At a the Austin launch party for That Game Company‘s long-awaited PS3 title Journey last night, while watching the game on a giant flat screen, my wife turned and asked me, “What do you think it feels like to have made this?” I didn’t directly ask Robin Hunicke who was sitting back on a couch watching people play the game, with an expression of knowing delight, but it was pretty well written on her face- It feels very, very good. This game has been a long labor of love for the people involved, and the game shows a level of polish that belies the size of the team. I said before when I played the demo at Fantastic Arcade that it would be worth the purchase of a PS3, and now that I have the actual game, I reiterate that. The game is not the marathon-length that we’ve come to expect in a world of 60 dollar face-shooters, but it is a different sort of game. It’s eminently replayable, not in the sense that a game with a giant world or procedural content is replayable, but in the way that a really great record album is replayable. This is the first game I’ve played where I’ve actually had anxiety about making sure everything is set up correctly- that the lights are out and no other sounds or distractions will take me out of the experience. I’m practically lighting candles before I play the game. This kind of ritualized appreciation of a play experience is something new, even to me. I feel very similar about the sessions I’ve had recently playing Fez. Is this the distinction that I’ve been desperately trying to point to as being oppositional to the experience of mainstream gaming? Something more descriptive than the meaningless and misleading label “indie”?
It shouldn’t be overlooked that Journey is a multiplayer game. Visual design isn’t the only strength on display here. By sheer will and strength of game design, Journey has fostered not only a meditative single payer experience, it’s done the impossible- created positive interactions between strangers. Each time I have encountered other real players thus far, I’ve had people actually take time to help me, or be patient while I explore. This is with no means of communication other than the all-purpose “singing” action- a very simple signal that communicates nothing more than the pictogram that serves as your character’s name. These are wordless encounters that have left me feeling good, and more importantly feeling good about other people, which is something pretty alien to me on most days.
There’s no other more carelessly overused word than “beautiful”, but this game is beautiful.