Designing to Reveal the Nature of the Universe

This talk was presented by Jonathan Blow and Marc ten Bosch at Indiecade on October 7, 2011.


Any system of interactivity can of course be explored: If X happens, what are the consequences? What are all the ways in which pattern Y expresses itself, and to what do those expressions lead? By inspecting the structure of a system in this way, we can find the core ideas of the system, and see how those ideas illustrate fundamental truths of our universe. We present a game design aesthetic that values looking for systems that express these truths in the cleanest possible way. We explain how this is different from more-traditional combinatoric design techniques; we show examples from our games and describe a method for applying the aesthetic in general.

Here’s a link to the Indiecade page, on which there’s also a presentation by Richard LeMarchand, and more to come.

Thanks very much to Ida C. Benedetto for recording the talk!

This entry was posted in Development, Other Games, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

71 Comments

  1. Posted November 3, 2011 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Hey, John. I like your presentations as always. I wanted to know what is your opinion on Minecraft. Is it popular because it reveals some fundamental truth about the universe?

    • Posted November 5, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

      I’ve been saying for a long time that Minecraft reflects very deep truths about humanity. In one sense, the entire story and purpose of the human race can be seen to be about transforming and combining raw resources into higher and more complex forms. It is a game about the Supply Chain and the total Economy, which themselves are really the collective effect that the human race has on the Earth.

  2. Posted November 3, 2011 at 2:35 am | Permalink

    I watched that presentation and then cut two mechanics out of my game. It’s a good thing that my game had more than two mechanics, I suppose.

    Also, I like how the video compression rendered the presenters as Team Fortress 2 characters.

    Rowan.

  3. justin
    Posted November 3, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    “This video is unlisted. Only those with the link can see it. Learn more”

    …Oh fuck you, IndieCade!

    Are these guys retarded?

    …but thanks for uploading and sharing, Jonathan…

  4. Posted November 3, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Happy birthday, old chum!

  5. justin
    Posted November 3, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    I thought it was the 28?

  6. Posted November 3, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Thanks a lot for sharing this! The last two years I have been in the process of evaluating myself as a designer and what I think I should ask for from other co-worker designers and I have had many “hunches” as to which direction to move. The amazing thing is that this speech and the previous one from GDC puts into very clear words pretty much exactly what I have been searching for. I am very grateful that you are putting so much thought and effort into these problems! I know I have industry friends chiming in on that.

  7. Thomas Guererri
    Posted November 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Oh man! Thank you for this! I had just finished everything else you’ve done on the internet :D

    Brilliant!

  8. Erik Olsson
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    Not native in english, apologies for syntax errors.

    Jon, thanks for the talk, great as always. If it’s ok I’d like to extend the Q&A section with a question of my own:

    You talk about the value of fully exploring the possibilities that any given set of rules in a game gives you. If we take Braid as the example (since it’s a finished game), if I understood you correctly some designs could stay in the game for the sake of completeness although they might not necessarily be fun. Or at least being fun was of lesser importance.

    I presume that even with this approach there were a number of conditions or default game states that just didn’t lead to puzzles that were interesting or playable enough to be included in the game. I’d be interested in knowing roughly how many potential designs that were scrapped in the process of finding the “core puzzles” that made each world feel complete. If the number of objects and different properties these objects could have in a world would allow for 100 different conditions to be tested, what was the ratio of worthwhile puzzles that came out of those 100?

    Also, do you consciously use this ratio as an indication of how well you have constructed your game mechanics and iterate accordingly?

    Thanks a lot!
    Erik

  9. Jonathan Blow
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Erik: There are some ideas and puzzle designs that did get left out of the final game, but it is not a very high ratio. Maybe 20%-30% of the things I tried did not end up in the game. But part of the reason this ratio is so low is that as a designer one tries to notice early when things are not promising, and to stay out of those areas.

    This is the kind of thing that is different from game to game, though, so I am not sure numbers are very useful.

    • Thomas Guererri
      Posted November 5, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

      Is there any chance you might give advice aimed at aspiring devs? I want to design with truth — and all that good stuff — but I am so inexperienced!

      Maybe you could recommend software to start with? Programming languages to learn? I am taking Java classes at school and teaching myself how to work XNA from a textbook. Is this suitable?

      Maybe you could even make a full on post aimed at aspiring devs or something! I’m sure I’m not the only one who would be thrilled by that!

      I know you advise that I take a straight CS degree instead of Game Design. I plan on making the switch to CS.

