Phenomenal Jonathan Blow Interview/Article

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by Atma, Apr 12, 2012.

  1. Atma

    Atma Active Member

    Although Braid had been released, to lavish praise from the video-game press, on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade service that August, Blow didn’t see a cent from the game until one autumn day when he sat down at a café in the city’s Mission district. “I opened up my Web browser and Holy fuck, I’m rich now,” he recalled. “There were a lot of zeros in my bank account.”

    Blow’s similarities to the average millionaire end right there, however, because unlike most wealthy people, he seems faintly irritated by his memory of striking it rich. When Blow told me, during a typically metaphysical conversation in a park near his Berkeley office, that his windfall was “absurd,” he didn’t mean it in the whimsical “Can you believe my luck?” sense; he meant it in the philosophical, Camus-puffing-a-cigarette sense of a deeply ridiculous cosmic joke. “It just drives home how fictional money is,” Blow said, squinting against the unseasonably bright December sun. “One day I’m looking at my bank account and there’s not much money, and the next day there’s a large number in there and I’m rich. In both cases, it’s a fictional number on the computer screen, and the only reason that I’m rich is because somebody typed a number into my bank account.” For the world’s most existentially obsessed game developer, coming into seven figures just provided another opportunity to ponder the nature of meaning in the universe.
  2. pkt-zer0

    pkt-zer0 Well-Known Member

    Haha, this is exactly the sort of stuff Blow would never say. He's far too modest for that.

    Is it just me, or does it feel like the narrator is actually Jon Blow himself? Both in the literal sense, given the examples here, and in an abstract sense as well: the Great Watchmaker-type interpretation of a god, the person you would want to ask "just why are we here, anyway?".

    Okay, so it's not just me, then.

    There's a point made about games needing to communicate in game-like terms, but I actually think Braid wasn't too good at that. Most of what it has to say is contained in the books you find lying around, the mechanics itself contributed very little, I feel, even on a highly abstract level. This disconnect is somewhat Ironic given the game's title of choice. Blow's certainly trying, at least, so chances are The Witness will be better integrated in this sense. Really looking forward to that one. The ending sequence there is supposedly even more clever than Braid's, which already managed to turn my brain inside-out (and I don't just mean the chase sequence, but the entire World 1)
  3. Logo

    Logo Well-Known Member

    Really? I found a bit opposite of Braid, or at least I felt like it was telling 2 stories. One with the puzzle you complete + the level mechanics and gameplay arc. The other via the books. While the books were supposed to be connected to the 'other' story I found it too obtuse to make such a connection. Either way I felt the game play portion told a pretty full story of its own rather than just contributing a little bit.

    I do like the idea of making game stories more intimate though, especially when it means the quest is less grand and instead more personal (Don't Look Back would be another example of such a story in some respects).
  4. Atma

    Atma Active Member

    I would disagree. If you think Braid is about a breakup then of course the mechanics aren't about that. But if the game is about never being able to un-know something (to go back in time) then suddenly it all comes together. (The A-bomb reference was another example of something that couldn't be undone, just like the events leading up to the game's - even though you spent the entire game going BACK in time you could never undo what was done.)

    And Obscura, the article author's word choice notwithstanding, it sounds like The Witness isn't about Blow's life so much as it's supposed to be about life itself - or rather the human condition - as expressed by the creator through the lens of the only life experiences he has. Doesn't have to be self-absorbed to be self-referential, ya know?
  5. pkt-zer0

    pkt-zer0 Well-Known Member

    What I'm saying is that it doesn't. The mechanics don't tie into that anymore than any other puzzle game would, at least. Not seeing a parallel for "the quest for truth will destroy you" in the mechanics, either. The hidden stars could be that, I guess, but that's stretching it.
  6. Claytus

    Claytus Well-Known Member

    Who are you even talking to, Obscura? It's like you're trying to win some award for making the longest post on the boards without actually adding any content. It's pretty obvious from the several earlier threads that you have some inexplicable hatred of Jonathan Blow that has long since pushed your credibility down to 0%. How about just don't read the threads if you're gonna get mad and start spouting rhetorical/sarcastic comments.

    Heck, this:
    might even be a 100% accurate statement, just depends what pop-culture references were chosen and why. So, you're not even successfully insulting the guy.

