A Lost Interview

Paul Arzt conducted this interview with Jonathan Blow in late 2007 at the Montreal International Game Summit. Due to the unpredictability of Web-based freelancing, the interview never found publication until now.

The interview discusses some of the design philosophy behind Braid, why innovation in game design isn’t so important, life as an indie developer, and ideas about where we can go when pushing on the boundaries of game design.

(Note: The MMO project hinted at, at the end of this interview, is not the post-Braid project any more. Since then I had an idea for a project I am much more motivated to pursue.)

69 thoughts on “A Lost Interview”

  1. It’s always good to get a bit of insight into what makes people tick, especially when they’ve crafted what has to be one of the finest games I’ve played in 25 years.

    Seriously, the only complaint I could have about this game was that it was a bit short for the cost, but the puzzles were far more entertaining than I was expecting, keeping me occupied for a solid 5 hours. I now have to restart the game and look for something I had no idea existed in my first play through, though the hints were there. Enthralling story, way deeper than I expected from an XBLA game. Way deeper than I expect from most games, in fact.

    As early holiday/birthday gifts, I will be going over to my friends houses with 1600 MSP cards and downloading Braid and the gamerpics packs. The game is a gift to them, the pics a gift to you since they won’t use them. Thank you for bringing me back to the wonder of my childhood gaming days, without giving me a fisher price story.

    I’ll be buying your next title. If it has half the thought and creativity of Braid, I will be buying the one after that as well.

  2. so Jonathan…is Braid really about the {{BLANKED}}?

    I didn’t get that from the epilogue. I thought it more of a metaphor for what people can do to their life and potential for regret.

    I don’t know if that’s spoilery though, so I’ll leave it at that.
    Feel free to edit me.

  3. Time manipulation is not a new concept in games. Blinx: The Time Sweeper was an Xbox title that used time manipulation. I think time manipulation puzzle games have a very tight niche. I think if you are the type of gamer who likes time manipulation puzzle games, then you are going to “LOVE” this game, for all others though, this game will leave you with a broken television, as you will have thrown your controller into it. This is not “twitch” game play by any means and will require one to be of sound mind to play. I personally, personally mind you, hated the game. It took no time before I was screaming at the television and reaching for the Excedrin bottle. I love the graphics and musical depth of the game, but that is where my love ends. The game play mechanics simply drove me insane. For an XBLA title, this is a triple A title, and I would love to see this type of depth in future XBLA titles. I tried very hard to like this game, but the need for hair-plugs to replace the ones I pulled out while playing, simply told me this was not my cup of tea. I recommend EVERYONE download this game though and give it a try.

  4. Ah, nice. Thanks. Good interview. You sure do mention Rod Humble a lot though. Maybe you two should get married.

    Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week.

  5. Jonathon, I just thought I’d mention that Major Nelson updated his blog with the XBox Live Stats and Braid was the 9th most played game on XBox Live this past week as well as being the #1 most purchased XBLA game. Congratulations!

  6. “this past week”
    Sorry, I meant “week of the 4th,” whatever Major Nelson means by that. I guess that would mean Braid was still able to achieve those stats despite arriving in the middle of the week. Wow!

  7. On the topic of meanings of the game, I heard a new one today. The Dire Straits Theory.

    Romeo and Juliet.

    Could be totally unrelated, but damned if the lyrics aren’t an awesome fit.

    You really need a forum for Braid here Mr. Blow.

  8. Finished braid loved the gameplay.

    Just would like to say that a SDK to make our own puzzles and a way to play other peoples work, would take the game from a short play to infinite replay value.

  9. Wow. I bought it a couple days ago, got so damn addicted I stayed up all night trying to figure out puzzles. Then I found out about the secrets so I started again… and finished again.

    This game is completely captivating. The controls and mechanics are flawless, but most importantly the story is engaging and totally unlike anything else. While we don’t get a very clear explanation it went into realms I never expected, and I hope everyone will complete it twice so they can see both directions of the outcome.

