Low-Res Communication, High-Res Emotions

Journey's is seemingly built on its restrictions: if you want to communicate, all you can do is make mewling or chiming noises at various levels of intensity, and run around meaningfully.


As a system, it seems fairly unique. Today’s Gordon Walton interview, about the Sims 2, reminds me that others have also tread this ground:

“One of the biggest fears in doing Sims 2 was when you make it more expressive, you’re going to lose a lot of the player connection where they’re making up what it means. Ten players might think it means three different things or more, and it was all OK. But if you actually see the character make an expression, then you go ‘Oh, that’s not what I was expecting’ and there’s more disconnect at some level. I think the numbers prove that out; even though all the products were successful nothing was a s big as Sims 1 because you could put more of you in it rather than it putting it on you.”

This is part of what Minecraft has going for it, according to Walton. “It’s so iconic that you’re filling in more of the blank areas,” he noted. “You have to engage your imagination to make that blocky guy look like what he really is. When you look at some of the early phone games you’re back to a more iconic thing and just raw fun, rather than it has to be perfect animation and perfect exposition of the character.”

Minecraft, Journey and The Sims are all among the best video games in the world, all with highly restricted communication. (Maybe that's also why Lassie was more successful than Mr. Ed?).

Walton seems to suggest that the advance of better graphics reduced sales of The Sims. But now that the craze for high-fidelity graphics has subsided, more games are finding non-verbal ways to communicate. For instance, the also-very-successful Superbrothers have a preference for visual communication over verbal:


Here’s what they had to say about perception, and the image above:

When you look at a picture of this dude, you’re seeing the shape, and your eye is hitting it on all sides, looking at details, seeing the whole thing, nonverbally reflecting on it. You’re kind of half-remembering images like this and the vaguely emotional associations and echoes that go with them.

This picture isn’t speaking to your intellect, it’s engaging the older mind, the one that is always looking for patterns and associations.

For those of us who want imaginative entertainment, the low-res nature of older games, or newer titles like Minecraft, tap into that “older mind” in a beautiful way. Journey’s great innovation is finding ways to be beautiful and high-res in parts, while still retaining the mystery, and letting the players’ mind fill in the full range of emotion.