    Anyway, I'm skipping the article because I actually think The Witness looks pretty awesome, and am not all that interested in reading more about it. Seems like some of these more popular indie games hit that weird line of wanting to remain experiential, but then needing to describe the experience in marketing materials to get sales.
    Kristoph likes this.
  7. Delha

    Delha Active Member

    @ Atma: That article was drivel. I'm no hater of Jonathan Blow, but literally the first thought that came to mind while reading it was "Good thing this is text, because there's cock so deep in the author's throat that there's no way it could be delivered verbally." There were interesting highlights on Blow's personality here and there, but the level of worship being piled on made it impossible for me to take seriously.

    I don't typically agree with Obscura's posts, but felt like a lot of the above was dead on. All mainstream games are shit? Fine, I can chalk that up to personal disagreement. Nothing in the last thirty years contains artistic or intellectual sophistication? Give me a goddamn break. Okami isn't artistic? The entire game is built around being a fucking god with a giant paintbrush. Blow is the only person giving talks with lofty academic content? Provably false. The only counterarguments to Ebert's claim were Flower and Braid? Dead fucking wrong.

    Then there's the Gamestop vs Movie Trailers bit. I don't know specifically where he went on their site, but the front page today includes pieces talking about FEZ, WoW, SC2, and Skullgirls to start (out of maybe nine or ten games total). I suppose both Blizz games have dude in huge cartoonish armor with unreasonably massive weapons, but neither is really about that. ME3 was up there too, and sure that game involves blowing shit up. Yet again though, it's nowhere near the Halo/Gears/MW clone the author is trying to evoke. Sure there's examples of games that fit the bill, but half is by no means "almost all" as claimed.

    In the very next paragraph, it's claimed that people could only come up with just two games (Flower and Braid) as counterexamples to Ebert's claim that games cannot be art. And yet, here's Ebert himself naming Shadow of the Colossus as the frontrunner in a field with zero consensus. Again, massive fail on the part of the author. As a bonus, the article called out Ebert's original essay for being poorly researched. The irony is delicious.
    Remy77077 likes this.
  8. Claytus

    Claytus Well-Known Member


    Paint =/= art

    Your statement makes no sense. Okami's story is ripped straight from japanese mythology, and it's gameplay is ripped straight from Zelda. I should mention that it's one of my favorite games. But there's not a single "artistic" thing about it...
  9. Atma

    Atma Active Member

    Well I'd suggest you keep in mind the audience. This isn't for a gaming magazine. The vast majority of Americans believe that video games are stupid juvenile toys still, and those Americans don't read /. or Wired last I checked. And while the author's generalization that "all video games are artless" is a bit sweeping, I find it hard to believe that anyone who frequents this site _really_ believes that the state of gaming is all that healthy.

    The article was a character piece. It's full of some hyperbole. In other news the sun rises in the east every morning. Doesn't change the fact that one of the most respected magazines in America has a frontpage story about a game designer (!) who is actually trying to do more than just rehash the same formulas. You don't have to believe he's the second coming of christ to appreciate that mainstream press is starting to make common people aware that things are slowly starting to change in the industry.

    Art tries to explore the human condition. 99% of video games don't even attempt to do that yet. THAT was the point.

    Edit: And if you doubt that, pick up Hero With a Thousand Faces sometime.
    Remy77077 and Inkstud like this.
  10. Atma

    Atma Active Member

    Video games (at least a few of them) should try to be art because they have the power to. There's a role for wanton escapism in every medium but a "mature" medium does more than just pass time - it adds something to the culture. Early video games did that by creating a completely brand new experience, just like early movies did. As time goes on, the technology ideally matures and writers/directors/designers start realizing how to get more out of the movie/gaming transaction than just a few bucks for a few hours of your life.
    Leartes and Inkstud like this.
  11. Lofobal

    Lofobal Well-Known Member

    stopped reading this post here
    CWheezy likes this.
  12. Polari

    Polari Well-Known Member

    I don't understand why we should bother defending the legitimacy of games as a medium. "Games aren't art" is the kind of thing that old people say about new stuff they don't want to understand, and you'll find similar comments about early movies, music, books, anything. I'll just wait until those generations fade into irrelevance and we're left with people who grew up in a world where games were common.
    Remy77077 and Atma like this.
  13. Logo

    Logo Well-Known Member

    I agree. Regardless of conclusion, giving the debate any attention just gives merit to the spirit of the argument which means we're just doomed to repeat it when our kids start calling memory injections art in 30 years. Or in the short term we'll just keep talking about it again and again for no reason.
    Remy77077 likes this.
  14. dzebra

    dzebra Active Member

    I think people have the responsibility to maximize their good. Following a similar line of thought, a medium such as games, since it has the capability for much good, might should strive for that maximum capability. Makers of games should strive for the ultimate goodness.