      • justin
        Posted November 5, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

        I second this! I was hoping some boddy would ask the question: “When do you know you have explored?” or “When do you know you have gone deep into the mechanic and not just touche the surface?” I mean it because it would seem easy to notice as a player when something is missing but maybe not so much as a designer. So when do you know you have been generous or that the truth is true and not a set up you did?

        Is hard to explain but is something like: You can’t just “Ohh I feel it in my heart it was explored enough” or “this generous, this the truth”

        And as far as languages, I can only tell what I have done and It worked! I was in Java classes using JCreator in high school and it was easy to moveto C++. So start in Java and then just go right for C++. Don’t do XNA… Is not a REAL language.and DO take Computer Science degree instead of design or interactive whatever, those are BS just go for the real deal, the science!

        Learn in school, learn at home, from youtube or a book. but take it seriously and practice makes perfect! good luck, brah!

        • Posted November 10, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

          I dunno what Jon would say, but in my experience you never really know whether you have explored something fully. You just know when you have gone as deep as you currently know how.

          Jon has stated before that he doesn’t really wake up in the morning and think, “Today I’m going to design to reveal the nature of the universe!” The lectures are honestly more reflective than they are instructive.

      • Ryan Swindoll
        Posted November 19, 2011 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        Thomas,

        While I can’t speak to which programming language you might begin with, if you want to begin practicing the puzzle principles Jon is talking about, you can try creating a board game.

        I stepped back from programming for a few months to do this. Implementing ideas in a board game format is helping me get greater traction with game design without needing to spend enormous amounts of time in development. In two months, and in my spare time, I’ve developed three entirely different iterations of a game idea and tested it with friends and family. I consider this experience invaluable to aspiring developers.

        I know there is a great difference between good board game and good video games, but the core principles that “reveal the nature of the universe” apply in both cases. I commend you to your work!

        Ryan

        • Thomas Guererri
          Posted December 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

          Oh jeez, it has taken me so long to respond!

          Ryan, I appreciate your advice and I had actually thought of that myself as well. I have began designing my first game [that will hopefully be packed with mined-out bits of truth etc.(and reveal the nature of the universe :P) ]

          I have finished my first programming course in college in Java, and I am teaching myself C# on the side with XNA.

          As I am still a super novice, I’ve begun designing my puzzles/levels on graph paper with game pieces and a color-coded key. :)

          This allows me to be productive without being a programmer. I appreciate your advice and your response.

          Thanks!

  10. Pranshul Chandhok
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Thanks ! These talks are awesome and too informative. And thanks for revealing what you have in mind for next project. :D

  11. Posted November 4, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Awesome talk, thanks for coaching Marc out of the projector. He seemed nervous. Your talks always make me deeply reconsider my preconceptions about my own game. Do you think that’s healthy, or a sign of weakness?

    • Marc
      Posted November 4, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

      Ahah, I wasn’t nervous but we were working on the talk up to the last minute and it was an interesting challenge to produce coherent explanations given that :) Jon is obviously more experienced at this.

      • justin
        Posted November 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

        hey, marc. Still no platform or release window? :c

        btw you should give more talks, you have some crazy stuff that I think are pretty important for other people to know. Interesting stuff that is just too crazy for people to figure out by themselves…

      • Thomas Guererri
        Posted November 5, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

        You and Jon are both brilliant! Jon just gives a lot of lectures. You were occasionally clumsier than Jon but you still conveyed your information clearly. It was awesome. Don’t sweat it! Wonderful talk! Thank you both!

        On a side note — I glanced at Jon a few times when he wasn’t talking. He couldn’t sit still! I think he kept looking at something behind the projection screen or something. What was it?! :P

        • justin
          Posted November 5, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

          He was looking at some girls. That’s why he sat all cool for the questions. They didn’t wanted to help novice game designers. They just wanted to attract girl designers! : o

  12. Posted November 5, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Marc, your half of the talk was really interesting. I’ll be looking forward to Miegakure a lot. Also the fact that two game designers were able to talk about these values applied to there own projects separately is something I haven’t seen much in these kind of talks. I hope you two do more talks together as your projects progress.

  13. Posted November 6, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Jon, Marc

    Just wanted to say two quick things:

    Firstly, thanks so much for your generosity in not only giving the talk, but in allowing it to be shared publicly. There are so many people around the world that can’t always make it to North American conferences that really need to hear this stuff.

    Secondly, have you considered that the aesthetic you outlined works just as well for other artforms? Not just games.

