Journey (2012 video game)

"Journey" written in brown, blocky font on a yellow background
Developer(s) thatgamecompany
Publisher(s) Sony Computer Entertainment
Director(s) Jenova Chen
Producer(s) Robin Hunicke
  • Nicholas Clark
  • Bryan Singh
  • Chris Bell
  • John Edwards
  • Martin Middleton
  • Matt Nava
  • Aaron Jessie
Composer(s) Austin Wintory
Engine PhyreEngine

Release date(s)
  • PlayStation 3
    • NA: March 13, 2012
    • EU: March 14, 2012
    • JP: March 15, 2012
  • PlayStation 4
    • NA: July 21, 2015
    • EU: July 21, 2015
    • JP: July 23, 2015
Genre(s) Adventure, art game
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer

Journey is an indie video game developed by thatgamecompany and published by Sony Computer Entertainment for the PlayStation 3. It was released on March 13, 2012, via the PlayStation Network. In Journey, the player controls a robed figure in a vast desert, traveling towards a mountain in the distance. Other players on the same journey can be discovered, and two players can meet and assist each other, but they cannot communicate via speech or text and cannot see each other's names. The only form of communication between the two is a musical chime. This chime also transforms dull, stiff pieces of cloth found throughout the levels into vibrant red, affecting the game world and allowing the player to progress through the levels. The robed figure wears a trailing scarf, which when charged by approaching floating pieces of cloth, briefly allows the player to float through the air. The developers sought to evoke in the player a sense of smallness and wonder, and to forge an emotional connection between them and the anonymous players they meet along the way. The music, composed by Austin Wintory, dynamically responds to the player's actions, building a single theme to represent the game's emotional arc throughout the story.

Reviewers of the game praised the visual and auditory art as well as the sense of companionship created by playing with a stranger, calling it a moving and emotional experience, and have since listed it as one of the greatest games of all time. Journey won several "game of the year" awards and received several other awards and nominations, including a Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media nomination for the 2013 Grammy Awards. A retail "Collector's Edition", including Journey, Thatgamecompany's two previous titles, and additional media, was released on August 28, 2012. The game was released digitally for the PlayStation 4 on July 21, 2015 and a physical edition was released on October 2, 2015.


A red-robed figure runs through the sand in front of some stone ruins, accompanies by another figure. The trailing figure's robe and scarf are glowing.
The robed figure running in the desert along with another player's figure. One of the figures' scarves is glowing as it charges due to proximity to the other player.

In Journey, the player takes the role of a robed figure in a desert. After an introductory sequence, the player is shown the robed figure sitting in the sand, with a large mountain in the distance.[1] The path towards this mountain, the ultimate destination of the game, is subdivided into several sections traveled through linearly. The player can walk in the levels, as well as control the camera, which typically follows behind the figure, either with the analog stick or by tilting the motion-sensitive controller.[2] The player can jump with one button, or emit a wordless shout or musical note with another; the length and volume of the shout depends on how the button is pressed, and the note stays in tune with the background music.[3] These controls are presented pictorially in the beginning of the game; at no point outside of the credits and title screen are any words shown or spoken.[1]

The robed figure wears a trailing magical scarf which allows the player to briefly fly; doing so uses up the scarf's magical charge, represented visually by glowing runes on the scarf. The scarf's runes are recharged by walking, or a variety of other means.[4] Touching glowing symbols scattered throughout the levels lengthens the initially vestigial scarf, allowing the player to remain airborne longer. Larger strips of cloth are present in the levels and can be transformed from a stiff, dull gray to vibrant red by singing near them. Doing so may have effects on the world such as releasing bits of cloth, forming bridges, or levitating the player. This in turn allows the player to progress in the level by opening doors or allowing them to reach previously inaccessible areas. The robed figure does not have visible arms to manipulate the game world directly.[3] Along the way, the player encounters flying creatures made of cloth, some of which help the player along. In later levels, the player also encounters hostile creatures made of stone, which upon spotting the player rip off parts of the figure's scarf.[2]

In each level, the player may come across one other player temporarily connected to their game. When players approach each other they charge one another's scarves. They cannot communicate with each other beyond patterns of singing. Players can help each other by activating strips of cloth or showing paths, but cannot hinder each other and are not necessary for completing any level.[2] When two players finish a section at the same time they remain together into the next one; otherwise they are connected to new players when they move on. While all of the figures generally look the same, without distinguishing characteristics, individual players can be told apart by unique symbols which are shown floating in the air when they sing and are displayed on their robes at all times.[5] The entire game takes about two to three hours to complete.[2]


See also: Hero's journey

Journey's story is told wordlessly throughout gameplay and using cutscenes. The player's character begins on a sand dune in a seemingly endless desert. In the far distance looms a large, foreboding mountain with a glowing crevice that splits its peak. As the character approaches the mountain, they find remnants of a once-thriving civilization, eroded by sand over time. Scattered throughout the ruins at the end of each area are stones at which the traveler rests; these stones give the traveler the vision of meeting a larger, white-robed figure in a circular room, with art on the walls describing the rise and fall of the civilization mirroring the player's journey. The player must also contend with the ancient automatons left over from a war which ended the civilization, and which still roam the city looking for intruders.