    The constellation gave me a chill when I realized what it was. Again I applaud the creator, and make one request: in Braid 2 I don’t want to be Tim. lol

  10. Okay I dunno if this is the right place to ask, but I’m curious about one thing in Braid (well, really curious about lots of things, but let’s stick with one for now). My brother pointed out to me that, contrary to the control set established by basically every platformer since the NES went out of style, in Braid there’s no height control on jumps. A jump is always the same height, no matter how long you hold the button.

    Frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t notice it, and even more surprised that it really doesn’t hurt the gameplay. I think because both innovations were brought in at the same time the concept of air control and controlled-height-jumps may have been conflated. I notice that all or most FPSes seem to get by fine without height control.

    Anyway, the meat of my question is whether that was a design issue or a technical issue (if it introduced problems into the time reversal). If it was a design issue, what made you make that decision?

    Oh and if it’s not obvious I loved your game. I got a 360 primarily to play Braid, and I don’t regret the purchase one bit. I’m glad to hear that it’s likely Braid will be able to fund your next project, and I can’t wait to see what that’s going to be.

  11. hey,.. you’re game is realy attractive ! Is there any chance to see it arrive on the WiiWare ??

    So, in case you need some music for a forcoming production, have a heard on my website, i would be please to propose you some electronic music 😉

  12. Ben: It was a conscious design decision. Braid is about puzzle solving rather than action-platforming, so a lot of decisions were made to facilitate sophisticated puzzles. For example: The scale of your guy on the screen, and the height of your jump, is much smaller than in a game like Super Mario Bros, so that several vertical layers that would be to high to jump to would fit on the screen at once (and the camera is appropriately zoomed out).

    Jump height in Braid is one of the primary ways that you get to not-so-easy-to-reach places, and if you could just make your jump higher by holding the button, that would either (a) eliminate the possibility of a lot of the puzzles, or (b) require the levels to be much taller than they are [and not fit on the screen, or else have everything *way* too zoomed out].

    Furthermore, because the game is not about action platforming, adding extra action platforming features seems like a mistake (since it would shift the player’s intention in that direction).

    It’s not an issue with rewind at all.

    I am pretty tired right now but hopefully this explanation makes some sense.

  13. Oh, when when when will this brilliant game be released on PC? Please put up a release date soon, and perhaps the ability to pre-order? I simply can’t wait in limbo for much longer…

  14. cyborgjeff – I remember reading that Braid won’t be coming to WiiWare because of file size limitations.

  15. Thanks for the info on variable jump height, which is frustrating more often than it is useful.

    One Mario-playing friend of mine, upon playing World 2, was mad that bounce height is proportional to fall height. He says “no other platformer ever works this way.” Is this actually a new feature?

  16. Robyrt: Braid is about understanding the rules of the world. Part of that involves physics. If you are bouncing off something, the faster your downward speed is, the faster your upward speed will be after the bounce. That is physics. That is the way the world works.

    If your friend is mad about that, then I don’t have anything further to say.

  17. I understand what you’re talking about Jonathan, but it seems to be that that would be more an issue of maximum jump height than whether the player can control the parameters of the jump within those bounds. I suppose, though, that making jump height constant helps to kind of formalize the results of jumps and bounces, so that players will more consistently know what to expect rather than having all these fiddly little variables that might result in a less easily envisioned outcome.

    On a completely tangential point, I’ve been killing time off and on by reading game design textbooks I have sitting around the house and one of the quotes in Neal Hallford’s jumped out me. Paraphrased: “Game characters are defined by what they can do.” Now, I think the scope of this was really only intended to be that players most actively identify a character with their capabilities, but Braid does an excellent job of taking this to the next level and actively using a character’s abilities, and the gameplay related to those, to define that character. I can’t think of any other games right off hand which achieve the same thing, but if anyone else can think of one I’d be interested to hear it.

  18. Now that you are not going to pursue that MMO game idea anymore, could you tell us a bit more about it?

    Also, I would like it if you wrote a few articles about both the technical aspects of making Braid and design considerations that came up during development. So explain the difficulties you had implementing the different time manipulation abilities and give some insight on how you came up with the puzzles. David Hellman already did this for the art and I think this could give a nice complete picture.

  19. So where are the officially licensed Braid T-Shirts and stuff? Please don’t tell me you’re going to go Bill Waterson on us.

