TIGInterview: Jonathan Blow

By: Leigh Christian Ashton

On: May 11th, 2009

Jonathan Blow

I’d find it hard to believe anyone visiting these pages would need an introduction to Jonathan Blow, the amazingly talented game developer/guru seems to be everywhere at the moment, his game Braid being the darling hit on Xbox Live and having recently stormed onto the PC. I took the opportunity to fire some questions over so that he could pour some honey into my ears in reply (except, being an email interview, i guess it would be my eyes? and metaphorically at that?)

Anyway, without further ado, please read on..

Leigh: Jon, hello, thanks for taking the time to answer some of my questions. Could you please introduce yourself to the crowd?

Jon: Hi, my name is Jonathan Blow. I make games! I started out in games as mainly a technical guy, but recently I have been thinking ever-more about design, and on Braid I cared much more about the game design than the technical parts.

Leigh: You’ve just released Braid on multiple distribution platforms for the PC. With a longer than average development cycle for an independent developer, you must be pleased to see it finally go out the door?

Jon: It’s nice to have the game (mostly) done. There’s still the Mac port to watch over (though I am not handling the porting of that; Hothead Games is doing it), and the question of whether Braid is going to appear on any other consoles.

Leigh: Though originally developed for the PC, you released Braid first for the Xbox 360, Did this add substantial development time to the project? How complete was the PC version prior to the switch?

Jon: The Xbox 360 version definitely did add substantial development time to the project; there’s a lot of work to do for a platform like that. However, there wasn’t really a “switch”. It was up in the air which platform would be the first release, and eventually I decided on the Xbox 360. At that time the game was pretty much done from end to end, in terms of the number of levels and the puzzle design, though that had been true for a while (the IGF award-winning submission of Braid was the complete game, and that was back in December 2005; I signed with Microsoft in mid-2007). Even after the Xbox 360 was chosen as the target platform, there was a lot of work left to do on the basic game — I was still working heavily with David Hellman to determine how the game would look, and to produce the graphics and do the programming required to place them in the levels.

Leigh: Has the PC version benefited in any substantial way from the inclusion of a port to the 360?

The Braid Title Screen
Jon: It was nice to have a solid, well-defined platform to focus on while finishing the actual game part of the game, before having to worry about all the programming involved in dealing with PC compatibility issues. So I think the game benefited some from my being able to focus on a single tangible experience that the user would have.

Leigh: Braid feels like a game you want people to become emotionally engaged in more than just played, do you feel its important for games to be more than a test of skill or memory?

Jon: I wouldn’t ever claim that all games should be a certain way. There are a lot of possibilities for where games can go, and it’s probably a good idea to explore them all.

Leigh: Is it better to elicit emotional responses through gameplay or narrative? Does it matter if either is well done?

Jon: I gave a whole lecture recently about why I think story-based games have a lot of problems. Here’s the link: http://braid-game.com/news/?p=385 . If a designer is thinking about making something emotional through narrative, I would encourage some kind of narrative structure that is not trying to be a conventional linear story. Of course the gameplay route is also full of untapped potential, but there are reasons why it can be difficult to make headway there, which I discuss in the lecture.

Leigh: You spend a lot of time making prototypes of different gameplay mechanics, is it as much about implementation as innovation?

Jon: If you mean about enjoying the craft of programming… I have to admit I don’t really enjoy programming very much any more, because in order to get things done I have adopted a style of programming that makes it as simple as I can, so that it is just easy to get things done, and it only requires time and a lot of typing. So I am not really solving any difficult puzzles or challenges when programming, as beginning programmers might. On the plus side, this means I can program in a relatively efficient manner; on the minus side, it’s a less-engaging activity. I make up for that on the design side; whether I am making a prototype or a full game, it’s about exploring some interesting space of ideas. Programming is now just the implementation detail of how I do that exploration.

It’s not really about innovation so much as exploring interestingness. There is this idea of chasing innovation in game design that I used to be a big proponent of, but that I now suspect is a little bit misdirected.

Leigh: You’re not afraid to throw away cool ideas when they don’t feel right at the prototype stage. A lot of other developers might not be so detached from their ideas.

Jon: These things are true! I try to encourage people to be willing to delete stuff that is mediocre or just kind of good – or at least put that stuff in a closet for some future day – so that they can focus on the stuff that is great. Many people don’t think that way, though. When it is so hard to get anything substantial done, you just don’t want to throw away any of your hard-earned progress. One solution is to make it easier to make progress.

Leigh: Should all games try to innovate? Is re-interpreting the implementation of an innovative new mechanic as valid? I ask because it’s worth noting a number of games have time-play in them now.

Sorry, but the princess is in the other castle..
Jon: I think gameplay innovation can result in things that are interesting, but at the same time it doesn’t automatically result in something that is deep — often it’s a gimmick. I am interested in deepness and richness of game design. You can get that with deliberate innovation or without; I think the issues are orthogonal. At the same time, I think if a designer is working on something he really cares about, and is really exploring some ideas in his own style, bringing his own particular insight to the table, then he will automatically come up with something different than most other games; furthermore, this will be a deeper, more-compelling kind of innovation.

That’s what I meant earlier about the deliberate chasing of innovation being a somewhat misguided pursuit. Yes, you can make neat stuff that way, but the innovation will come to you for free if you do things a different way, and you are likely to end up with a different result.

To take a specific example, Braid would be kind of interesting if it were a game with gimmicky time-manipulation mechanics, but I think that many players find it more interesting than that because it is built on a core philosophy and a thorough exploration of a certain set of ideas. Players can feel that, even if they can’t say what the philosophy is or explain the ideas being explored.

Leigh: With talk of innovation and emotional investment, there are still some very conventional design choices like jumping on the head of monsters, moving platforms, ladders, levers and collectables. Is this saying fundamentally there’s not so much wrong with games as they are, they just missing those one or two extra ideas to make them more worthwhile?

Jon: I did these things because they were right for Braid; for another game, I would do something completely different. I don’t think you should take the presence of these elements in Braid as any kind of statement about whether anything is or isn’t wrong with games as they are.

Leigh: Can you talk a little about what inspires your design choices?

Jon: I’d like to, but this is a very broad question. Hopefully in the previous answers I have at least given a little bit of information about this.

Leigh: What about games that you enjoy, are there any real favourites you can say have had an impact on you in some way?

Jon: There are a lot of games that I’ve played that I enjoyed and that influenced the design of Braid. Probably too many to name. Games that currently spring to mind as “favorites” are very different and probably didn’t influence Braid too much (examples: Netrek, and Counter-Strike sometime around the beta 4 – beta 5 timeframe).

Leigh: Since Braid is a platformer, I want to tell you my favourite platformer of all time was The New Zealand Story. Any chance of a remake with time reversal? :)

Jon: I never played The New Zealand Story! Maybe I’ll be able to check it out sometime.

Leigh: Heh, I was only joking, but have you ever wanted to remake any old favorites, felt there was an opportunity missed that you’d like to explore?

Jon: I often get the idea to remake old games, though I usually don’t do it. Actually, though, one of the earlier ideas I was playing with in Braid was that there would be secret levels with remakes of classic games, modified with the time rules of each particular world, accessible when you finished each puzzle. I had an entire remake of Mountain King in Braid at one point. I think it was better than the original Mountain King, with more-sophisticated gameplay, but it didn’t fit what Braid was becoming, so I eventually took it out.

Leigh: Thanks for your time Jon! It’s been really great to hear from you.

Jon: You’re welcome!

Jonathan Blow created Braid for the Xbox 360 and PC which is available now at various digital outlets. You can view the Braid website, Jon has a blog and he is also a workshop organizer at The Experimental Gameplay Workshop

To top it all off, he’s an indie superhero who could talk the hind legs off a donkey, bravo sir!

  • Paul Eres

    I think Jon somewhat speaks against himself with these two claims:

    “I wouldn’t ever claim that all games should be a certain way. There are a lot of possibilities for where games can go, and it’s probably a good idea to explore them all.”

    and

    “I gave a whole lecture recently about why I think story-based games have a lot of problems. Here’s the link: http://braid-game.com/news/?p=385 . If a designer is thinking about making something emotional through narrative, I would encourage some kind of narrative structure that is not trying to be a conventional linear story.”

    A lot of people enjoy games with linear stories, and a lot more can be done with that than has been done (I’d love to see more games like Planescape: Torment for instance), so why shouldn’t that direction be further explored, just like all the other directions? :)

  • sinoth

    Is that a KoL shirt? :)

  • Esquar

    He’s saying he would encourage developers to try something different, story-wise, than what has already been done. He’s not demanding it though, just suggesting.

    There were some cool questions in there.

