A Journey with ThatGameCompany

November 4, 2011 | 08:10

Tags: #interview #journey

Companies: #thatgamecompany

Robin Hunicke Interview

BG: A lot has been made of not being able to communicate with another person apart from movement and the noise you can make – the beacon. But as well as making a good focal point do you think that it’s also a restraint on the relationship that you could build up between people?

RH: Yeah, it’s a situation where your actions speak louder than words. You can’t tell someone what to do, you can’t command them, you can’t drive the experience the way you would if you were on chat or able to use voice-over. That’s deliberate. We really wanted to remove the performance anxiety from the environment, we didn’t want people to feel threatened, we didn’t want them to feel like they were performing for anyone else. We wanted the experience to be completely organic and that’s why there is none of that [voice chat or messaging] in the game.

BG: There’s a lot of freedom in the player deciding whether or not to follow and help this person... would you not be afraid that anyone who has followed Journey’s development for a while already knows that they’ll want to work together?

RH: It really depends. I mean, I have played many, many games of Journey with strangers and it depends on my mood. Sometimes I play a certain way... One of the great exercises we do is I write down on a piece of paper a role for you to play and I do a bunch of them and put ‘em in a hat and then we keep it secret and then we all play together. We’re not allowed to cheat and look to see who we’re playing with – it’s completely anonymous. We try to play these roles with each other and it’s really fun because you may be playing with someone you’ve maybe played with a lot but, because they’re assuming a certain kind of attitude or role.

[For example], they might be a 'Lover' and want to spend all their time with you, but you might be ‘Independent’ and you might want to go your own way. It becomes this really interesting kind of... dance, in a way. It’s very difficult to describe Journey. You have to play it to understand what I mean when I say that. That’s what we’re so excited about [being] here at GameCity is that the game will be playable and I will play it with other people and they’ll experience it for themselves and then they can talk about it and take what they want away from it. It’s no longer our job to tell you what the experience is, it’s to just encourage you to give it a shot.

BG: You did a lot of work in AI and you’re doing a PHD towards it. With Journey, the idea is to not have a computer element to it at all. But is that AI experience relevant to the game in any way? Like for anticipating player response?

RH: It’s funny because sometimes people play with another person and think it’s an AI, which is an immense compliment.

BG: This is what I wanted to ask, considering that experience. I have a friend who has a theory that Journey is an elaborate ruse...

RH: [Laughs] That would be quite an elaborate ruse and we would be the world’s best AI programmers ever.

A Journey With ThatGameCompany Robin Hunicke Interview
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BG: We thought, ‘could they be trying to pre-empt the Turing Test? By fooling a lot of people into thinking this computer character is a human being!’ And if you did that on a large scale with Journey, that would be a huge coup.

RH: That would be! But that’s not why we made it.

BG: Damn.

RH: We’ve definitely seen that, when people play and think it’s a robot – we’re oddly proud to see that happen, because the mystery of whether it’s a real person or not is something that’s a very unusual experience in a game – to have real doubt. That wasn’t something we set out to do. We talked early on about whether or not we would really be explicit that it would be another player. We talked about maybe keeping it more of a secret that you played with other people. But then we decided that that would be pretty arch.

We’re pretty simple people. We just wanted to make a game that connected people with each other in a safe and beautiful environment that made them feel like they could genuinely connect. That’s what Journey is. Everything beyond that is gravy. The fact that it works is amazing. We did this online test and we were so worried that it was going to break or people wouldn't enjoy playing it but the feedback was really fantastic and everyone was so supportive, the fans were so great. We love our fans, [they were] so helpful and supportive. We’re just really excited for it to be out there. You know in two or three years there won’t be a lot of people playing journey. It’ll be very rare to see someone else.
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