Why Journey’s last song was the hardest to compose

We were in this constant leapfrog sort of escalating, escalating until Sony asserted itself as the
adult in the room and said, this game has to f****g come out someday. This is Austin Wintory, the composer for Journey, a game you might remember as a seamless,
dreamy tone-poem platformer, delivered fully formed
by the video game gods. Before there even was a game, Director Jenova Chen asked Wintory to
write a summary of the game’s music: a basic theme that could
guide their development. and can you do it in the next couple of weeks? And I walked to my car, which was maybe a
hundred feet and by the time I got there I had it. * cello solo, Journey’s main theme * Wintory says Nascence was
the easiest song to write. That wouldn’t be the case for Apotheosis,
the song in the game’s final level. After years of delays and creative dead ends,
nothing would be harder than figuring out the game’s ending. I was very keenly aware if I f****d this up, I will be single handedly responsible for ruining this game because there’s
nothing to fall back on. Journey tells a wordless story of exploration,
drive, and connection. One that intentionally follows Joseph Cambell’s
monomyth theory beat-for-beat. You know, the Hero’s Journey
(wink sound effect) A lot of the track titles in Journey draw
their names from the specific markers that Joseph Campbell put into his archetypal hero’s
journey, the stages the hero inevitably goes through on their path towards rebirth in the,
in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. And apotheosis tends to be that sort of last
great moment of transcendence before the rebirth. But before Wintory could get to Apotheosis… He had to help create the rest of the game. Jenova Chen, the creative director was very
adamant about letting the music be kind of like the emotional North star. Wintory would write music for a level,
send it to the developers and they would create a rough
prototype based on it. Then Wintory would play that level, get inspired and recompose the song. This cycle would repeat, over and over, with
Wintory constantly reworking songs to elevate their emotional resonance. Think of it as an artistic arms race. this process worked great… for a while. To help people follow this wordless story,
Wintory made use of motifs, or recurring musical formulas that correspond to
different elements of the game. The cello, played by the renowned
Tina Guo, represents the player. From the very beginning of the score, the
cello is all encompassing. * Painfully beautiful cello solo * The reassuring bass flute represented the
elder guides known as Ancestors. Hearing it feels like remembering a hug from
a grandparent. * bittersweet and somber bass flute solo * The orchestra first reveals itself when a
star shoots from the shining top of the mountain, emphasizing the ultimate goal of your journey. there’s a little sparkle of the orchestra to say, maybe there’s something bigger to this than just wandering alone in the desert. And the harp and viola represent
your online companions. This was one of the many dynamic
elements of the soundtrack. * inspiring viola and harp dueling solos * the score is like this accordion that can
stretch and expand and change shape based on how you play the game. And if you play through completely alone,
you’ll have a very different musical experience than if you play through with a person sporadically. And yet again, another musical
experience if you’re like tightly there together with
somebody from start to finish. Beautiful! It sounds like everything is on the right track! WRONG. The whole path up until that climactic finale
was starting to work really well. And then playtesters were just falling off a cliff. Every time the finale of the game would come
up, everyone would kinda go, eh. The finale felt like a letdown and that’s not something you
want when your final level is a glowing mountaintop you’ve been
running towards the entire game. Up till now, Wintory and the developers
had been working in tandem, each iterating upon the other’s work. But this time, the developers
cracked the code first. They figured out that in the final level,
players would be resurrected, and with a newfound power, rise up
to the mountain summit. And in parallel to all that, I was trying
desperately to figure out the music and, and constantly suffering as well. One of his first ideas was to
make the ascent sound (mystical voice) SURREAL. To get to the surreally it should be like
slow moving and no real discernible melody. It’s like when your eyes are almost entirely
closed and things start to just become blurry colors and shapes. He layered in a secret sauce that hadn’t
appeared in the soundtrack yet: a lush choir. * dreamy, aimless synthesized choir * This new element would combine with the cello
and flutes, and a host of percussion instruments to create a mysterious tapestry of sound. And short version, it was super boring. What a let down! You go through this stuff, you suffer in the snow. I’m trying to avoid spoilers even
though people have had 7 years to play this game You suffer in all the snow And then this magical thing happens And for the music to shift into this
very abstract sensibility felt like we’ve let all the air out. So Wintory took it in the opposite direction:
lively, energetic, and aggressive. It’s not about getting bigger, it’s about
momentum. It was like this galloping horse where the
music is just ticka ticka ticka ticka ticka * an overexcited version of Journey’s theme * And I listened to it not long ago again, and
I was like, what the hell was I thinking? Cause it sounds like it’s
The Fast and The Furious. It was a tonal mismatch for the score. Journey is a lot of things,
but it’s not aggressive. Wintory had overshot his mark. we’re in this beautiful poetic journey
of the soul and then suddenly it’s like, ALL RIGHT LET’S DO IT! These experiments were an important
