Games of 2012: Journey

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.


I was born in 1980. It wasn’t too long after my birth before I could be found playing video games.

I have lived through the Atari age, the Nintendo hey-day, and the 16-bit wars. I have watched the popularity of arcades rise and fall in long cycles. As a song famously states, I was there.

As happy as I am to gripe about the state of the industry, there are positive threads that run counter to the negative ones. And one of the best success stories of those threads is thatgamecompany’s Journey.

Journey 2

Journey is a beautiful but simple game. It resembles a 3D platformer, with a very limited control scheme – I believe there may be two buttons to use. Your goal is to travel to the light you see coming off the mountain in the distance. You may travel alone, or you may happen onto a companion – played by a randomly matched player on the network, who you can’t really communicate with.

When I consider Journey’s existence, this is what strikes me:

Journey came from a relatively small studio, one that started making games for USC game innovation lab research projects.

Journey was initially released digitally only, avoiding the cost and risk that comes with trying to get a title onto a readily shrinking number of retail shelves. (A retail version did come later, but it was a bundle of three games.)

Journey has a friction-free network function – companions drift in and out of the game, without server browsing or firewall reconfiguring or friends requests. It’s less a game with multiplayer and more a game that just involves other people.

Journey has a strange, ambiguous storyline that’s open to interpretation. I’ve read people argue it’s about life, or death, or rebirth, or companionship, or religion, or God. (I have my own opinions but I don’t wish to argue them tonight.)


Could a game like Journey exist at any other point in the gaming industry’s lifespan than right now? It feels like it could not, like the pitch would’ve been shot down and laughed out of the room by business executives. It needed to wait until the industry changed as much as it has in recent years.

For all the negativity I have about the gaming industry, I have to recognize that titles are emerging unlike anything we’ve seen before. I can only hope the industry keeps evolving, because the world needs more experiences like Journey.

(There are five games left in my Games of 2012 quiver, and all of them (save tomorrow’s game) share a similar pedigree: I can’t imagine them existing in any year other than now.)

Journey is available for the Playstation 3.

Created Narrated

Tracing “Cain”

Ted Leo - Blurry Hands

“We literally wrote this this morning.”

August 26th of 2005: a crowd of us gathered at the South Street Seaport watched as [Ted Leo and the Pharmacists]( played the one song of the night no one knew. No one sung along, no one lipped the words – we just listened. And I, in a moment of lucky forethought, held my camera aloft and [captured the whole thing](

The [MP3]( was at first labeled just “Untitled Ted Leo Song” – but soon [renamed]( to the best guess off the set list, “The Sons Of Cain”. After getting heckled by a fellow fan, I asked Ted for his (albeit late) permission to distribute; he was kind enough to grant it.

A few months later, the song was again performed on KEXP; the considerably better audio quality led to an MP3 of that making the rounds as well.

Both of the TL/Rx shows I went to after that featured Sons Of Cain on the setlist, and it was an odd feeling to hear it played live again – not only because I had played a role in people recognizing it, but because every new performance was a little more refined than the one I had heard prior.

It’s weird (and a bit possessive) to think about, but Sons Of Cain is the first new song Ted wrote for an album since I started listening to him. There’s a strong attachment there, as each new playing gets it closer to being “done”.

Skipping to the end: Pitchfork, in conjunction with Touch & Go, have released The Sons Of Cain as a free MP3, in preparation for the release of *Living With The Living* on March 20th.

All four versions I’ve come across on MP3 are below. So compare, contrast, and listen as the song evolves:

* [The Sons Of Cain: South Street Seaport, August 26th 2005]( (self-recorded)
* [The Sons Of Cain: KEXP, September 27th 2005]( ([source](
* [The Sons Of Cain: South Street Seaport, August 25th 2006]( ([source](
* [The Sons Of Cain: Album Version]( ([source](

As a special bonus option: I’ve mixed the four songs together, each version getting about a minute. Most of the difference in feel comes from the various recording methods, but you can still listen as the song evolves.

[Download The Sons Of Cain (Four Ways Mix)](

(thanks to [Alan Williamson]( for the inspiration for this post)