Jenova Chen, the co-founder of Thatgamecompany and creative director of Journey, played a lot of World of Warcraft during grad school. And he always knew that he wanted to make an MMO one day - a form of games that are synonymous, rightly or wrongly, with scope and scale.
For one summer in the mid-2000s, a not insignificant portion of the game designer Robin Hunicke's day involved placing a Nintendo Wii disc into an envelope and posting it to Stephen Spielberg's boat. Spielberg was on holiday at the time, taking a break with his family from sweltering Los Angeles and production work on the film adaptation of Herge's TinTin. There was no time to break from Hunicke's game BoomBlox, however, whose deadline was approaching. Besides, Spielberg's original idea for the game - a kind of anti-Jenga involving knocking down towers of blocks - came about because he wanted a non-violent game to play with his children. He was happy to receive builds through the mail while on holiday, where his kids could pitch in with the feedback.
Journey. Perhaps the perfect word to define the trajectory of this particularly elusive PlayStation 4 remaster. Having briefly spent time with the game just last year at Gamescom, performance was solid enough that it seemed likely that a full release would follow shortly thereafter. Instead, nothing. Outside of the odd blog post, this particular port remained shrouded in mystery throughout most of its development cycle. Now, three and a half years after its original last-gen release, Journey has finally emerged on PlayStation 4.
Its technological underpinnings are based on an advanced iteration of PhyreEngine - a modular, cross-platform, free to license graphics engine created by Sony Computer Entertainment. It's an engine which thatgamecompany, creator of Journey, previously used in each of its PlayStation 3 projects. With its complex sand rendering, dust effects, and fluid simulation, Journey made extensive use of the PS3's SPUs to bring its world to life. With a small development house known as Tricky Pixels tackling this PS4 port, we were genuinely curious to see how this ambitious project would translate to Sony's latest console platform.
At first glance, this PS4 iteration appears to fully retain the beauty of the original game. The simple, clean designs, attractive lighting, and lovely sand simulation return alongside a nice bump in performance and image quality. Even better, it's available for free to owners of the original game thanks to the CrossBuy feature - if you bought the original and upgraded to PS4 in the meanwhile, the new remaster is sitting in your download list right now, just as it was for. We finished the remastered version of the game in one sitting and have to say that the experience was just as wonderful as we had remembered. However, upon closer inspection, we began to notice some rather subtle changes, suggesting a conversion scenario that was less straightforward than you might imagine.
After all the announcements and big studio posturing to come out of this year's E3, my game of the show was a quiet little indie game I'd barely heard of before. On my last day at the show, I was ushered into a screening room tucked at the back of 505 Games' media room, far away from the show floor (and, appropriately, in room 505 of the LA Convention Centre). There, I put on a pair of headphones and all the noise and bluster and gunfire I'd been subjected to for the last three days just washed away.
Over the next two weeks we'll be bringing you our pick of the games of the generation. Today we're looking at Journey, thatgamecompany's slight PlayStation 3 exclusive that won instant critical acclaim when it launched last year.
You lot have your fun with this. And we do, too. So it's only fair that game developers, the people who smash the virtual hammers onto the virtual anvils, get their chance. What are the games of 2012 according to the likes of Ken Levine, Peter Molyneux and other game design luminaries? Read on to find out.
"They're sad because everyone is dead."
Back at the start of January, we wrote of our hope that 2012 would bring us more Actual New Games. As much as we like stuff like Diablo 3 (when we can play it), we also want games that "invent new styles and genres", as I said at the time.
Just over three years since it was first released, and having become one of the critical darlings of the last generation, Journey is being re-released for PS4. Digital Foundry will be looking at the technical upgrade the game's received, and in the meantime here's Simon Parkin's profile of Journey's director, Jenova Chen, originally published in April 2012.
"If only you could talk to the monsters," goes the much-mocked and only slightly misquoted line from Edge magazine's review of the 1994 classic, Doom. How we laughed! And yet, it was quite a statement of intent for a magazine that has always championed meaningful evolution for games and deeper experiences for gamers.
Back in December the Eurogamer editorial team had a massive public fight about whether 2011 was a good year for games. Well, we had the closest thing we're capable of having to a massive public fight - we wrote polite editorials disagreeing with one another. One thing we all agreed upon, however, was that we would very much like to see more Actual New Games in 2012.
Everyone's going indie - it's a path that's becoming increasingly well-trodden, and with the rise of Steam, Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, striking out on your own is becoming an increasingly viable option for developers.
The first time it happens is thrilling. I'd spent a couple of evenings gliding across the shimmering deserts of the Journey beta, desperately seeking someone, anyone, to share the experience with online.
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.
"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."