Braid

Sounds Like Every Footstep Will Matter in The Next Game from the Creator of Braid You take millions of footsteps in video games and the sound accompanying those movements is probably something that becomes white noise after a while. There's a good chance that won't happen in The Witness, though.


In a post on The Witness blog, creator Jonathan Blow reveals the kind of small detail that shows an intense focus on creating a sense of place:


Q: How many footstep sound effects are in The Witness?


A: 1,119 so far. They sound really good! We will probably be in the Guinness Book of World Records as the game with the most footstep sounds…


Blow elaborates on just how that specific number comes about in the comments:


We have different sounds for left and right foot, always. For any given material there are 5-6 variations for each foot, to avoid mechanical-sounding repeats; let's just say 5 is average.


So for walking on one material, you have 10 footstep sounds minimum. Thus 1119 sound effects would be about 112 materials to walk on.


But actually, it's fewer materials than that, and more footsteps. We have reverb footsteps for specific locations, where we blend reverb in and out, or crossfade between two reverbs, depending on where you are in a room or hallway. We also have "texture footsteps" that are meant to be layered onto a base sound… so if you are walking on grass, but a little bit of dirt is poking through the grass, the game will play the grass footstep, but with a little bit of dirt texture overlayed on top of it. (The loudness of the dirt texture sound will be scaled by how much dirt is poking through the grass).


The reason behind all this is: The Witness is a game about you wandering through a deserted island. You are the only active character in the game, so the sound of your own motion is hugely important for establishing setting and mood.


The guys at Wabi Sabi sound are doing all this work. It is coming out very well!


When will you get to hear the other shoe drop in The Witness? Not for a while, as Blow says that there's much more work to be done. As for the Guinness Book of World Records, there have been far more dubious achievements between those covers.


Braid

We've Got Jonathan Blow (The Witness, Braid) and Chris Hecker (Spy Party) Here To Answer Your Best QuestionsTwo of the most talented and fiercely independent video game creators I've ever met are joining us today, right below these words I'm writing, to answer your best questions.


We've got Jonathan Blow, the man who brought us Braid and is leading development on the lovely island-exploration puzzle game The Witness. And we've got Chris Hecker, no longer working for The Man, and now toiling on the ever-fascinating, spy-vs.-sniper multiplayer game Spy Party.


That's right. Two game creators here for you to interview...for the price of one.


From 2-3pm ET, Hecker and Blow will answer your questions, live, in the comments section below.


This is our first interview using this new format, so a few pointers: 1) All readers can submit questions by typing them below. 2) Our interviewees will answer the best questions live; refresh the little circle-arrow to see the latests. 3) By default, you'll see all the answered questions, but you can toggle and look at every question that's been asked, if you want to avoid duplicating anything.


Ready? Ask away! Interview ended. Wow, that almost went too well! Thank you to Chris and Jonathan for doing this and to all of you for asking great questions. We actually got more questions and answers than we anticipated, so they're rolling right off the page! You can see most of the answered questions below, but if you want to see every single one of them, you will have to click on Show All Questions.We'll have ironed in the future so you can see every answer in one nice long scroll. If you liked this, then I have some good news: we're going to be doing more of these.


(Thanks to Jonathan and Chris for participating. Learn more about their games at the official sites for The Witness and Spy Party.)


Psychonauts

Today, Super Meat Boy, Braid and Lone Survivor were added to the fifth installment of the Humble Indie Bundle. Just when you think things couldn't get more awesome. [HumbleBundle.com]


Braid

Most Popular Video Games Are Dumb. Can We Stop Apologizing for Them Now?A few weeks ago, the Atlantic magazine published a profile I wrote of the developer Jonathan Blow, a man known in gaming circles as much for his criticism of the mainstream game industry's intellectual shortcomings as he is for Braid, the outstanding game he created.


To put it mildly, this article pissed a lot of gamers off; in fact, given the tenor of the comments by gaming enthusiasts on Twitter and on fine websites like this one, it seems that many people believe my talents might lie less with game criticism and more with, say, janitorial technology.