    In particular, exploring richness and removing elements that are not orthogonal or surprising to an audience has helped me in a short animated film I’m developing.

    It turned out that by exploring every combination of characters, locations and props in my film I can remove a redundant character and replace the scene with an existing character and location which actually adds to the truth I’m trying to get to in the film.

    Focussing on resolving plot with existing elements also helps eliminate deus ex machina endings as well.

    Looking forward to both Miegakure and The Witness.
    –Phil

  14. Luke
    Posted November 6, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Really enjoy this explorational design philosophy – one gets the feeling God is a game designer who came across an interesting set of game mechanics to play around with (gravity, elecromagnetism…) and is exploring it’s permutations. :)

  15. Posted November 7, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    I’m annoyed this video isn’t getting more exposure; it’s one of the most important documents about game design to come out in a while. A few points:

    Jon, I think you’re making odd use of the word “fun”. I know you’re a fan of Koster’s “A theory of fun”. If Koster is right in his definition of fun (he believes fun is about learning and finding new patterns) then surely what you’re pursuing here is categorically fun?

    Also I think you’re both thinking wishfully when you say this philosophy is applicable in non-puzzle games.

    I love Ikaruga, but it has a pretty flawed structure from the point of view expressed in this lecture – I don’t think it should be held up as a perfect example of a blending of this point of view with another genre. Ikaruga expects you to make split second decisions, it asks you to repeat certain things many times, and a lot of its challenge is based around arbitrary twitch reflexes and memorization.

    The above features are all staples of the modern shoot ‘em up. I’m not saying they’re bad, but they are orthogonal to the pursuit of “exploring the universe”.

    To properly contemplate math you need a safe and stable environment (read: you shouldn’t be spending too much brainpower on having fast reflexes). There are only three genres of game that conventionally provide such an environment: Puzzle, Turn Based Strategy, and Turn Based RPG. The latter two have a bunch of extra conventions (eg you must command an army, you must be able to increase avatar skill with new equipment) that I can imagine getting in the way of universe-exploration in a similar way. This only leaves Puzzle.

    An interesting exhibition of the twitch thing is Osmos. Osmos could have been an action game, but then it was decided that the game could be played with greater clarity if they added the “slow down/speed up time” function. When they did this, they removed split second decisions – they transformed Osmos into a puzzle game.

    Can it be a coincidence that many versions of Ikaruga have a “play in half speed” mode? As I see it, Ikaruga wanted to be a puzzle game, but only got part of the way there.

    Feel free to answer my objection with “shut up and wait for Jon to finish his next game” :)

    One final note: an ethic I thought I was going to see you express was “consistency”. This is what I mean:

    Developers sometimes break their own game rules with stuff like racing game rubber banding and scripted events. This is inconsistent.

    With your philosophy, I’m compelled to think that you’d need rigourous consistency all the way through the game. You want to “show the implications of x”, so I’d’ve thought “therefore x cannot change” is an important principle. Does this follow?

    • Jonathan Blow
      Posted November 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think either of us is claiming that Ikaruga somehow embodies this philosophy in some kind of perfect way. In the talk it was just being used as an example of orthogonality, which is one small part of what we were talking about.

      I also disagree that somehow this stuff only works in puzzle games. I am pretty sure I could make a first-person shooter that does this.

      “Consistency” would come from the other elements. If you are employing a minimal set of rules that are as orthogonal as you can make them, they are going to automatically be consistent. Something like scripted events in a racing game comes from a kind of design which is very very different from this.

      Re “therefore x cannot change”: I don’t think I understand? Braid, for example, changes the way rewinding works all the time; that’s the point. Within one world it doesn’t change, sure, but that is just about establishing a context for long enough that it can be explored before you go pulling the rug out. I am not sure I would elevate that to an important principle.

    • Posted November 17, 2011 at 3:14 am | Permalink

      I think Ikaruga fits the philosophy quite well. The idea that one can use his enemy’s weapon against him is very fundamental. The symmetry that derives from the two colors is fundamental. The idea that the brain has a hard time adjusting after switching colors: bullets the player needs to run away from one instant can become bullets he seeks the next instant. This last one can only be explored by requiring split second decisions.

      • Posted November 17, 2011 at 5:47 am | Permalink

        That’s a good point. I’m going to look at it closely:

        I don’t think the kind of reflexes Ikaruga demands are the same as what would follow from what you’ve just expressed.

