Two Video Lectures about Game Design now available.

Free Play lecture

The first lecture was the keynote at the FreePlay conference, a couple of weeks ago in Melbourne. The lecture is about how to minimize risk and maximize quality as an indie developer, while creating art instead of products; also, it goes pretty deeply into my views about what we could/should be doing as game designers. Sumea, an Australian game developer portal, has posted the video on this page (here is the direct download link; it’s about 92MB).

Indie Game Summit talk (at the GDC)

The second lecture was given in March 2007 at the Indie Games Summit (at the GDC). This talk is more about prototyping; it shares some material with the FreePlay talk, but has a bit more in terms of game demos, and a heavier emphasis on details about Braid (though the version of the game it shows is much earlier). Here is a download link to that one (.mov format). I would provide a Google Video link but WordPress is being lousy and stripping out necessary things from the tags (why would it do such a thing?)

If anyone wants the PowerPoint slides to either of these lectures, leave me a note and I will become motivated to put them up.

21 thoughts on “Two Video Lectures about Game Design now available.”

  1. I’ve just watched the video of ‘Independent’s Day’, in which you mention the fact that you don’t believe games *have* to innovate. While I agree with this point – i.e. games can be successful if they simply explore and perfect what is already known – I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that the ‘known’ within the medium isn’t deep enough.
    The comparison with films seems to highlight a disjunction within the analogy. Films may not pioneer differing film techniques while varying their plot to create a different experience, but I would suggest that the nature of the gameplay is the most analogous to film plot in the case of games – i.e. presenting different gameplay is the equivalent of presenting a different plot. Interaction is core to games, while storytelling is to film (I think media in general is more of a spectrum than that, but I won’t go into it).
    Many games seem to import the values of film and other mediums one for one, using the same gameplay framework to present a different plot – which the medium currently, quite frankly, just isn’t very good at – while variation in gameplay is often gimmickry, and this seems to me to stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of the medium, of which industry uniformity is symptomatic. That is, I don’t think innovation can be so easily divorced from exploration and perfection of the known medium because what is identified as innovation is often exactly that – playing with what we’ve already got.
    …and if this is just retreading old ground for you, then I at least enjoyed the rant 🙂

  2. Heh, I think we agree on just about everything you said. But I don’t really think film is reducible to mainly plot, in order to analyze it, either. If that were true, a movie would not be very different from a novel, and etc. If you took a really good movie, but reduced all its non-plot components to basic naive execution — cinematography, lighting design, casting, acting, scriptwriting — you could make the movie unwatchable by today’s standards. Yet, it would still have the same plot.

    So whereas plot is something that really stands out for us viewers — I think because it has much in common with plots of other media, so we are very familiar with it, and also it is very conducive to being verbalized and summarized — I think it’s a minority of what a filim communicates to us. Sort of in the same way that, if you are standing in a room and exchange a few phrases with someone, you get a lot more information from their body language and vocal attitude than you get from the actual words.

  3. Plot is central insofar as one approaches a movie with a social/human interest. “This is about a guy who looks like this and has this job and this is what happened to him on Tuesday.” When we tell friends about stuff that’s happened to us or things we’ve done, it’s the same thing, fundamentally. They’re accounts with human interest because they concern the efforts, thoughts and emotions of being a person, and you listen with interest because you identify as a person. So to that extent it’s social, because involving oneself in a story like that requires us to project our memories and experiences onto someone else, fictional or not, to make their behaviors and reactions comprehensible.

    I think because we do that all the time in life, and it’s such a basic social mechanism, that’s the aspect of a movie that’s easiest to talk about. And often, it’s the main reason people watch (or think they do). “What’s it about?” is a more common question than “how do the abstract formal components cohere and what aesthetic phenomena result?” Often, all the other stuff that comprises a movie, all aspects of technique and “stylization”, are just things we “see through” to get the story, the “this happened, this happened, this happened” social solidarity mechanism stuff. We focus on the story, but the story wouldn’t exist at all without light and sound. Ultimately, light and sound are far more germane to a close discussion of film than the plot.