part of the composition process. Wintory knew that the correct tempo lay somewhere
between slow and aimless, and fast and harsh. But he still needed the right inspiration. So he turned off the game. I’m just going to think about this idea and
I’m just going to try to compose as if I was writing a symphony or something. Up to this point, playing the latest build
of the game had been a sort of ritual for composing its soundtrack. At times, Wintory literally had one hand on
the controller and the other on his computer, composing. But not for this song. It wasn’t just the pressure of
nailing the finale that drove Wintory to throw out the
method that had worked so well; Journey needed to be finished, and soon. Sony had already extended its deadline twice. What was meant to take 1 year, was already 3 years into development. I was really desperate. We were really only a few weeks from being done. And this was years in So he began to write. And for whatever reason, and I have no explanation,
I just started playing around with it, kind of medium gallop of strings doing this Dot De dah de dah de dah de dah
de dah dah dah, dah, dah, dah dah. * invigorating violin melody * He had found the tempo,
he was on the right path. He pointed to a source of inspiration from
that year, in the Pixar movie Wall-E. And that scene where they’re, they’re
floating around outside the ship. I always was so mesmerized by, and I love
the score in that moment by Thomas Newman. But just that image of kind of dancing through
space and realizing there’s energy to it but it’s not fast and exciting. It gave him his eureka moment: that it didn’t matter that Journey’s
characters were slow moving, and floaty: they didn’t need to
move fast to be energetic. As Wintory wrote what
would become Apotheosis, he juxtaposed the soothing
main cello theme with the high energy violins. The big epiphany also was simultaneously be faster than I’ve been. And slower. We have this da ta to tee tah,
tah, dah, dah, dah, dah. In this little dance with each other and in
dialogue with the rest of the orchestra, but then below that you actually have the theme. (music noises) Very, very, very slowly. It’s literally, you know, bwaaaaa This technique is known as counterpoint. In music, counterpoint just means multiple
things happening at once. Sometimes things move very steadily. You know where like soldiers marching all together. But in this case it was more like an infant
crawling while Usain Bolt is running by. It also reinforces what’s happening
in the game at this moment. The player is empowered in a way
they have never been before. But they’re also retracing the skills and
mechanics they’ve encountered throughout their experience. It’s new and fresh, but at its core a
celebration of all that has come to pass, compelling you closer and closer to that mountaintop… But the song still didn’t have an ending. And neither did the game. Everything about the ending was just a
constant source of frustration and anxiety. And one of the biggest problems was the ending has to feel emotional The issue was coming down to the
literal last moment of the game. What happened to your character when they
finally reached the summit of the mountain top? How would Apotheosis end? How would the game end? And so Jenova was like, this needs to be the
moment of just maximum emotional fury. You know, Tina can’t play any louder. And the orchestra’s howling * ridiculously epic, not-Journey sounding music * It felt like I was yelling at you saying, FEEL THIS MOTHERFUCKER as opposed to inviting you to feel something. But by chance, Wintory was given an opportunity. He was asked to participate
in a video game concert, and volunteered to conduct a sort preview of Journey’s score. An independent expression of
what I think Journey is about, using that melody and using the cello but with freedom to do whatever
it wants because it’s not like it then has to go into the game. It’s just a concert. Once again, Tina Guo would play the cello,
and Wintory made extensive use of her skills. One of those is playing in higher octaves,
a tricky proposition for the cello… but she is just super human. And so, I wanted to write up there,
I wanted to hear her just sing. So I make the orchestra dissolve gradually
and then she ends up playing all by herself. And it just seemed like that’s
a nice way to end this piece. It’s not what we’re gonna do, Journey has to have a big, grand, epic ending… * Impossibly beautiful cello solo * It so happened that Journey’s development
team was in the audience for this concert and when they heard that
piece played this way, they realized what the ending really needed. * audience applauding and cheering * they saw the emotional
potential in less is more and if we dial it down to zero, everybody leans in, as opposed to this THX sound effect
that makes us lean back. They started changing the game and very quickly
it became this minimalist, you just disappear and the cello disappears with you. Apotheosis didn’t just synchronize with
the game’s finale, it pushed it in a new direction. And by happenstance, it was written in a moment
of Wintory’s own personal apotheosis. it really did change me as a human being and
it made me, I think a better person and it definitely made me a better composer because I never thought that
deeply about music and about the interaction between music and gameplay as three years of just trying to make it all it could be. Read the comments on just about any video
related to Journey’s music, and you’ll stories of some individual’s playthrough and the friends they made along the way. It’s a game that has enriched people’s
lives in ways few pieces of art do. The Journey score begins with cello, representing the player. Eventually, the orchestra swells up, laying
out the path ahead of you. And once you finally reach your destination, it fades away. and only the cello remains. * a gorgeous and melancholy cello note * Only you. * sustained cello note that would make an angel weep *

