Jenova Chen: Journey’s character looked like a… chicken

At one point during development the character of thatgamecompany’s Journey looked like a… chicken? Yes, it did, according to Creative Director Jenova Chen. Control asked him about the ins and outs of Journey’s character design.

Why did Journey have faceless, non-speaking characters?

“We want the character to be an avatar which means it reflects the player’s true nature. Therefore, it should not have any personality or any feature that misleads other player’s perception on who might be controlling the avatar. No age, gender, racial definition. It can be anyone from anywhere on earth.”

How did the design of the character come about?

“It went through six iterations — we will release the images at a later stage.

  1. Character made of blocks that looks like a humanoid – we need some human scale character to help us prototype.
  2. With a mask on, a bit ninja like, it looks agile and durable like a nomad warrior – we know the game happens in a desert, so we want a character more like a desert inhabitant.
  3. An owl like robed character with extended sleeves as wings – we want the character to be completely made of fabric rather than bone and flesh so that he can fly and soar.
  4. A chicken-shaped cloth character with no arms – the all cloth simulation character turns out to be too expensive to render, and the arms causes too much trouble to implement since arms may require a pull up animation, and can make player want to pick up weapons and attack each other.
  5. A swan shaped cloth character with slightly matured look and pointy feet – the chicken cloth character is a bit too cute for the serious tone of the game. And feet have to be aligned to tilted surfaces, we just end up not having enough resources to do, therefore we cut it.
  6. Final Journey character – not too young or too old, not male or female, no arms, pointy feet, and a simple cloth simulated robe.”

Many players felt an emotional connection to these creatures. How did you achieve that?

“In screenwriting class, you learn that you don’t know a character from the words he/she says, the dress he/she wears. You know a person through the actions and choices he/she makes. Therefore, we create various scenarios to let players experience together, and through the actions they take on moving the character and signalling each other, you can read a lot more humanity.”

Matthijs Dierckx
Matthijs Dierckx
Dierckx is Composer and Marketing Lead on roguelite cult hit Unexplored and two undisclosed projects. He is co-creator of Android puzzle hit Sumico, the numbers game. Dierckx is the former Publisher and Founder of Control Magazine, Control Conference and and writes about games on an irregular basis.

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