Anyone following my personal blog will have seen I played Braid recently, and it got me thinking. This evening I just happened upon this article, which is actually quite old (from the WIP days of Braid) but has a very interesting insight into Jonathan Blow, the brains behind Braid.
I feel like I have more to offer gaming having read this, as it reaffirms some of my own views and values from another perspective.
The underlying premise seems to be approaching games as an artform. He talks a lot about what you can, and what he wanted to, communicate through games. He sounds like a bit of a bohemian developer when he talks about just surviving, but hey... That's indie as we know it, right? Juggling where he wants to take games with having an actual income. I could go on so many tangents here, but basically it makes me wish arty games were more commercially viable. That more people believed in gaming as an artform, and here reins the profitability vs creative debate. Whatever the case, in my mind the most important thing when making games is to avoid stagnation, no matter the genre. This seems to be the main driving force behind making arty games, but it strikes me as crucial for all game development.
Stagnation is a result of mindless repetition. Games' successes will always be contextual to the time of release. Noone will ever be able to reskin WoW and dominate the market. It's been done. Everything you've played has been done! It's not even safe anymore, the best you can do is make it work better. That's safer, but what a way to live... This can equate to the difference between success and survival. Sometimes it's a real struggle to communicate this concept. Some developers just get it, as if it were so obvious. Some stare blankly, some want to obliviously jump on the ride, and some just think I'm crazy.
Success itself is a variant. There are limitless types of success one can achieve. Even failure is a success in some regards. The only time you really fail is when you haven't tried. How else will you learn?
At this point I feel like I need form of disclaimer, so people don't misinterpret where I stand (or what type of games I'm keen to make). While Braid was intended to be an artistic game I can clearly distinguish it from other experimental games. The commercial value brought to the game by its original and varied puzzles would've been obvious enough to pursue the project and reap rewards. There are a lot of other arty games I've played for 5 minutes and thought, "Ok, that's an interesting social experiment" or "It looks nice, but what's the point?"
It's important to keep a sensibility in game development. Your time is valuable, and so is that of your players. If you want to impress them provide something new, that's also well-reasoned. Part of Jonathan's message was the game needs to work as a whole. If one element doesn't complement the rest it shouldn't be there. Don't try mashing the square into the triangle, it's not gonna fit! All you really need is half the square. Hmmm...