A Conversation with Jonathan Blow: Making Games, Ambitious Design and What’s Next
A conversation with Jonathan Blow about making his first games, the importance of ambitious design projects to the games industry and what’s next after The Witness.
I don’t know if you know this yet, but Jonathan Blow is really super cool (and probably one of the nicest people you’ll meet!).
A few weeks ago he joined me and my research partner in crime, Pepper Lancaster, for tea and bickies at Lydia’s Cafe in Petaluma. Pepper and I want to know how great ideas get made, take on a life of their own and what contributes to their success…
…and we really like tea and bickies.
Even after a full-on week, facing a long drive home, an obviously tired but super generous and patient Jonathan sat down with us and let us ask all kinds of questions.
(Seriously, anyone who has to sit down with ME for an hour and a half has the patience of a saint!)
We get into some tricky debates around:
- How do you know that you’re working on the right stuff?
- Why do some games become successful when others don’t?
- Why is it so critical to explore what really interests you (as opposed to doing what’s ‘popular’)?
And we finish with a BIG question for you, and for everyone concerned about “what to do next” after releasing a big project:
How do you find the time to experiment with new ideas, and give those ideas room to grow and develop, when you have a studio to run and a tribe of creatives to take care of?
This is the uncut and unedited audio from our interview, posted with Jonathan’s permission. As should be obvious by now, I’m not a journalist. I’m just a curious girl who asks LOTS of questions and likes to share what I learn (you can read more about WHY that is here). But if you ARE a journalist and want to use any of this as material for an article – then be cool about it, you know the rules of good journalism: Don’t misquote or take anything out of context (or people will say mean things about you on the internet), make sure you include a link to Jonathan’s current project The Witness and link back to the full interview here so people can listen to the original and check out the companion resources if they want to.
The Full Interview
You can also listen to it here.
References and Companion Resources
- In the interview we talk about how to get started as a programmer and the challenge of figuring out what to start with, so I asked Boon Cotter (veteran creative director recently turned indie game designer) how he got started learning how to code games: “In hindsight, I found learning to code and trying to filter the resources kind of like trying to pick a colour palette in the dark. Once you know how to program, finding the ‘right’ resources is easy. If I was going to recommend resources to a nooby I’d recommend starting with a full IDE like Unity, UDK or GameMaker. Unity probably. It’s just so damn nice. Then I’d point them to the Unity forums and the official unity tutorials, followed by the Walker Boys series which is easily one of the best, most comprehensive, jargon-free, well-explained tutorial series I’ve ever seen!”
- Daniel Cook, Triple Town designer and founder of Lostgarden.com, recommends Amit Patel’s site on Game Programming
- There’s a beautiful excerpt from Ira Glass’s Talk on Storytelling on creative grit, the art of storytelling, and bridging the gap between good taste and great work.
- We mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success in the interview.
- Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an amazing movie and an example of the kind of success that comes from an uncompromising dedication to quality and the pursuit of creative excellence.
- One of my favorite examples of creative tenacity: this timelapse of an engineer’s unrelenting dedication to learning how to draw, showing his progress from rough stick figures to being a master painter.
- You’ll find more recommended resources on game design here.
- And if you haven’t yet, please watch Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture on Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams
Finally: A Question for You
This is for you and everyone who’s concerned about what to do after releasing their next project.
How do you find the time and space for the kind of experimentation that’s so crucial at the early stages of creativity, when you have a studio to run and a tribe of creatives to take care of?
As creatives, in ANY industry, this is something we have to figure out if we’re going to keep exploring new ideas and designing new experiences sustainably!
And here’s the challenge to finding a good solution:
- It has to build on the infrastructure (engine/tools/workflow) you’ve spent so long developing. Doing something radically different would be like going backwards.
- It can’t stall growth or forward momentum, you have to be able to keep exploring new ideas and inventing new things (as opposed to producing permutations of what’s already been done).
What would you do?