Journey Developer Hit the Beach to Learn the Art of Sand

Journey Developer Hit the Beach to Learn the Art of Sand


Journey developer cites its desert setting as key to the game's emotional experience.

Be it the heat, the sand, or the ever present threat of giant sand worms, the desert is an environment that tends not to give people warm and fuzzy feelings of togetherness. Videogames don't do much to help this. In a game, the mere sight of a human body cresting a sand dune is more likely to inspire gunfire than cooperation.

One title where this is not the case however, is Journey. Dropping players by themselves in a desert wasteland with nowhere to go but forward, the appearance of another player is less an opportunity for conflict and more a reprieve from an experience otherwise defined by isolation and loneliness. Gamers playing through Journey often stick with their randomly selected play-partners for hours, never even knowing who they were until the game's end.

The experience is largely unique in the combat-centric world of videogames, and something that its developer, thatgamecompany, worked hard to pull off. According to Lead Engineer John Edwards, Journey's environment played no small part in the game's success. "There's this desire to connect with them in some way. To say hello," said Edwards, speaking at GDC. "You want to acknowledge them on a human level, which is somehow strangely uncommon in a lot of online videogames ... We thought the best environment for this would be a vast and barren desert."

Wanting to make sure it had the best desert in the business, thatgamecompany took some unorthodox steps to ensure that Journey's development team was well acquainted with sand. The team took a trip to the beach to run, jump and play with sand.

"When you go to the dunes [you'll notice] just how sparkly it is," Edwards said. "Pictures do not do it justice."

Amusing as it is to think of a group of game developers spending a day building sand castles, their research would seem to have paid off. Journey launched to rave reviews and quickly broke PSN sales records.

Source: Polygon


Well, their day on the beach clearly payed off. They did a fantastic job.

Surfing down sand dunes was ridiculously fun, especially for something so simple.

It makes me wish that there had been more open areas with strong winds, so that you could wind surf, like in that one area near the bridge.

I would have loved to have heard the meeting the following Monday.

Sony Rep: "How goes the development on Journey?"
Dev: "Great we made some amazing progress last week"
Sony Rep: "Yeah about that, it seems you spent all your time at the beach."
Dev: "Oh yeah that was for research"
Sony Rep: "Research?"
Dev: "Yeah"
Sony Rep: "..."
Dev: "..."
Sony Rep: "Okay moving on..."

Personally I think how it came together as a whole is far more important than any other element.

That time at the beach was well spent! I have never seen such gorgeously rendered sand, especially at that one spot near the end of the sand surfing level. When the setting sun casts it's light over the dunes it looked like liquid gold! That moment was beautiful...

I remember seeing that first shot were you get a close up of the sand, and initially thinking it was an actual live-action shot of sand.

So good on them!

But how many emotions did the sand have? They forgot to study that.

But how many emotions did the sand have? They forgot to study that.

Look, even if one grain of sand is a polygon, and polygons are emotions; consider how many grains of sand there are in a dune. That's a metric shit ton of emotions right there.

Oh hey that's just fantastic-- say, is it for other platforms yet, guys?

Seeing the sand in Journey was a lot like seeing the snow on Metroid Prime or the water effects in Uncharted: all of them blew me away with how rich they looked. All of those gave me a better appreciation for the art of the small, simple things in a game.

Definitely time well spent...learning about sand. Who would have thought?

Oh hey that's just fantastic-- say, is it for other platforms yet, guys?

Seconded. I would love to play this. Hear that, Sony? I want to give you money here. But I am not going to buy a whole game system just for one game.

Seeing my friend's PS2 finally giving up its ghost today, it kinda makes me feel sad how no one will be able to experience it when the PS3 loses support and the servers shut down...


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