100 thoughts on “Why Journey’s last song was the hardest to compose

  1. Journey is still my all time top favourite game, and I have to thank Austin Wintory because I doubt that it would have had such an impact on me if the music hadn't been as amazing as it was. I was honestly in tears at the end of the game, and cried for 2 hours (seriously) after I finished the first time, because the music hit me just right that I was overcome by how beautiful the whole thing was. And Apotheosis? I still can't listen to it without crying, it's just that good. So thank you Austin. The effort was 100% worth it.

  2. Honestly, thank you Clayton. That was a fantastic video. And thank you to both the composer and thatgamecompany for making a beautiful gaming experience. I wish I could go back in time to the first time I played Journey and experience it again. It is such a good game.

  3. Every so often I think about what my favourite games of all time would be and Journey always climbs higher up that list. The score alone just fills me up; like it actually refuels me. I can't overstate how much I appreciate the team's work on creating such an incredible thing <3

  4. Phenomenal work on this video. I would love a series on video game composers (Harry Gregson Williams would by a dream come true)

  5. You nailed it though, Journey still makes me cry. The ending is just so melancholic? Like there's this anxiety of it all being over, building into a cathartic release.

  6. It's crazy to think that it almost didn't end the way it does because playing through it now it feels obvious that that's how the game should end. Great job on the music! Always my favorite and go to

  7. Man, why are you guys resurfacing my feelings for Journey after God knows how many years.

    Oh that game…

  8. Such a cool video! And if folks weren't aware, you're missing some lovely commentary if you don't have the captions on

  9. I remember playing this game and every time I replayed it, I always felt super emotional. I always felt moments away from crying because the journey had meant so much and I would have to say goodbye to my friend (if I was playing online or solo, my friend being the character if solo) and it was beautiful.

  10. This looks like sky, a mobile game with the same premise. It’s free. But as soon as I saw this art style I knew lol

  11. Journey is probably my favorite game after mother 3 and the score is the main reason. The Uber gamer nerd content I'm here for.

  12. Clayton, extremely well done. I've seen few videos that are as good at helping me appreciate and understand art as this one.

  13. Hey, Clayton? This is an excellent video. Thanks for making me feel some things. (sidenote, I'm going to go play journey again)

  14. Austin Wintory is a musical genius, as are all of his collaborators (Also, I appreciate the “Before apotheosis” graphic. Nicely done!)

