Journey, once called Dragon, was almost rated Teen for being too bloody

The protagonist runs past some columns in Journey.
(Image credit: thatgamecompany)

This past weekend Journey celebrated its tenth anniversary—probably the definitive title from thatgamecompany, the game casts players as a mysterious and be-scarfed figure who runs, surfs, and eventually soars through vast, mystical landscapes. It was originally released on March 13 2012 for PlayStation 3 (March 14 in the UK) before finally coming to PC in June 2019, and has received more-or-less universal praise: it is simply a singular experience.

Matt Nava is now the creative director at Giant Squid, developers of ABZÛ and The Pathless, but before this was thatgamecompany's art director during development of both Flower and Journey. To mark the game's 10th anniversary Nava shared some behind-the-scenes looks at how particular elements came together, and in the process showed how developers oft weave magical brocades out of cardboard and sticky tape.

Journey "set the course of my career and my art," writes Nava. "I'm forever thankful to the community of players and their incredible love for the game." He starts the tour by showcasing the various protagonist designs leading to the final character.

One of Journey's standout moments is what I guess you'd call the surfing level. This is a game with a rhythm to it, and this section comes after the player has been solving puzzles and moving back-and-forth across a previous landscape: here the training wheels come off, so to speak, and you're given the joy of sliding down giant dunes, scarf trailing. 

Perhaps Nava's most incredible reminiscence is about one of Journey's visual spectacles, when you're suddenly running through a building with huge columns as the sun beams brightly in the sky, casting shadows on the ground. Here's that moment:

Well, turns out Journey didn't have automatic shadows: so Nava did it all manually. Those shadows are hand-placed.

The only thing in Journey that could be described as an enemy are these weird (and ginormous) stone dragons that turn up later in the game and, throughout some vaguely stealth-based sequences, will try and fly into the player. This is another memorable sequence in a game stuffed with them, and it turns out may have been more central to the concept at one stage: Nava says that an early working title for the game was Dragon.

The whole thread is full of tidbits about the game: how a level containing scraps of scarf almost got the game a T for Teen rating, because players thought it was blood. How carefully managed the colour palette was across the game's arc, and Nava's recollection of the scramble to get the game's climax right "at the very last minute. I still can't believe we pulled it off. We scrapped an on-rails version we hacked in that didn't feel good and got a schedule extension to make it right. Thank goodness."

And finally, how something designed right at the start ended up being perfect for the end.

Journey is currently 50% off on Steam until March 17, and there's nothing like it. The thoughtfulness and craftsmanship that Nava's memories exude is a big part of why.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."