Though some commentators took umbrage with what they perceived as Blow's pretentiousness (and you'll just have to take my word for it when I tell you he's actually a great guy), the substantial majority bristled at one particular argument I made about games. "There's no nice way to say this," I wrote, "but it needs to be said: video games, with very few exceptions, are dumb."


It's safe to say that we needn't seek out the services of America's top psychologists to figure out why this idea chapped a few hides. To use the words of Brainy Gamer's Michael Abbott-who has even launched a "Smart Game Catalog" to prove my claim wrong, what I wrote was "a sharp slap in the face" to those who don't see games as juvenile toys. This isn't entirely true (I did allow for exceptions, after all), but I take his point. While I never intended to be disdainful or dismissive toward gamers (of whom I am one, but more about that in a moment), I'd also be lying if I said I didn't want to splash some cold water in the face of any intelligent gaming fan who contentedly pays to be treated like a dimwitted child. So, while I firmly believe everything I wrote about mainstream gaming's smartness drought, I also think the point I was striving to make deserves a bit of clarification.


What I wrote came not from ignorance or contempt, but from frustration with the state of big-budget gaming.

First, because I wrote this piece for a general, non-gaming audience (upon whom any discussion of the artfulness of Bulletstorm's energy leash decapitations, for example, would have been lost), many gamers got the impression that I spoke from ignorance—that I was another Roger Ebert badmouthing games in a national forum without knowing the first thing about them. The truth, however, is that my opinion comes from playing too many games. I hesitate even to place a ballpark figure on how many games I've played in recent years, for fear of how it might strike my wife or future editors if they read this; let's just say I've done a very thorough survey of the field and have the Achievements and Trophies (O, the Trophies!) to prove it. What I wrote, then, came not from ignorance or contempt, but from frustration with the state of big-budget gaming. I've cared deeply about games for a very long time now, and thus it bothers me (and Blow as well, I should note) that they've failed to evolve much intellectually.


Which brings us to another point: as a chronic gamer, I'm well aware that Jon Blow is not the only human being ever to have produced a smart, artistically interesting game for a large audience. I've gone on record as saying that Portal is a work of unblemished brilliance, for instance (though I did not write the accompanying headline proclaiming Portal 2 "The Best Videogame Ever"), and there are many others that I consider terrifically smart. To name just a few recent examples: Bioshock, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Red Dead Redemption, Fez, Uncharted 2 (the apex of games as Hollywood movies), Limbo, Dark Souls (for sheer visionary weirdness), Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and so on. I don't know that I'd ever grab one of the nation's premier art critics, fire up the Chaos Witch Quelaag boss fight in Dark Souls, and then argue that it represents a masterful achievement on par with the portraiture of Gustav Klimt—but still, there's some fascinating stuff going on there.


Most Popular Video Games Are Dumb. Can We Stop Apologizing for Them Now?


The problem, though, is that smart games like these are vanishingly rare, particularly among mainstream developers. This is what I meant when I wrote that "games, with very few exceptions, are dumb." Out of the hundreds, if not thousands, of console and PC games that emerge from the dark and mysterious caves of development studios each year, only a handful are what a reasonable observer might call smart or artistic—a disturbingly low batting average by any metric. The rest are...well, as I said, they're typically pretty dumb.


I'm not saying that intelligent people should never play intellectually unsophisticated games.

So let's have a word about what I mean when I use this admittedly rather unkind little term. ("Dumb," I realize, is a loaded word that many gamers would have preferred to see replaced with something less caustic- like "unfulfilling" or "emotionally unsophisticated"-but while this is a fair point, the d-word is what we have to work with.) I don't mean that literally everything about them lacks intelligence. It should go without saying that there are countless smart things going on in even the most outwardly silly games, or else they'd have no reason to succeed. To me, the gameplay of the cartoonish gorefest known as Gears of War 3 is as tightly calibrated as a Maserati's suspension system (I've written as much, as well), and only a fool could fail to see the beauty of Flower or the devious brilliance of a "social gaming" cash vortex like Farmville.


