Indiespill-stjernen Kellee Santiago om spilldesign

ThatGameCompany har med spillene Journey, Flower og Fl0w etablert seg blant de mest interessante indiespill-selskapene i verden. Mandag 16. april stilte designeren Kellee Santiago opp her på VG Nett for å svare på spørsmål fra leserne.

Tett på nett-intervjuet var et samarbeid med spillnettverket JoinGame, som møttes samme dag på NiTH i Oslo for å diskutere hvordan man kan gjøre spillutvikling til sitt levebrød.

På en time svarte Santiago på over 30 spørsmål.
124 Liker

Journey/Life out of balance

Innsendt av: KataMaren

JoinGame: I played Journey, and to me it was an experience similar to watching a movie, since I was constantly moving forward without very much hinders. It made me think of movies like Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, where the images flow across the screen without speech or voice-over. These are beautiful and powerful movies, where music and atmosphere are extremely important. But these kinds of movies can be criticized for having uncomplex messages: the flow and lack of "telling" leaves the viewer with only simple messages. Like these: "Nature is beautiful.", "Society is corrupt", and "Humans in modern cities lead pointless lives". Would you say that a game like Journey can have a more complex message than these? Or maybe it doesn't need to?
I think you hit upon something that makes games so unique as a medium - that unlike with film, players are also bringing their own history, backgrounds, and interpretations to the story to bring it to life. In a film like Koyaanisqatsi, it can come off as too simple and pedantic, because you are a passive viewer, being told how to feel.

In video games (when they're done right), the designer isn't telling the player how to feel, but rather, engaging in a conversation with the player about a subject.

And it looks like this will be my last answer here - thank you to everyone for participating, and have a good evening where you are!

Kellee Santiago /
119 Liker

The appearance of your character

Innsendt av: Long

How did the journeymen's (players) design end up looking that way?

PS: I did like how it ended up, though. :)
Thank you!

We started with a more human-looking bedouin character, which morphed into the character you see today as a result of a number of factors -

1) We wanted the character to be neither completely female nor male.
2) We couldn't support physics for hanging/climbing/pushing so we wanted to get rid of arms so that player's wouldn't expect to be able to do any of that.
3) We couldn't support a large set of animations, so we wanted to PC to leverage the existing cloth system in order to create the appearance of movements that seemed organic.

So, you end up with what you see today - a character wearing a giant robe. :)

Kellee Santiago /
113 Liker

Traditional games

Innsendt av: Sebastian

After Journey, fl0w and flower do you think you would be able to go into a big budget game (GTA, CoD, BF ect) and if so what expiriences would you bring with you into that process?
I don't think that kind of project is very interesting. Even 3 years on Journey was a long time to wait to find out if the ideas we had would work. I like being flexible to experiment and discover new ideas, and the bigger the project you have, the less flexible you can be.

Kellee Santiago /
113 Liker

Interaction / gameplay

Innsendt av: Adrian T. Husby

Does thatgamecompany have any specific guidelines about how you design interaction / gameplay? (What's too little? What's too much? What hinders emotional engagement? Do you have any criteria that features have to meet?)
They have to serve the emotional goals for the project. And we playtest every two weeks (at least), to always check if we are on track.

Kellee Santiago /
104 Liker

Story writing and games

Innsendt av: Kenneth P. Kleppe

In what way is a manuscript. Or story board needed to make a good game these days?
I've noted a increaseing use of what would be termed as movie methods or scenes to enhance the story
Sure, you can use storyboarding. Jenova and I got our game design education in the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, where many film directors have come from. We definitely use storytelling technique from film and animation when we approach storytelling in games.

Kellee Santiago /
120 Liker


Innsendt av: kai

As i see in most films and games, the music and soundwork determines the whole experience. It gives us a spiritual blueprint that our senses then follow. What thoughts went into those exquisite vibrations?
Thank you! This is a good point to mention that everyone should check out the site of Journey's composer, Austin Wintory -

We worked with Austin from the very beginning, when he and Jenova met to discuss the overall emotional themes Jenova was thinking about for our next project. Then Austin made the theme song for the game, that then became the backbone for the entire score. I think it helps having a composer such as Austin, who is just such a fantastic person to collaborate with.

Kellee Santiago /
123 Liker

Future for a game designer.

Innsendt av: Simen Fagernes

Greetings, I just have a question or two here which I'd like to hear what you have to say about.

I am currently in highschool but in the future I'll be studying game design where I'll aim to become a character designer. Is there any tips you could give me? And also, what is the common sallary for a character designer?
Make as many games as possible in school!

I don't know about Europe, but in the United States the typical entry-level designer and artist positions start around $45,000-$50,000 annual salary.

