For a game that impressed me as much as Journey did, I’ve had a surprisingly hard time getting around to writing my wrap-up post for the game. Most of this is because of my Orsay Games post: it said so much that I wanted to say about Journey that I wasn’t sure for a while if there was anything left about the game in my brain. Still, I have my traditions to uphold, so here we are.
Though, before talking about Journey: could I have written that Orsay Games post if I hadn’t just played Journey? And to what extent do I think the ideas there are broadly applicable to a wide spectrum of games? I’m honestly not sure what the answer is to either of those questions. Looking at other games I’ve played recently: Mass Effect 3 gets some of its strength from its episodic nature; but I have a hard time locating the wandering around within either the ship or the Citadel within that analytic framework, and I also have a hard time convincing myself that the game would be stronger with that wandering pruned. Though, comparing it to the other RPG I’ve been going through recently, its pruning is a big part of the reason why I like Mass Effect 3 so much more than Ni No Kuni DS. Rock Band 3 and Ascension strike me as simply different kinds of games that aren’t profitably viewed through that lens. I was going to say the same thing about Jetpack Joyride, but upon reflection maybe it’s a rather good example: a single sufficiently chaotic screenshot of that game gives a rather good idea of what the experience is. And then there’s Rez HD: I would like to say that it’s also a rather good example, but I’m not sure I’m convinced of that—in particular, how do I unify the main part of each level with the boss in that level within the context of a single painting? Hard to say. (Hmm, I guess the answer there is: don’t, just use two paintings for each level instead.)
Maybe I’m being too literal with the idea from that post, though. Is it important that we be able to crystallize each section of a game in the form of a picture, or would a more general form of snapshotting be equally acceptable? My first reaction is that there’s nothing sacred about pictures in that regard; and, while games’ visual nature gives pictures certain advantages, I can imagine a song or a poem capturing the essence of a section of a game. It does bother me, though, that those examples don’t capture the interactive nature of what makes games special. I was going to say that they’re not dynamic in the way that games are, but that’s not the issue: what made the best painting examples work so well is that they were snapshots of a scene that contained dynamics, that contained unfolding of events, within them. But that’s only a certain kind of dynamics, a kind of dynamics most common in narrative games: it’s no coincidence that I’m having a particularly hard time mapping this concept to Ascension, because I can’t imagine a picture that would represent the implicit possibility space in a game that I’ve played a thousand times.
So: Journey. Did I mention yet that I’m having a hard time writing about Journey? Taking another tangential approach to the game, I’ve been playing through all of thatgamecompany‘s games, prompted by a recent VGHVI podcast. (We also did a podcast devoted to Journey.) Journey and Flower have a lot in common: the space of the visual aesthetic choices (though not the details), the episodic nature, the depths of the next-to-last episode followed by the heights of the final episode, the hints at a cyclic structure, the hints at meaning while leaving a fair amount for the player to put together, the inter-episode scenes that leave additional framing questions for the player, the way in which they avoid most aspects of gaminess while leaving one or two traditional game elements in place. Journey feels more composed to me, more precise; in many ways, it feels more powerful to me, but replaying both of them, there’s something about Flower that I’m fonder of. Maybe it’s just that the organic nature of the environment pulls at me in ways that the desert, while beautiful, doesn’t; and while Journey‘s interstitial tapestries give me more to puzzle about, in their own way Flower‘s interstitial city scenes are as beautiful (and perhaps more alive?) than anything else in either game. They’re quite the pair; flOw I don’t have as much to say about, and while lovely in its own way, it doesn’t have a tenth the ambition of the other two.
What certainly does set Journey apart from Flower is its multiplayer. Just considered in isolation, I’m not convinced that I prefer my multiplayer moments in Journey to my single-player moments: I had some truly wonderful shared experiences, but the introvert in me just wanted to be left alone at times to explore. Hmm, though, thinking back on it: wonderful really is the word, in particular the feeling of being mentored I got in my second playthrough and the worries that I had about the pressures of mentoring in my third playthrough. So, to me, what’s important about Journey‘s multiplayer is not so much how it made me feel compared to the single-player experience in Flower: it’s how it made me feel compared to the multiplayer in every other game I’ve ever played. (C.f. Scott Juster’s take on seeing the best in other gamers.) I don’t think I’m up for thinking too hard about exactly what lessons to take from Journey‘s multiplayer; but if I were designing a multiplayer game of my own, I would be taking copious notes, and I hope (though I’m not particularly optimistic) that some bits of the interaction model here will make their presence known in other games in upcoming years.
I bought my PS3 to play Flower; three years later, I have another game to play on the console. Which seems like a bit of a waste of money when I write it like that; but those games are quite the pair.
This post has not been revised since publication.