  • AGuy

    I don’t think Planescape: Torment necessarily counts as “conventional” linear. There were a lot of things you could do that changed certain parts. While for the main story you did travel in more or less a set path, there were also your teammates to consider, and all of the various dialogue choices which contributed a great deal to any emotions the player might have felt.

    Connecting this back with the interview, I don’t think he necessarily means avoiding linearity *completely*. (Then again, maybe he does? But that’s my take on it.)

  • Jonathan Blow

    I wouldn’t ever say that a game should not have a linear story. Just that if it does, and it fails to provide a core value proposition besides that linear story, then it’s not going to be as well-executed/compelling/deep/meaningful to people as a story told in a linear medium.

    But hey, you can still make that game if you disagree. etc.

  • magallanes

    Hi there:

    I played Braid, and while artistically is fine but the rest is meh, in fact is boring.

  • Trotim

    Wow magallanes, that’s a great review.

  • Gravious

    Frankly I’m still in shock that Jon hasn’t played The New Zealand Story..

    Surely the finest arcade platformer ever?

  • http://www.dyson-game.com Alex May

    @Gravious:
    Maybe at the time! I tried it again recently and it hasn’t stood the test of time for me. Way too hard and punishment-happy. However I still love hijacking some of the weird vehicles that are around, and the secrets were great, really hard to find etc. A mixed bag!

    @magallanes: What’s your point?

  • lol

    In my opinion, games are not a very good medium to tell stories to begin with. I’m yet to find a game that beats a good book or a movie, narrative-wise.

    They can tell simple stories to support the fantasy but I don’t think telling a story should even be their main goal.

    Games offer another kind of experiences, let’s not try to force them to tell stories when we’ve got better mediums for that matter.

  • http://www.glaielgames.com Glaiel Gamer

    Games are fine for telling stories, they just have to be told differently than other mediums. But when a medium is new, people still fall back on trying to replicate what came before it (in this case, movies).

    That’s not to say it can’t be done that way. I mean there’s still movies that tell the story like a book does.

    It’s ridiculous to say that games are not a good medium to tell a story compared to movies or books just because there hasn’t been a good example yet. I can find games that beat out most of the movies out there. Even so, it’s near pointless to compare, like trying to compare stories songs can tell to movies. Mind trying to compare the story in Bohemian Rhapsody to any movie? You can’t really, because it tells it in a way unique to its medium.

    Braid’s pretty close to this, it’s tough to compare to movies or books because it takes advantage of the uniqueness of the medium. It’s tough to explain why without giving spoilers.

    I’ve played around with this too a bit. Essentially what I did in Closure was have discovering what the story was part of the puzzle. Movies and books rely on stories to tell. Games are unique in that we can have the story take the backseat. It doesn’t need to be there, and in fact it can remain seemingly hidden from view unless the player cares enough to think about it. That’s what I’ve discovered for how to use games as a unique story telling device, but it certainly isn’t the only way, and I’m sure we’ll see many excellent stories come out as the medium matures.

  • Vitae

    I’d say Mass Effect is a pretty good example of how good games can tell a story in a quality that easily rivals that of movies.

  • Corpus

    Nah, Mass Effect is a pretty bad example, in my opinion. I quite enjoyed its dialogue system, but, really, it was nothing more than an extensive branching story with a slightly unusual method of interaction (the radial selection thing).

    I spent far more of the game sitting listening to characters saying things and occasionally moving a thumb to choose my response than I did actually *doing* things and, for that reason, I don’t think that it’s an example of a game that makes effective use of the medium.

  • PHeMoX

    “A lot of people enjoy games with linear stories, and a lot more can be done with that than has been done (I’d love to see more games like Planescape: Torment for instance), so why shouldn’t that direction be further explored, just like all the other directions? :)”

    Personally I don’t disagree with this, I liked Planescape: Torment, but I do think open-ended games and non-linearity in story telling should be the future of gaming as we know it. I mean when it comes to the average kind of rather linear story telling in games, there’s really a good chunk of things that can and should change.

    A real progress in story telling would be games with adaptive stories. The whole ‘this happens when you’re evil or good’ kind of thing was a step in the right direction, but somehow most games only briefly touched the possibilities without really daring to go further.

    Of course, gameplay ultimately should never suffer (too much) when the emphasis is on a game’s story.

  • falsion

    I really don’t this guy much. He has too much of an inflated ego. All he’s done is made one game and he thinks he is the expert on what makes a game good or not or what an ideal game should be. I mean. Hello? People have different tastes you know. What you may like is not the be all and end all of everything!

    Take this bit for instance:
    “If a designer is thinking about making something emotional through narrative, I would encourage some kind of narrative structure that is not trying to be a conventional linear story”

    Why? Most non-linear games I’ve played never really had as much of an emotional effect as the ones that are often considered linear. Here’s two examples. Say, Phoenix Wright, or Mother 3. Both games can be considered linear, but man are they powerful, they really do make you feel for the characters, and they do an awesome job at conveying emotion.

    But then again, this is all meaningless because this is a matter of taste. It’s a matter of Jonathan Blow not having a preference for linear stories.

    Yet, he goes around and touts his opinion like its fact. He lectures other people on what his own tastes are.

    That’s just mind boggling. Not even releasing a game on your own gives you the authority to do that. Never mind the fact that doing that is just wrong in the first place.

  • Jonathan Blow

    A certain sector of game designers tends to think a lot about what they do; they communicate to each other about what they are thinking, and often that communication takes the form of lectures. This communication is how the design paradigm evolves, and thus how game designs get better over time.

    It’s not “mind boggling”, it’s what professional game designers do every year at conferences.

    Thanks for the *ad hominem* attacks, though! They really raise the level of discourse here on tigsource.

  • AGuy

    He says he’d encourage it, it doesn’t mean it’s something he’s forcing you to do.. it’s an opinion. I think you’re reading too much into his choice of wording there. Hell, look at the comment he put in above “But hey, you can still make that game if you disagree. etc.” People are allowed to have opinions on how to tell a story, it’s not like he’s forcing you to follow his methods.

    Also, he wasn’t saying don’t do linear games. Just that if it doesn’t do something in addition to the linear story that takes advantage of the medium, then it’s not going to be as compelling as something from a medium that is naturally told in a linear fashion (book, movie, etc). At least, that’s what it sounds like to me.

  • skaldicpoet9

    I think that you are missing the point. I don’t believe the Mr. Blow was trying to say that linear stories have no place in games, only that they are somewhat tricky due to the nature of games themselves.

    Ironically I was actually thinking about this concept just yesterday. I was trying to think of what the most effective way to convey an emotionally charged story to the player and still allow the player to participate in the story as games traditionally do.

    I came to the conclusion that yes, you could develop a linear narrative with a beginning middle and end but that would seem to constrict the medium to too narrow a scope. The player is usually provided with very little interactivity on the game aside from whatever particular style of gameplay it employs. I thought to myself again and came up with a branching storyline the player could participate in through the action of being able to play as one of supporting characters rather then the main character. Think of a Pulp Fiction kind of thing where all of the seemingly dis-separate parts of the story come together in a cohesive whole.

    The player gets to experience the actions of the characters around the main character and this in turn gives the player a greater understanding of the psychological make-ups of all of the characters.

    It is still just a small idea but someday I hope to flesh it out to a much greater degree. I believe that games can be so much more if we just explore the ways that games can do what other mediums cannot.

  • Corpus

    Jesus Christ, what is it with this fucking weird culture of anti-intellectualism, anti-opinionism, anti-expressionism and, it often seems to me, anti-everything-ism exhibited by so many strange, small-minded people just like yourself, falsion?

    Jon Blow thinks, or acts like he thinks he’s an expert on these matters because he IS an expert. He worked for several years, as I recall, as a design consultant, or as some other variety of mysterious, freelancing consultant, on various very large games prior to the release of Braid. Even if it weren’t for that, what does it *matter* how many games he’s released? He spent something like three years developing Braid, and it’s clear that its design and development involved as much careful consideration as ever graced the production of the manifold creations of certain developers of a more prodigious output in that same period of time.

    I’m digressing, here.

    Do you even know how human interaction works? If nobody ever spoke their mind, how would we ever develop as a species or, on a smaller scale, as societies?

    I really have no idea what you think is happening here.

  • http://www.glaielgames.com Glaiel Gamer

    I just love how people equate “successful and well spoken” to “egotistical”

  • falsion

    “Thanks for the ad hominem attacks, though! They really raise the level of discourse here on tigsource.”

    That’s just what I think about you in general from everything I’ve read from you, it had nothing to do with my actual argument. This isn’t just based on one article either. You’ve always struck me as a very a pretentious guy with a huge fucking ego.

