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Indieview #3: Jonathan Blow - December 12th, 2008

Indieview #3: Jonathan Blow, Braid (http://braid-game.com)

I caught up with Jonathan Blow at GAMMA 3D, the stereoscopic video game party put on by the Kokoromi Collective. I mentioned that I had been interviewing indie developers over the last few days, and then I remembered who I was talking to. He offered to be my interview subject, and conveniently enough, he had a voice recorder with him. Somehow the recording turned out to be audible, albeit with a catchy dance beat in the background.

Why did you decide to start making games?

I just always wanted to. I made my first game—it was a really stupid, simple game—in the sixth grade. I was about ten years old, and it was the first time I ever used a computer. Way back then, they didn’t really have computers in schools.

I got into this class—there was one class at my school that had computers in it. They were Commodore VIC-20s which—I don’t know if you know what that is—not a very powerful computer. And I made a game where there was a number cycling, and it would be like, “Press the spacebar when the number’s on 7!” And from there I went on to more sophisticated entertainment.

Speaking of which…what inspired Braid?

It’s kind of a really long story. I had been doing some game prototypes, which you can see on my website.

One of them was that billiards thing, right? Where the game would show you where the balls would end up on the table depending on how you hit them?

Yeah. So that worked okay for what it was, but it didn’t do exactly what I wanted. But I was thinking about that kind of time…stuff. And I had been thinking about using “rewind” in games. So those were the gameplay ideas.

So as soon as I thought about making a game about manipulating time, it reminded me of some books that I had read. There’s a book called “Einstein’s Dreams.” It is an homage to one of my favourite books, which is called “Invisible Cities.” “Einstein’s Dreams” is about the life of Albert Einstein before he developed the theory of relativity. So he’s working hard, he’s putting in time at the patent office, and he’s having these dreams related to what he’s working on.

It’s a really interesting subject for me. It’s one of the things that the design of Braid is kind of about. Some of the puzzles you can approach really logically, but a lot of them are really lateral thinking puzzles.

A lot of people, when they get stuck, they’ll go have lunch, they’ll go to sleep, and when they wake up they’ll have the answer.

Note: Here, unfortunately, a large section of the recording has been drowned out by loud techno music. When it becomes audible again, Jon is discussing the puzzle design of Braid.

All the puzzles are designed to be very whole, with a minimum number of elements. Nothing is random, there’s no ambiguity. It’s kind of a model of enlightenment. Like what would it feel like to be enlightened, and to suddenly be able to do things that you couldn’t do before?

What games do you think have influenced you the most as a game developer?

My favourite games, originally, were the text adventures.

You’re in good company.

Yeah, like adventure games were awesome. When they kind of transitioned to graphic adventures, that was a time when I wasn’t playing games much, so I didn’t follow those too closely.

There were a lot of games I played in college…I don’t know. There’s no one game that was the most awesome game ever made.

That’s interesting, it sounds like it’s not just games that influence you; it’s also books and whatnot. Wow the music is really loud in here.

It’s all right. This is gonzo journalism, or whatever.

All right, here is my obligatory last question: do you have any advice for aspiring game developers? (hint hint)

Well, you’ve already done some of my main advice. What I always tell people is that it’s about making simple stuff, and when that works, you make more complicated stuff. That’s how you do it. Some people feel like, “Oh, I need to go to school, and I need to learn all these skills, but the internet is very, uh, bountiful in…

In some ways.

And horrible in other ways, yes. But, you can learn a lot there. You can see a lot of examples, and get a lot of ideas.

So, advice for somebody who’s already doing something…find the thing that you really really really care about a lot, and put that in the game. Make that the heart of the game. Because that means other people will care about it too. And it also means you can feel really good about what you’re doing.

Indieview #2: Alec Holowka - December 11th, 2008

Indieview #2: Alec Holowka, Aquaria (http://www.bit-blot.com/aquaria)

I met up with Alec Holowka, another past IGF winner, in a dimly-lit coffee shop where he and his team were busy working on their upcoming game projects. They only had a few days in Montreal, and yet here they were, still hard at work. I kind of felt bad for interrupting, but once Alec noticed me looking over his shoulder, he was kind enough to answer my questions.

Aquaria was a huge success for you and your team. Why do you think the game resonated so much with your audience?

I think the game was very immersive. We had this idea that the gameplay and the music should be complementary, and that actually ended up fitting the backstory of the Aquaria world. I was writing the music from the very start, but we didn’t start out with a design document, at least not a serial one.

The way the music and the gameplay came together was sort of an accident. Each spell you learn is a few notes, and I started writing those notes into the actual game music. You learn a melody, and it reappears in later tracks and in the final song. It fits in with the whole idea of “The Verse” connecting everything.

I understand you’re working on a game for the iPhone. What made you decide to make the jump to mobile devices?

