A games industry press event is not a good place for quiet contemplation. For Sony's PlayStation Experience, a raft of boisterous blockbusters have been crammed into a converted tram shed in Hackney. Each adds its own combination of explosions, gunshots and super powered slam attacks to the cacophony.
Resistance 3 and Killzone 3 are bellowing away mere feet away from DC Universe, while SOCOM Special Ops and inFamous 2 try to outdo each other. Any lull in the aural onslaught is filled with dance music piped over the speakers.
There is, however, a cordoned-off oasis for the weary, tinnitus-addled games journalist. Shielded by sound-soaking curtains, positioned inside pristine white walls decorated with serene concept art, Journey waits to soothe the savage beast.
There's a zen-like calm here, in direct contrast the sturm und drang elsewhere. While the AAA titles are hammering away, this prime marketing space has been set aside for just one game, a downloadable title at that, and one which is striking out in the exact opposite direction to its show floor peers.
Journey is the latest offbeat offering from thatgamecompany, the Californian studio responsible for such chilled out gaming experiences as flOw and Flower. Talking us through the game are designer Jenova Chen and producer Robin Hanicke, and it soon becomes clear why such a separate space was necessary.
Not only is the game typically graceful and contemplative, but Chen is so soft spoken that it later turns out that most of his words are little more than a whisper on my digital recorder. Luckily, what he has to say about game design is distinctive enough to stick in the mind.
Hanicke helps out with expressive (and apparently subconcious) hand gestures to help illustrate Chen's points. He talks about flying and her hands instinctively start fluttering. It's part interpretive dance, part sign language. It also provides a rather neat segue into Journey itself, a game built around physical communication and silent collaboration.
At its most fundamental level, Journey is incredibly simple. The game starts with the player as a delicate masked stranger, in the middle of a desert. There's nothing else around, apart from a curious mountain in the distance. Getting there is the goal of the game.
Chen explains the thinking behind this sparse design by once again inverting traditional videogame power fantasies. Most games focus on the joy of becoming stronger and tougher, a constant self-fulfilling escalation that can easily tip into mindless grind.
For Journey, the aim was to instead create a game based around the opposite of empowerment, where you were essentially helpless, lost and uncertain, and in doing so evoke a natural sense of wonder and discovery.
Key to that mood is the environment, barren and mysterious yet strangely enticing. Where Flower was a game about air, Journey is a game about sand, and a lot of time has been spent getting the tactile feel of the game just right.
As Chen guides his mysterious avatar up the dunes, the trail of footprints he leaves behind sags and settles as if made from millions of grains rather than pixels. At the top of the dune, he slides down the other side, carving a furrow through the desert surface.
Good old human curiosity provides your signposting, always tugging you to see what that curious ruin in the distance might hold or what the unusual silhouette over the next ridge could be. It's lovely, and incredibly inviting.
There is a game behind these mellow moments, though. Secret runes lengthen your character's poncho-styled cape and add patterns to it. Patches of cloth can be found fluttering in flocks, and can be collected. These then allow you to fly for a short time, although using them sends them flying back to their nesting spot to be reused later.
Flying up ragged banners restores their symbols and in turn affects the gameworld. Chen demonstrates this in an area filled with half-buried ruins and a gigantic derelict bridge. Each banner found and restored helps to fix the bridge, which will lead to a new area. Like everything else in Journey, it's simple and effective.
But there's more to Journey than going walkabout and playing with tapestries. It's a two-player game, of sorts, and it's this area that really seems to inspire Chen. Although you'll be able to share your journey with another player, don't expect the typical co-op play setup.
For one thing, you'll have no choice over the player you're paired with. For another, you won't know anything about them – not even their PlayStation Network ID. And the only way you'll have to communicate will be through a simple sing-song call and a distinctive runic symbol. No voice chat, no lobbies, just the desert.
It all makes Hanicke's impromptu mimes all the more charming, as Chen explains that he wants people to form a connection with another human being, free from assumptions about age, race and gender.
Indeed, one early build of the game had the flight-enabling cloth scraps as a finite resource, but it soon became clear that players were competing to get them first, and to get more than their partner. The idea was duly scrapped, and the more generous recycling method of power-up provision chosen instead.
And that's if you want to work together at all. It's perfectly possible to play through without help, although two players can reach secret areas that remain off limits to solo explorers. Players are placed randomly but if the game detects that one player doesn't want a partner, it simply reshuffles the gameworld and finds a better match.
It's a bold, laissez-faire approach to game design, and one that encourages the player to find purpose and meaning in the experience rather than herding them along. Chen admits that it's made it difficult to fit into the PlayStation's Trophy system, and explains that he wants people to be able to finish the game in a few hours, should they want to.
"Not a second is wasted," Chen insists, and the fact he says this loud enough to actually register on my recorder gives some indication as to how much stock he places in the idea games should only ever be as long as they need to be. The plan is that people will complete it in one immersive sitting rather than dipping in and out.
And with that, it's back to a show floor filled with monsters, bullets and superpowers. It's not hard to stand out among such company, and it's certainly not a slight against the third outings for Killzone, Resistance and Uncharted, all of which look excellent within their own mainstream niche.
But after time spent with thatgamecompany's unique design worldview they also look very obvious and more than a little ordinary. For all its aesthetic ambitions, Journey is clearly not a pretentious experiment. It's a game through and through, based around instinctive notions of play that tap into something quite primal.
What's most notable is that Sony has deemed this quiet, expectation-challenging project worthy of standing alongside their big franchise blockbusters, a draw in its own right rather than an obscure digital sideline.
It's exciting to hear creators like Jenova Chen turning accepted ideas of game design inside out, but it's even more exciting that their approach is no longer consigned to the indie ghetto. The industry landscape is changing, and exploring its expanding frontier looks to be a journey well worth taking.