    I want MERCH man, MERCH

  20. Jonathan. I just want to say that your game is brilliant. I just finished it right now and the ambiguity of the ending is just great. Hope you realise that everyone around the world is playing your game (I live in Egypt myself) And I don’t know what to say man. I’m still speechless over the whole thing.

  21. One of the things I NEVER buy are picture packs on Xbox Live but ended up deciding to get the first one so I could represent for it. Certainly I’d love to have a t-shirt… hey, what about a shirt that has “Braid” written in the flame letters with the constellation under it? Awesome.

    To Jonathan: Totally respect what you say about a sequel, and as a matter of fact I wouldn’t want any more puzzles that utilize the exact same aspects we’ve seen. However I remember reading you had some other worlds planned originally but some were cut for not being quite interesting enough. I request as a deep fan of this game that you take a second look at those concepts, or consider some other time situations that would bring a fresh take on the theme. The story seems plenty open to a new scenario and people are liking it so much it would seem very worthwhile if you had any new concepts. Please don’t take this as a rush or something though, it should take time if it’s worth it, just want this world to stay with you.

  22. fantastic game thank you very much for the game your a true visionary man but im curious u said u sank 180 000 dollars into this game so then ( cost of braid on xbla $15) x 55 000 people = $825.000 – 30% (rumored cut that microsoft gets) shouldnt that still be enough to i guess almost cover YOUR money that went into the game? ( granted as i hear how the dev process goes other people that are making the game put in x amount if money as well) unless my calculator is busted that should be the right number

    also braid and rearmed could share the throne as greatest downloadable games of all time there both amazing game but braid was liked more by the critics by just…………… a little bit due to rearmed being amazingly hard and a few other stuff

    but either way u came up with the most brilliant puzzles i have ever seen in a game you really are a true visionary 2 thumbs up for you

  23. because ( i wont name the ones but) there were some puzzles were i would be like WOW i never would have thought it would have worked

  24. Honestly I thought Braid felt like a tech demo more than a full game. The last level was brilliant but I’m amazed at all of the praise. The art was wonderful, but to me it felt like just when you get into the mechanics of the game, it’s over. I hope you will release a level editor soon as I’m curious to see what a mod community could do with the ideas introduced in the game.

  25. Braid is one of the most perfect little gaming experiences I have ever had. I can’t even begin to rap my head around the amount of work that must have gone into crafting it. Small question Jonathan (and this has nothing to do with the fact I’m from Dublin) why did you decide to go with the Irish sounding soundtrack? It works beautifully.

  26. I don’t know what the deal is with some people. Braid taps into one thing well: story. One of the chief complaints I have with video games and movies today is that they lack a well written story. You can take the best special effects and the greatest actors and still have a flat product. Braid delivers on mystery and excitement, intrigue and a full contingent of emotions.

    I played the demo because I read of the game on Penny Arcade. I purchased the game for my wife. I knew that she would love the story and art so much; I knew this game was her kind of game.

    Let me clarify: she is a gamer. So the purchase wasn’t for someone who hates games or is indifferent. She’s passionate about what she whittles her hours away with. I knew that Braid, based on the demo, would hit a deep nerve that she would appreciate.

    I would liken it to the same experience of playing Myst, only better.

    Part of the difficulty of watching her play was not spoiling the puzzles (at times I couldn’t help myself). One of the greatest points in Braid’s favor is the feeling you get when you figure a puzzle out. I always reiterated these hints: Examine every aspect within your frame of reference: nothing is placed in the game without cause. Think outside the box: remember answers can come from strange angles outside of normal time space. Lastly, don’t struggle too much with the minutae of time – if it can’t happen in a second then it’s not likely going to happen, although this is not always the case.

    This game is why I got into gaming. This game is what I love about the gaming experience. It’s not rehashing the same idea or plot or quirk of a game. It’s about a deep story unfolding before your eyes. In the case of Braid the story unfolds in a world that is beautiful not only in appearance but in sound as well.

    Keep hold of the mystery, keep hold of the magic of Braid. One reviewer said “if your next game is half [that of Braid] then I will buy [your third release]”. Keep it simple: deliver us a good story like this one again and we’ll bite every time.

