"It's like hiking," says Jenova Chen, towards the end of a fascinating, bewildering, inspiring, and well-hidden E3 videogame presentation. "You're hiking along and you meet somebody. Maybe you like them and you want to hike with them for a bit. Maybe you don't like them, and you want to go your own way again."
Chen says "maybe" a lot. A kind of controlled ambiguity is probably his company's most crucial intellectual property, actually, with games like Flower and flOw already in the bag. These are disarmingly simple titles - mirror-land versions of flight simulators and Pac-Man respectively, not that Chen would ever stoop to describe them as such - and they earn a lot of their power from the carefully cultivated mysticism the developer gathers around it.
thatgamecompany refuses most interpretations of its work, just as it has refused, to all intents and purposes, to name itself. If it's a trick, it's a neat one: don't allow anyone to pin down what your game is about and people will always assume it's bigger, more mysterious, more profound than it appears to be.
Journey, the developer's latest game, is about multiplayer. Maybe. Hence the hiking analogy. Although it would crush Chen - maybe - to describe such a wafting, nebulous idea as Journey in the harsh parlance of the marketplace, the follow-up to Flower is a third-person adventure in which you explore a mysterious and quietly fantastical desert landscape, overcoming hurdles as you head towards your goal: a mountain with a fierce light shining at the summit.
Sometimes, you'll meet a fellow traveller, thrown into your game by natty back-end coding which kicks off when the two of you happen to be at the same geographical location at the same time. Wordlessly - there is no means of communication in Journey at the control-pad level, although, as you'll see, enterprising sorts may be able to track messages into the omnipresent flurries of sand - you'll decide whether or not you want to move through the game together for a bit. If you do, good for you. If you don't, good for you.
You'll never meet more than one stranger at any time. You'll never see a PSN ID. You'll never find yourself popping rivals' balloons in a battle arena, or teaming up for combo moves. It's, y'know, a bit like hiking, but hiking with Sellotape over your mouth.
Journey - and this is truly a first - was inspired by Chen's chats with an astronaut. Charles F. Bolden Jr flew three missions into the great beyond, apparently, but never got to walk on the lunar surface. Now there's a man who didn't read the small print. Bolden mentioned that what fascinated him the most about his experiences in space was how many of the astronauts who returned from the moon left the earth as "hardcore atheists" and came back changed, with a spiritual, and sometimes overtly religious component to their personalities and outlook that simply hadn't been there before.