The player continues to journey deeper into the remains of a once sprawling city at the base of the mountain. Eventually making it safely to the mountain, the traveler begins to climb it, struggling as they enter the colder climates and encounter deep snow and high winds. With the crevice still a fair distance away, the traveler falls and collapses in the snow. Six of the white-robed figures appear before the character and grant the traveler new energy, allowing the player to reach the summit of the mountain and walk into and through the crevice as the screen fills with white. The player is then shown the game's credits, playing over the ending cinematic scene. This scene shows a shooting star emanating from the crevice and traversing the path the traveler took through the ruins, and shows glimpses of other robed travelers heading towards the mountain. Eventually, the star comes to rest at the sand dune where the game began, and the player is given the option of starting the game again. As the credits end, the player is shown the PlayStation Network IDs of the other travelers who shared part of the trek.


An Asian man in a dark shirt seated at a desk and looking right with his wrist held to his chin
Director Jenova Chen in 2007

Journey was the last game made under a three-game contract between Thatgamecompany and Sony, the first two being Flow and Flower. Development of the game began in 2009, after the release of Thatgamecompany's previous title Flower. The 18-person development team for Journey was composed mainly of creators of the company's previous games; co-founder Jenova Chen was the creative director and Nick Clark returned as lead designer.[6] Kellee Santiago, producer of Flow and Flower, did not reprise her duties, concentrating instead on her role as the company's president, and was replaced by Robin Hunicke.[7]

When development began, Sony expected the game to be completed in a year, rather than the more than three it finally took.[8] Thatgamecompany always expected needing an extension; according to Hunicke, they believed finishing the game within a year was "unrealistic".[9] Development ended up taking even longer than anticipated, as the team had difficulties paring down their ideas for the game and maintaining efficient communication.[9] Over the course of development the team grew from seven to eighteen people.[6][8] At the end of the second year, when Sony's extension had run out, the game did not spark the emotions in the player that the team wanted. Sony agreed to another one-year extension, but development ultimately exceeded even that.[10]

The stress of the project led to the feeling there was not enough time or money to complete everything the team wished to, which added to the stress and caused arguments about the design of the game. The developers ended up reducing the overtime they spent on the project to avoid burning out, though it meant further delays and risked the company running out of money as the game neared completion. In a speech at the 16th annual D.I.C.E. Awards in 2013, Chen admitted that the company had indeed been driven to bankruptcy in the final months of development, and that some of the developers had gone unpaid at the time.[10] Hunicke described the solution to finally finishing the game as learning to let go of tensions and ideas that could not make it into the game and be "nice to each other."[8]

The game is intended to make the player feel "small" and to give them a sense of awe about their surroundings.[11] The basic idea for the game, as designed by Chen, was to create a game that moved beyond the "typical defeat/kill/win mentality" of most video games.[12] The team initially created a prototype named Dragon that involved players trying to draw away a large monster from other players, but eventually discarded it after finding it was too easy for players to ignore each other in favor of their own objectives.[12]

The developers designed the game like a "Japanese garden", where they attempted to remove all of the game elements that did not fit with the others, so the emotions they wanted the game to evoke would come through.[13] This minimalism is intended to make the game feel intuitive to the player, so they can explore and feel a sense of wonder without direct instructions. The story arc of the game is designed to explicitly follow Joseph Campbell's monomyth theory of narrative, or hero's journey, so as to enhance the emotional connection of the players as they journey together.[14] In his D.I.C.E. speech, Chen noted that three of their 25 testers had cried upon completing the game.[10]

The multiplayer component of Journey was designed to facilitate cooperation between players without forcing it, and without allowing competition.[13] It is intended to allow the players to feel a connection to other people through exploring with them, rather than talking to them or fighting them.[11] The plan was "to create a game where people felt they are connected with each other, to show the positive side of humanity in them."[13] The developers felt the focus on caring about the other player would be diluted by too many game elements, such as additional goals or tasks, as players would focus on those and "ignore" the other player.[13] They also felt having text or voice communication between players or showing usernames would allow players' biases and preconceptions to come between them and the other player.[15]