        Ikaruga is a vertical shooter; its structure is that of a normal vertical shooter. It demands certain reflexes. Those reflexes are not a means to an end; they are not often there in order to explore things other than themselves. They are there because they are the kinds of things vertical shooters have.

        A lot of the split second decisions you make in the game can’t be defended in this way at all. There are a lot of points in the game where you’re likely to find yourself trying to squeeze between two non-absorbable objects (the prologue of level 3 for example, or the rotating satellite blades on level 5).

        My point was about split second decisions getting in the way of proper mathematical contemplation. That point still stands even if the split second decisions themselves provoke some mathematical contemplation.

        Obeying your logic, we could choose to make a handful of levels involving split second decisions, and try to explore that idea. Then you could have other, slower paced levels with different ideas. Separated, I would say that the player could contemplate the concepts more easily. Wouldn’t it be nicer to consider the weaving spirals of level 4 without such tremendous pressure on you? Again, the reflexes permeate the whole structure of the game because it is in a certain genre.

        Don’t get me wrong, I can see how Ikaruga’s design has a lot in common with this philosophy. Treasure games in general have amazing variety in their boss patterns, and if you add to that the cleverness of Ikaruga’s premise, you’re basically done.

        I actually can’t think of any pre-Portal game that has more in common with the philosophy than Ikaruga, except maybe Intelligent Qube. But I still think Ikaruga’s nature as a non-puzzle game is what is holding it back here.

        PS: EVERYONE WITH A PS3 STOP PLAYING SKYRIM AND DOWNLOAD “Where is my Heart?” It is the DEFINITION of this philosophy (except for the action platforming challenges :P)

  16. Colin
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Hey Jon! Great talk – I’m hugely excited for The Witness, and I’m very interested to see how these ideas manifest.

  17. Posted November 8, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Sorry if I’m being a bit thick, but would you mind unpacking that last paragraph? It looks like you’re saying “a given world in Braid is only consistent so that the next world can surprise you when it changes”. I’m sure that can’t be true!

    To explain my consistency-fetishization a little bit more: The Game of Life and Go never change, even across the hundreds of separate instantiations they’ve both had. I think that one of the wonderful things about Braid and about this philosophy is the shocking variety that you can get from a thing without it changing.

    Braid changed “x” from world to world, but the consistency of x within each world felt important, and it never felt like change for change’s sake. The consistency allowed for the fascinating puzzles along the lines of “if x, then y”. This allowed it to constantly make you think “isn’t x amazing?”.

    Also Marc offered Ikaruga as an example of a game that applied this philosophy that was not a puzzle game, that’s why I was banging on about it. But if you can imagine an FPS that does apply the philosophy, I can’t argue with you. I can only say I’d love to see it!

    • Jonathan Blow
      Posted November 8, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      > “a given world in Braid is only consistent so that the next world can surprise you when it changes”. I’m sure that can’t be true!

      Yeah, that’s not true at all, not what I am trying to say.

      Now that you ave explained this some more, I think I get what you are saying. Sure, it is a valid way to look at it. I guess I just have a different prioritization in my head, where consistency is a second-order thing that arises from more-basic things, but that doesn’t necessarily matter.

      I definitely would like to make a lot of games in different genres, but as you can see it is taking so long to make just one…

  18. Christian
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Nice to hear some Counter-Strike love in that video; are you going to try CS:GO Jonathan?

  19. justin
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Talking about design philosophy:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FpigqfcvlM&feature=channel_video_title

    Talking/conveying with gameplay and not cutscenes.

    enjoy, is funny! c:

  20. Posted November 8, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Oh Mr. Blow I’m starting to believe that shallow games that only function as pure escape will always prevail. Ideally I want the games that aspire to be important and meaningful to be accepted by masses, but it seems like in every form of media there is just no hope of that. The older I get… the more I feel like I can’t relate to these games unless I just want something to pass the time. I hope to one day make games professionally and hope I can still make the games I want to make but… from a Gamer point of view I don’t I’ll even been quite satisfied like I was when I was 13. I mean while I see innovation in the indie space… even then there is a ton of mess there too. Do you think one day there will be a decent ratio of the “roller coaster” games vs more… “meaningful” games the in the console space? for us other gamers?

  21. Josh W
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    That is a lovely aesthetic!

    Ikaruga technically doesn’t have orthogonal mechanics, in that the colour you are changes your bullets and adjusts both the damage they do and the points you receive for killing things, but it’s vastly more fun when played as if they are orthogonal. I’ve actually played it with a freind where one player focused on hitting the switch button and the other player concentrated on movement.

