Over the past couple articles for the thatgamecompany Developer Showcase, I have genuinely praised thatgamecompany in many aspects, but their most recent game Journey leaves me pretty much speechless. Everything that the company tried to implement in their other game such as Flower and flOw lead up to this game. The beauty of the graphics, the seamlessness of the gameplay, the feeling of wonder you get when exploring and discovering everything the game has to offer on your own is all packed in this short masterpiece of a game.
Originally released for PS3, now PS4 in 2012, Journey has already won over the hearts of many reviewers, a large group of them putting the game in as one of the best of the decade. This claim is hard to refute, because although the game is short, and only may take you 2-3 hours to complete, the whole experience is one that is found in no other game.
The game, sticking with thatgamecompany’s prime qualities, has pretty much no direction, either at the start or during the game. You are humanoid-type thing, covered in a middle eastern/southeast asian cloth outfit. On your head there is a little cap covering all of your face, and under that is a long, flowing maroon cloak. A scarf is wrapped around your neck, which is actually a very important part of the game. A big part of the game is anonymity. So potentially, when you meet another person as a multiplayer option during the game, although you have no clue who that person is and have no way of finding out as all the “speaking” does is release a musical note. This part of the game is remind us that we’re all human, so we can all work with each other to a common goal no matter what gender, race, anything.
At the start of the game, you are in a desert. Stretching out as far as you can see, the desert is stunning, completely seamless with your character as you walk through the sandy void. When you walk, sand flies up around your feet just as it does in real life. For a game to be an immersive experience, when you get lost in the storyline and graphics, every element need to be believable. The sky, the sand, the walk animation, the jump animation. Everything. And Journey did exactly that.
The controls are very simple, as in many other thatgamecompany games. Just the main left, right, forward and backwards. There are only two other abilities that you can perform: jump and speak. Jump is pretty self-explanatory, and speak is really just “saying” a musical note, which can unlock certain element in the game when used at the right time.
Of course, the game has more of a point than just walking around in the admittedly super cool desert. As you walk to the top of a hill at the start of the game, you will see a big mountain in the distance, with a big beacon of light at the top. That is your goal. To get to the top of the mountain, you will go through lots of challenges and puzzles, you will find out that you can slide down sand dunes, and that you can jump incredibly high depending on how long your scarf is and if there are these odd flying cloth creatures nearby. The whole game is full of surprises, little cool abilities or places you can explore.
All the way through, Journey has the same artistic feel that has astounded many people around the globe. The style isn’t quite minimalistic, which has been very popular in video games recently, nor is it realistic, but something in between. thatgamecompany really got it right when they did the aesthetics for the game. The middle eastern feel, the sort of minimal design, and the beautiful soundtrack all mash perfectly together to make one great artistic piece. If you haven’t already heard the soundtrack, I highly recommend checking it out below.
Artistically, Journey is beautiful. The gameplay is seamless and fun. The story is captivating. Journey is a perfect example of where modern video games are headed. The diversity of how you play games will broaden, with new gameplay alternatives coming from young, inspired developer teams I might cover in the future, such as thatgamecompany. I highly rate Journey as one of the best games of the year, maybe even decade, and thatgamecompany is producing some amazing games, and I hope to play some more of their games in the future.
To go back and read all the other articles in this week’s Developer Showcase – thatgamecompany, here’s a list of all the articles and a link to them:
If any game takes thatgamecompany’s style down to the core, it’s flOw. As the first FFTech Developer Showcase, I’ve chosen thatgamecompany, and in the intro article I outlined thatgamecompany’s unique touch to all their games: an artistically masterful game, that has a very calming effect and no direction or instruction whatsoever. flOw, as thatgamecompany’s second game, meets all those points on the dot.
flOw is also a fairly successful game, with a astounding count of around 4,000,000 downloads, 350,000 of them within the first week. Also, the game was acquired by MOMA (Museum Of Modern Art) in San Francisco, a show of the games artistically and aesthetically pleasing design. Like many other games from thatgamecompany, flOw has very seducing and relaxing gameplay, a quality that is rare in the modern gaming world of games like World Of Warcraft and Call of Duty.
The game is very simple. You are, in essence, a small, microscopic creature. And you eat other, smaller, microscopic creatures. By eating these small helpless blobs, you grow. Once you have found a colored blob, you have a choice. Eating a red one will make you go down a level in the 2D game, releasing bigger creature to eat even some enemies to fight. If you eat a blue one, you go up one level, only really useful to escape monsters or eat some creatures you missed.
The controls are very simple. Your creature just follows your mouse. To eat another creature, just run into it. Although it is simple, the flowing, curved motion of your character is quite relaxing. The game’s not for everyone though. Personally, I’m not a huge fan. You can play it for 10 – 20 minutes at a time, but after awhile the differences between the levels are to mundane. It’s not a game meant to be awed over about the graphics, or the complexity. In reality, the game has pretty much no point. As many other reviewers have said, flOw is not a game meant to surprise and astound you. It’s meant to calm you down, and, although it didn’t work on me, there is a big group of people out there who do play flOw a lot, and who are “addicted”. But for me, for a game to be simple and pointless, it has better give you a feeling of awe and wonder on some level, which flOw couldn’t capture for me but Flower and Journey certainly did.