The game was released on March 13, 2012 for download on the PlayStation Network.[16] A PlayStation Home Game Space, or themed area, based on Journey was released on March 14, 2012 and is similar in appearance to the game.[17] A retail "Collector's Edition" of the game was released on August 28, 2012. In addition to Journey, the disc-based title includes Flow and Flower; creator commentaries, art, galleries, and soundtracks for all three games; non-related minigames; and additional content for the PlayStation 3.[18] In September 2012, Sony and Thatgamecompany released a hardcover book entitled "The Art of Journey", by the game's art director Matt Nava, containing pieces of art from the game ranging from concept art to final game graphics.[19] On July 21, 2015, Journey was released on the PlayStation Network for the PlayStation 4, ported by United Kingdom studio Tricky Pixels;[20] owners of the digital PlayStation 3 version of the game were able to download the new version for free.[21]


Journey Original Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Austin Wintory
Released April 10, 2012 (Digital)
October 9, 2012 (Physical)
Studio Studio M1, Skopje
Genre Video game soundtrack
Length 58:34
Label Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Austin Wintory
  • Keith Leary
  • Monty Mudd

The music in Journey was composed and orchestrated by Austin Wintory, who had previously worked with Thatgamecompany on the soundtrack for Flow. Wintory worked closely on the soundtrack with sound designer Steve Johnson, as well as the programming team, so the music would dynamically tie in to both the actions of the player and sound effects caused by nearby game objects, and feel as if it were "unfolding in real time".[22] Johnson felt having short pieces of music that looped without reacting to the player would be a "missed opportunity", and wanted to create music that changed while still containing a composed emotional arc. Jenova Chen met with Wintory at the start of the game's development to describe his vision for the project, and Wintory left the meeting and composed and recorded the main cello theme for the soundtrack that night. He continued to work on the soundtrack for the next three years, experimenting and discarding many ideas.[23] The game's orchestrations were performed by the Skopje Radio Symphonic Orchestra in Macedonia.

Unlike many games, where different songs have different themes for each character or area, Wintory chose to base all of the pieces on one theme which stood for the player and their journey, with cello solos especially representing the player. Wintory describes the music as "like a big cello concerto where you are the soloist and all the rest of the instruments represent the world around you", though he describes it as not necessarily orchestral due to the inclusion of electronic aspects.[22][24] The cello begins the game as "immersed in a sea of electronic sound", before first emerging on its own and then merging into a full orchestra, mirroring the player's journey to the mountain.[25] While the game's art style is based on several different cultures, Wintory tried to remove any overt cultural influences from the music to make it "as universal and culture-less as possible".[22] Tina Guo features as the cellist for the soundtrack. She is a close friend of Wintory and has since performed "Woven Variations" with him, an eight-minute orchestral variation on the Journey soundtrack.[24] All of the non-electronic instruments in the soundtrack were recorded with a live orchestra.[23]

The soundtrack was released as an album on April 10 on iTunes and the PlayStation Network.[26] The album is a collection of the soundtrack's "most important" pieces, arranged by Wintory to stand alone without the context of the player's actions.[22] The album comprises 18 tracks and is over 58 minutes long. It features the voice of Lisbeth Scott for the final track, "I Was Born for This". After its release, the soundtrack reached the top 10 of the iTunes Soundtrack charts in more than 20 countries.[25] It also reached No. 116 on the Billboard sales charts, with over 4000 units sold in its first week after release, the second-highest position of any video game music album to date.[27] The soundtrack was released as a physical album by Sumthing Else Music Works on October 9, 2012.[28] In 2012 Wintory released a download-only album of music on Bandcamp titled Journey Bonus Bundle, which includes variations on themes from Journey and Flow.[29] The soundtrack itself was subsequently released on Bandcamp on June 19, 2013.[30] An album of piano arrangements titled Transfiguration was released on May 1, 2014, on Bandcamp as both a digital and physical album.[31] A two-record vinyl version of the album was released in 2015.[32]

In January 2016, Wintory started a Kickstarter for a Journey Live concert tour, in which the fifteen-piece Fifth House Ensemble from Chicago will perform the music from the game while a player works their way through the game. The ensemble will react to the player's actions, using a specially-scored version of the soundtrack, composed by Patrick O'Malley with Wintory's oversight, that breaks the music into small pieces to enable this reaction. Wintory had wanted to do a performance of the Journey soundtrack in this interactive manner, but did not have the time to rework the soundtrack for this purpose. Wintory came to know Dan Visconti, the composer for Fifth House Ensemble, after Visconti published his praise for the Journey soundtrack and had encouraged other members of the ensemble to play the game. The group saw how Journey's soundtrack had been used for various Video Games Live concerts and believed they could pull off Wintory's vision of an interactive concert, doing most of the reworking of the soundtrack under Wintory's direction.[20] Sony has provided Wintory with a version of the game developed by Tricky Pixels that disables the music to allow the ensemble to provide this, and other modifications required for the concert performance.[20] The Kickstarter was launched for $9,000 in funding for a four-city tour, but within a few days already surpassed its funding levels, allowing for more cities to be included.[33]


