An Interview with Austin Wintory, Composer for PS3’s Journey

Journey is unique. Players assume control of a cloaked character as it walks, either alone or with an anonymous partner, through a desert bound for a looming mountain in the distance. They’re given no map, no verbal instructions and no clearly stated objective. They’re just set into the new world and nudged in the right direction … if there even is a “right” direction at all.

Journey is the upcoming PlayStation 3 game from Thatgamecompany. The developers have worked on other titles for the PSN before; both Flower and flOw comprise their roster of finished projects.

What I personally saw of Journey during my brief time with the game at E3 was remarkable. Thatgamecompany clearly wanted to put a strong emphasis on their project’s aural design as I was given headphones and not spoken to during my entire playthrough. You’re not given headphones at every presentation you visit. It was especially odd for this game because it was physically set in  a small space on top of Sony’s booth. The space was certainly quiet enough to hear every other game in the area, and yet Journey had headphones.

We were able to chat briefly over this last week with the game’s music composer, Austin Wintory. He offered up a bit of perspective in regards to working with a studio like Thatgamecompany. As he put it, “they don’t hide the music below explosions and screams and other sound effects.” Considering both flOw and Flower, Wintory’s absolutely right. Most sounds in both games don’t come close to the emphasis on the music.

“As a composer, I’m as much a storyteller in the game experience as they are. So it’s daunting, but ultimately wonderful. That is, assuming I do a good job! I’m proud of my work on flOw and I think my friend Vince [Diamante] did a beautiful job on Flower. So pressure’s on with Journey and needless to say I’ll be sweating bullets the night before release ….”

Wintory was obviously shielded from offering too many spoiling, revealing tidbits about the mysterious property, but he was able to share a lot of insight concerning its roots and tone.

For Wintory, the project started with Jenova Chen, Co-founder of Thatgamecompany. The two sat down and talked about what Chen and the studio wanted to do next.

“He gave me a description of what he was after and we talked a lot about mythology and Joseph Campbell,” Wintory told us. Joseph Campbell, for those that don’t know, was one of the most revered scholastic minds in the field of comparative mythology during the 20th century. His work on the human experience is said to have had great influence in all forms of art. In fact, films like The Matrix and Star Wars have all, by their creators’ admission, been influenced by Campbell.

“He said ‘go write a theme that summarizes all this,’ so I did and that exact piece is what you hear in the trailer.” The trailer in question is the one you’ll find a few paragraphs above this line.

Wintory continued, “… the game deals with archetypes like those in Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey (from “Hero of a Thousand Faces“).  Naturally, the music must have a universal archetypal quality to it also, which is both a challenge and immense joy to write!”

Wintory worked with Thatgamecompany before on flOw (trailer above). We asked him what it was like to compose the music for the two strikingly unique properties, flOw and Journey. He explained that “in certain ways they’re very similar, and others it’s like night and day. flOw looks simple on the surface, but was deceptively complex. [Journey] is somewhat the opposite: it seems far more complex, but my goal has been to be deceptively simple.”

Part of the seemingly complex, yet deceptively simple, portion of Journey lies in the multiplayer aspect of the title. It is, at its core, a multiplayer experience. However, the multiplayer happens on an anonymous level. Players can’t talk to their in-game companions. They’ll never see these stranger’s user names. They just work together on this trek. Wintory explained that “making a great multiplayer experience, through the music specifically, has been a TOP PRIORITY for this game since day [one]. Hopefully, as a player, you’ll experience something here that you’ve not really ever experienced before …”

Gamers will get a chance to jump feet first into the sands of Journey when the game releases for the PlayStation 3 on the PSN later this year.


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Joey Davidson

Joey Davidson leads the gaming department here on TechnoBuffalo. He's been covering games online for more than 10 years, and he's a lover of all...Joey Davidson leads the gaming department here on TechnoBuffalo. He's been covering games online for more than 10 years, and he's a lover of all...