    Using that line of thought, his reason was not a bad reason. Using that line of thought, your rebuttals of extreme examples of doing bad, or neglecting to do something that has goodness, are completely off in left field.

    This gets into ethics of responsibility and "goodness," though, which I doubt I will discuss here.
  15. Gordeaux789

    Gordeaux789 New Member

    This exactly this.

    @ Atma, Great article, thanks for linking to it here.

    I particularly enjoyed this little exchange

    “Hold on,” I objected. “Are you saying people at bars should just walk up to each other and say, ‘I would like to have sexual intercourse with you’?”
    “I think we could live a lot closer to a truthful existence and we’d all be better off,” he replied.
  16. Atma

    Atma Active Member

    Saying they aren't art is one thing. Saying that ascribing to ever BE art is dumb is a bit ridiculous.

    And if you can honestly argue that "exploring the human condition" isn't prima facie a worthwhile expenditure of human energy then you're either not arguing in good faith or you've missed out on the central point behind a few thousand years of world culture.
  17. Leartes

    Leartes Well-Known Member

    If there are all games that we have now AND some games that explore some other good stuff than in total there is more goodness than before. qed

    Not sure why there is so much hatred. Someone writes an article above hot coffee or shooter make everyone run amok niveau and people start flaming :confused:
  18. Delha

    Delha Active Member

    I chose to phrase it that way because the game is built around that premise and the entire graphic schema was built to support it. Paint is not always art, but painting a picture almost always is.

    Yes it's it's a Zelda-style game, and yes it's based on Japanese mythology setting. That doesn't change the fact that it's presented in a visually stunning manner. Boiling a game down to mechanics and story is like saying LOTR is about midgets destroying stolen property. It's a technically true but massively inadequate description.

    The art is my single favorite thing about Okami. It's the only time I can recall having run a character in circles just to admire the animation. You say that it's one of your favorite games but you don't feel it has any artistic value. What is it you're actually appreciating about it?

    Finally, just because a work is drawn from something else doesn't immediately disqualify it as art. Is the Mona Lisa "not art" because it's a portrait? Is the Venus de Milo just "ripped straight from Greek mythology" and therefore "not at all artistic"?
  19. infernovia

    infernovia Well-Known Member

    You know, I am confused about that article. They say that games should try to figure out what they can do that movies can't because movies didn't get to be where it is at by copying theater, which is explained in the next sentence correctly as interaction, but Blow seems angry about that? Now it's something about non-verbal communication or something or another? I mean, I get that it might be worthwhile to get angry at videogames looking to be too much like a movie without doing the work as a videogame (like LA Noire), but like we have plenty of games that are not just doing that anyway... I mean, even movies borrowed a lot from theater even if it didn't copy it exactly.

    Anyway, I find the majority of the article amusing, mainly because of the fascination people have with artists and their interpretation of the human condition.
  20. Claytus

    Claytus Well-Known Member

    I 100% disagree with you on this statement. Boiling any object down to it's core elements is a completely valid thing to do. With a game, that means the actual game mechanics, the play that a user engages in.

    For a novel, it's the plot and themes and whatever else, which is obviously more complex than you're saying above, you're just trying to be argumentative. For a painting, well, there's not much to remove... there's the paint and what someone gets when viewing it.

    What you're saying here is that you like screenshots of Okami. You could probably go buy an artbook (or at least watch a video stream of it, if you want the animations) and be equally happy. That means you're admitting the game portion isn't the key draw. If someone had gone and made a full-length movie with the art style, how awesome would that be? Well, very awesome... but if that would still contain all the best parts, then the game doesn't really matter. You're saying it was a game with good art contained with it, not the game portion itself that was artistic. (Which is valid, that's not a bad thing to say... I just think it's a valuable distinction).

    And again, you're being argumentative and sarcastic instead of actually saying anything... The Mona Lisa isn't valued because of being an accurate rendition of someone. It's valued because it was a skilled use of paint. Same way the Venus de Milo is valued because of sculpting skill. Those portions aren't derivative, they're in fact, nearly unmatched in human history.