Basically, getting excited about the multi-touch interface. And while the iPhone is not a console, it basically works as a console. This game is about exploring the possibilites presented by the platform.

How did you and your new team, Infinite Ammo, come together?

My brother Ian was interning for BitBlot, the independent game company composed of myself and Derek Yu. He also had a friend named Chris who was nagging to work on game stuff for us.

All of us except for Katie grew up in Winnipeg. I recently moved back to the city after years of living out west. Katie decided to move to Winnipeg to be a part of the company, and then she fell in love with my brother.

For a while we thought about being “BitBlot North,” but then we decided to do our own thing.

What was your inspiration for Paper Moon, the 3D stereoscopic game you presented at GAMMA 3D?

Our first idea was a game called “Moony,” which was a first-person flying game where you could see your arms out in front of you and you were flying towards the moon. I had this song “It’s only a Paper Moon” by Ella Fitzgerald stuck in my head. The lyrics are about flying over a cardboard sea, and how love makes everything real.

I had talked to Adam Saltsman, who did some of the environment art, about possibly making the game look like a pop-up book. We had this idea where if you died, you would respawn by climbing down a bookmark like a ladder. The gameplay elements would be attached to the pages of the book. That didn’t really work out, but the idea eventually turned into Paper Moon.

Do you have any advice for aspiring game developers?

Stick with it. Make a lot of small games and prototypes. Look at failures as learning experiences. Before Aquaria, I worked for two different failed start-ups.

Indieview #1: Petri Purho - December 10th, 2008

In November I attended Montreal’s annual MIGS conference with a press pass generously provided by the Notes on Game Dev blog. Figuring I should probably do something that conferred me with an air of legitimacy, I decided to interview whichever indie developers I wasn’t too shy to approach. The result was three “Indieviews,” which I’ll post here over the next three days. Enjoi!

Indieview #1: Petri Purho, Crayon Physics Deluxe (http://www.kloonigames.com)

Petri Purho, last year’s IGF winner, flew all the way from Finland to give a talk about the importance of prototyping in game development. He also had one of the best quotes of the entire conference: “Prototyping is like the foreplay of game development. I call it that because most guys want to skip it.”

Why did you start making games?

For the chicks.

Should I really write that down?

Yes.

Which games have been your biggest inspiration?

Zoo Race, old Lucasarts Adventure Games, and more recently Spore and Braid. I think Super Mario Brothers was the first game I ever played where I knew I would have to make a game of my own someday.

You made 26 game prototypes in about as many months. What made you decide to start doing that?

I wanted to learn game design. I had no experience, and I figured that doing a shitload of games was the best way to learn.

I was also inspired by what other experimental gameplay people were doing, especially a group of four students who decided to make 50 games in one semester. There was Matt Kucic, Shalin Shodhan who went on to work on Spore, Kyle Gabler who did World of Goo, and Kyle Gray who worked on Henry Hatworth in the Puzzling Adventure for the DS. It’s been awesome to see other experimental gameplay guys go on to bigger projects.

What kind of feedback are you getting from people who have seen videos of your new game Crayon Physics Deluxe?

“When is it coming out?”

What was the most interesting feature you were able to implement in Crayon Physics Deluxe?”

The most interesting feature is always the most recent one. Actually, the most interesting part is that the game is actually fun to play. I thought it would be too easy if the game didn’t limit you in any way. But part of the fun is solving the puzzle in the most complicated and elaborate way possible.

Do you have any advice for aspiring game developers?

Do games. That’s the only thing that worked for me.

Mittens 08: The Mittening - September 17th, 2008

For those of you who were wondering what I was doing in France, wonder no more!

Game On! - August 9th, 2008

Hey dudes,

In another example of my secret life bleeding into my real life, I’ll be in Montreal next week at the GameOn Conference. The Notes on Game Dev blog was kind enough to acquire a press pass for me, so I’ll be compiling my experiences into a “guest blog” format.

If anyone reading this is planning on being there, feel free to say hi to me. I’ll be the one standing around looking lost while surreptitiously drinking my weight in free coffee.

Guest blog, Guest blog, You're my guest blog… - July 25th, 2008

So, in another exciting development*, I’ll be doing a monthly-ish guest blog for the good people at Notes on Game Dev. My first contribution is here, titled “Adventure is a Good Way of Putting It.” Future postings will be filed under the tag of “Look Lively.”

This post is a slight reworking of the essay that won** me the Aspiring Women Game Artists competition. Hopefully I’ll have a few more insights about the games industry as I progress through my Sessions Online schoolwork. Honestly, I love to share this stuff, so please feel free to follow along***.

* I’m still pinching myself here, folks

** Along with the lovely Amy Jones

*** I was this close to saying, “Join me on my adventure!” but ultimately I thought better of it.