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Saturday, December 22, 2007
I interviewed Jon Blow, creator of upcoming XBLA (and PC eventually!) game Braid, and found him to be an wonderfully nice and insightful fellow.

EB: How do you go about designing a level? In Braid, the levels are sort of no-nonsense. They're very efficient.

The game is about understanding what it means if time behaves in certain ways -- exploring the consequences of these hypothetical laws of spacetime, and the puzzle pieces you collect are concrete tokens representing the understanding you have gained. So, every puzzle in Braid has a very specific point; it is there to tell you one thing.

Because I wanted the game to be focused (and not long and bloated with filler), I decided early on that the levels would only contain the elements necessary to create the puzzles inside them. There aren't lots of random enemies to jump on or big levels to just sort of wander through. Everything is in the game for a specific reason. After being in the game for a while, the player might start to pick up on some of the nuances (why certain puzzles are grouped together, for example).

What I've said here only applies to Braid, though; if designing a different game, I would probably take a different approach.

Anonymous Tr00jg said at 12/22/2007 02:02:00 AM:  
Wow! What a great interview.

It is great to think that our games make some difference (in my case, rather small).
Blogger Paul Eres said at 12/22/2007 02:36:00 AM:  
I still think this is the designer who I agree the most with. I read a lot of game design interviews (both indie and mainstream) and read a lot of game design books -- I've even read everything Chris Crawford has ever written. But so far Blow's the one I agree with more than anyone else, so he feels a bit like a kindred spirit who I've never met or talked with.
Blogger Eden said at 12/22/2007 02:43:00 AM:  
Go talk with him then, rinku! You have his email.

I think I agree with him a lot, too.
Blogger Paul Eres said at 12/22/2007 02:50:00 AM:  
But if someone is too similar to me I wouldn't really have anything to say that they wouldn't already know, right?

Besides, I want to play Braid without the influence of 'knowing the developer'. When you know someone sometimes it's hard to objectively evaluate their games.
Anonymous Anonymous said at 12/22/2007 04:20:00 AM:  
The reason I don't like the main character in Braid is not because he isn't a fluffy pet or a gun toting robot.

I prefer game characters to be either a bit anonymous or somewhat quirky. The Braid guy lands somewhere in between, as a mundane fat guy in a suit drawn in a comic book style.

Aside from that, I love what Blow is doing. His lectures are great and Braid definitely looks like game of the year material.
Anonymous Gio said at 12/22/2007 06:58:00 AM:  
Hmm... I wonder what he thinks about games such as Abe's Oddysee and Super Metroid?
Anonymous Troy RULES said at 12/22/2007 07:15:00 AM:  
Are they skanking in that picture?

Anonymous BenH said at 12/22/2007 08:13:00 AM:  
Great interview, he makes a lot of sense. :)
Anonymous Karl_Delacroix said at 12/22/2007 09:17:00 AM:  
Amazing interview. Jon Blow has some really interesting ideas; specially about the education/games subject and the potential for games.
OpenID whoozle said at 12/22/2007 10:05:00 AM:  
sorry for offtopic, where could I post my own game for your review ? :)
Blogger Paul Eres said at 12/22/2007 10:09:00 AM:  
You mean for this blog? Usually we find the games to review rather than people submitting it to us. But you could probably email it to Tim or myself or one of the other editors and if we like it we'd review it. Tim's email is weetim at gmail dot come and mine is rinkuhero at gmail dot com. We have to be selective though, since there are more indie games released each day than we could ever write about.
Anonymous Anonymous said at 12/22/2007 05:19:00 PM:  
I have a very dim view of the game industry. Visionaries like Jon, developing independent games, have the power to change things. But I don't think games designed by committees, like WoW, were designed as art. They were designed to make money, and as such, seek to fool the player for as long as possible.

It reminds me of the car industry. In the beginning, cars were utilitarian. Now they come with many conveniences, but many of those conveniences are inspired by the need to compete with other manufacturers for market share. Style and flash is still what sends most cars off of the showroom floor, next to low price. Just sell the car, and make it so that things don't break for a while, which would ire the owner and make him or her complain to friends and family, which would inhibit the sale of more cars.

This practice is not wholesome or friendly at all, but it may be a necessary one in this 6.5-billion-person world.

Very unique games, or games that have a kind of catch (like Space Giraffe, reviewed on his Braid blog) do not sell well. Kids do not want broccoli, they want ice cream, especially if they have a "sweet tooth". (Genetic predilection for such a thing) But it's not possible to force-feed kids broccoli.

All the visionaries can do is keep making unique, powerful broccoli, and wait for everyone to get sick of ice cream. And the unfortunate thing is, that as a species, most of us aren't wired to do that.

So I hope that the independent game makers will keep making their games, even if they can only reach a minority. Because some of us DO like broccoli.
Anonymous Kairos said at 12/22/2007 07:50:00 PM:  
Or, we can try to successfully make broccoli ice cream. That would satisfy developers' creativity and budget.
Blogger Paul Eres said at 12/22/2007 08:25:00 PM:  
I don't see the game industry's audience as the same as the audience of independent games actually. They are creating what the people they are targeting want, we are creating what the people we are targeting want. There's room for both McDonald's and Trader Joe's on the same highway.
Blogger Paul Eres said at 12/22/2007 08:49:00 PM:  
Nice review of it they have there too.

(But I kinda wonder how Blow feels to see us using his interview comments as a forum unrelated to the interview...)
Blogger Eden said at 12/22/2007 09:13:00 PM:  
Entertain them. Fixed.
Anonymous Gio said at 12/23/2007 01:45:00 AM:  
Well, I don't care if it's indie, commercial, or a barrel full of monkeys, as long as it's interesting and enjoyable to me, i'll play it.
Blogger Lim-Dul said at 12/23/2007 10:00:00 AM:  
Whoa - I don't care if Braid turns out to be good and if Jon really is a very good developer but he surely knows what he's talking about.

There are developers who just "go with the flow" and design their games using only their imagination, Jon Blow on the other hand (who certainly is not without a lot of imagination either) seems to be very well versed in all kinds of game design theories - including his own. =)

You might agree or disagree with him in certain points but he makes a lot of sense - you can't deny that.

The whole "natural reward" and "artificial award" theory is so true.

And MMORPGs show it beautifully. I think that it can be demonstrated even better using the example of Guild Wars.

The devs of Guild Wars set out to make a new kind of MMORPG - one, where you'd reach the level cap in a couple of days, max out your stats, find the best equipment and so on. Your only reward later on would be an improvement of your skills as a gamer - you would make smarter character builds, learn to use them...

Nevertheless this idea kind of flopped. People are SO used to "artificial rewards" in MMORPGs that ArenaNet had to provide more and more of them. There are better looking armors and weapons that have the exact same stats. There are titles that are earned by repeating the same boring task again and again. Hah, the new expansion, Eye of the North, is built virtually ONLY around this concept...

All this is really sad - it seems that most gamers became addicted to all these artificial rewards and dismiss the real ones because they don't get them "high" as easily...
Anonymous Anonymous said at 12/23/2007 01:05:00 PM:  
Interesting character this Jonathan Blow, I love the picture you used, but I still don't know if he's dancing or playing with a ball, if that's a ball, it could be a lens flare, I don't know...