Kellee Santiago /
116 Liker

JoinGame: Dream game

Innsendt av: DrF

Hi Kellee!
What type of game would be your dream game if you had unlimited resources and skills on your team?
Honestly, Journey was pretty close to my dream game. I like experiences that invite me in to a world, to explore and discover at my own pace.

Kellee Santiago /
119 Liker

Journey DLC hell?

Innsendt av: Mike Journey was a somewhat short experience, though very impressive the time it lasted, are we gonna see dlc or expansions in any time soon?
Sorry, the are currently no plans for DLC or expansions. We really designed our games to be complete experiences from beginning to end, so it's hard for us to imagine how to alter them.

Kellee Santiago /
119 Liker

Recently Graduated

Innsendt av: Kevin Bird

I graduated with a merit in BA Game Art last year and have been spending all my time working on a portfolio and applying for jobs over the last year with very little luck. The amount of responses, even if it's just ones to say no, are so low that it's increasingly disheartening, especially as working in the games industry is all I've wanted to do for my whole life. Is there any advice you can give to a budding designer looking to get the foot in the door?
I've had experience on a short internship working with TT Fusion on Lego Star Wars 3, and am expertly versed in the use of 3DS Max, Adobe Photoshop and the Unreal Editor, especially the UDK, which I've been using for some 3 years now. Seeing as I have skills in other disciplines I would be quite happy to work in an art role and enjoy level design even more so than that, but it seems to be that there are increasingly less companies who are willing to take on a graduate, even on a contract basis.
Thanks in advance for taking the time.
While you are looking for jobs, you should be make projects that help build out your portfolio. Education or no, what employers are looking for is how much experience you have taking ideas and make them into games.

You should also go to networking events like a meeting of your local IGDA chapter, conferences (like the Nordic Game Conference), and workshops, to meet more people face-to-face from different companies.

Kellee Santiago /
114 Liker

which education is better

Innsendt av: Ina

Which education is better if one wants to be a videogame designer?
For example, can it be enough to have a bachelor in animation?
I think an education in game design is really the best path to becoming a game designer. I highly recommend the books Game Design Workshop, by Tracy Fullerton, and Rules of Play, by Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen.

Kellee Santiago /
117 Liker

The search for human emotions

Innsendt av: Jorgen Reberg

From my point of view, it seems as though thatgamecompany strives to make games that explore the emotions that build our sense of understanding. With flower I personally felt a deep relaxation, and for me that is a human emotion in itself, when all the things that trouble us and weigh us down is lifted off our shoulders. And more recently, with your critically acclaimed game Journey, I dare say you tried to unravel the very meaning of life, or rather, the meaning of our future. Why do we do what we do, why are we doing it, what lies at the end of the journey. But more importantly, what is the Journey about? How can we experience the journey without thinking too much ahead?

My question is this; Seeing as thatgamecompany strives to dig deeper into human emotion, what human emotion interests you the most? Which emotion would you be interested in to adapting to a game? And are there some emotions that are just too complicated?
Before I leave, I must thank you at thatgamecompany and yourself, on the behalf of me and one of my friends, Johannes, on making such incredible games. Thank you so very much.
Thank you so much for the support!

I don't think I have a favorite human emotion - the human experience does interest me a lot, though. I think people feel connected to thatgamecompany games, because we really put ourselves out there in each of our games. When any artist does that, in books, film, music, games, whatever, that's what I really enjoy.

I don't think every emotion translates into a good game. In fact, for both Flower and Journey, we tweaked the emotion we were going for during developement. For Flower, we initially started with an idea to feel like "giving love." But we realized that was too heavy and abstract - there are too many different interpretations of what that means. So we changed it to focus on finding harmony and balance.

Kellee Santiago /
110 Liker

Advice++ =)

Innsendt av: Joe Andersen

Hi! Big fan of some of the story lines. love to write and imagine. I don't play that much, but creating fantasy worlds and storylines sounds amazing! For me anyway. Think i can learn much from you. maybe if i'm lucky and you are impressed we can talk about a job opening if there is any. know this is along shot, but it can't hurt to ask ;-) after many years of struggling to get full control of my AD/HD i finally started to write down all the ideas. and with my imagination and a brain that literally never stops thinking. But the things i can imagine out of nothing is just so fantastic that i just have to do something about this wonderful gift. I think i can do amazing things with the right guidance sending you my email and would love to hear from you. But, if not then i wish you the best of luck in the future and keep up the good work!
- Joe Andersen 26yr
That's incredible that you are learning how to control your ADHD. You should look for game jams in your local area, and also pick up a prototyping tool, such as Unity, to start sketching out your game ideas into reality. It takes practice and discipline, but it's the best way to get your ideas out into the world!

