Journey's rolling deserts were designed to help players connect with one another, lead engineer John Edwards said during a GDC presentation.
Speaking at the "Sand Rendering in Journey" panel, Edwards explained how the team wanted to create a game that had an experience similar to finding someone on a hiking trail.
"There's this desire to connect with them in some way," Edwards said. "To say hello. You want to acknowledge them on a human level, which is somehow strangely uncommon in a lot of online video games ... We thought the best environment for this would be a vast and barren desert."
To understand the look and movement of sand and re-create it properly, the entire team took a trip to Pismo Beach. They spent their time running, jumping and diving through the dunes. According to Edwards, this trip was their primary reference for the game's sandy experience. Photos were used later.
Aside from tangible properties, the trip also helped the team ascertain how sand should look. Their findings are noticeable in the final look of the game, where the desert shimmers when light catches a dune.
"When you go to the dunes [you'll notice] just how sparkly it is," Edwards said. "Pictures do not do it justice."