A more serious look at video games

Posts tagged jonathan blow

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Red Dead Redemption: I had a lot of fun with it. I was very glad that they made it. And I’m glad they tried to do some emotional things, or some poignant things. But the ending to that game was totally absurd, ok? Because, they have this long plot where for 20 hours, you’re trying to work your way up and get to the right position as this character, and because it’s in the realm of an open world shooter, it involves shooting a lot of guys. The stats screen tells you how many guys you shot—I think I shot 860 guys. Imagine a movie that’s trying to be a serious drama—just picture that—a serious drama where the main character shoots 860 guys, and then goes home to his family at the end, and you try to have this touching moment where he’s caring for his family. It simply doesn’t work because you’ve changed the value of human life, right? Part of that shooting those 860 guys was [also] burning down a village of poor peasants so that you could get in with the Mexican army. And throwing molotov cocktails in to their house and stuff? Those are families just like your family you’re trying to have this poignant moment with at the end. So I think that poignant moment thing is good; but it does. not. work in that kind of a game—it simply doesn’t.
Jonathan Blow, again in a recent Gamespot interview, touching on one of the biggest obstacles facing games: dissonance. It’s the wince-inducing sound produced when the narrative and interactivity collide in contradictory ways.


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When I was in college, we had 20 years less of history of games. So there were fewer patterns established—because games are young, right? But the upshot of all that is a lot of games I play now, they’re not really doing anything that games I played 20 years ago weren’t doing—except maybe cosmetically. And maybe the game design’s a little smoother and the technology is much better and all that stuff. But just in terms of when you sit down as a player and the feeling’s you’re having and the way you’re trying to get things done and the mode in which you’re interacting with the game—it’s not really different. And after decades of that, you sort of say as a person I kinda want something else than this thing. I’ve done a bunch of that; it was fun. But how many more hours of my life am I gonna spend on what is essentially that same activity?

So for me now, the things that are progressive and thought-provoking and challenging—not in a difficulty-reflex challenge, but challenging me as a person—those are actually what I think is fun. And playing a first-person shooter where there are some guys in a shooting gallery is not very fun, even though it might’ve been much more fun when I was 17 and hadn’t played that many games. And so I think that’s also when [an argument] kind of starts, and some of the people participating in that discussion…haven’t played 40 years worth of games, and they just don’t have the same perspective; and they’re like “how can you say that’s not fun?” But those same people, 24 years from now, might very well see that perspective.

Jonathan Blow, in a recent Gamespot interview, on how decades of gaming hone and narrow your tastes, and leave you desiring genuinely meaningful experiences


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Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid and the upcoming game The Witness, “talks about the indie scene, if games should be fun, and the state of Japanese game development.”

He also laments the handholding of modern video games that kills a sense of personal discovery, and he hints that ‘being fun’ shouldn’t necessarily be the design goal for all games (even going so far as to claim Braid isn’t a ‘fun’ game).


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Architecture in The Witness

It seems Jonathan Blow is collaborating with architecture firms in designing and laying out structures in The Witness’s game world. This is a good read regardless if you care about the game. Sounds like he is taking environmentally embedded narrative seriously and to the extreme.

The island reminds me a lot of Lost’s island, and how the successive inhabitants—through time—created, destroyed and modified portions of it to suit their needs and reflect their thinking. Now, if Blow can somehow make this consciously embedded narrative more than a fancy ingredient to spice up the experience—make it consistent and mesh with the other elements and themes of the game—then he will have truly achieved something here.

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Jonathan Blow’s ‘The Witness’ could reach consoles

He previously stated that it would not be possible due to a confluence of factors like the small team-size he had, cost-benefit considerations, RAM limitations on the 360 and PS3, and the annoying certification process required for console releases. Now, after hiring a few more programmers, all those hurdles seem to have dissipated.

The 360 and PS3 are getting quite ancient, at least in computer years. If the human-to-dog years ratio is, as they say, 1:7, then computer technology is probably triple that. I’m definitely noticing the ‘limitations’ first-hand playing through Skyrim on the PS3, and then seeing how it looks and plays on a PC.


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More Jonathan Blow interviews

These are better than the last couple I posted. Blow speaks thoughtfully about things in these that you don’t normally get from game designers.

If you really have time to burn, listen to the podcast. It’s an hour+ long but is loaded with insight beyond just the stuff surrounding his next game, The Witness.

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Couple of recent articles on Blow and ‘The Witness’

Unraveling ‘The Witness’ with Jonathan Blow

"In Myst or whatever," [Blow] said, "every frickin’ lever looks different, behaves different, you don’t know what it does. The gameplay is the 3D version of hunt the pixel. What part of this giant machine on the wall is interactive and what does it do? I tried to filter all that out. Once you filter all that out into an interface that’s very clear, ‘oh, that’s a puzzle, I know that’s a puzzle. I know basically what I have to do. I have to go from the beginning spot to the end spot, but there’s something I have to know to know which way to go.’ Once it’s that clear, then you can do a lot of crazy, out of left field stuff."

Jonathan Blow, Opinionated Creator of Two Video Games, is ‘Attempting to be Profound’

[Blow] cared about video games a lot. He still does. “I can’t explain to you why,” he said. “I wonder if sometimes I’m fooling myself and don’t care about them as much as I think I do and need something to believe in and this is it. But one thing that has always appealed to me is that I’ve always wanted to do something in life that is productive or meaningful that, if I wasn’t doing it, probably wouldn’t get done.”

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Jonathan Blow's programming aesthetics

This is a nice speech (audio slideshow) Blow gave at his alma mater. One of his main points is that perhaps the most important optimization you can make when coding large projects is not speed or space, but optimizing for years of your life spent. Also has an amusing anecdote about a brash, younger Blow calling out seemingly primitive parts of the coding of Doom, only later realizing through experience that any solution he would have come up back then would have added complexity and overhead to achieve so-called elegance.

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