My issue, then, is with what we might call the intellectual maturity level of mainstream games. It's not the design mechanics under the hood that I find almost excruciatingly sophomoric at this point; it's the elements of these games that bear on human emotion and intellectual sophistication, from narrative and dialogue right on down to their core thematic concepts.


Take the 2010 shooter Vanquish, for example. Viewed through the context of pure game design, Vanquish is an absolute triumph; it's a joy to play, it looks fantastic, and it provides a nicely paced, challenging gaming experience. Yet when we evaluate it on the intellectual maturity scale, the game is an atrocity. Between its senseless plot, silly premise, cornball paint-by-numbers characters, and preposterous dialogue (a combination Japanese game creators seem to have perfected), the game is so toxic to the player's intelligence that one can almost feel the brain cells dying with each pointless cutscene and agonizing spoken exchange.


Everything other than Vanquish's core gameplay feels as though it was dashed together in an afternoon by a seventh-grade anime fan. In his excellent book Extra Lives (which anyone who cares about games should read immediately), my friend Tom Bissell notes that great art is "comprehensively intelligent," meaning that it's intelligent in every way available to it. A game like Vanquish, on the other hand, shows a fragmentary, schizophrenic intelligence; its gameplay is brilliant, while the rest of it is what Chris Hecker, in my piece, calls "adolescent nonsense."


Most Popular Video Games Are Dumb. Can We Stop Apologizing for Them Now?


Of course, this issue might not bother you. You might point out that one shouldn't really expect much brainpower from a bullet hell shooter in which one rocket-slides around battlefields aiming glowing energy balls at flying men in super-suits, which is an argument that would hold more water if the same problem didn't afflict virtually every mainstream game. It doesn't even strike me as controversial to point out that there is way, way, way too much of this thematic juvenility in games. Vanquish, like so many others, is a product that makes us say, "It's incredibly silly, but hey—it's fun."


Yet for gamers to just sweep that important first part under the rug over and over again in favor of brainless, high-octane enjoyment feels like a crime against the medium they love. To accept childish dreck without protest-or worse, to defend the dreck's obvious dreckiness just because the other parts of a game are cool-is to allow the form to languish forever.


Now, I'm not saying that intelligent people should never play intellectually unsophisticated games, or that games aiming at overall smartness can't involve a bit of ridiculousness. For one thing, "silly" games are frequently quite imaginative and rewarding to play, from the whimsical creativity of LittleBigPlanet to the deranged WTF-ness of something like Shadows of the Damned. For another, we have to make allowances for the fact that virtually any fictional work we experience requires some suspension of disbelief. Even great literature often asks us to swallow our objections about plausibility and logic; I just finished reading a much-lauded novel in which the narrator has incredible telepathic powers that derive from his blocked sinuses, for god's sake.


Almost all mainstream games that involve narrative or human emotion or conceptual thought, however, require something more like suspension of brainpower. Again and again, studios churn out the same story of saving the world, the same inhuman flat-as-a-pancake characters, the same lack of moral nuance, the same horrifically violent foundations (who actually enjoys the murder-porn segments of military shooters in which you rack up fifty kills per minute from an invulnerable gunship?), the same insipid dialogue, the same absence of intellectual maturity, the same disregard for the real existential dilemmas human beings face. The end result of this, for anyone who both plays games regularly and actually cares about such things, is that you feel—despite the surface-level fun—like you're wasting hours of your life that you will never get back on mindless adolescent escapism.


Most Popular Video Games Are Dumb. Can We Stop Apologizing for Them Now?


This has been my experience, at least. Too often, I play a game that I dearly want to—like Skyrim, say, or Deus Ex: Human Revolution—and end up feeling as though I've poured a colossal amount of time into what amounted, maturity-wise, to a particularly vulgar and bloody children's cartoon. Some gamers might say that I'm overreacting here, and that a game like Skyrim is in fact perfectly smart and grown-up. To which I would respond as follows: please look at the thing for a moment from an objective perspective.