    Anyway, with that out of the way. Let’s look at some other things you’ve said.

    “One example that Blow cites is World of Warcraft, which he labels “unethical”, stating that such games exploit players by using a simple reward-for-suffering scheme to keep them in front of their computer.”

    Suffering? Who says they are suffering? I know a lot of people who play MMO games because they actually enjoy playing it. Who are you to say its unethical? Did you ever consider the fact that some people aren’t actually being “exploited” but actually enjoy playing such games?

    You always make these comments that are really narrow and close minded, that often only stem from your point of view. And then you try to present them as fact, when really they’re just your own narrow minded opinions.

    If you want, I’ll pull up some more examples of you doing the same thing.

    “A certain sector of game designers tends to think a lot about what they do; they communicate to each other about what they are thinking, and often that communication takes the form of lectures. This communication is how the design paradigm evolves, and thus how game designs get better over time.

    It’s not “mind boggling”, it’s what professional game designers do every year at conferences.”

    I’ve seen some of these. Like the one by Cactus right? I think I’ve also seen something like this from Hideo Kojima once. But most of the time they’re just talking about what ideas go through their head when they create something. Hell, what they say is usually helpful in the sense that you get an idea of their thought process. While you on the other hand, it always seems like you’re trying to get people to see things according to your opinion, which you often seem to present as a fact when it’s just a matter of tastes and what you prefer. And quite frankly, that’s bullshit.

  • falsion

    I just think like this. Everyone has their own “style.” They all have their own way of doing things, and their own preferences and tastes. And everyone has their own way of doing things when it comes to making games.

    There is no correct way of doing something. Everyone has whatever works for them. I enjoy hearing about how people make their games and what thought processes go through their mind. But hearing someone talk about what is “wrong” and what is right when it comes to making a game is probably where I cross the line. Especially when its nothing more than your tastes or preferences presented as a fact when it isn’t, it’s only your opinion.

  • avoidobject

    “Jesus Christ, what is it with this fucking weird culture of anti-intellectualism, anti-opinionism, anti-expressionism and, it often seems to me, anti-everything-ism exhibited by so many strange, small-minded people just like yourself, falsion?”

    Here’s the thing though. They’re just video games. Just mindless interactive diversions that you play (or make) in your free time for fun (or in this case, maybe for profit?). Trying to debate the intellectual details of video games is like trying to discuss the finer details of professional wrestling. There are none. Making it seem more complicated and complex than it really is doesn’t change that fact.

    Maybe if we were discussing literature or philosophy you could make the argument that seeing it as pointless or trivial is anti-everything, small minded, or whatever.

  • Edmund

    abortion is murder!

  • Montoli

    >Here’s the thing though. They’re just video games. Just mindless interactive diversions that you play (or make) in your free time for fun (or in this case, maybe for profit?). Trying to debate the intellectual details of video games is like trying to discuss the finer details of professional wrestling. There are none. Making it seem more complicated and complex than it really is doesn’t change that fact.

    >Maybe if we were discussing literature or philosophy you could make the argument that seeing it as pointless or trivial is anti-everything, small minded, or whatever.

    Ahh but you forget where you’re posting. (Unless this is a deliberate troll? It seems suspiciously placed… What the heck though, I’ll bite.)

    Many of the people who make games do so precisely BECAUSE they have a firm conviction that games CAN be more, CAN have such nuance, and go about trying their best to prove everyone wrong. Personally? I agree with them, and feel that anyone saying “Games are just for fun and have no intellectual details” is like saying “Comics are just funny pictures with words, and no literary merit whatsoever. Watchmen? What’s that?”

    I don’t think there is such a thing as a genre that can’t be elevated to a deep level by people who care enough to do so. And clearly there are plenty of people who care about elevating games. Especially here, of all places.

    So yeah. If you don’t want to talk about nuance and intellectual details in games, I certainly won’t try to force you, but please don’t hold it against us if some of us DO actively spend time thinking about how to make games more meaningful and deep, and want to talk about it. :D

  • http://www.glaielgames.com Glaiel Gamer

    falsion: “it always seems like you’re trying to get people to see things according to your opinion”

    There’s a name for this… it’s on the tip of my tounge… oh right “communication”

    avoidobject:”Here’s the thing though. They’re just video games. Just mindless interactive diversions that you play (or make) in your free time for fun (or in this case, maybe for profit?). Trying to debate the intellectual details of video games is like trying to discuss the finer details of professional wrestling.”

    No it’s more like trying to discuss the artistic and intellectual qualities of movies. But oh ya I forget every movie ever made is an actionfest and nobody thinks of them as an art form, cause they are all action movies or comedies.

  • jim

    “Suffering? Who says they are suffering? I know a lot of people who play MMO games because they actually enjoy playing it.”

    What about ideas like grind?

    And what about all the people who buy gold from gold farmers?
    They prove that a sizable number of people think certain elements of MMO games are a stupid waste of time.

    They’re probably right.
    The “ethical” solution probably isn’t having to pay extra money to skip dull gameplay.

  • Lyx

    Oh dear, is it punk-time again on TIGSource? How does that guy DARE to have an above average opinion about himself, and then still get respected for backing that up with statements which make sense? Scandal! Get back in line, drone!

    In other news: Thanks for the interview – both to the interviewer as well as Blow. While i have seen more interesting interviews/articles of him, this one had some interesting questions and replies.

    If you read this Blow, then i have a question where your view would be interesting to me. You’ve hinted a few times already that one of the strengths of games is interaction – and that if story is an important part of a game, this interactivity should also cover the story. The classical example for storytelling in games is Interactive Fiction. Now, as you may know, Emily Short once blasted the genre boundaries with Galatea. My question is: What are your thoughts on interactive storytelling in games, via character AIs? The story in such a case isn’t written beforehand – rather, it develops from the interaction between the player and the NPC. The most obvious difference to the conventional understanding of “story” here is that what as a gamedesigner one would be doing, is basically the creation of a story-generator: The NPCs get an articial psyche – they work according to a preprogrammed mechanic – and the story then evolves from the interaction between player and AI. What are your views on such an approach – is it something you thought about yet?

  • avoidobject

    “No it’s more like trying to discuss the artistic and intellectual qualities of movies.”

    I disagree. Movies can indeed be artistic and intellectual, sure. But they have more freedom to do so in the sense that they don’t have to worry about sacrificing gameplay for any other aspect because there is no gameplay.

    In fact, the reason I used professional wrestling as an example is because really, the story lines of games aren’t that much more complex than the extent of the story lines in pro wrestling.

    Both use story in the sense that there is just some small backstory or series of events that force them to do what they’re doing. In wrestling, it’s wrestling of coarse. In games, it’s running around shooting things, collecting things, or whatever the gameplay entails etc.

    The story is always just a reason to explain why you are doing something. The reason why you are just running around jumping on people’s heads and fighting a certain enemy, whatever.

    Did you know that Bioshock was originally going to have a much deeper and complex story but they actually had to dumb it down in order for it to fit with the gameplay and objectives of the game? Google “Ken Levine on BioShock’s ‘stupid story’” and look it up yourself.

    Anyway, what I’m saying is that it’s pretty much pointless to try to make games more than what they are–games.

    You can try all you want, but in the end it’s all mostly a bunch of hot air and making something simple seem more complicated than it really is.

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    There’s a certain class of person that reacts to confidence with incoherent rage. I don’t really understand these people. Do they feel threatened? Is it some sort of social knee-jerk to try pulling the guy above you down?

    The mediocrites populating the Net can go back to their holes. I’ll have a Jonathan Blow or Chris Crawford over false meekness any day. If you’re passionate about a topic and think you have something to tell, don’t hide your feelings damn it! Let your work speak for you and ignore the shrill whining coming from below.

  • Koholint

    @avoidobject
    The thing is, why can’t video games be more than just mindless interactive diversions? Who says they can’t be more?

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    @Koholint

    I still can’t figure out if that post was meant to be ironic or not.

    I wouldn’t be too upset if he was serious. The refutation of his ideas must come from the designers. Unfortunately, most of us have been slacking. Let’s face it, the majority of games out there have zero cultural value.

    We have a dream of there being something more meaningful, but until we do the gruntwork it’s all faries and pixie dust. Can’t count on Jason Rohrer to swoop in and save us. Anyway, time to get back to the grindstone.

  • Malasdair

    I feel like if you didn’t love Braid you need to take a real hard look at how you feel about video games.

    Thanks for this interview!

  • avoidobject

    Okay, I posted a long, well thought out explanation elaborating on what I just said (even providing an example from Ken Levine from Bioshock and how he had to dumb down the whole concept of his game in order for it to work) but guess what?

