Like swimming in an ocean of air
It was the early 2010s, a time which, to be completely frank, was mostly shit for me (what’s even worse is that it got shittier in the late 2010s). But amidst all the shit, I found comfort in the discovery of video games. It was during that time in my life when I aspired to discover as many games as possible. In retrospect, whether this was the right investment or a waste of time, I still haven’t decided. Regardless, I played a lot of games during that time, indie or AAA; I thought that if I dug deep enough, I would find an underlying beauty that nobody can see. To this day, I still haven’t found it. So, I played good games and I played bad games, but there was one game I skipped when it came out.
As I only had the PlayStation 3 for a few years, I didn’t want to purchase every game that just came out, but the ones that stood out to me. For some reason, Journey didn’t stand out enough, as I didn’t play it when it initially came out, and it was said to be a good game. Nevertheless, it only recently came out to the PC, so I decided to check it out.
The experience was interesting, as I had no context of what was happening in the game. Which is really cool, but I still didn’t understand what the game was about. As I interpreted it, there’s this guy clad in a stylish red robe, and he moves towards this mountain, which has a ray of light emanating from its centre. And “Red-Clad” has these visions of this giant version of him but clad in white, and it’s all shiny. As I see it, the guy seeks redemption or something, and the mountain is the answer he seeks. But forget about that; let’s talk about something more interesting.
There are no words whatsoever
I said earlier that I was given absolutely no context of what’s happening in the game. This is mostly attributed to the fact that nobody speaks at all. So nobody talks, and there are no discernible writings within sight. Of course, I’m not supposed to get what’s going on with that kind of design. But that’s ok because the characters in the game have a solution: they whistle!
Most of the characters that appear in the game are just sentient fabric and communicate by whistling. But that is their language and one that I do not share since what is easy for them is actually hard for me.
And that’s the problem! Because when I want to call them to refill my energy (that’s a common game mechanic), they don’t come, leaving me wondering whether I whistled at the right tone. What’s even more complicated is that I read, way back then, that there will be a multiplayer feature that will allow players to meet in a designated area, and they too can only talk by whistling. If there’s anything that Dark Souls taught everyone, it is not to trust ominous writings left by shady players because most of them are trolls. Of course, it’d be harder to do it in Journey since there isn’t the same amount of complexity, so there isn’t room for potential trolling. But that still poses the problem of communication since you can only whistle, and sometimes whistling isn’t enough.
Stop whistling and start talking
First of all, when it comes to improper communication through vague signals, it’s important to remember that it’s not bad at all in these conditions, given that there isn’t room for too much expression, as the game is very linear, ultimately removing any potential that there might be trolls (they are also a problem). In this regard, the game does okay, but then again, I don’t know whether they went with that multiplayer feature or not, so that’s probably not a problem.
But what is a problem is that I can’t understand the story. I suppose the sentiment of having an open-interpretation story is nice and all. But in the sense of classic games, whistling just isn’t enough. So for this, what requires is to design a game from scratch, and one where the developers know that they want a concrete story. But yeah, sometimes, leaving the story to your imagination is also kind of fun.
But, what’s even better, is that you can take the existing system that is “communication solely through whistles” as a concept that should be expanded upon, although probably not in the same game. Make it kind of like what they did with Oddworld back in the 90s (that’s something I plan to talk about in a different article).
So… people who whistle a lot…
What I would like to know is how people can make whistling such a complicated form of communication, even if it’s minimal. I’ve seen some characters in games, namely those in post-apocalyptic settings, that signal specific messages by intricate whistles. But what there is to know is if that’s applicable in real life. This way, it would be easy to interpret how to properly make an effective communication mechanic in a video game like Oddworld (again, but I just really liked that game).
Besides the whole language thing, which is not really a language per se, the flying scarfs in the game clearly understood each other. How does that work from a gameplay perspective? I’m sure the game designers can say something.
And then, I would ask gamers what they think, but I already know they don’t care.
The game is an awesome experience, although it did crash for me a few times, so I haven’t managed to finish it yet, it’s probably an experience for like 2 hours and then be done with it, but it’s worth it.
I don’t think whistling poses too much of a problem, as the game is designed to be minimal. If anything, someone should use it to make a game with more intricate communication mechanics and not just whistling. Now THAT is an idea for a good game.
Anyways, I’m off to play the original Oddworld in its original edition. Not the remastered wannabee from today (I don’t really like remakes).