Kellee Santiago /
111 Liker

Partical System

Innsendt av: Georg Engebakken

How did you develope the grass system in flower? is it one 3d asset with a scripted random pattern, or how was your workflow?
There's no 3D asset - the grass is completely procedurally generated.

Kellee Santiago /
114 Liker


Innsendt av: Marit

First of all, I loved Flower and Journey, and especially how you put the aesthetic (particularly with Journey) and explorative experience at the center of your games. They really are something else, and I enjoyed playing and re-playing them so much. Journey was a stunning experience.

What inspired your simple and elegant style and symbolism in the game? Also, did you have a message with your design, ideological or otherwise? If so, what is it?

Thanks again for design that stand out
Thank you so much!

The simplicity and elegance in all of our games is motivated by the desire to create outstanding game experiences with limited resources - so you have to go simple and elegant. The style of the symbols were influenced by Native American tapestry.

We don't really have messages, so much as explorations on certain ideas or topics. We don't pretend to have some big answer on life, but Journey presents ideas that we have - or really, it presents questions we have, that we think pretty much everybody on Earth shares.

Kellee Santiago /
111 Liker

Sound aesthetics

Innsendt av: Martin Musician

To which extent does you give creative freedom to the people making the sound. Do you have any tips as a game developers perspective what makes audio complement a game?

Our composer, Austin Wintory, and sound designer, Steve Johnson, worked with us from the very beginning of the project, as we felt that music and sound were both intertwined with each other, but also with game design. Design got just as much inspiration from audio as they did from the design.

Jenova and I aren't musicians, so I think the people making the sound had free reign to do what they thought would be good for the game. :)

Kellee Santiago /
110 Liker

Player Fellowship

Innsendt av: Spillborring

Thatgamecompany seem to search for a certain aesthetic, and Journey can easily be seen as the evolution of the ideas that informed Flower. However, the most interesting thing about the game to me is how you've managed to create a silent sense of fellowship with the other player characters you meet on your way, which almost accidentally seem to create certain stories, informed by the mechanic. The most ingenious detail of the gameplay is how closeness to other PC's increase your own power, which in the end-game becomes sort of a necessity, but not quite. Are you interested in developing the idea of fellowship between players in other titles, and if so, how? And would you be interested in doing an mmo-game?
Thank you very much for the compliments! Journey seemed like such as crazy idea for so long, it's been so great to have players express how much they enjoyed the unique multiplayer aspect.

I think the ideas around connecting people together online in meaningful ways are ideas everyone on Journey will continue to think about for awhile to come.

Kellee Santiago /
120 Liker

New to the indie-genre

Innsendt av: Niklas

I'm new to the indie-genre. And I was wondering what indie games I should be on the lookout for in 2012. I already have Pid, developed by Might & Delight, and The Showdown Effect, by Paradox Interactive, on my wishlist.

Keep producing games. Much appriciated!
I hope you get Journey, too. :) Right now I'm playing Fez on XBLA.

Kellee Santiago /
111 Liker

Any more games planned?

Innsendt av: Camilla

First, let me just say thank you, for two amazing games(I've only played Flower and Journey)! The atmosphere is fantastic, and you should've seen my face when I realized that the traveller I met in Journey was another player somewhere in the world. I was grinning from ear to ear, I loved that part! :)

Will we see more games like this in the near future? How long does it take to make these games, from idea to finished product? Take Journey, for example.
Thank you very much for the kind words! I hope we will see many more games like this in the near future, and that the commercial success of games like Flower and Journey will make it easier for other people to get funded and published who make these games.

flOw took about 8 months to make, Flower was 2 years, and Journey took 3 years. I hope to not take 3 years on a game again any time soon, but that gives you an idea of how long it can take. :)

Kellee Santiago /
113 Liker


Innsendt av: Eirik

Just wanted to congratulate you on some fantastic games!
Can you share some details on what you are working on right now or planing for the future?
+ Any chance of getting a code for journey on PSN?
Unfortunately, I don't have any codes for Journey - Sony is pretty stingy on giving those out. :)

I can't give any more details about what I'm working on now, but I will take this opportunity to link everyone to my recent announcement about my departure from thatgamecompany -

Kellee Santiago /
118 Liker

Young gaming enthusiast

Innsendt av: Pedro

What program do "THATGAMECOMPANY"
use? And were can i get it?
We used C++ for development on the PlayStation 3.

Kellee Santiago /
119 Liker

Team size

Innsendt av: Kim

How many persons are/was part of the development team in Journey?
We started with 7 and got to approximately 15, including the composer and Sound Designer, although they did not work in our studio.

Kellee Santiago /
115 Liker

did u ?