As gamers, we get so used to the unique rhythms and conventions of game construction that we fail to realize how very silly they are until we're forced to step back and look dispassionately at what we're playing. With apologies to female gamers, I think of this as the "girlfriend effect": that moment when, as you're thoughtlessly playing Gears of War, your significant other walks into the room, sees what's on the TV, and says something like "You're really playing a game where you can rip off someone's arm and beat him to death with it?" Suddenly, you see with perfect clarity just how preposterous this seems to any other intelligent adult—the endless gore, the ultraviolence, the dumb catchphrases, the brainlessly simple good-versus-evil setup, the context-inappropriate cleavage, the huge muscles and huger guns, and on and on. What do you say then? That it's not juvenile? You can't, because it is; anyone can see it.


And often, this is every bit as true of more "serious" games as it is of deliberately over-the-top ones like Gears. To take Skyrim as an example once again, some gamers might absorb that game's grandiose aesthetics and epic sweep, and then come away thinking they're dealing with a deeply mature creative work. This would be a mistake.


Most Popular Video Games Are Dumb. Can We Stop Apologizing for Them Now?


We're talking about a game, after all, in which bandits essentially armed with sticks rush your level-500 character pledging to destroy you, in which you fight talking dragons for poorly-explained reasons, in which you must negotiate the most ruthlessly-boring and achingly-unrealistic peace treaty in history, and in which the random strangers you pass call out comments like "Being a fletcher is hard work, but when you craft the perfect arrow, it strikes forth like the fist of God." The game may have its merits, but let's not pretend this kind of thing is mature. My impression is that when gamers call something like Skyrim "smart," they don't mean it's objectively smart, as in filled with interesting characters and thought-provoking ideas; they mean it's smart for a game, as in not completely insulting to your intelligence at every moment you're playing it. But as Blow once told me, something is either smart or it's not; the "for a game" part is meaningless.


It's reasonable to want games to grow up.

Am I being too harsh? Am I asking too much? Should I just set down the controller and spend my time sipping port while reading 19th century French poetry if I'm so intellectually-frustrated with games? Perhaps, but I don't think so. Because what I'm looking for is actually very simple: not to feel like nearly every game treats me like a delinquent teenager with ADHD. I know that there are many out there who believe games are just supposed to be fun, so let's not get pretentious about the whole equation. If that's how you feel, go with god, my friend; I'm not out to spoil your party, and the market is already serving you very well.


But I prefer to believe that as an entire generation of lifelong gamers grows from twitchy adolescents into mature, thoughtful adults, it's reasonable to want games to grow up, too. Whatever you might think of Jon Blow, his work does show us that truly, comprehensively smart games are within our creative reach—games that make us think, treat us like grown-ups, and explore the whole range of real human experience. The only things holding developers back from making more of them are a lack of ambition and a tendency for gamers to accept juvenility as long as it comes wrapped in fun.


This situation frustrates me (and Blow, and I'm sure quite a few of you as well), because it's clear that games are capable of so much more than they're doing now. The video game, as a creative medium, has the potential to provide us with experiences every bit as rich and meaningful as those we've gotten from books, visual art, and film; for all we know, it could even surpass them. At the moment, though, the vast, overwhelming, crushing majority of that potential is being wasted on frivolous digital toys. These toys may be fun to play with, and we might have an especially warm place in our hearts for them, but that does not change the fact that they, by and large, are emotionally and intellectually unfulfilling-which is precisely what I meant by the word "dumb." Saying this doesn't give me pleasure, since I wish it weren't the case, but I still believe it's true.


So game developers of the world, please—please!—prove me wrong, but don't do it with words. Prove me wrong by making smarter games. I'll be waiting, controller stashed safely nearby, sipping my port like a jackass.