    It was marked for moderation. There is no way I can type that all out again. What the hell?

    If a moderator could fix this, I’d appreciate it.

  • skaldicpoet9

    @avoidobject:

    haha, obviously a troll.

  • Lyx

    @Alex:

    Here’s how to understand such people:

    Everyone is equal in everything. Everyone has his own opinion and everything works – in its own isolated parallel world. Nothing is “better” or “worse”. There is no right and wrong, no true and untrue – logic doesnt exist. We are all one homogenous mash of goo. BUT: claiming something else than this, is WRONG and UNTRUE and WORSE.

  • Person what enjoys indie games

    I thought Braid was OK. Gameplay wasn’t very interesting, story was.

  • falsion

    No. I just don’t think there is a right or wrong way to do something when it comes to video games and the to aspects of them. There are some aspects you may not find enjoyable while others may easily enjoy them.

    Most of the things Jonathan Blow says are just things he has a preference for and doesn’t have a preference for. That alone by itself would be perfectly okay. But he then tries to act like what his tastes are should dictate how games should be like. Which in my opinion is just flat out wrong.

  • falsion

    *the aspects of them.

    typo

  • falsion

    Probably the biggest issue I have is that he acts like an authority figure over this when really he is no more correct than me or you, or even some random game reviewer giving his idea of what a good game is or not.

  • toastie

    Why “when it comes to video games”, falsion? You can use the same argument against anyone speaking about anything with any kind of authority.

    It’s an ignorant thing to say and you end up sounding like a troll. If you have something to add to the discussion, please do so, but as it stands now, “Well… that’s.. like.. your opinion, man”, pretty much sums up your argument.

  • Lyx

    “No. I just don’t think there is a right or wrong way to do something when it comes to video games and the to aspects of them.”

    You either are not a game designer, or a hypocrite. Just like everywhere else, some stuff works better than other stuff in a game. Of course, there are also things which depend on what a game is trying to do, in addition to general things. Plus, there is the thing called “efficiency” – games in general have a few things in common – like for example, interactivity. That also means that the medium “game” by definition has strengths and weaknesses. This of course doesn’t stop you from achieving something via inefficient methods… the result may still be an interesting games – but it will be “less” compared to what could have been done with a more efficient approach.

    No matter how you twist it, there is a reason why topics like gamedesign-theory and -philosophy exist – and the reason is not “because some people like to have rules for the sake of the rules.”. It is because the medium game, just like everything else, has properties which have consequences. Even if we change the topic to something like artistic paintings, the same is the case: Yes, you can draw all kinds of images – and yet, the technique which you use has consequences.

    And no matter how creative you are, as long as you do not have a matching understanding of techniques, your work will at best be “chaotic” and at worst never be completed.

    But heck, why i am writing this? Probably for other people than you, because you have displayed in more than one occassion that you are unwilling to correct your thoughts even when it is directly shown to you, that you are constantly contradicting yourself in your posts.

    - Lyx

  • falsion

    Fine, apply it to anything then. But either way I think it’s just pretentious to try to present things you enjoy about games (or anything) as the way that everything else should be or as the example everyone else should follow.

    Like MMO games, and grinding. You may not like it, but other people may actually like creating and building a character in an MMO game. It’s all completely subjective.

  • falsion

    “his of course doesn’t stop you from achieving something via inefficient methods… the result may still be an interesting games – but it will be “less” compared to what could have been done with a more efficient approach.”

    Inefficient to whom? Jonathan Blow? Is there some sort of standard for efficiency in designing a video game? Who is to say what is efficient or not?

    And nevermind that, all the arguments I’ve seen from Jonathan Blow have been things that boil down to him complaining about things he doesn’t like in video games.

    And you know what I still stick to what I’ve said before. Making a single game on XBOX Live doesn’t make you a self appointed judge of everything.

  • falsion

    *this

    typo

  • Lyx

    “Like MMO games, and grinding. You may not like it, but other people may actually like creating and building a character in an MMO game.”

    ORLY???

    So you think that the very same players would not enjoy it more, if all their effort had more significant consequences than just some numbers changing themselves?

    Whatever – i think i’m gonna be a bit more productive now, than discussing with a subjectivist-troll. See ya.

    - Lyx

  • http://www.glaielgames.com Glaiel Gamer

    falsion:

    Blow said this in this interview:

    “I wouldn’t ever claim that all games should be a certain way. There are a lot of possibilities for where games can go, and it’s probably a good idea to explore them all.”

    He’s also not a self appointed judge, he just happens to get interviewed a lot and the professionals (read: people who matter) see that he’s intelligent, well spoken, and interesting so they keep doing it and inviting him to give presentations.

    And you know, saying your opinion isn’t exactly wrong or anything. It’s called normal human behavior.

  • toastie

    The reason why Jonathan Blow gives his talks is not because he’s a “self-appointed critic”, but because most people really value what he has to say. That is the reason why people come to his lectures, conduct interviews with him and generally hold him in high regard.

    If you disagree about something, you should think about what it is that you’re disagreeing about and write a thoughtful comment instead of just saying that you disagree over and over again. In fact that is what human communication is all about, as someone mentioned previously above.

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    @falsion

    You still haven’t put forth any argument other than a form of artistic relativism. That’s rather unconvincing to those of us who believe that a work can posess or lack merit.

    In addition, Jonathan Blow’s lectures happen to be something more than a collection of opinions. His criticism of WoW, for example, is carefully reasoned. You might not agree with his argument, but it’s not merely an opinion.

  • braidfan99

    Falsion, what games have you made? Since you haven’t made any games, you can’t say anything. Jonathan Blow has every right to say everything because Braid is the best game ever. Nothing compares to it, and he has every right to be in the position he is in now, which he rightfully deserved due to his work on Braid. Even his comments regarding what other developers should do is completely justified due to how much of a perfect game Braid is.

    Maybe when YOU get a game published on Xbox Live Arcade, and become a success like Jonathan Braid you can tell us what your idea of a good game is. But wait, that is not going to happen. Braid was already made, and Jonathan Blow has already earned the position and authority that neither you or anyone else, any other sore loser out there can even hope to attain.

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    All in favour of striking the word “pretentious” from the English language say “Aye”.

    @etc

    I share your frustration, but that was unneccesary. Assaulting a man with a caps lock like that is ungentlemanly. I disagree with his position as well, but he’s been courteous so far. Let’s not turn this into a flame war.

  • braidfan99

    And yes, what Jonathan Blow says is fact. Braid isn’t a good game for nothing. The sheer status of what Braid is alone is enough to make Jonathan Blow an authority and the single most factual person on everything related to game design ever.

  • give up please its hopeless

    There really is no hope in debating anything here since Jonathan Blow is the self appointed God of indie gaming, game design, and everything. And his people have their noses so far up his ass, and are so deeply wallowing in his brilliance that you can’t even hope to convince them otherwise.

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    @braidfan99

    I swear, we need a sarcasm detector for the Internet. I’ll pay quite a bit for a working one.

    Let’s not put Braid or Jon Blow on a pedestal. Braid was very well made, and I find his vision compelling, but he’s only mortal, after all.

  • alspal

    Falsion, what makes you a self appointed judge of everything?

  • not falsion

    jonathan blow is awesome. my opinion doesnt mean shit. disregard what i say i suck cocks

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    @give up please its hopeless

    Well, if you bothered to articulate why you feel this way, perhaps people would actually listen to you. As it stands, all I see is an assortment of standard malcontents.

  • falsion

    You know, maybe someday I will make a game and it will become successful like Braid. Even if that were to happen, I won’t let my success get to me and try act like the one who can tell everyone else what a game should or shouldn’t be.

    Whatever, I’m done here. At this point this is nothing more than a flamewar, especially with the recent comments here that actually are “trolling” now.

  • lolsion

    in other words im stupid and nothing of value was lost

  • lolsion

    in other words im dumb and nothing of value was lost

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    @falsion

    That’s too bad, you seem to be sincere in your beliefs. It would be nice to see what lies at their root.

    If you made a succesful game, wouldn’t you want to share your knowledge with others? That would involve saying that certain things are better than others. Like it or not, but if some games can be excellent, other games have to suck.

  • Paul Eres

    Jon, thanks for your reply to my comment. Sorry for this late response, but I still have a question: although falsion is an idiot who uses personal attacks (irony intended), he did bring up one good point early on: that you basically said that games with linear narrative can’t evoke emotion very well. But in my experience and in the experience of many people who play games, it’s *exactly* games with a strong linear narrative that evoke the greatest emotional response. I’ve never played a game with a procedurally generated story (branching stories or stories that are slightly interactive don’t count) that can compare emotionally to games with linear stories. So I don’t think “If a designer is thinking about making something emotional through narrative, I would encourage some kind of narrative structure that is not trying to be a conventional linear story” is a good encouragement, considering empiricism.

