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December 25, 2010 9:58 AM   Subscribe

An interview with Jonanthan Blow, creator of Braid, about his upcoming game, The Witness by Simon Parkin in Gamasutra.

Jonathan Blow (wp) -- creator of indie 2D platformer, timewarper, and all-around mind-contorter Braid (previously) -- has been busy leading a team of artists and developers on a new 3D puzzle/exploration game, The Witness. Set on an island, the player is left alone (clip) to explore a place of "something here before and then gone".

The game was recently demoed with much fanfare at the 2010 Penny Arcade Expo. The game engine has an eye for careful lighting, and there's some gorgeous concept art too.

The game website appears to have a passage from Dhammapada verse 153. Blow's blog is considerably less cryptic.
posted by shadytrees (24 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I still wouldn't tell people, "Don't make that game" exactly, I would say, "Think about what you're making and be careful when you make it and try not to exploit players." But I mean now that we've got FarmVille and stuff like that, I pretty much would say "don't make that kind of game" because I don't see much value in it.

It's only about exploiting the players and yes, people report having fun with that kind of game. You know, certain kinds of hardcore game players don't find much interest in FarmVille, but a certain large segment of the population does. But then when you look at the design process in that game, it's not about designing a fun game. It's not about designing something that's going to be interesting or a positive experience in any way -- it's actually about designing something that's a negative experience.

It's about "How do we make something that looks cute and that projects positivity" -- but it actually makes people worry about it when they're away from the computer and drains attention from their everyday life and brings them back into the game. Which previous genres of game never did. And it's about, "How do we get players to exploit their friends in a mechanical way in order to progress?" And in that or exploiting their friends, they kind of turn them in to us and then we can monetize their relationships. And that's all those games are, basically.


Speaking of games that shouldn't be made, a co-worker downloaded a smurf game on his iPhone for his 4 year old daughter to play and she ran up $400(!) in charges in 15 minutes, because the iphone doesn't ask you for a password for 15 minutes after you enter it to buy something.

Completely morally bankrupt, and if I ran into the assholes that designed a game for 4 year old children that let you spend $100 at a time on 'smurfberries', I'd punch them in the mouth.

That's the first time I've ever seen a game and though that something should be against the law.
posted by empath at 10:10 AM on December 25, 2010 [14 favorites]


Looks like Myst.

I'm glad the game won't have any text in it. Braid had great gameplay design, great art design, and a kind of interesting larger narrative, but the actual text in the game was just awfully written.
posted by painquale at 10:23 AM on December 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I thought the text was fine, just intentionally ambiguous and allegorical, just like most of the game play and art design, all the way up to the final level which is basically an ambigram.
posted by empath at 10:48 AM on December 25, 2010


Also just published: Edge's interview with Jon Blow and Chris Hecker.

If you're interested, you can also check out his lectures on game design ethics.
posted by seikleja at 10:54 AM on December 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


[Braid art director] David Hellman is doing some stuff.

This makes me very happy. I love Hellman's art style.

For some reason Blow's and thatgamecompany's output always resonate with me in a way that most other games never do.
posted by slimepuppy at 11:44 AM on December 25, 2010


"I'm working on this game right? I can't tell you anything about it! But it's going to be awesome!"

Anyway. When do we get spyparty?
posted by jcruelty at 11:46 AM on December 25, 2010


This is exciting. My experience with Braid was very similar to my experience with The Wire. My enjoyment of it was so complete and rewarding that other video games, in comparison, seemed lacking.

Also, reading Blow's interviews made me question why I was enjoying things. He made me realize that achievements weren't nearly as important as, y'know, having fun.
posted by Ortho at 12:35 PM on December 25, 2010


slimepuppy: "This makes me very happy. I love Hellman's art style."

You can download the original full-size artwork from Braid on his website. The backgrounds are especially good.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:45 PM on December 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I didn't particularly like (well, understand) Braid's narrative, but I still love listening to Jonathan Blow. He's got some terrific insight into game design, and he expresses his opinions very intelligently.

I really like the idea that games are essentially about learning. Braid and Portal (consciously) put this idea to very good use, and I'm excited to see how Blow develops it in The Witness — especially if the learning goes beyond the basic mechanical stuff and embraces those "subtleties".
posted by archagon at 12:58 PM on December 25, 2010


I really don't think there's an explanation for braid's narrative that unlocks the sense of it. it's just meant to be evocative. It's a puzzle that has no solution.
posted by empath at 1:31 PM on December 25, 2010


Wow, that is an astonishingly good interview. In the sense of, "someone held in esteem in the game design field articulating things I've always felt but have never been able to express cogently". Thanks for the post, shadytrees. Lots of quotable stuff in there.
posted by sidereal at 2:14 PM on December 25, 2010


Not going to spoil the game's ending(s) for the people who still haven't played Braid, but here's a couple short thoughts to help you consider it: (May flesh it out later with spoilers once this thread goes on)


Braid is about obsession. Tim, the main character, is obsessed with the perfect woman, and the game is about his interactions with her framed in childish tones and muddled by his weird relationship with time.

There are two endings to the game, one if you play the game normally and one if you spend an extensive amount of time doing various over-the-top tasks over the course of the game. You get one version of the postgame texts for the former, and another if you do the latter and, again, do some extra tasks.