    But on your core ideas, I feel like this is something uniquely suited to computer games, because of the time you can spend tinkering and playtesting your ideas yourself. You basically play the game for months and become an expert in it’s properties, and then set up the barriers, paths, difficulty gradients etc to lead other people through a guided tour of what you have found.

    In other forms of art, it’s a lot more tricky for your work to teach you as you build it, partially because it’s really hard to iterate between the two seats (eg designer and player) in something like a book or a painting; in game design you will naturally see it through different eyes, because you are coming at it from a completely different angle as you make it. Also games, as interactive media, are just more talkative, more able to suprise and shoot off acording to their own dynamics.

    It occurs to me that there is a companion to this, which is the crazy sim, where everyone is suprised by what it throws out, and exploits and their documentation form an alternative way to expand through the possibility space. (In my head this is like choice and consequence games, except instead of being branching parables, it’s about making “exploits” meaningful)
    My suspicion is that in those games framing systems like saving or time control become a neccessity in making it function, looping back to try something again, creating puzzles of it’s own sort.

    But the steady progression of the puzzle game gives you a platform to stand on to explore the new stuff, to focus your attention on what the game is supposed to be about. And I think you need that focusing for the conversational element to work too, as it’s not just about difficulty gradients, but the sort of rhythm of hinting, veiling and revealing that makes explaining something to someone so fun! I feel like there’s a coralling of interactions into different nuggets players can keep track of, and that designers know the “character” of.

    • Posted November 17, 2011 at 2:43 am | Permalink

      The definition of orthogonal just says that there is no overlap between the effect of your color and another mechanic.

      If there was another way to increase your shot strength or the number of points you got for each bullet, then it would not be orthogonal, but there isn’t.

      • Posted November 17, 2011 at 5:57 am | Permalink

        It’s taken me a while to see exactly what you mean by orthogonality, and while I originally agreed with Josh W’s criticism, I see what you mean now.

        Josh W: with orthogonality, two mechanics are allowed to have an impact on one another. They’re just not allowed to create the same effect at any point.

        HOWEVER Marc, there’s still one non-orthogonal feature of Ikaruga that you’re forgetting: scoring points. There are a handful of things you can do in the game that will have the same effect of “giving you loads of points”. Mind you, point scoring is arguably not a feature…

      • Josh W
        Posted December 13, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        Ooh clever, fair point. The purest orthogonality you could get in that kind of game would probably be killing vs not dying, but as you zoom in from that yeah I definately see your point about the variables of the game seperating out like that.

  22. Posted November 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Jonathan or Marc,

    Can you recommend any resources for learning game design that are more or less in line with the aesthetic that you presented? Most the books I’ve seen emphasize extrinsic reward system or balanced difficulty as well as story and character development. The aesthetic you are presenting obviously emphasizes different components. Jonathan you mentioned that most games don’t focus on these virtues, so I’m wondering if either of you can recommend further lectures or books that are pointing in a similar direction. I guess the alternative is just to start designing with these virtues in mind.

    Thanks

    • Thomas Guererri
      Posted November 9, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      I second this. I heard Jon recommend only one book on a podcast once but I couldn’t find it again and never wrote it down. Something that examines the true nature of fun. I wish I could remember!

      • Jonathan Blow
        Posted November 10, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        Probably the one I recommended was Raph Koster’s “A Theory of Fun for Game Design”.

        To Andrew’s question, almost every book written that claims to teach game design is crap. I don’t know of any that do not damage the reader. Koster’s book is not really trying to teach concrete aspects of game design; it’s a different kind of thing (but you will probably still find it useful).

        • Posted November 10, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

          Yeah, books I’ve looked at seem to focus on manipulating the player and also presuppose that there is a correct way to make games that has been already established. That might make more sense for film or literature since it is a somewhat established medium.

          Based on your talk, I wonder if studying math or physics would be more fertile territory since it a formal system designed to explore the universe. Jonathan, I think you mentioned being somewhat inspired by concepts like the arrow of time and entropy when you started Braid. Studying physics is certainly more intellectually engaging than trying to read one of these best practices books on design.

          • Jonathan Blow
            Posted November 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

            Yeah. It doesn’t have to actually be math or physics (though those are really good options). Just go to one of the fields where the smart people hang out and learn from them. Game design is not one of the places the smart people hang out, at least, not today.

          • justin
            Posted November 10, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

            Oh my God, Your game looks fucking amazing! When is it really happening or is it just a prototype?

