Full text of the Braid interview with Stephen Totilo.

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Stephen has posted the full text of that interview on his Multiplayer Blog. It’s long, but contains a lot of explanation about the ideas behind Braid.

His comments about the interview seem overwhelmingly positive, perhaps embarrassingly so for me. I don’t like publicizing myself, but at the same time, there are ideas about games in there that I want to communicate, and incite discussion on. So maybe just skip the laudatory introduction and go straight to the interview.

Also, the credits for the graphic art are not mentioned anywhere here or the MTV interview so I will point out that the world art is by David Hellman (except that cannon in the World 2 shot which is old, and has been removed from the game in favor of a different cannon) and the character art is by Edmund McMillen.

(Journalists aren’t used to doing credits like that, because usually the credits for a game are like 100 people long.  But on a game with this few people working on it, it feels like an omission to me). 

12 Responses to “Full text of the Braid interview with Stephen Totilo.”

  1. N'Gai Croal Says:

    Jonathan,

    Excellent interview. I’m curious about the points you raised about games whose major imperative is commercial success. You first said that “When you’re gunning for the big bucks, you pursue craft, not art. So most of what gamers see is just craft. Sometimes it’s really good craft.” Two paragraphs later, you wrote “Definitely I think that older games, say from the 1980s, were often more personal, and I miss that aspect.”

    How much would you attribute that to the profit motive, and how much would you attribute that to the difference between the artisanal and industrial modes of production? In other words, are you blaming the money or team sizes for what you see as impersonal gamemaking?

    Cheers,

    N’Gai

  2. Toups Says:

    So is the old cannon canon?

    In all seriousness, I was very glad to see that article and interview, not just for the positive press but, more importantly, for the content of the interview. It’s rare to see ideas like that actually appear in mainstream games journalism. I hope that a side effect of the positive (and, in my opinion, richly well-deserved) hype surrounding Braid is that people start to take those ideas more seriously in place of the existing, frustratingly nebulous questions such as “are games art” and “can games make you cry”.

  3. Jonathan Blow Says:

    To N’Gai’s question: I think that both the money thing, and the large team thing, are big factors. But the money part is worse.

    It can be very difficult to make a game, and it can be even more difficult to try and make your personal vision cohere through the work of a large team. I think it happens sometimes, though.

    But the money thing is an absolute deal-breaker. If someone is putting up $20 million for development, they are probably doing it to make their money back plus a large return. As soon as money is a significant motive like that, it becomes nigh-impossible to do anything personal.

  4. Jonathan Blow Says:

    Thanks for the good thoughts, Mr. Toups. On one hand I worry about the hype a little, because it could cause adverse reactions among the people I want to reach. For example, there was an entry posted on Kotaku, referencing the Arthouse Games preview. And the comments posted were overwhelmingly negative…

    http://kotaku.com/gaming/jonathanblow/jonathan-blows-braid-242119.php

    Because people tend to react cynically on the internet, especially with regard to games, where we rarely see work that attempts to communicate authentically. So instead it becomes trying to judge games by their surface properties. “Wait, this game is 2D, and it just has rewind like these 3D games that came years before, with higher production value? It has purple sparkles on the objects and that is supposed to be awesome somehow? Stupid, these people are lame!”

    But I still feel okay with it, because it’s honest hype. I haven’t advertised the game at all — the positivity is all from people who heard about the game through random means and wanted to play it. And after playing it, they found things that they wanted to tell other people about, enthusiastically. That’s just great. If we can get to a position where more games inspire this kind of “hey I’ve got to tell you about this thing” reaction more often, then we’re starting to talk about a medium that is socially meaningful, in constructive ways…

  5. Krystian Majewski Says:

    Hello Jonathan,

    thank you very much for this interview. I really enjoyed the points you made there. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I wrote a few comments on them here, you might be interested in them:
    http://gamedesignscrapbook.blogspot.com/2007/08/jonathan-blow-interview-on-mtv.html

    I am also running this blog with two fellow game designers from Germany where we are reviewing the game design of various games. We we interested in doing a review of Braid. It would be great if you could contact us, obtaining your E-Mail address turned out to be a challenge. You can reach the blog here:
    http://gamedesignreviews.blogspot.com/

    Otherwise, I wish you all the best!