    Execution is the key, not subject matter. Okami doesn't show some unique unmatched level of actual game design. So it doesn't count against the discussion of artistic games.
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  21. infernovia

    infernovia Well-Known Member

    Look, no one plays Street Fighter with just the hit boxes. That might be what it "boils down to" (your words) but analyzing just that is bound to be a simplified analysis of the game.

    Except not really. Maybe he likes the beautiful animation on top of the interaction? Aka, a beautiful videogame? On top of that, the visual engine is usually pretty sophisticated in video games to account for all the effects developers could implement from multiple viewpoint, and having the ability to control it while having that fluidity instead of a single perspective is pretty significant. On top of this, they are usually done with keeping things in the perspective of the player, aka highlighting what the player needs to see. Check out the work the artists do in Diablo III to make sure the information pops out well for the player. For another example, check out how gorgeous the multiplier look and and how they pop in the screen in Espgaluda, while at the same time, it is muted enough to not distract the player from from the shots themselves.

    Anyway, videogames are mechanical beasts, but if the presentation is sufficiently advanced, that will be rightly regaled as well.

    No, because it's still missing the interactive element, which makes it more awesome.

    Execution AND subject matter.
  22. Claytus

    Claytus Well-Known Member

    So what? Unless you're arguing that Street Fighter is an art game, then I don't see how this is relevant?

    Although, in practice, I think is considered a standard analysis by players. There's a reason fighting game players

    So now you're claiming that videogames as a whole are artistic? Sure, okay, I'll agree. I still have no idea what this has to do with the original claim that Okami is a specific counter to the argument that not enough "artistically or intellectually sophisticated" games have been released.

    This is kind of a discussion I'm not sure we should get into? I mean, I don't disagree with you, and I'm aware I left some things lacking in my previous post. But I think generally even disgruntled people here will agree with phenomenal execution by an artist produces an "artistic" work. It's much harder to talk about whether a given subject matter and/or a given work dealing with that subject matter is itself "artistic"?

    Getting into defining art would be dumb. But I think I stand by my original point, which was that there are two valid choices:

    a) Don't define Okami as "artistic/intellectual".
    or b) Define a gigantic class of games similar to Okami as "artistic/intellectual"

    Choosing b would be totally cool with me, and is a valid viewpoint. But there isn't really a middle ground where we can hold up Okami as a counter-example without saying there a huge number of other games with great art direction, mechanics, whatever, that also deserve to be held up.

    But then everything gets confused, because if "everything" is a counter-example to the original statement in the article, it's still probably just a semantics argument between us and author, rather than the current argument between us here.
    Leartes likes this.
  23. infernovia

    infernovia Well-Known Member

    I am saying that for a professional game, having great art design is one of it's great assets and one of the many ways that it differentiates itself from the amateur. That's because the visuals is of some importance, and thus cannot be completely discarded like you have done.

    I thought I made it clear that having a very sophisticated visual style and an engine that supports it, like Okami has, is definitely worth being considered as an artistic merit for videogames. Basically, as long as there is a sufficient quality increase in the art/aesthetics (aka, stunning, magnificent, gorgeous), it doesn't matter if it plays kinda similar to Zelda. And it's indecent to just say "what if it was a movie then?" Because videogames need to borrow from the older tradition and then bend them to it's own rules. So making videogames better involves improving or borrowing more of the older artforms, and the work of a developer to make sure it is all clear to the player still an important aspect of the game design.

    c) Define games that have stunning aesthetic as having great artistic merit, along with those that broke new grounds mechanically.

    Look, I am ok with classifying a lot of games as dumb. I disagree with generalizing it too much as even the most childish of these can still be interesting, but there is definitely a huge adolescent adreneline charged market that wants the next headshot, the action, or the rewards. So there is no denying it, CoD and Gears of War, as slick as they are, do not portray war in it's brutality or the meaningful consequences that follow after such a realization. Civilization, as epic and intelligent as it is (and it's definitely high on the list here), still has a comic effect in the idea that a sole leader leads his/her civilization with supreme power for 6000 years.

    So that's all fine and good (none of these reasons, btw, would be given by the journalist up there), but they are still huge achievement and are still pretty sophisticated. Just because the internet forumites can't remember Civilization or Fallout or Syndicate or Shadowrun and can only talk about Braid or Flower shouldn't mean that you can deride the whole tradition of video games as one not worthwhile of any artistic/intellectual merit.
    rozencrantz likes this.
  24. Delha

    Delha Active Member

    Infernovia seems to already get where I'm coming from, so no point in repeating what he's already said. I'll just clarify my stance on the below.

