Skip to main content

Introspection is at the core of puzzle game Old Man’s Journey

Introspection is at the core of puzzle game Old Man’s Journey


A moving game about moving hills

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Broken Rules

It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play, we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.

It may be called Old Man’s Journey, but this game is really a leisurely stroll through beautiful coastal hills and towns. The story begins with the titular old man receiving a letter in the mail that sends him on his travels, during which we learn the reason behind his solitary, introspective pilgrimage. Your job as the player is to help him navigate the rolling coastal landscapes by bending the terrain so he can break the laws of physics and travel between the hills in the foreground and those in the background.

Warning: some story spoilers ahead.

The two-dimensional world of Old Man’s Journey looks like it has the depth you’d expect in the real world, but it doesn’t really. Instead, in an M.C. Escher-like way, if one hill crosses another hill, the old man is able to travel between them as if they exist at the same depth even though they don’t appear to. While this sounds a bit confusing to explain, it’s much more intuitive in practice.

After making it through a few landscapes / puzzles, the gameplay feels easy enough. As the game progresses, the puzzles don’t get more challenging. Instead, you’ll come up against increasingly clever ideas regarding how you can interact with the physical makeup of the environment. At one point, you’ll be moving the hills to get a large stone disc to roll and break through a wall blocking the old man’s path; later, you’re moving a railroad track so it’s in line with the train you are on before it has to slow down.

Since he’s an old man, he can’t just walk endlessly. And whenever he stops to rest, the scenery and people he encounters remind him of things from his past. These memories are beautifully rendered images that are sort of like live photos or cinemagraphs that show a frozen moment in time with just a small amount of selective animation. For instance, in one memory, a younger version of the old man is looking intently at the sea, while his daughter pulls at him for attention. The water outside moves slightly, causing the reflection of light off of it to change, all while the framing of the image shifts around slightly as if mimicking an unsteady video. It gives the scene the illusion of being three-dimensional.

It’s through these memories that we learn the story of the old man, and how he came to be living alone. It’s a tale that is meant to make the old man’s plight sympathetic and his journey feel something like an introspective pilgrimage, allowing for the end of the game to be an emotional, redemptive moment. For me, the end of the game was emotional, but it wasn’t for this reason. Once I learned why the old man is alone, I lost any sympathy for him.

We learn through his memories that he left his wife and young daughter to go sailing, returning years later to find his old house abandoned and decrepit. That’s when he moves into the precariously placed house on a sea cliff face that we find him in at the start of the game. The game ends with him finally visiting his daughter, now an adult, and his ex-wife on her deathbed. The letter that kicked off his journey appears to have come from his daughter, telling him that her mother was going to die soon. It seems like it’s meant to be a redemptive moment for the old man, as he finally returns home, but I could only find myself sympathizing with the daughter.

We only see this story play out in brief memories, but it’s fairly clear that this is a situation entirely of his own making, one he seemingly made no effort to correct once he returned. Rather than the old man being redeemed at the end, this moment felt like one where the daughter hopes to reconnect with a father she thought she had lost after having lost her mother. It’s an opportunity for redemption, as opposed to one where he is somehow redeemed for just showing up.

But that’s just my interpretation of what was going on. The ambiguous story means that someone else’s take might be very different. There are no words telling you exactly what is happening, only brief glimpses of memories from the old man’s perspective. The gameplay and puzzle design act as something of a distraction, but not a frustration, while the game’s painted vistas and ambient music lull you to be almost meditative. The nature of the game invites you to be introspective, much like the old man you’re controlling.

Old Man’s Journey was created by Broken Rules. You can get it for $7.99 on Windows & Mac OS (Steam,, Humble,) $9.99 on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, and $4.99 on iOS and Android. It takes about an hour and a half to finish.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 25 Not just you

Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.

Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.

External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.