            How much time do you think you will spend on it until its done; a release window?

            What will it be about?

        • Posted November 11, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink

          Auntie Pixelante writes some things that are highly relevant here:

          http://www.auntiepixelante.com/?p=1022

          She applies the exploration philosophy very well too. Would recommend her games “The Mighty Jilloff”, “Tombed”, and “Spike Sisters” in that order.

    • justin
      Posted November 9, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      I would care to find out aswell

  23. justin
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink
  24. Constantine
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    An Evening with Jonathan Blow at SJSU Game Dev club:

    http://vimeo.com/24142828
    http://vimeo.com/31670166
    http://vimeo.com/32066839

    • Jonathan Blow
      Posted November 15, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

      I was wondering what happened to these videos! Glad to see them up finally.

    • justin
      Posted November 16, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing the videos.
      I once found the company that Jonathan was talking about, that he started with a college friend. It was a single page but it had the game and what seem to be its sequel. I believe I even downloaded it but never got to play it. I don’t think I could find it again but i will try.

      I also stumble upon a forum that knew two things that he had publish for a magazine or something, If I find the game again and the forum tread I will report!

  25. Posted November 16, 2011 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    I didn’t know it at the time, but this talk turned out to be important in the context of my game.

    My mechanics are complex, or at least unintuitive, so they need to be introduced as simply as possible up at the front end of the game, in order to make them usable in puzzles later. And I’ve long been worried that I was front-loading a big part of my game with, essentially, boring stuff.

    Doing another iteration pass at these levels I realized this is what that “Nature of the Universe” stuff was about. Once I could see them in that context, the floodgates opened and I was able to build levels around the appreciation of just one thing, and not worry about dressing them up in shoe-horned “puzzle”. The puzzles can come later, and be their own thing.

    I have to say, I don’t find this idea at all intuitive, and so there’s still a little trepidation. But it’s great having a philosophy to design with and lay them out around. My thanks to both presenters.

  26. Jo
    Posted November 19, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Hi, are the slides available somewhere ?

  27. Al
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    After hearing Myst being referenced as an influence for the Witness, I decided to load it up and revisit it, especially in light of watching a few of your talks and reading the Theory of Fun book.

    One thing that has been brought to my attention between playing Braid and replaying Myst is the need to reevaluate the prevalent navigation of 3d space. Myst is always criticized for being a slideshow, but when it works, it often feels like a more natural solution to moving through space than the sort of brute force ‘moving simulator’ that many games feel like. (Fallout 3, skyrim, etc) I have obviously grokked walking and when I am moving through space, I more or less begin with a major slide of where I want to go (“The corner store.”) and break that down into a sequence of minor slides along the way,
    “Go get shoes,”,
    “Go out door”,
    “Head left at sidewalk
    “Head right at second intersection,”
    “Arrive at store.”

    Between these keyframes, I am on autopilot. Even when I don’t know where I am going, I find that I travel that way, but in shorter bursts. Most current games for me end up being walking simulators and feel about as useful, like Fallout 3. Yes, they may be things for me to discover, but like in Myst, I don’t feel less connected to the environment because I am
    presented a limited presentation and appreciate the the honesty that I am on rails. If the game is sound within those slides, I don’t care so much. Braid obviously limits us to a finite space but never for one second did it occur to me that I needed to be anywhere other than where I was and Myst, when it worked, left me feeling the same. That said, Myst was far from perfect at the presentation of space, and on a few occassions used that view limitation to cheat against the player. But at the end of the day, I left feeling a huge rush playing a game where the puzzles were nicely folded into the environment. Unlike many other games that attempted the same experience, like 7th guest. It was a far improvement over graphic adventures where my brain was just trying to generate all possible permutations of object combinations. Of course the banana goes with the floor tile, and I spentall day trying to shove it into the monkey.

    Jon, my question to you is, assuming that it doesn’t impact any secrets in the game, did you revisit the traditional 3 space moving mechanic for the witness? Did once you place it in a 3d world, was freely walking through 3 space the only way to go?

    • Jonathan Blow
      Posted November 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      I would not mind experimenting with different ways to move through a space, but right now the movement is very traditional, because there is only so much you can do at once. The Witness is already an enormously complicated game, and adding any more experimentation to it would just jeopardize its existence.

      • justin
        Posted November 21, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        You should just make your game good. what’s wrong with you?

        jeopardize its existence!
        That’s why you’re indie.
        I thought that’s what Thekla inc stands for, right?
        Nothing traditional!

