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Interview: Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago discuss “Journey” as it ventures into beta today

Interview: Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago discuss “Journey” as it ventures into beta today (photo)

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How would you act if you came upon an unfamiliar face in foreign lands? What if you couldn’t talk to them and neither person knew who the other was? Would you help them? Walk away?

Indie dev studio thatgamecompany poses these questions in “Journey,” an experimental game due out for the PlayStation 3 later this year. TGC remains best known for their moving 2008 release “Flower” and fans of their work have eagerly been awaiting the studio’s take on multiplayer game design. In “Journey,” players wander a series of sandy, craggy abandoned landscapes as mute avatars wrapped in flowing robes. With no spoken dialogue and no text, you’ll only have movement and distance as means to communicate with others. The game will throw challenges–windstorms, creatures, slippery summits to climb–in your way, all of which are better tackled with companions. But, the gameworld won’t be a bustling virtual city like the New Marais of “Infamous 2.” No, you’ll go miles walking through the desert sands of “Journey” before encountering someone. That way– unlike other games where there are partners aplenty–it actually means something.

Sony’s launching a limited beta of the game today on the PlayStation Network, to help test out how the groundbreaking title will function once it’s out in the wild.

“Journey” makes everyone a stranger. It takes away the chatter and other customization identifiers common to online games to try and get at truths about human interaction. I spoke with TGC’s Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago about “Journey” and what they hope players experience in the game.

Jenova, I saw your talk at IndieCade where you and Robin Hunicke ran through various early prototypes of the game, and it was fascinating to watch how “Journey” has developed from those initial stages. What would you say is the kind of emotional vector that you’re aiming at with “Journey”?

Jenova Chen: It was a lot easier for “Flower” because it is a single-player experience. With “Journey,” we created an emotional arc for two different scenarios. So, if you play alone, it’s a good game. You have what we think is a complete emotional arc. You will feel, I guess, a sense of transformation in the single-player. Because it’s a hero’s journey.

But, if you play multiplayer, there is a different feeling we are trying to accomplish. It’s hard to describe. We had an experience even in the earliest prototype. It’s those moments where you know that the thing on the screen was just a dot, just a vessel. It doesn’t have any body language and can’t really emote. But there are moments where you understand that person controlling it completely. That’s magical to me.

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You mean when you come upon somebody and even the fact that you can’t read anything or hear anything, you feel like there is a moment of connection?

Jenova: Uh-huh. And that’s one thing I really enjoy. You certainly hope that there are more moments like this. As the density of players increases, so will the frequency of encounters and we might hear of these moments happening more.

The other thing we had in mind is just changing the impression of online play now. the impression that, if you think about playing with a stranger online right now, there’s some kids, you just don’t really want to play with them. And also, most of the games are competitive. And even, let’s say, “Left 4 Dead,” where it’s co-operative team play, people do bad stuff.

Kellee Santiago: It’s super-stressful.

Jenova: Because you have a gun in your hands. If everybody only had a medical patch, it would be different. So I hope that after people play “Journey,” if the game can make you have a better faith or belief or trust with online strangers, that would be a great accomplishment.

thatgamecompany Shares Journey’s First Trailer – PlayStation Blog
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That’s a very lofty goal. But it’s interesting because you can’t communicate with other people in the game. So, if they’re annoying you, you only have one option, which is to walk away from them and hope they don’t follow.

Jenova: Or press pause.

Or press pause. Yeah, yeah.

Kellee: You can communicate. I mean what you just described, in “Journey,” is someone communicating to you that they don’t respect you and they really don’t want to spend time with you. So, the way you communicate is through your actions by walking towards someone, calling to them softly, trying to help them complete something. You communicate that you’re willing to play with them, just the same way that kids communicate on a playground before they really know how to talk to each other. I think that’s very important.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.