  • falsion

    “If you made a succesful game, wouldn’t you want to share your knowledge with others?”

    Yeah, but there is a difference between sharing your knowledge with others, as in things like what exactly goes into your mind when you make something, what works in making a game, etc. and saying what you think a game should or shouldn’t be and denouncing things that just don’t happen to work for you. I would do the former, but the latter I just can’t wrap my head around.

  • Chris Whitman

    You know, I’ve never heard a designer try to put more weight on the decisions and preferences of other people than Jon seems to. It’s probably why I tend to enjoy his lectures more than those of other people — because he isn’t ignorant (or in denial) of the fact that a game is a complex organism, and what matters is that the parts work together.

    I mean, sure, there’s probably a bit of a bias towards non-story-based games in there, but he only rightly points out the associated difficulties. I’ve never heard him say outright that story-based games are bad or that you just shouldn’t do them. And he tends to cite examples for these problems and present well-reasoned points.

    If that sounds like too much opinion to swallow… I don’t know, don’t read interviews or listen to lectures? I’m not going to say you’re ‘deficient’ for disliking the interview, but there are lots of people who enjoy talking about this stuff, so I guess the best recommendation I could give is not to participate if you don’t want to.

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    @falsion

    What if you thought that a particular game was really bad? Not in the sense of poor execution, but damaging artistically? Why is it that other people’s work sacrosanct? Criticizing other games is part of the dialogue. Jon doesn’t do this out of arrogance, he has very good reasons for his opinions. Perhaps you don’t agree with them, it that case you should address his arguments.

    @Paul Eres

    I feel that linear narrative is a red herring as far as interactive works go. Other media can do it much better than computers, so aping them is a dead end. The problem is that computers can do so many things that it’s easy to go down side passages. Movies are familiar and relatively easy, so that’s what the industry leeched onto.

    I think that once we’re comfortable with the medium, we’ll be able to have equal or greater impact compared to static media. Then again, maybe I’ve been listening to Crawford too much.

    I can’t really justify my optimism for the procedural approach other than saying that it’s more true to the medium. That said, it’s possible that we’ll need hundreds of years to reach parity. If you thought that it was a fool’s errand, I wouldn’t quibble. The proof will be in the pudding, either way.

  • Chris Whitman

    And yeah, the assertion that the moment you enjoy someone’s lecture you think they are the master of time and space is just stupid.

    I enjoy things all the time, it isn’t like I have to construct a pantheon out of them. I hate being painted as some kind of sycophant for just liking something, so can we cut that out too?

  • Mike W

    Then again why IS Jonathan Blow in a position to give lectures to people on game design anyway? Because he made a single successful game that managed to get decent exposure on XBLA?

    The thing is though, anyone can become successful if they try hard enough and are given the right circumstances, even this falsion guy here, but does that make them an authority on game design? I mean, would you want falsion, who under the right circumstances probably could make a successful game, to be dictate to you what or what isn’t a good game? Cuz that’d a very scary thought indeed.

  • Lyx

    How about this: Fix your deficits instead, then you wont have to consider people who are successful as a threat :-) Or if that doesn’t work, start a real pub brawl instead of abusing teh interweb for a virtual one :)

    Seriously, almost noone here cares about your personal “issues” – and especailly not your “management” of those.

  • Paul Eres

    “I’ve never heard him say outright that story-based games are bad or that you just shouldn’t do them.”

    And nobody is saying he has (except maybe falsion). But he did say that if you want to make something emotional with narrative, traditional storytelling isn’t the way to do it.

    Which is just kind of false on the face of it to me. I’ve played tens of thousands of games, so I’ve a pretty broad knowledge of which games have evoked emotion in me and which haven’t. And it’s usually games with linear stories that did it. I don’t think making Ico procedurally hold Yorda’s hand (for instance) is as emotional to most players as good old pre-written dialogue in, say, Vanguard Bandits (which did have a branching story with five interesting branches, but all were pre-written and used traditional storytelling).

    I think it’s fair if he personally hasn’t felt very emotionally attached to games with linear stories. Maybe he just doesn’t play the games I play, who knows. There could be a lot of explanations. But I think it’s bad advice to basically say to game developers: if you want to make something emotional through narrative, don’t use traditional storytelling techniques in games. Because it’s not true, they have a far better chance of making something emotional for the player if they use traditional storytelling techniques.

    Does that mean that there isn’t some inherent contradiction between linear stories and interactivity? Does that mean that he isn’t write in his points or criticism? Of course not. But it’s nonetheless wrong to suggest that traditional storytelling in games has a worse chance of evoking emotion than experimental non-linear procedurally generated stories. Maybe one day we’ll be at the point where things like Storytron can be emotionally compelling. But until we are, it’s bad advice to tell game developers to just disregard the thousands of years of collected wisdom on narrative and storytelling.

  • falsion

    Mike W: Uh, what? You know what, I’m not going to even bother with that comment.

    Lyx: What the hell are you talking about? Abusing the internet? What the hell have I done besides say that I don’t really agree with the way Jonathan Blow does things? Personal issues? Where the hell are you getting this stuff from?

  • Lyx

    “Then again why IS Jonathan Blow in a position to give lectures to people on game design anyway? Because he made a single successful game that managed to get decent exposure on XBLA?”

    There are many people who made successful games. Yet only a few of them give lectures. What does that tell you?

    Mainly, that even though a successful game may help, its not the only thing which matters. Hint: Designers have created works which became popular, without at the time of the creation being aware why it would work out. With Blow, that is not the case: When he created, he was aware of what he was doing and why. BUT: Even this is not enough, unless you also have the skills to communicate this understanding – which is another skill which applies to Blow.

    So you see: It is not ONE thing, which mattered, but the combination of multiple aspects.

  • Daniel

    I bought Braid for Windows and played it all the way through with the help of various YouTube videos and FAQs.

    I have mixed feelings about the game. Asthetically it’s probably of the most beautifully crafted games I’ve come across in a long time.

    But, at times I really hated it and at other times (perhaps in moments of honesty) I realised that I was just frustrated that I sucked at solving the puzzles.

    Maybe it says more about me than the game that I had such negative feelings at times? I don’t know. Maybe I should have been more patient with it?

    Thumbs up either way, for making something so interesting, if not controversial.

    So (back on topic) it’s great to hear what the man has to say about game design. Let’s face it, the industry has been very stagnant in this area for a long time…

  • http://erikbriggs.me Erik Briggs

    @the whiners: The question of Jonathan Blow’s credibility isn’t one that lowly readers here can refute. Its a matter for the whole industry, and as such, you lose. You individually can think what he says is crap, but that is your own opinion. He never says that his opinion is anything more, its TIG and the rest of the industry who have given him the respect because he has earned it. Do your reading and research. If you listen/read/watch the things he says (not just in this interview), its quite obvious that he puts more thought into game design than you or some paltry reviewer. It’s just flat out stupid to say that your opinion holds as much sway as his. Sure, you have as much right to yours as he does to his, but he has something to back it up: an award winning game. If you didn’t like it, you can’t change the fact that the rest of the industry did. Go check out metacritic. It’s almost universal.

    If you disagree with what he says, prove otherwise by actions. Don’t sit here like a troll and complain. Go make a game with a linear story and prove that they can still hold as much as another type of game. View it as a challenge rather than a dumb opinion. You can think for yourself, and nobody says that what Jonathan says is law.

    As for me, I listen to what he has to say because it has an academic ring to it which is rare in today’s industry. The industry is filled with crap, but there are gems to be found. Lucky for us, its more commonplace in the indie scene, but it is still rare nonetheless.

  • falsion

    “Which is just kind of false on the face of it to me. I’ve played tens of thousands of games, so I’ve a pretty broad knowledge of which games have evoked emotion in me and which haven’t.”

    “But I think it’s bad advice to basically say to game developers: if you want to make something emotional through narrative, don’t use traditional storytelling techniques in games. Because it’s not true, they have a far better chance of making something emotional for the player if they use traditional storytelling techniques.”

    Yes. That’s pretty much what I’m trying to say except I suck at making arguments and I say things in a way that makes people think I’m trolling.

    Okay, maybe it was my fault for not stating specific examples like you did. But you pretty much nailed it in the head what I was thinking.

    The thing is makes these kinds of statements and giving such bad advice and that’s just what I dislike about it all so much. I wouldn’t mind it so much if he just said that he isn’t really effected by traditional storytelling and that it doesn’t suit his tastes, rather than just saying that flat out they shouldn’t use it to convey emotion.