    Krystian

  6. Stefan Says:

    There is something I would like to think over together with you. I would like us to look at escapism together, with regard to the bit of the interview with Stephen Totilo of MTV News. At least as the starting point. I wonder if we can look at it, escapism, together – without making a debate out of it. Without merely exchanging opinions. For that to happen we have to establish that there will be no “attacks”. We can not take things personally. I hope you see what I mean. Please do try. This can not be about one trying to be smarter than the other. It is not some sort of intellectual battle. It has nothing to do with that sort of thing. I think doing this could be very useful because the topic is something that is of concern to pretty much everybody!
    I would like to quote the text from the interview, try to see what it is pointing at / conveying and then write what I see. (I am not sure how to do italics here… I hope this won’t be too anoying to read because of this.)

    [i]“just keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily the greatest conveyance of what I think.”[/i]

    Alright!

    [i]“I’ll come at escapism from two sides, “what is” and “what should be”. The “what is” part is just objective observation, and I want to separate that out because when I start talking about “what should be”, it’s very easy for people to disagree and start arguments and etc.”[/i]

    Seeing that there is a divide between “what is” and “what should be” is fairly important to the topic of escapism. This is something that will possibly be brought up again. Also, this might just be what it is all about.

    I will jump ahead a bit at this point.

    [i]“Now the “what should be” part. A lot of what you get out of a movie depends on what intention you bring to the viewing experience. You can go to a movie just as escapism — and be swept up by the visions and emotions, or whatever. Or you can attend a movie with a more expansionist mindset: you want to experience those same visions and emotions, but you’re doing it to connect those things to the rest of your life, to bring them back; not to escape from the rest of your life. The goal is, maybe, to expand yourself into perhaps a greater, more experienced person. Even just a little bit.”[/i]

    In the example of approaching a movie with an expansionist mindset I can see traces of something I would like to see pronounced more clearly. Is the act of experiencing a movie in a detached state not escapism? I will try to look at this further down.

    And, also, is the desire to become not inherently escapist? The psychological desire to become something else. Please try to really ask this as well. We are not talking about something that takes time, like a seed growing and in time becoming a tree, or like ones body growing old. This does not apply to the psyche. You can not psychologically grow just like that. Psychologically you are creating time. Please see how this happens. A person discovers a fact, or what is perceived as a fact, about himself. We are not talking about a fact like “I weigh 70kg”, this can, will and is changing all the time, but rather about, say, “I can be hurt”. The person decides that he doesn’t like to be hurt and wants to avoid it in the future. He creates a time of transition in which he is trying to become less vulnerable. “I am this, but I will be that!” By doing so he is escaping, in that he is not in direct contact with his actual state anymore. Do you see this? I know this demands a great deal of attention to follow. I feel like this is so very important though.

    [i]“I also think that the pat answer of escapism prevents us from seeing the other things people get from media. For example, hope. Even mainstream Hollywood movies try to deal in hope pretty often. Hope is inherently not an escapist emotion, because to have meaning it has to connect back to your regular life.”[/i]