Innsendt av: tor

did u program or just design the game??
and if witch language did u use?
I was President of thatgamecompany over the course of flOw, Flower, and Journey, and had a variety of tasks including Product Management, Game Design & Direction, PR & Marketing, and Production.

All of our games were programmed in C++ with Lua, and utilized Maya for level editing (not on flOw) and modeling, and Photoshop for textures.

Kellee Santiago /
121 Liker

No instructions?

Innsendt av: Kalle

Great game! It's just so easy, yet fulfilling. I especially liked the first time another being (player) showed up. Eventually me and a friend managed to end up together and finished the game sharing the experience using skype.

My question is:
Did you ever consider the option of having no instructions, or explanations at all in the game?
You are the first person I've heard from that has managed to get together with a friend! I've been hoping that would happen.

What you see in the game as far as instructions is the most minimal we were able to get them. Our goal is to have a few instructions as possible - but we weren't quite smart enough to figure out how to have no instructions. :)

Kellee Santiago /
123 Liker


Innsendt av: Rune S.

A lot of different people usually have an idea about what makes a good game, and how the process are in making it. Clearly, I think most of the question will be about how and not about how you should not.

Do you have some ideas about what people do wrong the first time, that usually destroys the process?
Trying to cram a lot of different ideas into one game is a mistake I see most beginners tmake.

You want to start with ideas that are fairly small and contained - the Flash version of flOw is a good example, as well are Braid and World of Goo. You have to remember that Braid, World of Goo, Flower... these games still took years to finish. And they are all pretty simple at their core. The goal is to make games that will actually get done, so then you can have people playing them!

Kellee Santiago /
124 Liker

JoinGame: No multiple gave saves

Innsendt av: DrFinge

What inspired ThatGameCompany not to allow more flexible saving of game saves, e.g. being able to go back in time and restart from an old game save?
It came from the desire in each of our games to provide a seamless experience to the player, where everything happens within the world of the game (or, as much as possible). We wanted to limit the need for menus, and we didn't want to over complicate the experience of the game.

At the end of the day, we were making games that were going to cost less than $15 USD, with a very small team of less than 13 people. Allowing for multiple saves just didn't seem like a necessary feature to support, in lieu of other things we wanted to do.
Kellee Santiago /
120 Liker

Aestethics vs. Graphics.

Innsendt av: Nikolai Hegelstad

The games you are involved in does have some very beautiful aesthetics. Will we see more of this in games outside of the indie-genre as well?
I really hope so! I think the more game developers have an understanding of how their ideas translate into a functioning game engine, the more polished the final game experiences will be.

Kellee Santiago /
114 Liker

Prototyping tool

Innsendt av: JoinGame

What would a perfect prototyping tool for designing and sketching innovative gameplay be like? (for ThatGameCompany)
Whatever gets the job done! We've used Processing, Flash, HTML, C++.

Kellee Santiago /
114 Liker

JoinGame: Game Genre

Innsendt av: Alf Inge

All the three games FlOw, Flower and Journey are fantastic and extraordinary games. If you have to name a game genre to catalog these three games, what would it be?
We call flOw and Flower "Zen" games. But I think "Journey" is solidly an online adventure game. It's not a new genre so much as a different approach to an existing one.

Kellee Santiago /
113 Liker

Journey on PC platform

Innsendt av: Jonas

Any plans or possibility of seeing Journey on the PC sometime soon?

(I don't have, and will not buy a PS3 console.)
Journey was developed as part of an exclusive 3-game deal with Sony Computer Entertainment, and so will only be available on PS3.

Kellee Santiago /
122 Liker

Journey dragons?

Innsendt av: Sebastian

Why did you choose to include the dragons in journey, up to that point i felt i played something more than a game, but when i met the dragon i felt it sortof pulled into the reality that i was playing a game. Would it not be better if you would created a more looming danger that really did not affect you, but still scared the living daylights of you?
We tried many different ways to achieve the sense of a danger that scared you, but did not affect you directly, but were unable to do so. Through playtesting, we found that in order to make the player feel scared, you do have to threaten them just a bit. Otherwise, there are no stakes, and although something might look a little scary, if there are no consequences, then the player is invincible, and so unafraid in any situation.

Kellee Santiago /
127 Liker

JoinGame: Inspiration from other games?

Innsendt av: Alf Inge Wang

Was Journey inspired from other games? If so, what games?
We don't really take our inspiration from other games, as we find that when you're trying to do something new in games, it requires inspiration from other sources.

However, whenever we're working on a specific topic, we do as much research as possible, including in games, if appropriate. For instance, we were looking at other games during the development of Journey that also had unique online multiplayer modes, such as Minecraft and Demon's Souls.
Kellee Santiago /

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