  15. I'm literally crying watching this video, reliving this game. Journey–and definitely its music–literally changed my life. Thank you.

  16. I would LOVE to see more like this (even though it's a nightmare to make I'm sure).

    Ori and the blind forest (regardless of the actual game) has some AMAZING music, which is worth a look.

  17. Journey will forever be one of my favorite games. Austin did an amazing job, and I have never been so moved by a game in my life. I absolutely sobbed through the entire ending.

  18. This was a great peak behind the scenes and I really enjoyed Austin Wintory's visceral description of musical concepts! Did not even realize that the score changed when playing solo vs with someone else either, pretty neat little tidbit. He definitely knocked this one out of the park, I hope we'll be hearing more scores from him for some time to come.

  19. I was at Video Games Live in 2012, and I remember the best part of the entire concert was the Journey segment. Ah such nostalgia.

  20. as an aspiring musician and also a gamer ™ this is an excellent video! a peek into the mind of a composer is always something to be cherished 🙂

  21. The ending of Journey gave me chills. It still does. I still find myself playing it time to time and I think I might after watching this

  22. The Journey soundtrack is and will always be my favourite. I listen to it when I'm sick or not feeling well because it's calming and relaxing, and ngl? at the end of this video I had to stop because I began feeling overly emotional. And I'm going to go and listen to it again

  23. I had the utter delight of seeing Austin conduct a live performance during Animex 2018. It was an incredible musical journey, from his earlier work, through samples and covers of various soundtracks, down to a beautiful, heart-rending crescendo of Apotheosis as the final piece. I had never played Journey, but it moved me in ways I can't put into words. I made sure to pick up a copy of the game's soundtrack on vinyl before I left—and he even signed it for me 🙂

  24. Clicked on this thinking it was about the band but now I think I’ll buy this cool game I never heard of!

  25. Is this the prequel to sky: children of light? It looks so similar and the music is bone chilling. I love this.

  26. This is going to make me cry again because of how gorgeous this game is 🥺 the music is so breathtaking, thank you for exploring it in detail!

  27. I cried at the moment when you burst through the clouds and reach the summit. "I finally made it and it's beautiful". No other game has had that effect on me and the music played a big part in that.

  28. So good! I love this music and I love this game and this video really does it justice. Thank you.

  29. I was almost in tears by the end of this video. It wouldn't be farfetched of me to say that this game is probably the reason I fell in love with video games. It's one of the very few games I've played in my lifetime that (quite literally) hit every note perfectly

  30. This game was a true experience for me. I played it far later than many, but the entire experience from start to finish, the first time and eighth time, will always stick with me. Nacense always warms my heart, Road of Trials always gets my blood pumping, and Apotheosis always manages to beat the snot out of my feelings. The first time I ever played this, I was lucky enough to have a companion, who drew a heart in the snow at the very end as Apotheosis was finishing. Since then I've always felt that the snow was there to leave one last message to your companion. Hearing how much effort was out into that last track brings back all those memories.

  31. I always cry listening to journeys soundtrack – it’s so beautiful!! Hearing the composer talk on it is super interesting, I’d love to see more of these!! Maybe for Ori and The Blind Forest?

  32. dude i haven't played journey in seven years and this video still made me tear up multiple times just remembering that first playthrough. wtf

  33. Journey is the only game I've ever played that still regularly moves me to tears. Even after this long I still go back through and play every now and then, and every single time I still get those same emotional highs that came with the first time I ever watched someone else play it. I go back through every so often, don the white cloak, and hope to meet a little red robed player with those first one or two layers of their embroidery, and I walk through it with them right to the end. I will never forget the run done with someone I'm assuming was young and from Japan (just based on their user handle displayed at the end) and when we reached the summit of the mountain, they were so excited and drawing patterns in the snow, flowers and hearts and running in circles around me until we were ready to walk into the light together. Nothing hits me the same way and I still listen to the soundtrack all on its own when I'm out and about. It's a very warm and fulfilling game and every aspect is stunning.