    I wonder if that is all there is to it, connecting something back to ones regular life. First of all, it is very strange for me to imagine having a regular life and … some other? My “make believe” life? The “what will be” life? It must be something like that, if you look at it completely. The distinction between the experience of a movie and the rest of ones live is also implying something like that. One doesn’t have to connect an experience – of seeing a film, playing a game, climbing a mountain or whatever else – back to one’s live because that is one’s life! Is it not? Directly “experiencing” now, not taking something in and filing it as “experience” in the back of the head.
    You know, we have not yet defined escapism. Trying to pin-point it seems somewhat useless. One can’t get accurate enough. Words don’t work that way. They just point but they don’t pin-point. They describe something but they aren’t the thing. I would say that detachment is involved in escapism. Detachment is a factor in escapism. Also, applying time in a certain way, stretching psychological time, is used in escapism. Hope is a prime example of this. Please, can we say this for now without it being an attack? I know it stands in direct contrast to what is written above, that “hope is inherently not an escapist emotion”. I don’t know if we can go into this together. Opinions and a habit of “not asking” will be a serious problem here. We have to be free to inquire into this. Religions deal with hope. And let us make sure we know that this is what we are talking about. Because, again, we are not talking about planting a walnut seed in the ground and hoping it will grow to be a tree one day. This is one kind of hope. (Do we have to explain this any further? We can if we have to. I will leave it out for now but we can if we have to.)

    I wonder if you want to go into this at all? I think we could and it is something so very important as well. One could truly say that it is important to everybody. Important to everybody living in this world! And I think that everybody that is truly willing to inquire into it can do so.

    I was a bit concerned with this format of quoting from the text and then writing “aimed” at it. But I feel that this does a better job at more closely pointing at the thing we are talking about than “firing” an essay into open space. Both can be interpreted as attacking and I do wonder if it will be. Please let me make it clear that I think that attacks are futile in issues like the one at hand. The only thing of use is insight.

  7. Thomas Masheder Says:

    I really liked the interview Jonathan, it made me think, and for that I thank you.

    Cheers and all the best.

    Tom

  8. jarrad Says:

    Hello Jonathan, I found the interview via kotaku and I don’t have negative comments for you :)

    You’re points about escapism especially interest me, partly because I recently wrote an article about how video game “escapism” is sometimes, unintentionally, extended to something more and maybe game develoeprs could intentionally make better use of this effect. I wrote it for videolamer.com and its called
    “Can’t Escape the Escapism.”

    I would love it if you could take a quick moment to read it. It’s short and silly, but I’m trying to point to a way games can affect the player after turning the power off.
    Best of luck to you and your ambitious game!

  9. Jonathan Blow Says:

    Stefan: About this part of your comment:


    And, also, is the desire to become not inherently escapist? The psychological desire to become something else. Please try to really ask this as well. We are not talking about something that takes time, like a seed growing and in time becoming a tree, or like ones body growing old. This does not apply to the psyche. You can not psychologically grow just like that.

    I think that wanting to become someone or something else is usually not escapist, as long as you are talking about some kind of realistic feelings or plan that someone has (and not the “daydreaming about quitting my regular job and moving to the Bahamas with 10 Brazilian concubines, which will magically somehow just happen because I deserve that” kind of thinking).

    Intentionally becoming someone different is definitely hard, and takes time and effort, yes. And whereas you are moving away from something (as implied by “escaping”), you are also moving toward something (the new situation you want to be in). That moving-toward is the critical difference that makes this not escapism. Whereas either way you are “escaping”, when it comes to what we routinely call “escapism”, you are not actually moving toward anything different from your current situation. And to me, that’s what makes escapism unappealing and often hurtful; it acts as an opiate that helps keep people in bad situations.

  10. Stefan Says:

    “Intentionally becoming someone different is definitely hard, and takes time and effort, yes. And whereas you are moving away from something (as implied by “escaping”), you are also moving toward something (the new situation you want to be in).”

    It certainly looks that way…
    This is a trick though. The mind playing a trick on itself. It would be quite funny if it weren’t this serious. One can spend all of one’s life with self-improvement or even “spiritual growth” and still, nothing changes at the core, at the heart of the matter. It is escape with the added excuse of “getting somewhere” so one doesn’t feel bad about it. “Moving toward something”, yes. Just look at that phrase and see what it implies!

