Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid, to modernize adventure games

Allow me to break my silence to share a recent post on PC Gamer.

In an interview titled for his views on "Social Games" Jonathan Blow says quite a bit about adventure games and even levels a slight criticism against the modern IF community:

Adventure games are all confusion. If it’s text, it’s “Why doesn’t the parser understand me still?” So the core gameplay of adventure games is actually fumbling through something, right? And that’s true with modern [versions]. All the episodic stuff that’s coming out. And there’s a whole community that makes modern interactive fiction games and all this stuff. And it’s true for all these games. [emphasis mine]

Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but it seems to me that he's saying adventure games, and IF, are broken. Wait, no, he addresses that pretty clearly:

PC Gamer: A lot of fans of old-school point-and-click games would probably take instinctive offence – not at refining the genre – but at assuming that they are broken and inaccessible.

Jonathan Blow: Yeah, but it’s true. And I’m sorry, you know. I love those games.


Count me as instinctively offended; some of my most memorable gaming moments of the past two decades have been from IF. Of course, I have a bit of a selective bias problem.

Blow proposes to "fix" adventure games using his modern design sensibilities in an upcoming game called The Witness. I suppose we will have to wait to see how exactly he will fix things, but from the interview it seems that he will probe deeply philosophical and existential questions by giving the PC a case of amnesia.

Yeah, or you have amnesia or whatever! And then through the course of the game you find out who you are. Like, BioShock did that. Tons of games do that. This game does it but in a very self-conscious, self-referential kind of way.

That sounds totally new, or whatever.

Okay, perhaps I'm not the right person to dish out the snark as I haven't designed a single game in my life, and certainly could never make anything as remarkable as Braid (which I enjoyed, a lot) if I tried, but I find the whole interview to be a bit much. Of course there's no way to evaluate his claims until I've played the game (and I surely will), so time will tell.

Oh, he also says some stuff about morality and game design.


Victor Gijsbers said...

[i]Adventure games are all confusion.[/i]

This comes from Jonathan "I made a nice puzzle game, but I'm never going to explain the exact rules to you, even though you will need to understand a lot of subtle and non-obvious aspects of said rules in order to solve the game" Blow?

I know that is a genetic fallacy, but I'm not constructing an argument, I'm just venting my frustration with Braid. :)

matt w said...

And it’s true for all these games.

Walker. And. Booping. Silhouette.

matt w said...

By the way, your link has double https.

Aric said...

Thanks Matt! It's fixed now.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that this is what Blow is talking about, but I've often experienced an immersion problem with IF because of all the time I spend trying to figure out what is and isn't permissible. The trouble seems to be that invitation to use natural language creates an illusion of freedom that just isn't there.

So for me, IF does need a fix. Some people may argue that the opacity contributes to the gaming experience, but I get so frustrated by "guessing" the verb that I have almost given up the game. I would love to see IF that hid less of itself from the player, perhaps hid none of itself.


matt w said...

Dave -- seriously, try Walker and Silhouette. Every action you need to finish the game can be carried out by typing keywords that are highlighted in the main text. (Though there are bonuses that can be got by typing other things -- and I don't mean "xyzzy.") It really hides none of itself from the player in the way you mean, I think.

Blue Lacuna may also be completable by typing only highlighted keywords, though I still haven't completed it, so dunno.

That was kind of the point of my first comment was, if Blow doesn't know about what people are doing on this front, he shouldn't be generalizing about all modern IF.

Gravel said...

And, you know, for pretty much every IF author I've talked with, there's concern about making the parser/command process as straightforward.

Not all of us hit the mark, but there's quite a bit of discussion and experimentation. Even authors that don't experiment are encouraged to use synonyms and construct grammar in as open a way as possible by the community.

That doesn't mean I don't stumble here and there, but sometimes I have to look up how to do something in an RPG (like rest), too. It's a flaw, not a feature.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendations. I'll check them out!


Aric said...


So many people have responded to the interview here and elsewhere that I don't really have much to add. Really though the point for me isn't that there aren't, at times, immersion problems, or that the parser can't be opaque, but that in the best cases IF isn't at all about fumbling around if you are already familiar with its conventions. I think that is true of most games, that there is a process of learning and discovery and then mastery.

To compound that misunderstanding with an apparent unfamiliarity of the latest strides in usability and a sweeping statement that *all* modern IF games are *broken* and then to express satisfaction about using one of the most overused cliches in IF history-- well, it's just insulting.

As Emily pointed out (http://emshort.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/you-can-also-see-some-marketing-here/), it's not really that outrageous in context of who he is and what he's trying to do (advertise), but as Robb Sherwin points out (http://www.joltcountry.com/index.php/features/the-500-meter-hurdles-in-being-wrong-about-something), it is awfully inane.