Book Review: 'The Art of Journey' Shows The Path To Making A Beautiful Game

Unless you don't keep track of this sort of thing, Flower developer Thatgamecompany dropped another release over the summer to predictably ecstatic reviews and strong sales over PSN. The wordless, co-op friendly action-adventure title was definitely outside of the developer's regular wheelhouse, but from its spare, evocative design to its emphasis on gameplay as "meaning" Journey was still recognizably a Thatgamecompany release.

This would be the point where I said "if you loved Journey, you'll love The Art of Journey," and that's true as far as it goes. But besides showing off the work of Thatgamecompany Art Director Matt Nava and the journey to getting Journey made, it's also an open and honest inside look at the sometimes circuitous path of game production and realizing a particular vision.

The Art of Journey is broken into five chapters along with an additional 26 pages of fan art. "Character," "Landscapes," "Architecture," and "Sequences," reveals how Journey resolved itself into focus from an art standpoint, with Nava providing running commentary along with way alongside the ever-evolving art style of the game. The "Character" chapter, for instance, reveals Nava searching for the perfect articulation of the game's voiceless leads. Shape and excessive detail or really anything that would make them too specific and thus potentially unidentifiable for the player smoothed away.

Reading Nava's notes here, it should be instructive to both would-be artists and designers how important the collaboration is between these two groups: Nava, for instance comments in "Character" about the early players' frustration with being unable to climb in the game. This vexed the design team until they realized that the characters' having arms that seemed useless was the point of irritation, and Nava reworked their design to remove the arms.

Similarly, in the "Landscapes" section, Nava talks about coordinating with Journey's lead engineer, John Edwards, and he relates how their initial discussions about color and height of environmental objects ultimately led to the ultimate vibrancy of the overall game look.

One other lesson: an artist (or designer/engineer/writer etc.) should be willing to not only fight for their work while being able to kill their babies. Nava doesn't dish on any deep scuffles within the Journey development team or anything like that, but the book is useful in that it shows the two steps forward, three steps back process that can take place during development (or really any collaborative endeavor). With The Art of Journey, the reader is not only seeing the game take shape, but art coming into focus as all of the oarsmen on the boat start rowing in the same direction.

The one letdown is the included AR feature which allows you to view the handful of specially-marked pages using the Journey AR Viewer application. Holding your smartphone over the page reveals a brief animation with a snippet of music from the game, but it's such limited interactivity with such a narrow range of access (I kept having to keep my phone's camera tight on the page), that you wonder why Bluecanvas bothered.

That's one small strike, though, against an otherwise stellar work of art about constructing a work of art.

The Art of Journey is available now from Bluecanvas Inc.

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