        Give some attention to how you walk in the game. You already said the player can only walk at a walking pace, and you said that the player couldn’t jump or swim but what about running? This bothers me since old 3D games were you walk a lot like in Nintendo 64′s Zeldas.

        I don’t like point and clicks though Is just that 3D movement is always wrong in games and that is the most fundamental thing and they are doing it wrong. How to fix it? Making it more natural and responsive, maybe by giving more precise control at a walking pace is something you could do for the Witness. I hate hitting door frames and not be able to move because of an invisible wall and getting stock on steps.

        Please Jonathan! You are the hero video games need! If you don’t do this… if you don’t fix this for us, nobody will. I beg you! Make good games!

        • bitbof
          Posted November 21, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

          From what it looks like, The Witness won’t be like Zelda or Fallout with regard to the distances you have to travel. I can see myself reflecting on puzzles and the story of the island while walking these few meters.

        • JonP382
          Posted November 22, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

          Or maybe you are the ‘hero’ video games need for this specific problem. Everyone has to pick their battles, and nobody can do everything. Since JB has decided to focus his efforts elsewhere, and you are passionate about it, perhaps you should have a go at a solution.

          • Al
            Posted November 22, 2011 at 11:33 am | Permalink

            Right. The witness wasn’t even a consideration in my original post, especially reading Jon’s previous comment on the role of architecture in the design. The references to Myst just made me think of the role of free roaming in 3d space and the traditional jabs that people make about it being a slideshow. Its a fun problem to think about and one that seems quite relevant to gaming now, especially in light of the kinect and wii. We can’t quite expect people to walk 1:1 for their avatars around their living room, so stripping it down, can we reinterpret walking so that it can be more elegantly implemented without losing a sense of control.

            Take firing a gun for example. You are aiming and waiting to fire quickly. For a game, why does that need to look like I am holding a gun. By putting our arms in a position where it looks like we have a gun in our hand when we don’t (imaginging the kinect here), it might be more confusing to our brains, which is just thrown off by the actual glaring omission of the tactile sensation of holding one. It is the touch equivalent of the uncanny valley.

            Anyway, my original point was to see if in developing the witness, if it was something Jon had thought about, considering it’s Myst influence and his transition from 2d in Braid.

        • Jonathan Blow
          Posted November 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

          A large part of the art of game design is about understanding what is really important and what is not so important, for the particular game in question.

  28. Posted November 25, 2011 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    hi Jonathan,

    Im a Phd (in the arts & practice based) student in the UK. Ive posted on her ea few times in the past and been following your work for quite a while. Anyway my research is about notions of the sublime in digital games, Id love to be able to pick your brains via email or however. Would that be ok

  29. Jonathan Munoz
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Hey Jonathan,
    I’m the Becker College student who attended your lecture at WPI last week. I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to talk to me afterwards about player immersion (specifically allowing for the player to organically learn how to progress through a game by playing it). It is amazing to see developers who are so willing to share their thoughts on game design and how it relates to the rest of the human experience. Also the links on your home page provide some awesome insight so thanks for posting them. I really enjoyed your inquisitive approach to designing and am intrigued to pick your brain further on your thoughts towards incorporating a vast array of subjects into games as a medium (in the lecture’s case mathematics). I’ll be sure to keep an eye on this blog but feel free to send me a message on LinkedIn should you wish to contact me directly. Also, I apologize if this thread wasn’t posted in the right forum. Wasn’t quite sure where to put it. Thanks for your time, can’t wait for a response.
    -Jonathan Munoz

    • justin
      Posted December 12, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      OMG… please tell me you recorded it all… Post it on youtube!

  30. Travis
    Posted December 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Hey Jonathan, I just wanted to say something and I hope you get to read it, because I had an epiphany, and it was solely kicked off by this video and another talk you gave about truths in game design (I think the other one was at a GDC if I recall correctly).

    I had a very hard time understanding what you meant when you talked about those truths. It was all very abstract to me and I couldn’t get anything useful out of it, especially for game design.

    For some reason I started thinking about this a lot today and now I finally understand what you truly mean when you talk about these truths. About these special cases of ideas that can be reduced to one common ground. These general cases, or “truths” as you call them, often reveal an abundance of other special cases that you didn’t even remotely think about before you actually went to the truth. And after you had it, those special cases came to your understanding naturally. Or to the player’s, if he plays your game and discovers a new special case that you didn’t even think about.