  • falsion

    *he makes

    er, typo again sorry

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    @Mike W

    The reason why people listen to Jon is that he can present his arguments in a well reasoned form. Braid is just the cherry on top, giving substance to the theory. To be honest, I don’t even feel like it’s the best representation of the ideas in his lectures. It’s an awesome game, but it feels like he’s progressed beyond that philosophically.

    @Paul Eres

    Doesn’t it feel weird though? It’s like having stills with text in a movie. You can do that, and maybe you can make an awesome story that way, but wouldn’t it be better if it was a book?

  • falsion

    Oh and please don’t bring up the “if you haven’t made a game, you shouldn’t have an opinion” argument. I think we already went over this on the last comment page or so a while back.

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    @falsion

    I don’t think that it’s fair to take the comment about linear narrative in isolation. I can’t read Blow’s mind, but I’ve listened to his lectures and might have a guess at the thought pattern.

    One of the things that he talks about is the conflict between the procedural meaning of a work and the meaning of the linear narrative. His argument is that most games fail to harmonize these two things and thus convey a discordant message. That’s why you might want to stay away from the conventional approach.

  • Paul Eres

    @”Go make a game with a linear story and prove that they can still hold as much as another type of game. View it as a challenge rather than a dumb opinion.”

    Done and done. You don’t actually remember which games I’ve developed, do you? :)

    I don’t view it as a dumb opinion. I’m not saying Blow’s dumb or arrogant the way falsion is. I’m just saying he may be missing something: that empirically, the most emotional responses people get from games tend to be from games with linear stories.

    @Alex Vostrov:

    I can’t say it feels very weird, no. And no, I don’t think it’d be better if it were a book. Is that old “if you want to make a story in a game, write a book” argument the really the best you can come up with? Don’t you see how silly that type of argument is? Stories exist in dozens, maybe hundreds of media. It’s not just books. It’s books, movies, songs (through their lyrics), poetry, plays, games, and on and on. All of those media have *successfully* told captivating stories.

    I think the basic thing I find wrong with this attitude of “I’ve never played a game with as good a story as a book or movie” is that I have, and that just the fact that someone else hasn’t can’t really convince someone who has of the idea that games can’t do stories as well as other media can — because they can. It’s also dismissing (and dismissive of) a huge section of people who play games who enjoy the stories they contain, and telling all those people basically: no, you’re doing it wrong, you shouldn’t tell stories linearly in games, it’s not good even though you enjoy it.

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    falsion:

    “Oh and please don’t bring up the “if you haven’t made a game, you shouldn’t have an opinion” argument. I think we already went over this on the last comment page or so a while back.”

    He’s right about this, guys. I haven’t ever designed a car tire, but if it spontaneously exploded while driving, I’d call it a pretty crappy tire.

    You don’t need to have done X to have an opinion about it. However, if you want others to pay attention to what you say, you DO need to present a well-reasoned argument.

  • Lyx

    @Paul:

    I think you’re here falling into one of the traps in which falsion as well fell: That you like something tells you nothing about “what is possible”. Different scales of rating, you know? At this point in time, most people know traditional storytelling. They have experience with that. They also know about a few attempts of dynamic stories… mostly attempts which still kinda stick to the traditional style and which just modify it a little bit to get multiple paths. So, if what does that tell you about the rating-scale at work here? Right: We havent seen many successful attempts yet of interactive stories – and when i say interactive here, i do not just mean “the player can press some buttons”… rather i mean that the story is CREATED by the interactive aspect: Playing the game creates the story.

    To compare it to the earlier MMO-Analogy: It may very well be that most of current MMO players are satisfied with what those games currently are, and that they like it – but that tells you nothing about what may be possible beyond that, and how satisfying that would be to those players.

    Here’s my take on it: The major advantage of a static story is that it is cheap. You dont need to design mechanics, you dont need to design AI, you dont need to take into account any kind of dynamics. You just write the story – which means that you can put all your effort into that single story. Depending on the preferences of the player, the story may very well be emotionally intense to that specific player.

    BUT:
    1. In that specific regard, it is not a game – it is a novel or a movie. So without other elements in the “game”, it doesn’t even make sense to call it “linear storytelling in a game”. What you created in that regard, was perhaps a wonderful novel, but not a game. That doesn’t make it by definition better or worse – its just that its no game in that regard – its something else.

    2. What if we do not only take players into account which optimally match the story? Well, in that case a strength of dynamic stories becomes apparent: They adapt to the player. What the player experience is no longer “the game story”, but rather HIS/HER story. This is important, because it means that the story has a connection to the person playing it… and this, if done well, does increase emotional attachment and intensity.

    3. Interaction itself is strongly linked to personal attachment and building a relationship with something. In the case of interactive stories, the player is no longer “told” the story, but rather he partially is “doing” it.

    So, my take: Interactive stories have far more emotional potential – but they are also much more expensive. A lot of that expensiveness comes from having to create an “engine” for something like that and having to do lots of research beforehand – to do it really well, you need to understand how the characters in your game “work”, not just “what they are doing”. After one did all that homework, future games building on that may be significantly less effort… but well, nowadays this is an obscurity, so you’ll have to do everything yourself – and this “everything” may very well be enough workhours to do 4 other linear or “multiple-ending” games instead.

  • Paul Eres

    I don’t disagree with any of that, Lyx — I agree that interactive stories have potential. I’m one of Crawford’s biggest fans, I’d be thrilled if procedural storytelling actually worked, and I fully expect it to work one day. But it hasn’t yet, and until it does, it’s bad advice to tell developers not to tell stories in the traditional fashion. Plus, I think that potential we desire will best be realized not by abandoning thousands of years of wisdom on storytelling, but by embracing it, altering it, and adapting it for interactive media. Instead of seeking reasons why traditional storytelling won’t work in interactive media, it’d be more productive to look into how interactivity can be adapted so that it can make traditional storytelling *better*, not just entirely replace it.

  • xerus

    Word.

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    @Paul Eres

    Firstly, I’m not disparaging people who enjoy game stories. A story is a story regardless of the medium. It it’s interesting, that means that the artist did a good job. The question is though, could it be better? I can shoot Citizen Kane in Quake 2 machinima, but it’s much better as a movie.

    Secondly, I don’t see what’s silly about my argument. Perhaps you can tell me what’s beneficial about doing a linear story on a computer. Why is it superior to a book or a movie?

    As I’ve said, you COULD have a movie that consists entirely of stills with text. Let’s say it’s the text of Paradise Lost. If that’s how Milton wrote his epic, it would still be a great work. Now, why would you want to do that if you have a choice?

  • Paul Eres

    I’d love to continue discussing this Alex, but think it’d be best to address this in a better place than this thread. Are you a member of the TIGSource forum? We could create a thread about this. I prefer discussion there due to email notification, ease of quoting, ease of editing, avoiding anonymous internet trolls intruding randomly into the discussion, etc.

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    @Paul

    You’re right, this has gotten a bit off-topic. I’m a member of the forum, of course. Where else could I release my games? =)

  • tomelin

    What, Blow on TIGS ? AGAIN ?
    How long do you people need to push that mediocrity out of the water ? Let it sink already. I swear, all this Braid rage really smells artificial, i havent personally met anyone who got such a fangasm from it as you guys are, everyone i know said it was a “meh” game.
    Not to mention Blow totally betraying his original supporters and going to consoles, great job on alienating people who dug up your name out of the scrap heap.

  • Radix

    Play New Zealand Story.

  • http://erikbriggs.me Erik Briggs

    @Paul, I wasn’t singling you out. And no, I didn’t know who you were by name, the same as you don’t know who I am. Sorry for that, but I don’t have time to read everything in the indie scene. It’s things that grab my attention that do get read, however, and most things by Jonathan happen to be on my radar lately. By definition you haven’t been whining, since your arguments contain logic that can be followed by those of us who can actually read :).

    Regarding it being bad advice to tell someone to try procedural storytelling: I don’t necessarily agree. Who is going to finally make this happen if not game programmers? Why not tell them to try it, or how else do you think it might happen? I do agree that unless you think you’ve got the right sauce, that going with what works is never a bad decision.

    That being said, I respect Jonathan for having the balls to say stories in games are crap. Some people are bugged by his “arrogance,” but really, who else is going to tell people that their boring stories suck? Most of today’s consumers aren’t doing it. I don’t necessarily agree with what he says all the time or how he says it, but I do understand what it is that he is trying to say. He is encouraging people to (pardon the cliche) “think outside the box.” He doesn’t say “this is how you make innovative games,” but rather says that thinking outside the box will lead you in the right direction. Why not do a little exploration rather than taking the well-worn trail. Everyone has their own path. Some people will make great games following the time=tested paths, while others (yet undiscovered talents) will walk on these less-traveled paths. It is these who will be bringing new things to light.

