Journey interview “The player is an active participant in the event”

Journey

I was lucky enough to speak to Austin Wintory yesterday, the composer for Journey, to find out more about the game which we gave 10/10 and a Gold Award. It’s an incredible experience so it was interesting to talk to one of the people involved in its creation. This interview is spoiler free so don’t worry about anything being ruined unless the game having sand in it is a surprise. The game has sand in it by the way. Here’s our Journey review for you to check out as well to find out why this is such a must play. 

It’s worth keeping an eye on Austin Wintory‘s website as well as he’ll be releasing a free Journey-themed EP in the near future if you sign up for the newsletter. Not the Journey soundtrack which he confirmed will also be available to buy but rather a collection of related and remixed music. The Journey theme in the style of Flow was one track he mentioned.

Official PlayStation Magazine What did Journey look like when you first saw it?

Austin Wintory Even the very early iterations from three years ago rather remarkably resemble the game now. Just with slightly less polish and finish. Obviously the look of it, which I am personally really fond of, was there conceptually from the beginning. The precise execution of it emerged over time.

It was always clear where it was heading. The sand simulations would get, by degrees, more sophisticated as they worked on their particle simulations. But it was always clear from day one what this was meant to be and where it was heading.

OPM The music seems very reactive to the player is it dynamic?

AW The score very much has an ebb and flow of alternating between traditionally linear music and other music is broken apart and scripted and marry-able to the real time intentions of the player. The music is heavily interactive in areas where that will enhance the experience and less interactive in areas where we decided that will enhance the experience more.

The difference between playing a game and any other form of story telling, whether it’s reading a novel or watching a movie, the fundamental difference is the interactive component. But I still do believe in it being story telling nonetheless. We definitely are storytellers.

The player is an active participant in the event. We are creating a space in which we want them to do whatever they want. We don’t want to dictate that they need to do a certain thing or feel a certain way. But we are still telling a story and the player is part of the story as opposed to a passive recipient. Ultimately what makes games so amazing is that players will get much more out of your story when they feel like they’re part of it.

OPM What is your interpretation of the story?

The landscape itself is a form of narrative because of what we put in the landscape. For me, I look at that and think about all the different things that dotted the landscape that we got rid of. Because of that I tend be pretty hesitant to say what I think it all means. I don’t want to suggest I have a definitive answer or that there is a definitive answer.

Forgive me for dodging your question but, especially while the game is so fresh, I don’t want to colour anyone’s expectations or to plant any seed that might make someone feel that one interpretation is more valid than another.

OPM You mentioned the ‘are games art debate’. What is your take on that?

AW One of the consistent truths about art is that different people will take different meanings from it. What really separates great works from art from lesser works is that if it can take on a life of its own. If people are talking about it long after the creator has moved on to other things that’s usually an indication that something meaningful has been made. I have no idea if Journey will fulfill those criteria. I have no idea if a year from now anyone will still care about it.

OPM Not to equate the length of the game with quality but it has been several years in development for an experience lasting a few hours. How has that time been spent?

AW Thatgamecompany hold a very high value to quality over quantity. Their attitude is if we can make a two hour experience where not a single moment will drag then we will have made something worthy of your time. The length shouldn’t matter if the quality is there.

The reiteration comes from making sure the quality is there. They’ll do a version, playtest it with people, playtest it constantly among themselves and say how do we want this area to make you feel and are we feeling this way?’ If the answer was ‘almost’ then they’d do it again.

OPM What was a chief concept behind the experience?

AW One definite concept that Thatgamecompany held in very high regard from the beginning was that whereas most games are all about empowering the player, and enabling you to do amazing feats. Jenova wanted Journey to make you feel very small and very vulnerable.

The goal was to create genuine moments of awe and wonder. Areas underwent so much reiterate and changed form so much, especially towards the end to nail that emotional quality. Thatgamescompany’s ability to hit the emotions they’re talking about is remarkable.