    Well, really, if you talk about the light and sound, you’ll get to the plot. Sort of like how Paul Cezanne said (I can’t find the quote, but it was something like) “if I paint all the colors, I’ve painted the apple.” Of course, he said it in French.

  4. I should have added that I think that’s what we really mean by “medium” — something we “see through” to access someone else’s thoughts/feelings/experiences, or our own, for that matter. But seeing through doesn’t preclude seeing the medium itself. On the contrary, the more aware you are of the medium, of its particular contours, textures and rhythms, the more you see through. This is how media becomes more transparent with opacity.

  5. Hey Jonathan,

    Love the blog.

    There seems to be a problem with the Freeplay07JonathanBlow.wmv… kicks the bucket about halfway through in window media player and media player classic only manages the audio.



  6. That’s strange; the video works for me, though Windows Media Player needed to download a new codec. Actually sometimes it flips vertically for some weird reason (!) but then it corrects itself. Maybe the file got corrupted on the main site after I downloaded it? I’ll try it out again..

  7. Oh, I’d certainly agree that plot alone does not a film make, though in conventional filmmaking the individual elements generally implicitly or explicitly support/form the plot. I’d also agree with David that plot is generally the prime way we perceive a film from a human perspective, hence the emphasis.

    Incidentally, I’m glad to see someone else who thinks reward in games and particularly MMOs is often Skinnerian. I’ve had protracted arguments on this very point, and a large point of difficulty is that there’s no obvious line where there’s a change between ‘genuine’ entertainment and exploitation – indeed, in a sense all media is really just exploiting the faculties we use to interact with the real world. Convincing people that I dislike that aspect because of this rather than that I believe this because I dislike that aspect, though, is a little difficult.

  8. For me the freeplay video plays in mpc, is audio-only in mediaplayer, but either way is unseekable, which makes it essentially worthless. (E.g. if, say, you’ve watched half of it and then want to watch the rest.)

  9. Christiaan: I needed the WVC1 codec to play the files – I’m currently trying and failing to find where I downloaded it from…

  10. Hmm, that’s so weird (especially Sean’s issue). It was definitely seekable in my Media Player.

    Well, that’s Windows video formats for you, I guess.

    At some point maybe I will make my own copy and put it into a format that works better…

  11. You might want to consider using the VLC player. You can download it here:

    I had no problems using that player (I also use it with about everything video).

    Jonathan, you mentioned a mailing list that was discussing PoP:Sands of Time. Would it be possible to join that mailing list?

  12. It’s a private mailing list that I don’t control. But, it’s currently inactive anyway so you’re not missing much!

  13. I like your answer because it starts with something a lot of people would say they have learned in games and that is clearly true (flexibility in decision making is advantageous) and connects it to much bigger issues and historical trends.

  14. Hi Jonathan, I watched the Freeplay video and it was an awesome keynote presentation. I’ve been working in production in the industry for 3 years (still pretty inexperienced) , making licensed kids games, pretty much the extreme opposite to independent game development. Its hard to keep a fresh perspective on why we do what we’re doing but some points in your talk really inspired me to think and analyse the way projects are run so that we make good games, whether its an innovative independent game or a licensed kids game with sequels to be shipped every Christmas. I’ve blogged about some of the thinking that I did after hearing your talk.

    So thank you, for reinvigorating a tired noob who was slowly losing motivation.

  15. Hi Jon,
    In your talk, you compare some games to McDonalds and cigarettes. So here’s an idea: how about making a documentary where you expose the cheap design tricks (such as scheduled reward) developers use to make their games addictive? Kinda like “Super Size Me” did for McDonalds, and “The Merchants of Cool” did for marketing. Maybe call it.. “Level 60” or something 😛


  16. Heh. It’s an interesting idea, but I am already way too busy to undertake projects like that.

    Also, though, I don’t feel like a documentary would be necessary. All the information is already out there on the web, and inside games; it’s just a matter of finding and reading it.

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