    Living with this attitude, some things will indeed change but those are on a wholly different level than the desired change. The job may change, how much money one has, how many friends, a relationship with a different woman… and yes, one’s personality will change as well. But what does that even mean? Will any of those changes ever satisfy that which is apparently unsatisfied? Because, otherwise, why would it want to change all the time? Will anything ever bring peace or… will one just put away the silly idea of peace? There is no such thing! Only ongoing improvement and that will never finish. But then there’s of course always the hope that, after things have improved enough, some kind of peace will be achieved… and, well, just look around. And please don’t make the mistake to see this as nothing more than a personal matter. This is something that concerns everybody. It is a global matter. Look at the people in refugee-camps. They either try to regain a life that is lost or look forward to living a better life in the future, someplace else. All the while, in those camps, there is tension between different clans, nations, religious believes… people steal, fight each other, kill each other, not noticing that THIS is their life. They are only concerned with “getting by” for now and want to live a good life someplace else. A place where all the problems they are facing now (or rather, are not facing now) don’t exist. And, you know, maybe they make the jump to a rich country. Maybe they become wealthy. And then those problems seem to be subdued… as long as there are enough resources, as long as they can comfort themselves enough. But we all know how it is. Comfort is fragile and not sustainable over time. And so…

    There can be true change, but not unless one exposes the whole mechanism of it. That in itself would be radically changing. (Now, can videogames touch on THAT? heh. But yeah, of course they could. If a person could.)

    You see… why am I getting into all of this? It’s clear that this has to be taken seriously by the one reading it, otherwise it would be a waste of time.
    “From a very early age I was determined to find out the truth about life, and not to accept living for lesser things. Even when very young, as a relatively smart kid, you can look around and see that a bunch of what all these adults are doing is pretty stupid…”

    Not accepting what is wrong, that is when true intelligence can come to be. I don’t think you were just a “relatively smart kid”. Back then you had more than that. And you were like this not because you could calculate really fast or rotate complex three-dimensional objects in your mind. It’s because you didn’t easily accept the shit that people tried to shove into you. Not accepting what is wrong is living with truth.

    The problem is that if you refuse to accept easy answers, if you keep digging and insisting on understanding the truth, it becomes very difficult to exist. Because people only manage to get by in their lives, from day to day, by being at least a little bit stupid, by not thinking about this or that; because if they really cared about the answers to certain things, everything would fall apart. At some time in my early twenties I made a deal with myself, that I would let this relentless truth-seeking part of me go inside for a while, so that I would be able to exist and not go crazy; and maybe it could come out sometime in the future, when I would know better how to pursue the truth, and when, maybe, I would be emotionally strong enough to keep going.

    I’d say it’s about fucking time for idiocy to fall apart.

  11. 101101101 Says:

    This is a little unrelated, but I don’t think advertising is necessarily dishonest hype. Maybe most advertising is, but its not in the nature of the thing.
    I heard about Braid via the interview on Kotaku and knowing about the game’s existence all of the “honest hype” was enough to convince me this is the sort of game I would very much like to play. That said I think there was a good chance that I would have totally missed the game (I don’t exactly stay up to date regarding games and game design) and never gotten to play it, which is a disservice to everyone involved.
    I’m sure you have considered these things but just thought I’d put my two cents in.

  12. Steve Says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I read through the MTV interview and found it fascinating. Regarding the section was about what makes games different from film, books, or other media: Your primary focus, as I read it, was on the benefit of the gameworld as a surrogate space to indirectly experience situations you would otherwise not have access to in real life. My understanding of your take is that the meta-benefit of games is to indirectly expand the player’s range of experience, thus engaging them in a different way than authored, passive narrative, and better preparing them for future analogous situations in the real world.

    The benefit of games and what makes them a unique experiential medium is something I’ve given consideration as well, and I’ve written a bit about the more micro-level psychological benefits of playing video games versus other media. My post on the subject is here– http://fullbright.blogspot.com/2007/07/motivation.html — and the gist is that “accomplishment and control are feelings that everyone requires, but that can be elusive in everyday life. Video games, in their myriad forms, provide a surrogate for these essential sensations, miniature worlds wherein the player can receive positive reinforcement through their own actions, cleanly and instantaneously.”

    Thought you might find it interesting as another aspect of your statements on the matter. Thanks for keeping this blog, and all your work.

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