A new, short speech about game design.

The speech is called “Games as Instruments for Observing Our Universe”, given by Jonathan Blow at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont in February 2010.

The talk is short — about 20 minutes — followed by about an hour Q&A (in a separate file). Slides in ppt format are included.

Here’s a bundle containing those files.

The next day, we did a conversational interview at the Firehouse Gallery in Burlington. This started with a short introduction about Braid and my next game, followed by some questions by Chris Thompson, and then questions from the audience. Here’s the audio for that session. (You can right-click and pick Save As… if this opens in your browser in an obnoxious way.)

23 Responses to “A new, short speech about game design.”

  1. Daniel Says:

    Thanks for that! I’m gonna check it out tomorrow :-]

  2. Nathan Says:

    Quite interesting. I’m just finishing the implementation of a relatively simple game that went through a similar process. It started with similar questions: “What can you do with x?” “What happens if you introduce these restrictions?”

    In the end, there was much more there than I ever imaged. I’m hoping other people get hooked and enjoy it like I have.

  3. Luke Says:

    great. looking forward to this. really enjoyed the 2007 How & Why talk, spot on

  4. hey Jon Says:

    Since you don’t understand what a game is, read this topic on Icycalm’s forum so that you can understand: http://forum.insomnia.ac/viewtopic.php?t=2809

  5. Dylan Says:

    I love the thought of discovering and playing with a system that was already there. You’re bound to find something more interesting than what you had in mind at the outset if you stay open.

    This talk is interesting and related. Elizabeth Gilbert thinks of her creations as having come from some unseen external place (mostly for morale reasons): http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html.

    Also, I think this design philosophy implies a need to focus on gamefeel. Good feel that encourages play and exploration is what the designer can add after working to discover something interesting.

  6. SOIUXI Says:

    You are interested in complex/interesting/deep games (or for experimental games as they are different – complexity and depth doesn’t matter so much as it’s still a fresh game for you).
    I hope you’ll make a complex action game one day as indies seem to be poor at that (aside from Spelunky), although I doubt that you will since you seem to find it easier to make an interesting game that is puzzle/adventure orientated.

  7. Doug Orleans Says:

    Any chance you’ll be at PAX East next month?

  8. Alex Karpenko Says:

    Great talk! Loved the fractal example of complexity arising out of simplicity. Perhaps our entire existence and the universe itself is also just part of one giant multidimensional space-time fractal ;)

    Your discussion of discovering what Braid could be rather than what you originally thought it would be was also very interesting. As someone who has recently made a game that turned out to have a will of its own, I can certainly relate on some level!

  9. Jonathan Blow Says:

    It’s unlikely I’ll be at PAX East… but hey, you never know.

  10. Jonathan Blow Says:

    Re the Icycalm posting: that is very close to how most people in the industry would define a game. But it doesn’t suffice for the kind of work that I find myself doing these days.

  11. Jeremy Says:

    It makes sense you would enjoy making games more than playing them. Creating something typically has more intrinsic value than consuming something.

  12. Doug Orleans Says:

    If you’re hinting that you’re looking for reasons to be at PAX East, here are a few:

    1. Premiere of Jason Scott’s documentary film GET LAMP.
    2. Panel about storytelling in IF, including Rob Wheeler (mod.), Robb Sherwin, Aaron Reed, Emily Short, and Andrew Plotkin.
    3. The IF hospitality suite, where many IF luminaries will hang out at all hours.
    http://ifwiki.org/index.php/PAX_East_2010
    4. Probably some interesting non-IF stuff too, but I haven’t seen any particulars yet.
    5. I’m guessing there will be many fawning Braid fans there. OK, that might not be a plus.

    On the other hand, 3-day passes are sold out already. But I imagine you could pull some strings if needed.

  13. Zaphos Says:

    Great talk! I feel like this is a method of design I’ve used before, but I never had such a well-thought-out explanation as to why it is so interesting to design that way :)

  14. pocky00 Says:

    Please, cliffnotes on the new game, I couldn’t make out much of the sound from the soundfile. If you could share some info then that would be much appreciated, I’ve been waiting a long time for some information on it.

  15. George Dudas Says:

    your speech reminded me a bit of Francis Bacon (painter) who was starting with some ideas for a painting, and then the painting could become something very different during the process of putting paint on a canvas. He was very open to the idea of finding a painting while painting (if that makes sense). Also he was very open to randomness, like throwing paint onto the canvas and working out the ideas from that randomness… (randomness in software would be something like bugs or glitches or even connections between rules which were not designed but happen to occur).

    hm.. I think that’s what your talk was kind of about, right? thanks!

  16. Henk Boom Says:

    Thank you for the presentation, it helped me break a creative block I’ve been stuck with for several weeks :)

  17. Doug Orleans Says:

    I thought you’d enjoy this: Microsoft added achievements to Office.

    http://lostgarden.com/2010/01/ribbon-hero-turns-learning-office-into.html
    http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=29685

  18. Javi Rodriguez Says:

    Hey, I recently reviewed Braid on my animated webseries. I know we’re a bit late, but in celebration of it’s PS3 release, I thought I’d give it a go.

    I meant to email this to you but I couldn’t find an address, so, I hope you enjoy.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOn_O9dLHog

    -javi

  19. Gemedet Says:

    Hey Jon, I noticed the experimental gameplay sessions are marked as canceled. What happened?

  20. Matthew Says:

    I always enjoy your lectures, and they keep getting better.

    I don’t know if you’ve realized, but I feel that what you’ve touched on is the essence of artfulness in nearly all mediums. Setting out with a goal in mind, but being willing to completely change that goal if your work shows you something that’s more meaningful or at the least, more interesting.

    The work is a living thing that is trying so hard to show you these paths to truly meaningful discoveries. Maybe it’s the voice of God, or the genius in the walls of the studio as Elizabeth Gilbert said. Either way, there is something about the creation of art that is clearly out of our hands.

    The truth is, as a game designer, I’m not trying to “create” a good game. I’m just trying to find it. That may be a vague distinction to make. But as a beginning designer, it’s easier to believe that the best games are built like buildings–from the ground up–rather than through playful experimentation. Making games is always difficult, but a great designer must learn to play, and not just work. Great games can’t be created in a design document. They must teach the designer as much as the player.

    Although I do wonder, what should you do when you feel doubtful about your current project? Is doubt just part of the process? Is doubt the seed of learning?

  21. Duccini Says:

    Stephen King once said that stories are like fossils – not built, but discovered. He also said that plotting a story was like digging out a fossil with a jackhammer.

    It seems like you have the same attitude towards games.

  22. Ian Schreiber Says:

    Certainly, this is one way to design a game, especially anything involving emergent gameplay.

    Is there no room for more directed design, though? Where instead of searching for an answer, the author believes they have FOUND an important answer to a question, and wish to express that in the form of gameplay?

  23. Jonathan Blow Says:

    Of course there is room for more directed design.

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