    While I would say that Okami falls under the category C as defined by infernovia thanks to the artistic merit of its graphics, I should also point out that I have no quarrel with this particular part of your stance. I do feel there are plenty of other games that deserve to be held up. I never claimed or believed otherwise.
  25. two_eyes

    two_eyes Active Member

    I liked the article a fair amount, but I scoffed at the idea that Braid and Flower are the only games that are art. I'd point at the Civilization games (and especially the spinoff, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri) as being a pretty excellent example of what can be done with games to get people thinking. Almost everyone I know who has played the Civilization games has "role-played" them at some point or another, for example.

    And, of course, no post of mine about games as art would be complete without me praising Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, my very favorite Zelda game. Now there's a game with layers of richness, and some pretty phenomenal gameplay into the bargain.
  26. Atma

    Atma Active Member

    Also my favorite Zelda. Too bad it was so maligned... I guess OoT was going to be a tough act to follow no matter what.
  27. Atma

    Atma Active Member

    Not to reignite the ashes, but just came across this post-GDC interview with Blow that clarifies a lot of what he's been trying to do:

    His argument is mainly that the current demarcations of our video game "genres" are really just mechanics (FPS vs RPG vs RTS) and so while you have an idea of what the game will expect you to do to play you don't really know what you should expect of the experience. Genres in most all other forms of entertainment are about knowing your expectations walking in (romantic comedy, action, etc), and so he's arguing that the emotional communication of video games is somewhat impaired from the outset by the focus on play-style over play-purpose.

    Got me thinking about Zelda again and why I liked Skyward Sword (and the other recent Zelda games) but just couldn't shake the feeling that something was lacking. The newer Zelda games all get the mechanics and setting perfect... but the joy of exploration and the lightbulb feeling of problem solving are so muted and infrequent that the experience doesn't stick with you the same way. I thought I had grown up and so maybe the problems had gotten easier to solve, but I replayed OoT recently and the game really just connects in some basic way that more recent ones don't. Maybe it's because of all the handholding in Skyward Sword/Wind Waker/etc like Blow suggests. I dunno. But there's definitely a difference.
  28. specs

    specs Well-Known Member

    Random ramblings:
    • Not all art is about the human condition or conveying emotion. Form and function with purpose is art: what games are. I wrote about it on Bitmob. Check my sig. I love myself.
    • Games have been art since their inception. They're not just reaching that point now, unlike the misguided article writer or Ebert insists. Obscura's right to call this guy out.
    • Games being art don't cheapen games in any way. They don't make thoughtful, well-made games suddenly less thoughtful; they don't elevate poorly made games into the echelons of greatness where people actually correctly use the word echelon. I hope I did, because I don't actually know what the word means.
    • I liked Braid, but felt it was overrated. The game's mechanics tie well into the narrative, which is great to see in motion, but once I was done, and I gave up on the stars and just YouTubed the true ending, I went back to playing other games. It's a well made game, but its purpose is very specific, and once that purpose is realized, it loses replayability.
    zem likes this.
  29. Delha

    Delha Active Member

    Not trying to derail here, but Ebert's recanted his position, sorta. The link's in my original response above and reposting here.
  30. specs

    specs Well-Known Member

    I'm still not sure he (Ebert) gets it, but I suppose it'll have to do. Thanks for the link.

    My mistake; I meant to say you're right to call him out, but separately talk about why I think games are art and why it's not just a recent thing.

    I don't see how chess, basketball, or hockey aren't art forms either, and I'm not saying that to legitimize them in any way. I don't even like 2.5 of those 3 sports. Or Michael Bay movies. Or Superman 64.
  31. Delha

    Delha Active Member

    Yeah. Reading that pretty much shifted me from "fuck that guy" territory into "agree to disagree".
    specs likes this.
  32. JackShandy

    JackShandy New Member

    Excellent parody of that article:

    -Y- likes this.
  33. tataki

    tataki Well-Known Member

    Video games ALREADY "explore the human condition" because war is the father of all things.

    It comes naturally with being a successful (as in with profit, not with quality of product) "indie" game developer. As soon as reviewers start sucking your dick and you get a monopoly on "art" you start running your mouth.
  34. Lofobal

    Lofobal Well-Known Member

    Could you clarify what you mean here?
  35. -Y-

    -Y- Well-Known Member


    Probably has to do with a theory of conflict as the basis of art or he is trolling you ;)
  36. Logo

    Logo Well-Known Member

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