PEGBRJE: The Night Journey and Far From Noise

Equal parts unsettling and hard on the eyes.

The Night Journey is a visual experience made by the Game Innovation Lab and Bill Viola, and published by USC Games which makes this the second game in the bundle made at USC. You play as a nameless protagonist who is dropped into a blurry monochromatic world, unaware of the surroundings and wish to understand more. Exploration is halted by a simple prompt to press a button to review your surroundings, and that is where the visual experience becomes a little more surreal. Upon clicking or pressing the button, the current location’s is altered in a vision-like state, where different things will occur: birds flying through vision that didn’t exist prior, close ups on eyes and other animals, buildings being built then disassembled, spooky whispering.

If this sounds a little confusing, you are not alone. I spent the majority of my time either being uncomfortably nervous of the whispers and imagery or wondering exactly what I was looking at or doing. Searching for secrets and clues to where I was headed lead to discovering many aspects of the map, which wasn’t as big as it felt due to the pacing being on the slow side. There is the ability to move in any direction, so seeing the world from different viewpoints isn’t hard when floating a few dozen feet above the trees. Yet even with all of these revelations, I still couldn’t figure out what was going on. As always I try to avoid researching a title until I completely feel I’ve completed a game, or fully grasped the mechanics and understanding in the cases that a game doesn’t really end. Thankfully, it only took a little nudge and a seed of knowledge to realize that this confusion and discovery was, well, the point.

The Night Journey is a game of discovery in life — that is to say, a vague exploration for enlightenment. There is no direction in life besides what you make of it, so there are no directions in the game at all. Reflections are terrifying closeups and whispers, which seem to resemble the feeling of actually reflecting on your own life, something many rarely wish to do unless it is on the success stories. The lack of colour, the blurry vision, the slow pace, everything is designed to simulate the difficulty of reaching enlightenment in life, or even just discovering what you wish to do with life.

Is this a perfect representation? I’m not certain. Games are so much harder to interpret and understand when they convey meanings beyond the simple ‘go there, kill things, rinse repeat’. Everything can be left for interpretation, just like the quotes that litter the game from different philosophers over the ages. The Night Journey is definitely a game that requires more thought than what it first appears, so if you wish to attempt a breakdown of enlightenment philosophies and discuss what it means to search for what you want in life, give it a try. It is 100% not a game for everyone, especially for those with visual impairments as the blurry visuals really strain the eyes and aren’t that easy to parse without constant exposure. Other than that, however, The Night Journey will give a short experience that may lead to an identity crisis, give eye strains or result in nothing. Kind of like life, funny enough.

Sometimes the only way to learn is through facing the inescapable fact of death.

Far From Noise is a narrative experience by George Batchelor, telling the tale of an unnamed female protagonist teetering on the edge of a cliff in her car. The entire game is narrative choices, giving the player dialogue to further the story onward as she contemplates her life while so close to possible death. As the day turns to night, she is met by a number of animals, mainly a stag, and continues her self-reflective journey til dawn. And yes, the stag does in fact talk.

It is these dialogue choices that are the compelling motivator of the narrative, that which shapes her views on the world and how the story continues. Every choice you make as she gives the opportunity for different dialogue between herself, and later on the stag. Her attitude towards all of the events is completely shaped by the player, which also means her philosophical viewpoints and her conclusions are solely drawn from you. She is a blank canvas of sorts, with a few personality traits that stay throughout but is ultimately left open for the player to mold. There isn’t even a time in which she is seen throughout the entirety of the game, furthering her ability to be replaced by the player within their own heads.

This intentional blank-slate character creation would fall apart if the writing wasn’t consistently thorough while also being clever — spoiler alert, Far From Noise is beautifully written. The protagonist is given very realistic states to feel as she stares at death itself, and has multiple options for disbelief at her somehow being able to understand a stag. The stag is a vehicle as well for contemplation, one with a completely different and more fundamental viewpoint of the world than the protagonist. He serves to contrast her very human reactions with tranquility and naturalism, bringing forth dozens of philosophically driven questions about belonging, the universe and ultimately the idea of fate and death itself. The conversations even have points where neither know what to follow up, and a silence hangs over the both of them as she in turn hangs over the cliff until either of them asks a new question. It feels so human, regardless of the bizarre nature of the situation, that it is hard not to become engaged in the questions either of them pose.

By far the most impactful part of this game for me personally was the segment just after the stag is introduced, in which he instructs her on a strategy to calm down and re-evaluate her situation. It’s a simple addition, and he didn’t bring forth anything clever or revolutionary, but it set the tone for his serenity immediately. He even calmed me down, and I wasn’t even certain of what I was exactly worried about.

Far From Noise isn’t a long game — the entire dusk to dawn sequence can be completed in roughly an hour. Yet the possibility for altering how the protagonist views her situation and reacts to different circumstances gives way to dozens of playthroughs to see all of the various viewpoints of the philosophical ideals. It also serves as a fantastic relaxation tool to listen to two entities discuss their involvement in the world from their different experiences at a pace you can dictate yourself. It doesn’t hurt that it is also visually beautiful, a simple yet stunning visual experience to accompany the already fantastic narrative. If you have an hour and want to contemplate your existence with a stag, give Far From Noise a run through.

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Jacob Vorstenbosch

Jacob Vorstenbosch

Just a Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.