Now, I’m not saying flOw isn’t a great game. The farther you get along, the cooler your creature looks. The enemy creatures get bigger and better, and the game slowly gets harder. Unfortunately, the game barely has any replay value. Of course, something I didn’t mention is that there is also a PS3 version of the game, other than the older online Flash version I was testing on. In the PS3 version, you can pick between 1 of 5 basic creatures, each having their own setting, enemy creatures and overall look. This may make flOw a bit more like classic games, straying from thatgamecompany’s normal, but the game still has the main point to thatgamecompany’s style, as I said before.
flOw was an instant hit, and will always be a classic because of it’s originality and new thinking. Not many games back when flOw was created, or even now, can be so simple and without direction, just the player doing what he/she wants, and be such a hit and a genuine good game. The game is relaxing, calming, and suducing. A great game, although maybe not for everyone.
For the first review for the Developer Showcase, I have chosen thatgamecompany’s game Flower. Released in 2009, Flower is a game that relaxes you, takes you into a calm state of mind by the beautiful surroundings and gentle gameplay. As I have said before in the into to thatgamecompany, keeping with the thatgamecompany theme Flower doesn’t have very much instruction. Pretty much nothing. No missions, points, or menus. Right after the into cut-scene, you start playing, with no direction.
You are a flower petal. The controls are simple, flying the petal however high above the ground as you want. The meadow you are in is very peaceful, with rolling hills and flowing grass. Obviously, there has to be a point to this game. You can’t just be flying over the ground forever. So you soon find out that when you fly over a flower, I flower petal of that color comes and follows your original petal. Every flower you pass over adds to the tail, and soon you have a long stream of petals following you. Eventually, you will find flowers of lots of different colors, each color of different importance. When you pass over all the reds, or blues, or whatever in a certain area, it will activate something. Maybe heal a bit of the grass that was dead. Maybe make a new path of flowers. I won’t say anything revealing, so you can play the game by yourself, but you go on an adventure, healing flowers and collecting more petals.
Although the game is short, it still astounds not only me but gamers and media alike. One of the great aspects of the game is the attention to detail. Throughout Flower, and other thatgamecompany’s games, the grass and terrain the petal is flying over is incredibly well simulated, flowing with the wind and reacting when the petal is near. It adds a layer of authenticity to the game, something that many other games could use these days. The animation behind Flower, not just the grass, but the petals, the way they just float in the air is you stop, and the grass becoming green again, is amazing. Incredibly, the game seems to calm you down when played, not give you an adrenalin boost like playing games like Assassin’s Creed or Call Of Duty. Another stress-releasing aspect of Flower is the soothing soundtrack. The soundtracks of other thatgamecompany’s games, especially Journey’s, adds a lot to the calmness of the game. People have even bought the soundtrack alone, just because it’s so relaxing.
In general, Flower is a great game. Unlike other games, the reason players stay isn’t because the just have to finish this one mission, or get this one achievement. There is no incentive system, no way to get a player addicted. The game is real, not some big psychological plan with incentive system after incentive system to get you to stay and look at more advertisements. The gameplay is smooth, the soundtrack is relaxing, the animation is cool, and the overall game is great.
There are a lot of games out there. And I mean a lot. The video game industry is growing, fast, and the demand for new, innovative and creative games for any platform is high. And with high demand, comes high supply. There are many game companies, small teams of developers, that have created and are working on mind-blowing games. We have reached an era that a team of 10-20 people can create as good of a game as 100 people could have 5 years ago. So, I have decided to highlight a couple developer teams in a Developer Showcase. Every so often, I will showcase a company, and spend a week writing about all their games. One of these games will earn Tech Of The Week, and then the text week, I will go back to normal.
For the first Developer Showcase, I have chosen thatgamecompany. The thatgamecompany team only consists of 14 people, yet the reason I picked them for the showcase is their unique style of games that require a lot of work and incredible graphics. As you can see especially in game such as Journey and Flower, but really all their games, thatgamecompany likes to side for artisanal games, rather than complicated RPGs or strategies with thousands of rules, missions and points. Their games have no life counters, no points, no menu bars visible. They have pretty much created their own sub-genre of games, that I would call playable stories. Each game has a story, a plot line, and every game has absolutely stunning graphics.
Along with pretty much no incentive system, other than the relaxing gameplay and amazing storyline, thatgamecompany’s games all have no instruction. Although some of their first games, such as Cloud, does have some leads as to where to go, their most recent games have restrained from most any direction besides from basic character movement. Even significant character abilities such as speaking and jumping in Journey have to be figured out by the player.
I’ve already mentioned the incredible graphics that inhabit every of their games are incredible. But not only does every game have a great 3D, world-like interface, but the little details in the surroundings really bring the game to life. For instance, in many games, the player character is the most well made and animated piece of the game. Of course, the characters in thatgamecompany’s games also have beautiful and seamless characters with the rest of the game, but a unique factor of thatgamecompany’s games are the terrain that the character is on, or surrounded by. For instance, the sand in Journey has a path effect, making a realistic sand texture, or the grass in Flower, easily emulating flowing grass on a peaceful, uninhabited meadow. When the character moves over or walks on these terrains, they react as if it was real. All of this adds up to a visually stunning game, and all of the media and gamer world agrees.
Not only do thatgamecompany’s game appeal to the average gamer or just average person, but their games have gotten a lot of awards and accolades too. flOw, their second game, was aquired into the MOMA (Museum Of Modern Art) in San Fransisco and Flower is in the permanent collection in the Smithsonian Museum. Journey, of course, has not been included in any museum, but has been regarded as one of the best games of the decade by many reviewers. thatgamecompany’s unique, innovative and creative games and style is the reason I have picked them for the first ever Developer Showcase. Stay tuned in this next week for individual reviews of thatgamecompany’s games.
As for those of you who are already familiar with thatgamecompany’s games, fell free to vote on your favorite below.