    It’s just like in math, or physics, where a few special cases can be reduced to a general case.

    I also started to see how this could be actually beneficial for games: It makes them deeper and more meaningful, since a truth might lay out an idea (or a gameplay mechanic, or whatever you can think of) to the player that you didn’t even think about when developing the game.

    But that wasn’t the real epiphany. Once I understood what you were talking about (you could say I discovered the truth in the ideas you presented), I automatically started to see parallels to everything else in life. For example, your view of a person can change greatly even with just a grain of truth that you get to learn about them. They might tell you a random thing they did in their past and it might completely change the way you view the person. These kinds of parallels can be found almost in any topic I think about now. And that’s the true epiphany I had. The way this idea spreads itself out throughout all of life and existence as we know it.

    I don’t think I ever had a real epiphany like this, and it’s really a great feeling. Hardly comparable to any other feeling. And it’s because of you, so sorry for the wall of text because I just wanted to thank you.

    • justin
      Posted December 15, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

      I know that feel. I don’t understand 90% of the stuff Jonathan talks about…
      but hopefully The Witness will also work to help people understand this and help understand what “real” video games are (system instead of roller coasters) and go deep into the philosophy to better game practices.

      The Witness just like Braid will help you understands these ideas and help people make better games.

      Actually was having a talk with a guy earlier; he said that uncharted 3 was more important than Braid and this guy has to be the smartest guy and definitively the best programmer I know and he can’t see that uncharted is a movie and Braid an actual game. This is the future of programmers if they don’t play Blow’s games.

  31. Neil
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jonathon. I’m developing a new model that I think will make an interesting new playground for players to explore but I have no plans to implement it myself. I’ve posted here because you develop games in a way that just makes sense to me. At the moment you and Marc are the two people who resonate most with what I would like out of the model. The reason for Marc is that of all game writers attempting 4D, he seems to be the most immersed in the production of the idea. My approach does differ to Marc’s but I think he, and you, are the best placed to see the value of it; though the model does help to explain itself once you see it. I’m certainly not seeking to get you two to do it but I thought you two would be the best to throw the idea at and then you could farm it out to whomever you consider to be the best people for the idea if you think it is worth it… You and Marc would be welcome to do whatever you want with it. It is btw a new 4D approach that hasn’t been thought of before and I’m sure would be interesting to navigate through and help more people grasp the idea.

    • Jonathan Blow
      Posted July 25, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      People come to game developers all the time with ideas. They usually are not useful ideas, because a lot of experience is required to know what will really work. So “I have no plans to implement it myself” basically translates to “You should not take my idea seriously”.

      • Neil
        Posted July 25, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        A bit like script writers no doubt. I hope someone takes the idea seriously. I don’t have any interest in developing games. My leanings are elsewhere. Can I email the model to you? Then you can certainly say it is not useful; I don’t mind.

        • Neil
          Posted July 27, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

          Spatial 4D has been thought about for some human history but I have ‘discovered’ a new approach which doesn’t seem to have been thought of before. There are different methods to portray 4D and I call my method the rotational method. It relies on certain facets of our world; primarily that we have up-down, forward-back and sideways. Conventional 4D adds an extra direction called ana-kata. My approach recognises that 4D has, instead, 360deg of sideways. Big difference; and it helps us to actually start modelling and representing everyday 4D things in a more understandable fashion.

          • Jonathan Blow
            Posted July 27, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

            Hmm, sounds to me like a mixture of Cartesian and Spherical coordinates, essentially? I think different ways of interacting with 4D, choosing how you project to 3D and what you see, can be a very interesting subject. Miegakure does it one way, but there are lots and lots of other ways. I’d encourage you to work on making it happen.

        • Neil
          Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:22 am | Permalink

          That’s a pretty good assessment of the method. I’ll try. I’ll have to put it at the end of the things that I’m first wanting to work on. These things will hopefully help towards making some of the aspects of producing things – including games – quicker and easier anyway so maybe it will be a good test subject. I’ll see how I go… Thanks.

  32. voda
    Posted July 28, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jon,

    A few days ago I finally saw Indie Game: The Movie. And I have to watch it again and again. I must say that the movie really helped me much. Thanks to you and your words I realized that my approach to development of my game was bad. Thanks to this movie I started to looking for videos about game-design and prototyping. So I wanted to thank you for very useful advices and I hope I’m able to finish my game now.

    P.S.: I will take my deepest flaws and vulnerabilities and I will put them in the game.

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