  27. Love the demo but I’m waiting for the pc version (as I don’t own an xbox). Just one little request, can you leave in the XInput code and button graphics for us people with controllers for windows – I’d appreciate it a lot. Also thanks for making such an awsome game!

  28. Mr. Blow, I’d just like to say that I absolutely loved Braid. I have a few criticisms of it (don’t we all?), but this is neither the time nor the post for that. I just have one question, and I would’ve emailed you but I was unable to find your address, so I just decided to ask my question in your most recent blog post (so I’m sorry that it’s off-topic). Have you read Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World? And if so, did it influence Braid?

  29. Haze: I just like that kind of music, and I felt like it would be a good fit for the emotional mix I was aiming for in this game. I would say that only some of the songs are clearly Irish-sounding, whereas some of the others just pick up that feeling by proximity.

  30. I wonder what Braid’s time manipulation mechanics mean for the process of game design. I’m a believer that quality of one’s tools directly impacts the quality of one’s work; much like I imagine the advent of non-linear editing tools affected film editors for the better, I bet *all* game designers could benefit immensely from a “gameplay scrubbing” mechanic, even if it were only enabled during the level design process.

    A number of years ago I wrote a simple game engine that allowed any asset to be modified at runtime – and since the game logic was written in Lua, and Lua stores everything, including code, in easily-modifiable tables, this was true for the game code as well. I never did anything particularly interesting with the engine, but there was something very liberating about changing the rules of the game while playing it.

    A level editor that combined these two ideas – allowing game logic (and level geometry and enemy placement) to be rewritten on the fly, and allowing easy movement backwards and forwards in time – could be harnessed to create some very tight gameplay!

  31. Your game is INCREDIBLE… A “must have”, lovely music, lovely graphics, lovely playability, lovely puzzles, lovely platforms, lovely ALL.

    Thank you for this SUPERB game… Is the best game on XBLA…

    And please… (and sorry :P) Braid 2 NOW !!!!!

    Thank you very much again. Greetings from Spain.

  32. Thanks for the great Game!
    It’ll be nice to see it in Russian since the Game has interesting storyline…

  33. Awww, I was hoping I was being smart. If you think of the “fantasy-world” story of Braid as Tim’s End of the World, there are a number of interesting parallels, but I was likely just imagining them. Then again, who was it that said that the author’s intent isn’t important when evaluating art? Meh, whatever.

    I will commend briefly on the “jump height” thing, though. I think that you misunderstood what Ben was saying about holding the button for higher jumps. If I were to implement such a technique in your game, I WOULD NOT INCREASE the current jump height at all. I would simply require the player to hold down the button a little longer to achieve that height. Therefore, the levels would need no redesigning or anything. The upside to this implementation is minor, but convenient: it merely allows players to make shorter jumps. For the most part, this would be unneeded, but there were a few parts in the game where it would’ve been much appreciated. For example: in World 6-5 you need to bounce off one enemy, then use the height to bounce off another to reach a ledge. However, the ledge above can have enemies on it, too, and the timing is such that after you bounce off one enemy, you hit your head on the one above you. This sort of situation only happened a few times in the game, but a short-jump would’ve eliminated it.

    Oh wait, but if you short-jumped, then the second enemy wouldn’t get you enough bounce to get all the way up… well, still, there were other parts of the game (involving cannons, generally) with similar issues.

    On the other hand, the fact that you never need to hold down the jump button gives the game a lighter, more tactile feel. Instead of mashing the button, light taps suffice (since it doesn’t change the outcome). I’m not sure if the game would actually be any worse if it had controlled-height jumps, but I do know that it was one of the first things I noticed (in 2-1, I noticed the absence before collecting the first puzzle piece), so maybe that’s a good thing.

    One thing I definitely DID appreciate, though, was that there was no added height bonus for pressing the jump button as you bounced off an enemy. Ironically, so conditioned as I was to typical Mario controls, I played probably half the game always pressing the jump button when I bounced. After I realized that you didn’t have to press it at all, and you could simply fall on the enemy, controlling only the analog, I couldn’t understand why I ever thought I had to do that in the first place. It was quite an interesting experience, and I applaud you for the choice to do away with an unnecessary action that, if it were required, would be performed perfectly every time anyway. I mean really, no one who plays Mario ever DOESN’T press the jump button to bounce off the enemy, so why not just make it automatic?