To spell it out: The second ending is only seen if you, like Tim, become obsessed with the game. In short, it's a bad end and not the 'real' ending.
posted by flatluigi at 4:44 PM on December 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


That's pretty awesome, flatluigi.
posted by kenko at 6:11 PM on December 25, 2010


Tim, the main character, is obsessed with the perfect woman

Are you sure he's looking for a woman?
“Tim wants, like nothing else, to find the Princess, to know her at last. For Tim this would be momentous, sparking an intense light that embraces the world, a light that reveals the secrets long kept from us, that illuminates – or materializes! – a final palace where we can exist in peace.”
See the epilogue text:
“She stood tall and majestic. She radiated fury. She shouted: “Who has disturbed me?” But then, anger expelled, she felt the sadness beneath; she let her breath fall softly, like a sigh, like ashes floating gently on the wind. She couldn’t understand why he chose to flirt so closely with the death of the world.”
and
“He scrutinized the fall of an apple, the twisting of metal orbs hanging from a thread. Through these clues he would find the Princess, see her face. After an especially fervent night of tinkering, he kneeled behind a bunker in the desert; he held a piece of welder’s glass up to his eyes and waited. On that moment hung eternity. Time stood still. Space contracted to a pinpoint. It was as though the earth had opened and the skies split. One felt as though he had been privileged to witness the Birth of the World… Someone near him said: “It worked.” Someone else said: “Now we are all sons of ***.”
posted by empath at 6:33 PM on December 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, it's a woman. You see her in the final level, even. But it's an ideal of a woman, primarily - one of the sets of ending texts portrays her as Tim's mother, with him as a baby in her arms; several of the texts portray her as his wife/girlfriend, with him editing his actions to make their relationship perfect; and, yes, one set of texts portrays her as a nuclear bomb, beautiful but destructive more than anything else.


It's not a literal nuclear bomb, though, but a metaphor for Tim's pursuit. These quotes from the first level illustrate it:
“People like Tim seem to live oppositely from the other residents of the city. Tide and riptide, flowing against each other."

"Tim wants, like nothing else, to find the Princess, to know her at last. For Tim this would be momentous, sparking an intense light that embraces the world, a light that reveals the secrets long kept from us, that illuminates – or materializes! – a final palace where we can exist in peace.”

“But how would this be perceived by the other residents of the city, in the world that flows contrariwise? The light would be intense and warm at the beginning, but then flicker down to nothing, taking the castle with it; it would be like burning down the place we’ve always called home, where we played so innocently as children. Destroying all hope of safety, forever.”
To spoil it a bit more, there are two results of the final level, depending on your actions before and changed simply by how obsessed you've acted throughout the game. Either Tim reaches his ideal, or he doesn't.

What happens when he doesn't? The level rewinds, and he realizes what he really is - pursuing a woman who doesn't want him and altering things so that he can get closer until she escapes. The man that rescues her, there, is dressed the same as the 'bosses' that you kill earlier in the game. It's not a happy ending, though - the final level is labeled as "Level 1" and the previous levels continue from it. Tim continues his pursuit, but it's certainly not the worst thing to happen.

What happens when he does? Utter destruction. An explosion. Tim has done the impossible and ruined it all. He has done what he thought was important, but everyone else has suffered for it.
posted by flatluigi at 6:59 PM on December 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


You see her in the final level, even.

You also see pink bunnies, paintings with platforms he can jump on, rings that slow down time, etc, etc... I'd hesitate to call anything in the game real, or take anything literally. I don't think the game is a story, it's a poem, like TS Eliot's The Wasteland, and I think it's more fruitful to read it (the game levels and texts) as loosely connected explorations of the theme of regret.
posted by empath at 7:40 PM on December 25, 2010


I had not heard about the alternate ending. Wow.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 8:15 PM on December 25, 2010


Hearing about the second, "complete" ending makes me respect the game a bit more, but I thought the story and writing in Braid was awful, despite enjoying it. I've found myself disliking a lot of games these days because they're barely games, but instead a story trapped inside a "game." At least Braid had the decency to have a very very good game along with the allegory.
posted by explosion at 10:18 PM on December 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Blow thanks Brian Moriarty in Braid, likely for making Trinity, a game in which you travel through a fantasy land under the shadow of the atomic bomb.
posted by jscott at 11:30 PM on December 25, 2010


Braid is about obsession. Tim, the main character, is obsessed with the perfect woman, and the game is about his interactions with her framed in childish tones and muddled by his weird relationship with time.

I don't think the game is about a woman, but it's an interesting theory, nonetheless.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:40 PM on December 25, 2010


Why don't you think it's about a woman?
posted by flatluigi at 11:51 PM on December 25, 2010


THIS IS WHY BRAID IS SO GOOD.

I always "read" the game as being about the idealizing/mourning process after a broken relationship, be it a dumped nerd or a widowed husband. It's about memory, nostalgia, and most importantly loss: and the impossibility of true recollection. It's about how one can find value in absence; that the mourning experience itself can be a positive experience, and would be robbed of that value if the goal, reunion, was ever achieved. It's definitely about a significant other and is explicitly gendered - you play the man, collecting bits and pieces of the woman. The "princess" concept is explicitly borrowed from Mario and the level structure is a reminder of that. But this is a game that deserves a thoughtful reading and there are definitely several possible interpretations.
posted by mek at 2:07 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think there's a temptation to read the text of the story as being what Braid is about, while ignoring the actual game. The game is no more about the text than it is about the music.
posted by empath at 7:32 PM on December 26, 2010


Why don't you think it's about a woman?

Because that would be too literal, and the (ample) text, music and art suggest much richer and deeper interpretation.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:56 AM on December 28, 2010


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