Interview with Journey's Producer, Jenova Chen

We really loved the PSN exclusive game Journey. And if you haven’t play the game, trust us, you have to. We managed to score a neat interview with Jenova Chen, producer of the game, and some of the things we found out from him was that the game was inspired through his hiking experience. Uh huh!

RGB: Online interaction is a core feature of Journey. For a game that we considered to be the best (review copy) PSN game that we have played to date, and enjoyed without its online component, can you please share with us how important will ‘interactions with other’s life passage’ be to the game’s core play?

JC: The interaction between players is different to conventional online multiplayer – there is no chatting or identifying another within the real world context.

The reason they can’t identify with another is to create an emotional connection with another player. An emotional connection requires a lot of focus. The problem with showing the player’s name, since many console games are very competitive, player’s names are often not friendly or nice. Also, names can give information about a player’s gender or age or something. These become distractions taking the player out of the world and making the player think ‘Who is this guy I’m playing with?’ We don’t want that to interrupt the experience; all players were born in this world and should meet each other as human beings, rather than some guy who’s lived twenty years, lived in Michigan and really likes Ninjas.

If you chat, again, you’ll expose these problems. The character isn’t designed for such communication so we can keep the players immersed in the game, rather than half in the real world.

Journey is another game that has drawn the debate on how game is viewed – as art or entertainment. What is your opinion on that?

JC: Journey is a game, and art, and entertainment. Anything a human has made is Art. You can always sense something from the creator. Even a chair in a store, it communicates something about its creator. But there are so many things in the world that people stop seeing everything as art – they just stop caring. The only thing they call art are objects that so clearly and efficiently communicate a message. When we work on games, we focus on communicating an emotion. We do it so diligently that it is very easy to feel.

Most ‘artful’ games such as The Shadow of the Colossus and Okami, brought with it masterful and artistic gameplay and visuals. But we could also say that artistic games like these never get their fair share of appreciation by the gamers at large, and so seldom impress at retail. Do you reckon Journey, being a PSN-only exclusive, could avoid the same fate?

JC: I have faith that there will be a market for Journey. I’ve seen lots of good reviews… IF they had reacted really differently, then as a game creator, I made a bad judgment of what the players need. I would have had to adjust my concepts or my market so I make what people need.

I always make something to answer what people need. In Journey, I answered people’s feelings, which were, a sense of wonder. I did that research because most of today’s games spell out everything for you. Where is the next quest, where are the NPCs, they spell out everything for you, leaving the breadcrumbs to lead to the next part of the game. To me, this is a task-completion game, rather than an adventure. I think there is a lack of adventure games today, and if we can make that, people will really appreciate it.
RGB:What was the inspiration behind Journey? And why not expand it into a boxed retail title on, say, the PS3?

JC: Journey was more inspired by hiking. We walk on the street in the big city, nobody’s friends, no one cares about another. But when you’re in the wild, you don’t understand the situation, there might be a potential danger, so when you find another person, you feel how you haven’t seen another person in a long time and you want to talk to them, maybe warn them about a bear you saw or something. The human interaction suddenly becomes completely different. So hiking really was my inspiration for this.

As for a boxed title, there’s no reason why not, but there’s no news on that at the moment.

RGB:Are there any plans to do a PS Vita port of Journey?

JC:We’ve heard talk about porting TGC games to the Vita. If or when that happens, I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be our studio as we’re so small. Maybe if everyone really likes Journey, it will be more likely to happen. But who knows.
RGB:Music has been often been an underrated, but a vital component to providing a rich and immersive gameplay. How was music inspired in Journey (which by the way, is awesome!)?

JC:We always make something to answer what people need. In Journey, we answered people’s feelings, which were, a sense of wonder. Working with Austin Wintory again, we were able to achieve that.

RGB: Could you share with us your future development plans for Journey (DLC, etc…), or any other projects in the pipeline?

JC: We are still focusing on promoting Journey, and haven’t yet anything to discuss about the future.

RGB: Do you have any parting words that you would like to share with our readers?

JC: Thank you very much for supporting thatgamecompany and playing our games. To us, playing our games really is the best way to support us, and we really appreciate it.

[hide-this-part morelink=”All about Jenova Chen”]
Jenova co-founded thatgamecompany in 2006 and acts as creative director. Born and raised in Shanghai, Jenova earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a minor in digital art and design. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he got a master’s degree from the University of Southern California’s Interactive Media Division. While there Jenova was involved in the creation of Cloud and Flow, and met fellow student and later business partner Kellee Santiago.

Jenova loves video games and is frustrated to see video games losing their appeal as he and his friends age. While studying in film school about the history of media, Jenova realized that to mature a medium, a wide range of content is required to satisfy audience’s various emotional needs. Jenova wants to be part of a movement to expand the range of emotions video games can communicate, and help turn video games into an expressive medium that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Due to the work he and his co-workers produced and the active academic participation in the past six years, Jenova was honored as one of the World’s Top Innovators by MIT’s Technology Review and 10 Innovators to Watch by Variety in 2008. In 2010, he was selected as Top 50 Game Developer by Game Developer Magazine and Most Creative Entrepreneurs in Business by Fast Company Magazine.

Aaron Yip

Aaron Yip is an industry veteran with more than 15 years of experience. When not spending time on his gaming PC and consoles, he can be found in Hyrule solving ungodly puzzles and collecting gems.