Upcoming PSN indie title Journey has already gathered a lot of buzz among gamers for offering a starkly beautiful world that promises quiet reflection and the chance to form a genuine connection with another player - one which doesn't require voice comms or fiddly interfaces.
Or, that's one interpretation of Journey anyway; the beautiful thing about the game is that it offers something different to each player. We sent Brendan Caldwell to the recent Gamecity event in Nottingham to chat to Robin Hunicke from developer ThatGameCompany to see what Journey's creators intended the game to accomplish.
Bit-Gamer: Hi, Robin. How’s Journey? A lot of developers get sick of their games after having spent so long working on and testing it.
Robin Hunicke: Actually, honestly, Journey is the one game that I’m not sick of playing yet because it has so many different qualities. The music is going to get updated really soon too, which is really exciting. We just put the finishing touches on this new sound system, we’re going to have a fully recorded orchestral score going into the game, so I’m really excited to hear it. I can’t wait.
BG: We were speaking to Brian Provinciano [of Retro City Rampage) and he was saying that with XBLA there are a lot of hoops to jump through to get your game ‘Microsoft-ready’. Is there a similar ordeal for PSN?
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RH: You know, we’ve already done two games for the PlayStation, so we’re pretty familiar with the process now. It’s not a mystery. There’s just stuff you've got to do. You have to make sure that it doesn’t break when certain things happen. I did a bunch of games for the Wii before this and it was the same thing.
When you work on a PC game it’s the same thing only there are a million different variations of PC, so you have to have a load of patches... It’s just what it’s like when you release a game. All the little things that you thought you’d do later, you have to do them all at once – that’s what makes it both really exciting, and also kind of annoying, to final a game. Because you’re just waiting for the list to be over. But then it is! And then the game has happened. It’s amazing.
BG: Considering the amount of coverage and attention you have and support you get from Sony, would you still classify yourself as an indie company?
RH: Yeah, I mean, we’re independent. We own our own company – we’re not owned.
BG: But thanks to Sony and Flower, you’re so well known.
RH: Sure but so is Limbo, so is Braid – they’re still indie.
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BG: But what I mean to ask is if you think there’s a kind of new split happening between unsupported indies and those who are still independent but supported through distribution and press coverage?
RH: That’s an interesting question. I think to anyone that has access to distribution, it’s a benefit. Let’s say you got chosen to do something for a native client, but maybe Google wanted to showcase your work like it did with Rome or that Arcade Fire video that was done years ago. Those artists were given an instant mode of distribution and [it was] well placed, right?
So, that’s always going to be a benefit, but I still think that work is super ground-breaking and crazy awesome. To me it’s not so much about placing it as it is about the quality of the work. Braid, Limbo and Minecraft – these are great games regardless of what their distribution platform is. There’s definitely a difference in the kinds of access you can get when you work as a publisher versus when you don’t and there’s definitely a financial difference when you don’t have that access. But what really matters is whether or not the game is worthwhile.