I wish I could remember who on Twitter put up the link to the indie adventure game The Journey Down as I’d like to thank them. I was at work at the time, opened the link to the Adventure Game Studio website, saw the game’s good-looking screenshots, and, just on the basis of those, emailed myself the link to check out later.
This past weekend was the first in a while where I didn’t have to work and I didn’t have other plans—a clean-slate weekend, the perfect setup for getting in some video game time. It also was the perfect time to play an adventure game since I could be immersed in a story without interruption. Even though I have a to-play list a mile long I decided to install The Journey Down. I didn’t know anything about it but I was in a daring mood. I’m glad I did as once I started I couldn’t stop playing the game until I had finished it.
The Journey Down follows Bwana who runs a filling station on the harbor of the city of St. Armando. He and his best friend and mechanic Kito receive notice that the company that supplies the city’s power has been bought out and that the new company won’t be lenient about their huge, past-due power bill. At around the same time a mysterious woman shows up at their business asking about an old book that may, unbeknownst to them, be in their possession. The pair is soon involved in a mystery that leads them to helping the woman escape from the shadowy forces that seek to erase the knowledge she is searching for.
You get a sense a few minutes into The Journey Down the something very big and sinister is going on – something way bigger than the normal concerns of a harbor gas station. But Bwana and Kito’s carefree attitudes were infectious and I easily went along with their line of thinking – whatever the problem, everything would work out.
The puzzles in The Journey Down are the standard object-based, point-and-click adventure game fare and were balanced nicely with nothing too abstract or simple. The Afro-Caribbean styled music (which can be downloaded here) adds to the atmosphere of the game by lending a free flowing, airy feeling to each scene.
Besides having a good story, puzzles, and music, The Journey Down’s art style shines for an indie game. The game’s backgrounds are lovingly drawn in deep detail and its use of light sources on objects and in its scenes are superb. Again, throughout the game you get the sense that Bwana and Kito are living a life outside the concerns of everyone else and the massive landscape of the nearby, illuminated city helps exhibit that separation.
The Journey Down’s character design is something you notice immediately from the start of the game and was something I simply had to ask the game’s developer about.
Theodor Waern of Skygoblin kindly provided some insight into his game’s design and answered a few other burning questions of mine:
Austin Auclair, Zombie Apocalypse: Starting The Journey Down I was immediately struck by your character design – specifically, of course, your characters’ faces as masks. It’s a unique approach and one that I found to be very expressive. Why masks?
Theodor Waern, Skygoblin: I love African masks, I always have. I had one hanging in my childhood room for some reason. Though they often have crazy amounts of details, they also have a nice overall simplicity to them that really slims it all down to what matters: expression. Can’t say I was first though, using masks as characters in stories must have been done a gazillion times before. Not to mention the ever-awesome masks of Grim Fandango. Granted they aren’t so much masks as Calaveras, but still, the concept is the same. Less is more. If you make too big an effort at making something look life like you just end up with something that is hard to relate with, like say Gabriel Knight in 3d. But if you slim it down to the basics of Manny Calaveras big eyes and clenched teeth, the emotions flow straight through to the player without throwing them off balance with macabre almost-human art. I can’t say I bonded better with Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca than I did with Manny in Grim Fandango. Don’t get me wrong, I think Bogart is balls out awesome, I’m just saying you don’t need Bogart to pull it off, so why over-complicate things?
Austin Auclair, Zombie Apocalypse: I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the style of mask used, where are they from?
Theodor Waern, Skygoblin: Most of them are of African origin. Many are just made up out of nowhere, with all sorts of influences thrown in.
Austin Auclair, Zombie Apocalypse: From your description of The Journey Down’s origin in the game manual it sounds like developing an adventure game just sort of happened for you. But from your sketches online it seems like you had prior 3-D modeling experience. Did designing this game spontaneously happen or was developing a video game inevitable for you?
Theodor Waern, Skygoblin: I’ve made a lot of different hobby games throughout the years, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop trying out new things. I’ve always wanted to make a classic point n click game though as that genre definitely lies closest to my heart, and The Journey Down is the result of this desire. Had I not stumbled upon AGS I’m sure I [would have] stumbled upon something similar sooner or later that would help this dream come true though. But at another point in my life I’m sure it would have been a completely different game – I have many ideas bobbing around my head.
Austin Auclair, Zombie Apocalypse: I had a lot of fun playing Chapter 1 and am excited for the future episodes! Is there anything you hope to accomplish with the next release?
Theodor Waern, Skygoblin: On an aesthetical and technical front I hope to see a better integration of the characters in the game. Hopefully this will result in smoother animations and less of a “pasted on” feeling. Also I hope to have way more complex animated backdrops. This is totally up to if I can solve my codec issues though.
Story-wise I think the biggest challenge for chapter two is turning the whole world on a more serious side and somehow still keeping the same warm feel-good feeling of chapter one. Chapter two is a lot darker and a lot more serious. Hopefully this doesn’t scare people who thought this was a 100% lighthearted story away.
Austin Auclair, Zombie Apocalypse: If you were forced to choose, what’s your all time favorite adventure game?
Theodor Waern, Skygoblin: Well, I absolutely love Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island 2…. but in the end it has got to be Grim Fandango – There’s nothing but true storytelling magic there.
Thank you Theodor for taking the time to answer my questions! The Journey Down was a lot of fun and I encourage everyone to download and play the game right away. I can’t wait for the next installment in the series to see where Bwana and Kito end up.