  • Paul Eres

    Here’s the thread about the topic of interactive storytelling vs linear stories in games, I think it’s best to move it to there for the interested:

    http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=6203

    @Erik: I will respond to you in that forum thread. If you don’t have an account there, sign up! The forums are fun here.

  • helldiver

    Jonathan Blow isn’t relevant and any claims about how much a genius he is are overblown due to his success with how overrated Braid has managed to become.

    In the reviews for Braid, all they talk about is how its a work of art. That it is stunning, and beautiful and mesmerizing. Some even say that the gameplay feels rather incomplete as a puzzle platformer, yet still give it perfect reviews for being a work of art.

    The thing is though, as a game it’s rather lacking. It’s nothing more than a jigsaw puzzle game dumped on top of a platform game where the platform game is secondary and used as nothing but a means to find pieces for the cross word puzzle game. And to make it even worse, the platform game aspect of it has no point beyond finding puzzle pieces. And you can’t go to other levels without completing them, but completing them does nothing since the game is really just a jigsaw puzzle game and not primarily a platformer.

    Yet that’s ignored because the game and overall feel and style of it amazes the shit out of the reviewers.

    Jonathan Blow if anything just managed to make a game that just really impresses people so much that they don’t really care if its much of a game or not.

    Yet, he acts like he can comment on what makes a game when he has failed to make a game but just an interactive work of art. The only people who actually think he is relevant are those too stupid to realize just why his game was so successful in the first place, and that is for all the reasons other than it being a game.

  • judgespear

    “Who else is going to tell people that their boring stories suck?”

    I have a better question, who is going to tell Jonathan Blow that his stories suck?

    Because anyone who does is automatically considered a troll, while Jonathan Blow can go ahead and tell everyone this and is supposedly infallible according to you.

    For example. Braid had some bizarre analogy about an couple in Manhattan that made no sense, among other things which completely fell flat and were nothing more than vague stabs in the dark about things that Jonathan Blow himself can’t even elaborate on. The whole “your interpretation” thing, where you are supposed to put together an image out of very little. How is that conveying emotions or doing any of the things Jonathan Blow even lectures on?

  • Chris Whitman

    “i havent personally met anyone who got such a fangasm from it as you guys are, everyone i know said it was a “meh” game.”

    “Jonathan Blow if anything just managed to make a game that just really impresses people so much that they don’t really care if its much of a game or not.”

    Yeah, it’s a ‘fangasm,’ and we all really hate Braid, we just pretend because it makes us feel special.

    How hard is it to grasp that some people actually like it? I understand you don’t like it. I never showed up to your house and forced it down your throat. Are you really both so unimaginative that you can’t grasp someone else having different preferences?

    If you think the entire internet should be tailored to your preferences, get used to disappointment. Otherwise, what the hell are you complaining about?

  • http://www.indiebird.com Alex Vostrov

    @helldiver

    You must have played some other game called “Braid” than I have.

    The game that I played was a game that explored time manipulation in the context of a platformer. The puzzle bits were only there to serve as goals for you to reach.

  • judgespear

    Maybe that is a reason why people take issues with him saying how things should or shouldn’t be because he himself doesn’t even actually do most of the things he tries to talk and share his “expertise” about.

  • moi

    I find all these unending discussions about “GAMES AS ART” boring. Maybe I have nothing to do on TIGSOURCE?

    Anyway what’s the point doing a non linear story? everybody knows that most players will act like autists and restart the game until they have seen all the endings.
    And I agree with avoidobject that non linear games generally convey less emotion than linear games, just like movies convey more emotions than videogames in general.

    Also most of these so-called high-class intellectual academic artsy games are almost always just super mario clones. Sometimes just an extended Mario tutorial.

    You guys are taking all the fun out of videogames with your aert.

  • Chris Whitman

    “The thing is though, as a game it’s rather lacking.”

    I’m tired of arguing with people that a game isn’t just one set thing, so I’ll pass the buck to the German philosopher Wittgenstein (excerpt from Philosophical Investigations, Part I):

    “66. Consider for example the proceedings that we call “games”. I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? — Don’t say: “There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games’ ” — but look and see whether there is anything common to all. — For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don’t think, but look! — Look for example at board-games, with their multifarious relationships. Now pass to card-games; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear. When we pass next to ball-games, much that is common is retained, but much is lost. — Are they all ‘amusing’? Compare chess with noughts and crosses. Or is there always winning and losing, or competition between players? Think of patience. In ball games there is winning and losing; but when a child throws his ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature has disappeared. Look at the parts played by skill and luck; and at the difference between skill in chess and skill in tennis. Think now of games like ring-a-ring-a-roses; here is the element of amusement, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared! sometimes similarities of detail.”

  • Chris Whitman

    And yeah, moi, because Jon made a puzzle game about time manipulation, now no one else can make a regular ol’ platformer.

    Way to go, Jon.

  • moi

    I don’t get what you’er saying chris whitman. You high?

    Also for everybody here: there is an old saying
    “You don’t have to be a cook to say that the food is bad”

  • lolz

    Then again Wittgenstein was a homosexual so his opinions are pretty much irrelevant.

  • Paul Eres

    Another thing I could point out is that Braid’s story is a linear narrative. You can’t change much about it. Not that we always have to follow our own advice, but it seems weird for his one game to contain primarily a linear story (even if it’s vague and sparse, it is linear and it is a story), and then to recommend against linear stories.

    But I think all these attacks on Braid’s personal character and people saying that the only people who like his game are just pretending to are pretty depressing. I liked Braid, I thought it was a pretty great game, as I said in my review on indygamer. So by saying the above paragraph I hope I’m not associating myself with people like judgespear and helldiver.

  • judgespear

    You got me confused with someone else. I never said that. I just was refuting the “Jonathan Blow can say what stories suck” point with the fact that anyone else can do the same to him, and that his story isn’t much in terms of conveying emotion (unless deciphering abstract metaphors counts) or even non-linearity.

  • Edmund

    hey i have this crazy idea about how you can show jon how wrong he is….

    Make a fucking game and shut the hell up!

    if you believe what you say, then put your money where your mouth is and make something better then braid. make something that proves us all wrong. or hell just make something, it might enlighten you to how the creative process works. Use some of the time you guys spend bitching about how overrated/flawed/worthless a game is on the fucking Internet to do something useful with your life….

    like make a game that gets idiots bitching on tig.

  • judgespear

    I mean, don’t get me wrong. I thought Braid was alright. But you don’t need to associate me with “helldiver” like that.

  • judgespear

    Edmund. That’s the “if you haven’t made something you have no opinion” argument again. Please don’t bring that up.

  • Paul Eres

    I was referring to this passage:

    “Maybe that is a reason why people take issues with him saying how things should or shouldn’t be because he himself doesn’t even actually do most of the things he tries to talk and share his “expertise” about.”

    Because I don’t think that’s true and think it’s pretty rude to put it that way even if it were true. I think he does do at least most of the stuff he talks about (not all, but most). But who knows? I haven’t seen everything he’s done. I haven’t read everything he’s talked about. Have you? If not, why make such claims?

    For my own part, I think of Jon Blow as a pretty great game designer, a good (but not great) game theorist, and a superb marketer. That he’s not as great a theorist as he is at marketing his game isn’t anything negative against him, I think any skill is admirable.

  • Edmund

    i only bring it up because its valid, words on a sub screen dont have as much effect as something with substance.

    those who cant do teach and those who cant teach troll the internet bitching.

  • moi

    I don’t understand why some people think devellopers have inflated egos.
    Is it because of the super serious lectures about mario clones, or because of the internet contests celebrating the glory of their fat naked bodies.
    I think they are just jealous, they don’t have any sense of nobility.

  • moi

    * “indie devellopers”

  • Edmund

    yes my biggest problem in life is that i wish that one day id atleast become a piece of text in a forum.

  • judgespear

    “i only bring it up because its valid, words on a sub screen dont have as much effect as something with substance.”

    In that case, how much substance would that leave you with? What games have you worked on? If you haven’t made any, should I disregard the statement you just made because you lack substance?

  • judgespear

    Wait, don’t answer that. I forgot who I was replying to. You’re the person who actually brought up the whole “if you haven’t made a game you don’t have an opinion” on that last thread regarding your game. I almost forgot.

  • Chris Whitman

    “I don’t get what you’er saying chris whitman.”

    It was a tongue-in-cheek response to the most likely tongue-in-cheek suggestion that art games have somehow ‘damaged’ indie games.