  34. this is the game I chose for my game analysis that I handed in four days ago. It's the one that drove me to take up game design as a career and replaying Journey had me crying at the title screen. Austin's score is something I listen to on the regular and I can never be more happy to have sat down and played this game with the sole purpose of answering "is Journey a piece of art?" And considering I was crying within 0.5 seconds of playing, it really says something about Journey as an art piece that I never wanted to end but graciously let go of when my character faded into the light without me.

  35. it says a lot about the effectiveness of this soundtrack that hearing it years after i last played journey still makes me super emotional. also made me realise that it might've been the reason i picked up cello in the first place

  36. I genuinely cried with a feeling of nostalgia when austin was talking about how the last moments of the game and his final song was just the cello (which was so moving even now), it is just an absolute inspiration and a big thank you from me for nailing it. I cant even find the words to express my gratitude and emotions

  37. I freaking love Austin Wintory music, Journey's music was AWESOME thanks to him. But I gotta say, when he went with the Spanish guitar for CS:GO's main menu song (never played the game) I had to buy most of his tracks, an urge that become more and more apparent after playing The Banner Saga.

    If you ever do a tour in Spain or in France, I want to be the first to know about it Austin!

  38. I heard the word "Apotheosis" and immediately got a flashback to The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals and I leapt up from my chair singing, "NEVERRRRRRR"

  39. Austin Wintory's works don't just set a mood, but establish an entire universe that you're stepping into. Easily some of the greatest orchestral pieces I've ever heard, and I find myself listening to his work (particularly from Journey) when I want to reflect or meditate.

  40. Journey is one of my fave games. It was my first ever grind on a video game (the white cloak).

  41. This video is so beautiful, but I'm stuck on; "Feel this mother fucker" I'm crying from laughing so hard omfg.

  42. Journey is one of those games where visuals, gameplay and soundtrack come together to create just an immensely enjoyable and emotional experience. I have huge respect for the work Austin Wintory put into making the score fit so perfectly with the gameplay and the intense emotions it evokes.

  43. This game is so good. I haven't been moved by a game like this in a long time.

  44. This was absolutely amazing. Had a feel that was similar to this stunning video about why Ocarina of Time is the saddest Zelda game https://youtu.be/GyUcwsjyd8Q

  45. I can't even explain why, but I'm sitting here balling my eyes out watching this video. An amazing reminder of how much impact Journey's had on me and how much respect I have for Austin as a composer. This was amazing, polygon

  46. The Journey soundtrack is so important to me and Apotheosis is one of my favorite tracks of all time so seeing this video on my feed was a pleasant surprise!

  47. My local orchestra played Austin Wintory’s work. Talk about story telling. Whenever I hear the track time seems to stop. The room is submerged in the music

  48. This video made me tear up and I havent even been able to play the game yet. Wow! Amazing and heartfelt! Love this style of video so much!!

  49. A great video about the compositional process. It's amazing how even in the context of an interview, Austin Wintory's music still moves me.

  50. I’m so glad Journey is still getting the appreciation and recognition it deserves because it’s such a gorgeous and incredible game.

  51. I've never played Journey but years ago, I had an online friend who encouraged me to watch Pewdiepie's playthrough of it, and the music made my heart just swell. The ending made me cry, and I guarantee you it's due in large part to the music. Without any words, the songs pull and tug at the heart strings, changing your mood on a whim.
    The visuals were gorgeous, of course- I wanted to go there myself!- but the soundtrack to this game changed me 💕

  52. Why am I getting choked up again just hearing bits and snippets? Such a good score!

  53. Polygon, what is your opinion on COPPA and how it will effect Youtube and potentially your channel? Would love to hear your thoughts.

  54. you guys should do the same with Christopher Larkin the composer for Hollow Knight

  55. Knowing now how deeply the developmental relationship between the game and the music, both of which I still feel vividly to this day, just makes me appreciate the hard work that went into making Journey what it is: an embarkment and a return home. Thank you, Austin Wintory, and thank you Polygon for this video. I think I have to play Journey again now because my soul is gonna eat itself if I don't feed it some catharsis

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