    Eh, actually for Mario you sometimes do need to non-bounce, but for Braid it’d be silly. But now I’m just ranting.

  34. “The upside to this implementation is minor, but convenient: it merely allows players to make shorter jumps. For the most part, this would be unneeded, but there were a few parts in the game where it would’ve been much appreciated.”

    That’d be going about things backwards: wouldn’t it be better to simply remove/change those few areas where it becomes an issue, rather than sacrifice the single-height consistency of the whole game?

  35. Very true. And even without doing that, it’s such a minor issue that if the areas couldn’t perhaps be altered then I’d just leave ’em as is. Part of any game’s charm is learning to deal with quirks, and when the mistakes caused by those quirks take all of 6 seconds to rectify, you learn pretty quickly.

    So yeah, now that I thought about it some more, I’d definitely leave the jumping the way it is.

  36. You need to post something soon so that the Giant omb video review will stop obscuring all of your cool links.
    Just saying.

  37. Thank you. Thank you so much, Mr. Blow.
    I have just completed Braid. I had inklings of the true power of this game, and each unfolding piece of text, art, music, and play led me on in a manner I can only describe as mystical. Then, upon completion, I checked around online…only to learn that I had not even begun to scratch the surface of what that game held within it.

    You took everything that was wrong with the games industry and made it right with one title.

    You produced a piece of true art that touched me like few things ever have. I am moved so much by your work…I am overjoyed.

    I would buy the game 10 times over if I could. Brilliant, ingenious, and truly a milestone. Games as a medium will one day be widely accepted as a form of art. You’re already a Master.

    Thank you again. It means so much to all of us, gamers and industry members alike.

  38. Jonathan. The day braid was released I posted something to the effect of “..I just finished your game..”

    After ‘finishing’ the game around 10th time. Well lets just say that was an incredibly naive initial post. There are layers upon layers upon layers. I take something new away every time I play.

    I still haven’t finished Braid. I probably never will – its so incredibly deep. Thank you, thank you so much for sharing this with everyone. The world needs to play Braid, and not just once or twice. This is the best work of art I’ve experienced to date, game or no.

  39. Once again, awesome game. Only one complaint though… I want chochky!

    The “Tim” and “creature” printable cutouts on this page should give you an idea that people are at least interested: http://www.cubeecraft.com/

    I would gladly buy an overpriced t-shirt or coffee mug if you were inclined to sell out. Come on, just a little bit. We’re not talking pez dispensers or anything. Maybe an alarm clock that rolls back a few minutes when you hit the snooze button.

  40. Jonathan,

    Did you get any influence from Escaflowne for musical influence? Namely the memory of fanelia… cause it sure seems like I hear that melody every so often…

  41. I’m really curious to know how much money Braid has made so far. Is there any way you, Mr. Blow, can give us a statement on that, or at least give us an inkling by hinting at whether you made your money back yet?
    I’m thinking of buying the game for all of my friends who don’t have it yet, primarily because I want to support the game but also because I think all of my friends should play it!

  42. Unfortunately I cannot give direct sales numbers since that would be a violation of my contract with Microsoft. However, I can say that Braid is doing pretty well now, money-wise. The sales have kept going. If vgchartz does another Day One listing this week, for Galaga Legions on Thursday, there ought to be a pretty good estimate in there.

  43. I’m getting fed up with people trying to call this game pretentious. As I’ve stated elsewhere, it’s as if any sign of human emotion or intellect makes something “emo” in this day and age. Using classical romantic and philosophical depth is pretentious? How about it actually makes a person think about aspects of life they’d rather push below the surface.

    Maybe it’s just a minority of people but every time I see a post about it, it’s so aggrivating because of how it dismisses the feeling I get from Braid. Somehow I connected deeply with the story, personal experiences perhaps. Oh well – it is doing great and most people love it. And half the people who call pretentious probably don’t even grasp the meaning of the word anyway. Wanted to let you know I’ll be buying a copy or two for members of my family when it comes to PC.

