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Interview: Journey Developer Jacky Ke Jiang

21 Apr 2015

Netguide's Damian Seeto had a chance to speak with Jacky Ke Jiang from ThatGameCompany. Jiang worked on the critically acclaimed Journey.  Jiang was visiting New Zealand over the weekend to attend ChromaCon in Auckland. I had a chance to talk to him over the phone where Jiang spoke about Journey and what's it like being an indie developer. 

How did the idea of Journey come in the first place?

Our creative director really wanted to change the gamer experience on the internet. Online multiplayer games are usually shooters, with people being really negative towards one another. We wanted to make a game that emotionally connects players online. That's what Journey is all about. You can just hike with a stranger and explore the beautiful environment. 

Were you prepared for the immense critical reception Journey receive?

We always wanted our game to appeal not just to gamers, but people who don't play games either. We made our game to expand the emotional experience. It wasn't just a game that gamers can relate to, but all humans can relate to as well. We were always expecting to have a large fan base.

How did you come with the design and look of Journey? 

We are always trying to do something different. Since Flow and Flower, we always tried to make a special theme inspired by nature. Journey is pretty much about the sand. There's not another game like Journey out there. We actually did research and went to visit an actual desert to see what it’s really like. 

Why port Journey over to the PS4?

That is not a decision made by ThatGameCompany. This was actually a Sony decision. 

Are there any changes you made to the PS4 version of Journey?

A lot of shaders needed to be rewritten for the PS4 version. Because the PS4 is also a much more powerful system, the game is also now 60 frames per second. Stuff that had to be cut from the PS3 version will now be realized on the PS4 version. It will be the same emotional experience however. We are not trying to create something different. 

When can we expect to see the PS4 version of Journey?

The production of the version looks very good and it should be out very soon. 

With you attending Chromacon, do you feel an event like this give you and other indie devs good exposure?

Definitely. I feel Chromacon is a great way for artists to communicate with one another and meet new friends. I feel art in general is the language of the world. We are all connected in some way. So Chromacon is really doing a good thing for us. It’s a great opportunity for you to share your ideas to others. Plus New Zealand is a beautiful place. I live in LA and that place is huge and feels like a pressure cooker. In New Zealand, it’s more laid back and relaxing. I really wish the rest of the team can come to New Zealand. We could get a lot of inspiration from New Zealand. We are working on out next game really hard so hopefully I can take some things back from my visit in New Zealand.  What is ThatGameCompany working on now?

We are not announcing that to the public yet, but we are making something that follows the same emotional impact as Journey. It’s different though, as we learnt things while developing Journey. There’s a lot more challenges we are facing, but the game looks really good right now. 

When did you first join ThatGameCompany?

I first joined the company during the start of the development of Journey. I was in the Californian Institute of Arts. Jenova Chen (ThatGameCompany’s founder) came to the school to do a presentation. When I was younger, I was always fascinated about video games. There is lots of room for imagination and interactivity in video games. Even though I was working as an animator, I was always wanted to do something in a game engine. Jenova came when I finished an internship. During his presentation, he said he wanted to do something different with video games and broaden the horizon to appeal to people that aren’t usually gamers. That clicked for me, so I showed him the current film I was working on after the presentation. I instantly knew I was the right type of guy because we shared the same mindsets. I wasn’t expecting anything out of it. That exact night, he wrote a super long email and said he’d like me to work for him. I jumped on board the next day and started on ThatGameCompany working on Journey just like that. 

What advice can you give younger folk wanting to make video games?

I think the indie game culture has been blossoming in the past few years. There’s lot of neat tools for people to use on their own. This has allowed a small group of people to express their ideas and create their own games. You don’t even need to be a hardcore coder to make a video game anymore. You just need to understand a program. You can also just go on YouTube and look at some tutorials. People should also go to school not for the knowledge, but also the connection too.