The beta for ThatGameCompany's Journey
for the PS3's PlayStation Network has received a widely positive reception thus far, generating much curiosity about the serene, luminous desert landscape's story and world.
ThatGameCompany's (TGC) Journey
has already had a selective beta and a number of press showings, yet still feels mysterious -- the type of game that generally doesn't lend itself to the usual bullet-list roundups that often come out of press showings.
Featuring a red-cloaked figure crossing shifting sands and navigating sigil-stamped ruins, the game has a pleasing minimalism, and a tangible sense of gentle movement that suggests warmth and wind.
TGC is one of the rare game studios with something of an artistic signature, through recurring tangible and intangible elements that seem to unify the games it has made.
Although the tilt-sensitive Sixaxis control scheme that launched with the PlayStation 3 has hardly seen widespread use, it appears in previous TGC games flOw
, and is an option for Journey
At a recent Sony event, Gamasutra asked TGC's Robin Hunicke about the team's attraction to the tilt input: "We really do feel that when you use the Sixaxis, it puts you in a different mindset," she told Gamasutra.
"What we try to do is put you in a place where you're not thinking every second about where you're looking and what you're doing. We want it to come naturally, and the Sixaxis just makes that happen, at least for most players."
The team is "trying to be a little more open-minded" toward players that don't care for it, though. "On the beta, we did actually patch the build and add the stick control, so right now you can play Journey
with a combination of stick and tilt," she explains.
But the team doesn't see tilt controls as unpopular; it's more that the type of game to which they're best suited is less common. "A lot of games require precision movements and quick decision-making, and when you have that kind of restraint, you want a really responsive camera," suggests Hunicke, who joined TGC two years ago after undertaking more traditional development work at Electronic Arts.
TGC also appears to prefer to make games where the interface is as minimal as possible, with design that seems to seek independence from the need to deliver literal on-screen feedback to players. That makes observation incredibly important in playtesting, as Hunicke and TGC's Kellee Santiago discussed their process
in a memorable, personal talk at GDC last year.
"We watch [a player's] face," she told us. "If they're making the wrinkly face, we know they're not getting it... we look to see when they get hung up, when the flow is messed up and the emotions are not matching."
Newer additions to TGC's 13-person team often take on a role called "feel engineer," where they work on a number of components involved in minimizing communication gaps between a highly sensory game interface and player perception.
"Visuals, sound and movement... it all has to come together, and when it doesn't, it's usually obvious," she says, and then laughs: "It's usually painfully obvious."
Even making small adjustments, such as moving the placement of a light or changing the angle of nearby visual signals to ensure the player's eye is being drawn in the correct direction is important. "This is one of the things that's great about having the time to work on Journey
that we've had, and iterate over a longer period of time," she says. "We can make changes to the fundamental mechanics."
There is something of a risk in owning a unique artistic signature, especially when a team aims to create outside the bounds of the familiar. "We talk a lot about what it means for a game like Journey
to exist, and why we want it to exist, and how we can make that appealing to the broadest segment of people," Hunicke says.
"We listen to the feedback; we really do read our email. If people find it compelling in some ways and have difficulties in other ways, we think about it pretty hard," she concludes.