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Life in the Ruins

Katie Williams | 4 Oct 2011 09:00
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This desert may look barren now, but it wasn't always. Small stone markers line the shifting face of a sand dune - gravestones, perhaps, of a civilization that reigned before shrinking into sand. Half-crumbled buildings sit despondently in valleys of gold. Occasionally, in the spiraling sands, richly-patterned scarves flutter plaintively. Solid structures that may have once carried bridges stand stoic, now supporting only the sky and the glare of a perpetual sunset. It's been here longer than you have, after all.

But life glimmers in the ruins. Life moves amongst it still.

As I revived old temples, pieced together bridges, and soared through the air like a superhero, I felt indescribably lonely.


Journey is about a lone figure's travels through a desert; developers thatgamecompany are reluctant to say more. After all, it's really a story that unfolds as you play, one sculpted largely by the people you meet within, if any.

The developers liken Journey's unique style co-operative multiplayer to hiking. You may see other players, the hikers in this analogy, dotting the sandscape, but whether you choose to hike together for ten minutes, stay with them for the entire game, or ignore them altogether is up to you. Adding to this, for better or for worse, is the limited form of contact you are allowed with others. Besides movement, the game only allows for two other methods of interactivity; there's one button for singing at various pitches and lengths, depending on how hard you press it, and another for jumping (flying, if you've collected enough scarves). There are no player lobbies, no intrusive gamertags hovering over companions' heads, no voice chat, nothing.

I had few expectations when the beta dumped me into this sad, glowing world without pretense. I journeyed through the game's first few levels without encountering or even seeing a single other player. I didn't think I'd be seeing too many others in a limited-access beta anyway, and I was content to watch my smiling, robed avatar kick through the sand, collecting scarves and floating on the wind when she could spare the energy for flight.

Solving the game's huge-scale puzzles on my own felt empowering, but bleak. As I revived old temples, pieced together bridges, and soared through the air like a superhero, I felt indescribably lonely. The sand dunes swelled and fell around me in the wind, like the waves of a hungry ocean. I was the only soul in this massive, glittering expanse. I had begun to feel that it would be just me and the desert, until the game's end.
I didn't anticipate the flowering friendship that would take root in this parched earth.


When I entered a new area and found myself standing next to another robed, motionless figure, at first I believed it to be some kind of character-duplication bug. I circled her tentatively, chirping a few times. My voice brought her to life, and she jumped happily in return.
I had made my first friend.

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