Aggregate score
Metacritic92/100 (PS3)[34]
92/100 (PS4)[35]
Review scores
Game Informer9.0/10[1]
GameSpot9.0/10 (PS3)[2]
10/10 (PS4)[36]
OPM (UK)10/10[37]
PlayStation Official Magazine - UK5th best PS3 game of all time[39]

Journey received critical and commercial success worldwide. After its release, it became the fastest-selling game to date on PlayStation Store in both North America and Europe.[40] At the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo, prior to release, the game won awards for best downloadable game from, GameSpy, and GameTrailers.[41] After publication, the game was heavily honored at end of the year awards. At the 16th Annual D.I.C.E. Awards, formerly known as the Interactive Achievement Awards, Journey won 8 awards, the most honors received of the night (which includes "Game of the Year", "Outstanding Innovation in Gaming", "Casual Game of the Year", "Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction", "Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction", "Outstanding Achievement in Online Gameplay", "Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition", and "Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design"); it was additionally nominated for "Downloadable Game of the Year", "Outstanding Achievement in Gameplay Engineering", and "Outstanding Achievement in Story".[42][43] Journey was selected as the best game of the year by IGN and GameSpot, among others.[44][45]

The soundtrack was nominated for the Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media at the 2013 Grammy Awards, the first video game soundtrack to be nominated for that category, though it did not win.[46] Additionally, the game won the award for best music and was nominated for the best graphics award from IGN, and was selected as the best PlayStation Network game by GameSpot.[47][48][49] At the Spike Video Game Awards, Journey won awards as the best PlayStation 3 game,[50] the best indie game,[51] and the game with the best music,[52] and was additionally nominated for game of the year,[53] best downloadable game,[54] best graphics,[55] and best song in a game for "I Was Born For This".[56] It received the 2013 Annie Award for video game animation.[57] It won five awards at the 2013 British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards: Artistic Achievement, Audio Achievement, Game Design, Online Multiplayer and Original Music, and was nominated for Best Game, Game Innovation and Story.[58][59] In March 2013, it won six awards at the annual Game Developers Choice Awards: Best Audio, Best Game Design, Best Visual Arts, Best Downloadable Game, the Innovation Award, and Game of the Year.[60]

Journey received high acclaim from critics who praised the visual and auditory art direction as well as the emotional response playing with a stranger created. It received the IGN Best Overall Game Award for 2012 and Ryan Clements of IGN described the game as "the most beautiful game of its time", saying, "each moment is like a painting, expertly framed and lit".[3] Jane Douglas of GameSpot concurred, calling it "relentlessly beautiful" and lauding the visual diversity of the world and the depiction of the rippling sand; Matt Miller of Game Informer added praise for the animation of the sand and creatures, saying the game was visually stunning.[1][2] The music was also complimented, with Miller describing it as a "breathtaking musical score" and Douglas calling it "moving, dynamic music".[1][2]

Reviewers were especially pleased with the emotional experience of playing the game, particularly with other players. Christian Donlan of Eurogamer described it as a "non-denominational religious experience" that, with the addition of another player, moves beyond metaphors and becomes a "pilgrimage" to the player.[4] A reviewer writing for Edge magazine said the emotional arc of the game hits with "occasionally startling power", while Patrick Shaw from Wired said the game made him feel a "wide range of emotions... wonder, fear, even sadness." Miller said all three times he played the game, "each time, without fail, individual moments... managed to give me goosebumps, and those moments have remained on my mind for weeks afterward."[5][38] Joel Gregory of PlayStation Official Magazine praised the game's story for being open to the player's interpretation, leaving an ambiguity that drew him in.[37] The addition of an unnamed second player was described by Donlan as brilliant and as a "master stroke", and Edge said it made for "a more absorbing, more atmospheric experience".[4][5]

The few criticisms for the game centered on its length and pacing. Clements noted that not all players would appreciate a game with a "deliberate, melancholic pace" and short duration, comments echoed by the Edge review.[3][5] Miller noted the lack of a complex gameplay elements in Journey, and Shaw was disappointed that the game was only a few hours long, though Douglas said the length was perfect.[1][2][38] Miller concluded the game could be compared to "a musical concert, a well-directed film, or a long-awaited book", while Clements concluded, "completing Journey will create memories that last for years."[1][38]


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