Developers must remove distractions to get players to appreciate each other
Jenova Chen gave an in-depth talk at DICE today about some of the design decisions that made Journey such a unique multiplayer experience.
The award-winning game immediately grabbed attention with its beautiful scenery, emotional impact, and a seamless co-op element that changed the way many looked at multiplayer.
There was no interface, no visible user names, no lobby, and no verbal communication - players were just dropped into a uniquely shared experience.
Chen said he got the idea for Journey through his experiences in World of Warcraft.
“The more I played this game, the more I encountered other players, the more I realized I was lonely,” he said as reported by Gamasutra.
Chen began doing research about how people play online games, and what he found wasn't very promising.
“What I hear the most is online gamers are mean,” he said.
“Most of them are assholes, you don't want to talk to them, you don't want to interact with them.”
To force players to focus on positive interaction, the first step was to cut out the sources of competition that form the backbone of most games.
"I want the interaction to be about exchange of emotions or feelings, rather than exchange of blows,” said Chen.
“Then we have to get rid of the power. If I'm in a room online with another player, and I have a gun, what am I going to do?”
Journey has no guns, no weapons of any sort; you have a button to jump, and a button that chirps as a means of interacting with other players and some AI elements.
“All of a sudden, the other player becomes the focus," said Chen.
ThatGameCompany then began removing most of the rest of the traditional features of online games, cutting out the HUD and lobby.
“Our first goal is there is no lobby,” said Chen. “Second thing, in most games everybody has names and IDs. And most peoples names are very aggressive.”
The answer to that problem was much the same - only display the name of your in-game partner as part of the credits.
“It's very counter to a lot of these online conventions, and maybe we're giving up the chance to be viral, but we had to focus on the emotion we wanted to present,” said Chen
At first resources were usable by only one player, but this was another opportunity for players to compete, so items were made to respawn for the second player.
“And then you love each other,” Chen concluded.
“It's very simple, but it was not very intuitive. It took us a lot of time to get to this conclusion.”