A perfect start.
"What you get from the system of the mechanics and the dynamics and the aesthetics working together is the feeling of joy. And so when you’re in this level and you meet another person, your immediate response to that person, the feeling that you have, is one of light-heartedness and oneness; similarity; humanity."
This is how Robin Hunicke described the guiding ethos and ultimate effect of Journey's design in a 2012 talk (embedded above). Those of you at thatgamecompany certainly know that you did well on this score, and the veritable torrent of critical acclaim stands as testament to your achievement should undue modesty make you doubt.
We dare say that your marriage of the mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics trifecta to the intended effect is perfect. But if it's perfect... where can we go from there?
From perfect to pluperfect.
"Play Journey with a random - and chances are that you will - and... you're left to focus on the core of the experience: a pilgrimage... The truly brilliant move [...] was to leave a space at the very centre of the design that only a stranger can fill."
Even this curiously backhanded positive review points to the most surprisingly distinct strength of the game: the magical multiplayer element. Over and over again, critics reach for words like "pilgrimage" and the language of religion and spirituality to describe the ineffably stirring affect that attends traversing Journey's landscapes in the company of another.
Less frequently noted, save for in passing, is the fact that there is no difference of affordance or ability whether the player sallies solo or makes their pilgrimage partnered. We view this as a missed opportunity.
Our modest proposal? Let's double down on the dynamics and aesthetics of pilgrimage as an intimate act with communal reverberations.
The power of stones.
It's amazing what import can accrue to intentionally placed rocks, isn't it? In some cases, like Stonehenge, the mysterious arrangement of large stones itself becomes cause for pilgrimage to appreciate the inscrutable strength of people from an era immemorial, an enigmatic force facilitating connection between past and present.
More common still, in more knowable times, stones (and other objects) are laid along natural trails, pilgrimage routes, or even on tombstones. They whisper to us wordlessly: I was here.
We believe that giving players that choose to travel together the opportunity to say we were here would be a compelling feature for any future iteration of Journey, one that allows the two-player experience to be distinctive and neatly underlines the magic of companionship.
Persistence of the pilgrimage.
Prior to introducing the mechanic, a major technical / design requirement needs to be addressed. The game world that players traverse while connected to the Internet would have to be a specific, persistent instance of that world. This is because what we are proposing is the ability for partnered players to make an indelible change to an environment that can then be observed by later players.
The minimalist intervention.
What follows is a description of the minimal design interventions needed to effect the proposed change. There are more complex possibilities, but this one preserves all of the mechanics and sight language of the game as they currently exist.
Consider the GIFs above. Both depict areas that mark the end of a game chapter, the transition to the next chapter initiated by a single player issuing a "chirp"—accompanied on screen by a glowing, effervescent cypher—a short distance away from a single triangular stone. These areas, being gates between different chapters of the game, are an unavoidable and ineluctable part of the player's linear progress. Notice that, in the GIF on the left, the area of effect for the chirp's ability to activate the stone is elegantly demarcated by a semi-circular assembly of obelisks; in the GIF on the right, the area of effect is also demarcated by an arrangement of obelisks.
For our purpose, we propose the creation of large areas demarcated by circular or semi-circular assemblies of obelisks that exist within sight of the linear path subliminally suggested by other features of the environment. At the periphery of the obelisk arrangement would be two triangular stones similar in shape to those found at the end of each game chapter, though smaller in size to imply a less crucial function. The presence of two such stones, as opposed to a single large one, should lead the player to intuit that two players are required to chirp to activate the area.
Upon the near-simultaneous chirping of two players within the area of effect, the glowing cyphers that accompany each chirp, instead of evaporating, would procedurally amalgamate. At the same time, a stone block roughly the size of the player avatar will spawn at a quasi-random location within the area, and the amalgamated cypher will "brand" the stone block. Such blocks can only be created once per "fellowship zone" per unique pair of players per instance of the game world, serving as an indelible testament to a unique moment of a unique partnership.
Given that each such "fellowship zone" will be spatially circumscribed, the quasi-random accumulation of spawned blocks would rather quickly cover its surface area. Once the surface area of the zone is relatively well-covered, the blocks should then spawn stacked on top of the first layer. Eventually a cairn-like tower of cypher-branded stones would serve as a monument to fellowship, consolidating each unique partnership and serving as comfort to pilgrims who tread a path beaten before them.
As previously noted, this proposal is the minimal intervention upon the game's design that could effect the desired goal. Other possibilities, such as enabling players to manipulate the blocks, would require more dramatic intrusions upon the existing mechanics.