerable and small, and fill the world with fear.

“Back then, we [said] gaming feels like work because you’ll have a boss saying, ‘Soldier your mission is to take the hill there and kill this boss.’ All the information is shown to you, you will get this reward… Even before you explore, you know everything is about to unfold. With Journey, we wanted to document the fact that you don’t know what’s behind that hill. When you don’t know the purpose of the world and the history of the world, you feel vulnerable, and that feeling of fear is what drives people to become pro-social. “

Journey’s wordless structure, which transports players into a desert world from the start with no context or explanation and lets them find their way forward, certainly reflects that. But Chen still had to find a way to combine that feeling of fear with his desired social experience. At the time, someone suggested that he bring voice chat into Journey so people could play and chat with their friends, which would theoretically improve sales. But Chen asked for feedback from friends and co-workers, and everyone he spoke to said they hate in-game voice chat because of how crap people can be. .

So Chen vetoed the idea, opting instead to create a gaming environment that wouldn’t highlight evil acts, but instead encouraged strangers to quietly band together, with the push of a button. Single click to communicate with random people with whom they share the same world.

“This is the biggest lesson from Journey: when we move from reality to virtual world, no matter how realistic that world looks, it is a new world,” he said. “And that means any moral values ​​you’ve built for reality will reset and we’ll all become giant babies… We press the button to see what’s going on. [the boundaries are] in this new world. We will try to say funny things or angry things just to see the response.

“The thing is, when you’re exposed to the internet, babies also have a megaphone, so they can say the most outrageous things but other people can’t give them the social response to say it’s not cool. So you get a lot of trolls on the internet and in virtual games… For a while, you can kill someone in Journey and people would rather do that than help someone, because it just is more feedback, more excitement.We then realized that how much feedback you provide is the designer’s choice.At some point, it’s best to provide no feedback. “.

Journey’s kind community, which Chen says still gathers around the game’s anniversary each year to replay the game together, is one of the many reasons why Journey remains a favorite to this day. Chen admits he might not be able to keep it active forever, despite the plethora of portals. Thatgamecompany was able to keep Journey online for so long because it was written as a peer-to-peer game rather than an online hosted server, and therefore the cost is quite low and the maintenance effort is low. . But nothing lasts forever.

When we put ourselves in a virtual world… any moral values ​​that you have built for reality will be reset.

“One of the biggest challenges facing video games is, how can we preserve these experiences, when Journey was originally made on PlayStation 3 and then ported to PlayStation 4, and Everyone is moving to PlayStation 5 now? We can’t keep transferring these decades – old games, right? Very soon, there won’t be any Journey games playable on PlayStation. And ports go to PC and mobile, all of which have their pros and cons.”

But that day has yet to come, and Chen is looking forward to seeing the community gather again for Journey’s tenth anniversary next week. When I asked Chen if he thought Journey had made video games completely better, he said he felt it wasn’t for him to claim it one way or another. .

“[When you] trying to create something new, the first person usually isn’t the one to actually tackle it,” he said. They are just [one] Contributors. Finally, if other people actually do [the idea] success, then we’re glad we were one of the pioneers, and I think Journey is just a rock in the history of the game vehicle, its evolution. “

But personally when Chen thinks about Journey, he feels very “happy and grateful”, especially after what he says was a difficult game development process, rife with money woes. . Thatgamecompany has also become extremely successful since then. It now features another game, Sky: Children of the Light, which allows players to meet and befriend each other online, unlocking social features that increase over time as their friendship grows. His studio has grown from 12 to over 100, with almost seven million people playing Sky every day across all platforms.

If you have created something that you believe is perfect, how can you make something better?

Still, even ten years and a big game of live catering is on the way, Chen says if he did Journey for the first time today, he wouldn’t change a thing about it – a mindset. which he admits is a bit sad.

“If you do something you believe is perfect, how can you do something better?”

Chen added that he has received numerous thank you letters in addition to the compliments and critical awards that Journey has received, which has helped him realize that the efforts of him and his teammates recognized and appreciated. He told me a specific story about hearing about the 2012 Journey of the Year winning game for IGN from various staff members while he was visiting family in Beijing.

“When I woke up, I saw the emails, I said, ‘What’s going on? Who are these people? Why are they so happy?’ After closing the computer, I couldn’t process my emotions, I had to get up. I looked out the window, it was snowing in Beijing, and at that moment, I just… I felt in love. I felt everything. people from the other side of the earth love something you make and by extension it feels like you’re being loved a little bit, and that’s been a very powerful experience for me.

“It just makes me feel so happy and grateful for all the people who basically led me through that experience. Yes, and so for me. [Journey was] transformation. You could feel this bitterness in my early games like Flower and Journey as a young, rebellious artist, but if you play Sky, it’s a different person. Yes. The journey was definitely a very important milestone in my life. “

Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine. How The Journey’s Gentle Social System Was Inspired by Demonic Souls

Fry Electronics Team

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