    I mean, obviously it isn’t *just* that you don’t have to play Braid if you don’t like it (although this is true): there are still plenty of alternatives. There are a lot of games out there (the majority of them, in fact), that are more traditionally ‘game-like.’ I just don’t see the point of policing a minority to tell them that doing their own thing is ruining your fun.

    Isn’t that kind of silly?

  • Edmund

    what kinda bizarro world have i just stepped into?

    ive slummed it up enough.. im taking the high road kids, toodles!

  • Llort

    TIGSource- Trolls Playground

  • moi

    @chris whitman:
    I never said that you were ruining my fun. I know fun games still exist (even among indie games). I was just saying that you guys are masochists in my eyes, always discussing to hell about trivial things.

    also notice that I didn’t express any opinion about jonathan Braid or his game, I don’t have any. Never played it.

  • Chris Whitman

    Well, I was responding to:

    “Also most of these so-called high-class intellectual academic artsy games are almost always just super mario clones. Sometimes just an extended Mario tutorial.

    You guys are taking all the fun out of videogames with your aert.”

    But I misunderstood you I guess! Sorry about that.

  • Chris Whitman

    As for the bullshit trolling or whatever: people come here to have an actual discussion. If people are upset at the ‘dethroning’ of Jon Blow (whom no one has really put on a throne in the first place) it’s partially because no one likes having what they like shit on by some douchebag who thinks everywhere on the internet is his personal playground, but also just because we’ve heard it all before: so many, many times.

    Seriously. We’re just tired of hearing it, and tired of how it’s impossible to have an actual conversation here without getting another rehashing of the ‘I hate such-and-such’ talking points.

    Can’t you just get your own blogs or something?

  • undertech

    Live the life of bivalves; filter feeding is the only solution to this wonderful reality we have here. Clams are happy creatures right?
    Wishing for anything more will bring nothing but disappointment, like telling the guy that he’d be disappointed if we (who’re we anyway?) don’t agree with him.

  • Paul Eres

    Sometimes life under the bivalves produces pearls.

  • http://www.roachpuppy.com IceNine

    Where I come from we’d call you all haters.

  • Paul Eres

    Oh, also:

    “I was just saying that you guys are masochists in my eyes, always discussing to hell about trivial things.”

    Some of us find discussing trivial things pleasurable rather than painful — just because you find it painful doesn’t mean we do :)

    People do differ in what they get pleasure out of, and it’s often surprising how what we hate others enjoy. Even the word masocism reminds that there are people who enjoy pain.

  • bateleur

    I like Braid. I find Jon Blow’s talks thought-provoking and worthwhile.

    Is that… on topic here? ;-P

  • Mark

    re: Also for everybody here: there is an old saying “You don’t have to be a cook to say that the food is bad”

    Yeah, but if you want to learn how to cook you’re better off listening to a chef than some random bloke who whines about the food being bad.

  • undertech

    Paul: very good point. And occasionally, a poorly worded dissent does indeed turn out to be the beginning of wonderful discussion. However, what we have going on here is leading to no pearl at all and should be discarded.

  • Guy

    The problem with open ended games, is that they are more like real life. That is, filled with day to day routines.
    How many of the people here had saved the world or had a great adventure in RL?
    Even if you had a great adventure, what part of your life it takes?
    Games that try to imitate reality, usually suffer from having many of the unexciting parts of life.
    That is why you have to force the adventure with a linear or semi linear game mechanics.

  • Corpus

    Edmund, “those that can’t do, teach” is one of the most pathetic, dribbling and asinine popular phrases around today.

    You do your intelligence and creativity a disservice by spouting stuff like that.

  • http://www.dyson-game.com Alex May

    Agreed with Corpus.

  • Jad

    Yo, I see two camps

    1. People who think it’s interesting to read what Jonathan Blow has to say

    2. People who go batshit crazy nuts over the fact that Jon Blow gets posted on the internet at all and are convinced that everyone who doesn’t hate him automatically considers him the kind of indie gaming and longs for giving him fellatio. Maybe they’re all trolls?

    Wat

    (I do see intelligent discussion here also so you don’t have to react to this post saying that ‘I AM NEITHER 1 OR 2′, it’s chill, I believe you. I am making blanket statements here okay durr :D)

  • Jad

    King of* Goddamnit

  • jim

    @Daniel

    I think the figuring out the puzzles bit is really key to Braid. It’s all about the “Oh, that’s how you do it” moment.
    Maybe try replaying it in the future when it’s less fresh in your mind.

    In general:
    I think some people seem to be conflating Jonathon Blow saying something they don’t agree with as the same as Jonathon Blow being arrogant.
    If you watch the lectures he does actually give reasons for his ideas. It’s not him going “This is what I think and I’m right because I’m awesome.”

    @people worried about “art” games
    If you don’t like “art” games don’t buy or play them. Seriously.
    As long as people are buying “fun” games giving them ad impressions then those games will keep being made.
    This isn’t an either all games are “art” games or all games are “fun” games thing. They can co-exist and people can only pay attention to what interests them from either group.
    It’s that simple.

    @bateleur

    I think you have to insult someone too to be ontopic.

    My position is I’ve watched a few of Blow’s talks and thought they were interesting. I’ve played the demo of Braid and liked it. I’m going to buy the full thing as soon as I finish World of Goo. I’m a bit behind the times.

  • Movius

    Jonathan Blow. I noticed the latest update for Braid on Steam forces the game to run in a lower resolution on my PC. Was it your love of Hitler or Stalin that inspired this decision?

  • Paul Eres

    No, the dictator of the small resolution game is Mao.

    And undertech, I’d say the discussion about linear stories in games that came out of this thread between all the ad hominem attacks on blow was possibly a pearl (which is why I tried to save it by moving it to the forums).

  • Solved

    I believe that a game with a true non linear story that invoked any kind of emotion would be extremely difficult to make. The reason games work is because they limit you to a certain amount of actions and situations. Being able to basically do anything and edit the story to your hearts content causes many problems. For instance, every single poaaible path would have to be playtested. Secondly, many players would ignore any kind of non linear story altogether and just kill all of the important characters. If the player bends the story too much, it will just break and become unrecognisable. When someone is playing a game, they don’t play it how they would act if faced with a similar situation in life, because, if they fail, they can just try again.

  • Daniel Camozzato

    I gave up reading the comments around #70-something. It is sad, but maybe you should consider asking for an user/pass for the comments here, because the trolling was beyond ridiculous.

    There *is* a reason why this guy is being interviewed, people. Whether or not you think it is a good reason, it really doesn’t matter. Tough world. There are a lot of different ideas about everything and only so many interviews to go around, so you are just sounding envious. If you care that much that he is “wrong” – i.e., you believe the world will end because he is leading us toward certain doom with his “wrong views” about game design -, go get your own interview and say everything backwards.

    Interesting interview, by the way. Thank you, Jonathan and Leigh.

  • Miroslav

    I believes the picture in the article shows Jon’s facial while reading these comments.

  • Anthony Flack

    Good interview! I always thought that this recent trend towards indie developers taking “gameplay innovation” as their mantra was somewhat misguided. I mean, that’s well and good, but personal expression is far more nuanced. In recent years I’ve felt like indie devs have become a bit too much like M. Night Shymalan – putting far too much emphasis on the “twist”.

  • Cliftor

    Dear lord I hope all this vitriol doesn’t erode the foundations of TIG.

    Like them or not its a fucking privilege, not a right, that we have to opportunity to speak directly to the artists like we can here or elsewhere.

    The level the discourse has been dragged to makes me wonder: does TIG need a moderated comment system? If I were a developer I don’t know how long I’d put up with this before I just said “fuck it” and stopped talking to anyone outside of a small group of other developers. And that would just be injurious to the quality and strength of this kind of community in the first place.

  • Greg-Anims

    miroslav,i looked at the picture after reading that and i laughed so hard.

    jonathon blow is a genius! good interview i enjoyed it and definitely agree that if you really care about your game, it becomes origional without needing a special gimmick

  • http://erikbriggs.me Erik Briggs

    Starting with comment 130 ’til now, agreed. QFT and all that. Finally some people who aren’t delluded. Maybe the TIG readership finally took their much needed nap after last night’s crank-fest. Almost everything prior to that is a useless WoT.

  • William Faulkner

    I MADE THESE DESKTOPS FOR BRAD:
    DESKTOPS

  • moi

    SRSLY the face of jon Blow in that pic is awesome. I’ll try to draw it for my next avatar.

  • William Faulkner

    BRAD NEED TO SOTP MAKING GAMES!!!1 LIKE ‘ACQUARIUM’!!!1 WHO HAVENT PLAYED ECKO THE DOLHIN??THS GAME IS A RIPOFF!!

  • lol2youtoo

    and then the “last of us” came out…