Journey is the most unique pearl Thatgamecompany has created. We are so impressed with this great game that we couldn’t resist to arrange an interview with this developer. And guess what? We have an interview!
One of the founders of Thatgamecompany is Jenova Chen, who is also the director behind Journey. During his studies in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, he created a game called Cloud. Many people were so impressed by Cloud, including Sony, which offered them a 3-game deal. During this collaboration with Sony, three unique pearls are born: flOw, Flower and Journey.
The goal of Jenova Chen and Thatgamecompany is to try to make video games more mature by making games that inspire emotional responses in the player. This is done by designing and developing artistically crafted and broadly accessible video games that push the boundaries of interactive entertainment. Jenova Chen and his henchman at Thatgamecompany want to contribute meaningful and enriching experiences that touch and inspire players.
We had a little chat with this young developer and had him subjected to a heavy question fire! We also would like to give our Chinese friend a thank you, because it is thanks to him that this interview was triggered. Thank you, Evaun!
Oh, and don’t forget to read our review of Journey, which earned a divine 5/5!
Interview with Jenova Chen
GameSnack: Which game developer do you personally look up to?
Jenova: It should be pretty obvious: Fumito Ueda from Team ICO, developer of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus; David Cage from Quantic Dream, developer of Heavy Rain; and also Blizzard Entertainment as a whole.
GameSnack: Why did you want to become a game developer? What made you realize that this is your calling?
Jenova: It all started on grade school. The school said that I was going to attend the GDC (Game Developer Conference) for free. Going there as a student and seeing how enthusiastic game-industry people are… It really looked and felt like a respected and serious industry. Seeing the ceremonies and how passionate everybody is, that really changed my impressions and made me feel like this is a real career. My parents will be proud.
That’s why I realized I could consider video games as a career, but the real calling happened during my studies in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California by making the game called Cloud. After we made Cloud, we had hundreds of e-mails from around the world telling us how amazing the game is and how we really should keep doing this. It’s thanks to these people who wanted to see more of this, that we created Thatgamecompany: to do exactly what people desire.
GameSnack: What do you think about the average level of games these days? Better or worse than the games you used to play?
Jenova: I think games these days are better than the games in the past, but the problem is that the gamers grow way faster than the game-industry itself. We grow way faster than the game. Five years ago, the average age of a gamer was 25, but now it’s even 37. So what happens is that gamers now are more mature than they used to be when I was a child.
GameSnack: If you could change anything about the current game-industry, what would that be?
Jenova: I think the current game-industry is great. Maybe excluding Zynga games. (laugh) I think the industry is great, because people whom never played games are now playing games, thanks to Zynga and the mobile technology. Games have evolved from a niche market to a real competitive market. I wouldn’t want to change anything.
GameSnack: Thatgamecompany currently has three great PS3 exclusives: flOw, Flower and Journey. Do you plan to continue to develop only for PlayStation or are you thinking to expand your audience by going multiplatform in the future?
Jenova: We are definitely thinking about multiplatform. Right now, we haven’t decided which platforms and which one will be on the final list, I don’t know yet.
GameSnack: Many players see their own version of the story in Journey, which is one of the reasons that makes the game so unique. What story do you see yourself in Journey?
Jenova: I see the whole development of Journey as the journey in the game. (laugh) It’s a fact that the hero’s journey in Journey is based on our research of mystical stories from all around the world. These folklores, which are religious stories, have been passed down for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, creating a very similar structure. In Hollywood, we see this structure as a scripture of the transformation of life. It could be about someone changing careers, someone who changes his personality and things like that. So Journey is very much like a framework. Some people say “it reminds me of this or that”. Journey has a very powerful structure, which should resonate with others.
GameSnack: One of the aspects that Journey handles at the end is, in our opinion, spiritual enlightenment. Did you experience something like this yourself before, while or after developing the game?
Jenova: Actually, we wanted to achieve a pilgrimage, which is a spiritual enlightenment. We did a lot of research and the emotions people feel is a sense of awe. It’s a strong sense of respect, but at the same time also fear towards the unknown. That is what we really wanted to achieve: to create the fear towards the unknown.
GameSnack: In just two weeks after the release, Journey became the fastest selling PSN game ever and also settled a new record. The same goes for its soundtrack, which earned a place in the top 10 in 20 countries and is even #1 in 8 other countries. Have you ever expected such a great success for Journey and its soundtrack?
Jenova: I did expect Journey would be selling very well, because this is the first time that Sony puts a lot of effort into the marketing of our game. But the success of the music album was surprising to me. In fact, it was the number 1 album in Japan; it beats the popular top singers from there. It really is surprising for me.
GameSnack: Do you already have an idea what your next project(s) will be?
Jenova: Currently we are still working on it, making it much too early to tell you something about it.
GameSnack: Can you tell us something exclusive that no one else knows, possibly about your next upcoming project?
Jenova: (laugh) I think this month we will be able to tell other people what we will do next.
GameSnack: Our webmaster is a freelance webdesigner, so he is a creative person himself. He would like to know where you get your inspiration to create such creative games, like Journey. What is your secret?
Jenova: I think my inspiration never comes from games, but rather by traditional media, such as conversations. For Journey I was inspired by an astronaut, who had been to space three times. He told us that there is a strange phenomenon going on in the space program: scientists who weren’t religious first, became very spiritual after they returned to Earth. So where do I get my inspiration from? Mostly from psychology and physiology.
GameSnack: Are there any closing comments you would like to add?
Jenova: I think Journey is selling the best in Europe. I’ve heard stories from both American and Japanese players who have played with European people, and they told us that they really are feeling each other with respect and care. This is something I really am touched by and it’s nice how enthusiast everybody is about Journey. Thank you for your support.