    Oh and I got the soundtrack now, much gratitude to those performers because it added it’s own depth to the narrative.

  44. John,
    I gotta say, your game touched my heart…..
    Mostly that beginning Darkness with the Fire lights, and The art style, and the way when your character looks down he looks depressed and the way you let me skip the story all togethor but at the same time allowed me to read what everything told me without even reading it, the idea of if you could turn back time…

    Though all My freinds found it boring for me to watch, it was fun for me to play.

    A couple things I’d like to mention is
    1) You will you ever release a Level Builder for braid?
    2) Will you create some sort of race feature so I will not be the only one playing the game? (Something like Sonic 2 from Genisis)
    3) Giving the ability to move at faster then normal speeds

    1) Level Editor/Buildor
    I think these aspects would kinda fullfill the game in a lot of different areas.
    I personally Want to make levels for braid mostly because I want to make more twitch aspects

    2) Multiplayer: Race?
    Also I’d like multiplayer race of some kind just because I hang out with a lot of people and I’d rather have “people play winner” then it being a single player; “go until you die” type thing which is annoying when you get screwed and die right after you get the controller and when other people undo the entire puzzle….

    3) Speed up
    Impatience is as natural as regret. While Regret has become taboo in our culture, impatience has become more in demand then ever. I’m wondering if theres by any chance you giving people the ability to go at 2x-8x speeds as natural movement speed instead of having to go 1x speeds at all times. I suppose Slow-mo might also be cute. But possibly unnecessary.

    I know you’re probably never going to patch it and when developing a sequal it will probably be as much about making the game multiplayer as the first one.

    But I really like this game, and I think it has a lot of potential.
    But to make this a game I can share with other people, id like it to be a multiplayer experience.

  45. I only played the trial and I was completely hooked. I’ll be picking up a microsoft points card tomorrow to buy the full version. Congrats on a wonderful job. Hope you make more games, whether it’s Braid 2 or something new altogether, if it has this kind of polish, you’ll have my money.

  46. Come on! Get a PC version. I will definitely shell out $15 – $20 for this game, but I don’t want to buy a 360 just to play Braid. I have read so much about this and researched the game. Now I just want to play it before I forget about it! PC release date, please, please, please, please.

  47. Thanks Blow for making a decent xbox live game for us looking for a stimulating experience. I hope you are considering making a different game with your uncompromising style.

  48. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE… THIS IS REEEALLY IMPORTANT. Can you pleeeeeeeeeeeeease tell me if there are in fact two clouds, one behind the other, in the castle area of the epilogue? Me and my boyfriend have been trying to figure out ways to get that damn cloud to move and have even gone through several book opening scenarios. NOTHING! PLEASE….For the love of sanity, at least hint that there is a secret puzzle in the epilogue, if a secret puzzle does in fact exist.

  49. I found out about this game trough a friend, and man i bought it the next day. I love indie games, the games tend to be more creative. Very happy u found your way to xbla.

    Now since i love the game somuch, i wonder if anyone can make a theme for Sony Ericsson mobile phone incl sounds.
    I tried to find one on the net but couldn’t. Would also be nice if you put some funny animation on Tim and release is for mobile phone theme use, like a make ur own theme pack :O

    lemme know pls 🙂

  50. I only played the trial and I was completely hooked. I’ll be picking up a microsoft points card tomorrow to buy the full version. Congrats on a wonderful job. Hope you make more games, whether it’s Braid 2 or something new altogether, if it has this kind of polish, you’ll have my money.

  51. First off, great game. I haven’t had this much satisfaction out of a 2D scroller since I was a kid. I finished the game, shut it off, went to bed….AHA! I think my subconscious figured it out. seriously. I woke up the next morning and played through the whole game over again with just as much enjoyment. I like how you are poking fun at Mario and his obsession with collecting those shiny 5-pointed things.

    By leaving out the 4-4 block, and making that double cloud in the last stage, you are seriously messing with people. Its like the Call of Duty zombies Easter Eggs or the infamous “Phantom Menace ship” in the N64 star wars game, people will not stop until they figure it out. I know it is in the style of braid to not give a hint on anything, but c’mooooooon. just a lil’ one? pleeeeeeease?

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