Today marks the one month aniversary since Journey was released for the PS4. If you haven’t had the chance to play the game yet, you’re truly missing out on a one-of-a-kind game. Imagine picking up a game for the first time and not being told what to do. You’ve got basic controls and the only thing you have to work with is literally going with the flow. That is Journey in a nutshell.
What sets Journey apart from the others is that it prioritizes emotion and thought well over something like the damage of your weapon or gaining upgrades for your armor. Along the way, the player is treated to magnificent scenery and a musical score that will make you want to conquer a mountain.
It’s hard to believe that a game this big came from a company just as small. Aptly named thatgamecompany, Boston Games Examiner caught up with it’s Studio Manager, Sunni Pavlovic to discuss Journey, inspirations, and future endeavors.
Boston Games Examiner: Can you tell the story of what inspired Journey?
Sunni Pavlovic: Journey was inspired by a desire to explore a different kind of multiplayer game experience. Other multiplayer games commonly pit players together as enemies or as distractions during the pursuit of larger goals. It’s similar to the feeling of living in a big city: with places to go and things to do, the people become obstacles to avoid rather than individuals to care about. We wanted to create a dynamic more akin to hiking in the woods where it’s common to greet others along the way, share information, or stick together during difficult passes. We focused the entire design in Journey around giving players a sense of appreciation and joy for the shared experience of being together with another player. Whether it’s through the additional musical cues or the visual glow of connecting with another player… every moment is designed as a richer experience when the journey is shared with a companion.
Boston Games Examiner: Can you share any memorable behind-the-scenes moments while making the game?
Pavlovic: This is a bit of an unexpected anecdote but it does demonstrate a different side of the team that rarely gets mentioned. After Journey was well and done, the publisher approached us about putting together a Journey Collector’s Edition disc of flOw, Flower, and Journey and they were open to any additional relevant content that fans might appreciate. TGC has this tradition of working on studio-wide game jam projects as a way to blow off steam and flex our creative muscles during the course of development on our main titles. Unlike those titles, our smaller game jam games are full of zany randomness made quick and dirty over the course of 24 hours. By some sort of QA magic our three game jams were approved and made their way onto the physical Collector’s Edition disc. While I still have a hard time believing those titles were officially published by Sony, they are real and are playable. Anyone with a curiosity as to what the TGC team might have been working on if TGC didn’t exist should look into those wacky local co-op games from our younger days.
Boston Games Examiner: Games today have seem to have different priorities such as game play over story telling. What were your priorities when making Journey and why?
Pavlovic: With each successive release we’ve focused on building interactive entertainment experiences with depth and emotion that are universally accessible for players of all backgrounds to enjoy. Specifically in Journey we added a social multiplayer component and explored how interactive design can convey a sense of connection and appreciation for the individuals we encounter in our lives.
When designing games we look at the whole experience holistically and explore how the combination of elements can harmonize and deliver the best experience for players while fulfilling our goals of accessibility and emotion. The interaction design is one element and can provide both game play and narrative. Other elements we focus on are music, visuals, and what we call “grameplay”, or graphics in the form of visual feedback as a form of positive interaction for players.
Boston Games Examiner: Managing your own studio is quite the accomplishment. What kind of advice do you have for other women out there aspiring to, one day, manage their own video game studio?
Pavlovic: It’s better to take on new challenges and learn from your failures than it is to wait to perfect everything. Studio management covers so much ground and the needs are constantly evolving that if one waited to get all the specific training possible, they’d honestly never get anywhere! As Studio Manager, I’m overseeing studio operations to ensure our team has everything it needs to meet a project’s creative, technical, financial, and emotional goals. This includes everything from keeping the lights on in the studio to hiring, budgeting, producing, and publishing. What I lacked in prior hands-on experience I made up for with a problem-solving attitude. As a problem solver I’m focused on removing roadblocks and finding ways towards forward progress even if the solutions aren’t perfect. Being open to risks, embracing challenges, and rolling with the failures has led to much more growth and opportunities than I would have encountered had I been sticking to the safe route.
Boston Games Examiner: What’s next for thatgamecompany?
Pavlovic: Since the release of Journey, thatgamecompany has raised venture capital funding to finance our future projects and allow us to independently self-publish future titles. We’re thrilled about the opportunity to release our games across multiple platforms for the first time and fulfill our goal of making interactive entertainment accessible to wider audiences.
We’re currently deeply entrenched in development and hiring for our next release. Like Journey, this next game is designed to be a multiplayer experience and I’m already getting strong “feels” watching group playthroughs of the game in its current state. I can’t say much more as we’re deliberately keeping quiet to concentrate our energy on developing the studio’s most ambitious project to date but you can count on us to share more details as we get further into the project.