Thursday, September 22, 2011

Day 77: Journey

Today I went to an awesome PlayStation party at the Highball to kick off FantasticFest. I was planning on writing a blog about the party and all the awesome games I played, but I was so impressed with one specific game that I decided to do my post about that game specifically: Journey.

Journey is the new PlayStation Network downloadable title (available sometime in the near future) by ThatGameCompany. I loved Flower, one of ThatGameCompany's pervious releases, and I'd read a few things about Journey that made me really interested to play it. Journey was the main reason I wanted to go to the PlayStation party in the first place. When I got into the Highball I found four TVs set up to demo the game. It didn't take long before one of them was available and I sat down to try it out. A woman named Robin introduced herself and talked to me for a minute about the game and the development team before she handed me the PS3 headset and controller.

I was immediately sucked into the world of Journey where you play as an armless be-scarfed character. The first thing I thought of was a Jawa because of the hooded, black face with glowing eyes, but your character is taller and infinitely more graceful than any Jawa. You move smoothly over sand that flows like water towards a mountain in the distance. Along the way you are given very little instruction on the controls and no instruction on how to accomplish your goal or even what your immediate goal is, but that's part of the charm of the game; It's all about the experience of discovering the world on your own.

Eventually you meet another person, another real person, playing the game somewhere else, but no words are ever exchanged. The only communication that occurs between you is the movement of your characters or your songs. Pressing Circle causes your character to sing a note, hold it longer for a more powerful burst of music that can activate things around the world or recharge your companion's scarf. I found myself using short songs to communicate my thanks or encouragement to the person I was playing with. I don't know why, but I got the impression that the person I was playing with was female. I wonder who they imagined they were playing with?

Over the twenty or so minutes that the demo lasted I became completely absorbed in the desert world around me. The closest experience I can relate it to is the way I felt playing Shadow of the Colossus. The open, mostly lonely world and the lack of any sort of narrative or explanation left me to fill in the blanks myself. It's an intensely personal and emotional experience, at least for me, and difficult to describe. I love the idea of a game evoking so much emotion with such a minimal amount of guidance. It's a bit like listening to an instrumental piece of music. It can make you feel a certain way without lyrics to describe what the song is about. To me Journey evoked feelings of sadness, but also hope in the accomplishments of myself and my nameless companion. I know I had a big stupid grin on my face while playing the demo, but as it ended I found myself a little misty eyed over the experience.

I love video games and a good story is always important. I love the Uncharted series, Dragon Age and inFamous because of the acting and story lines, but it's games like Journey that I can totally immerse myself in. Even just playing the demo I instantly forgot about everything that I had been stressed about during the day and just enjoyed the experience. It's hard to overstate how excited I am for this game to come out so I can delve back into the mysterious landscape and meet another nameless adventurer.

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