Taylor Clark is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Oregon. He's got a website, writes for outlets such as Slate and The Atlantic, and writes books.
Braid

Jonathan Blow Has More Shirts Than ArmpitsA few weeks back, The Atlantic ran a profile on Braid creator Jonathan Blow. It was a great read, and I enjoyed the insight into the developer, but at the same time, he came across to many as a bit of a pretentious asshole. If you're of that same opinion, you'll dig this "missing copy".


A Tumblr account has posted a (not real) section of cut content from the piece, and even as someone who admires Blow's work, it's funny reading, poking as much fun at the man as it does the style of The Atlantic.


Blow rouses from sleep preternaturally alert. "I rarely sleep more than four minutes a day," he declares as he pulls over a lurid Ed Hardy shirt, stray sequins fluttering off in apparent defiance of Blow's ordered universe. "When I worked on Braid I hired a Sherpa to strike me if my eyes were closed for longer than sixty seconds."


Reaching for a can of non-hydroflurocarbon deodorant, Blow sprays a perfunctory jolt under each armpit while clothed. When queried why, Blow barks a harsh laugh, as if disappointed at the writer's obtuseness. "I've got more shirts than armpits," he notes "it saves time this way. Besides – don't you people ever get tired of doing things the same way – as if you're just rote little worker bees?"


Read the rest below.


The Atlantic on Blow - the missing copy [Opinions Expressed]


Braid

Braid's Jonathan Blow on Art, High Standards, and Games as "Shitty Action Movies"


Game creator Jonathan Blow is best known for developing 2008 indie hit Braid, and perhaps second-best known for his prickly views on games and the game industry. He aims to be profound with his games, and hopes that his next project, The Witness, can proudly stand in the "games are art" column.


The May, 2012 issue of The Atlantic, available online, features a lengthy profile of Blow from writer Taylor Clark. In it, Blow discusses what he accomplished with Braid, what he plans to do with The Witness, and how he feels about the state of the modern video game in general (not positively). "As harsh as Blow can be toward his industry," Clark writes, "he applies even stricter standards to his own work." He continues:


With The Witness, produced with about $2 million of his own money, [Blow] plans to do nothing less than establish the video game as an art form-a medium capable of producing something far richer and more meaningful than the brain-dead digital toys currently on offer. Blow envisions future games that deliver experiences as poignant and sublime as those found through literature and film, but expressed in ways distinctive to games.


"If the video game is going to be used for art purposes, then it has to take advantage of its form in some way particular to that medium, right?" he told me. "A film and a novel can both do linear storytelling, but novels are very strong at internal mental machinations - which movies suck at - and movies are great at doing certain visual things. So the question is: Where are games on that same map?" It's a question Blow intends to answer.


He later adds:


"The de facto reference for a video game is a shitty action movie," Blow said during a conversation in Chris Hecker's dining room one sunny afternoon. "You're not trying to make a game like Citizen Kane; you're trying to make Bad Boys 2." But questions of movie taste notwithstanding, the notion that gaming would even attempt to ape film troubles Blow. As Hecker explained it: "Look, film didn't get to be film by trying to be theater. First, they had to figure out the things they could do that theater couldn't, like moving the camera around and editing out of sequence-and only then did film come into its own."


Whether Braid is the only authored, intelligent work of video game art worth consuming out there, as Clark repeatedly asserts, is up for debate. (Personally, I disagree.) But it is true that many games produced and sold every year have a kind of sameness to them. Jonathan Blow is trying to do something different with The Witness, as he did once before, and every game that adds more variety to what we consider the world of gaming to be is a good thing.


Whether or not The Witness ends up being a masterpiece, Blow eloquently summarized the indie and experimental game design he and others do:


People like us who are doing something a little different from the mainstream have each picked one direction that we strike out in into the desert, but we're still not very far from camp. There's just a huge amount of territory to explore out there-and until you have a map of that, nobody can say what games can do.


The Most Dangerous Gamer [The Atlantic]


Braid

I hadn't, anyway.


Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid and the upcoming puzzle-symphony The Witness, is a very cool dude. Chatting with him last week, I had this realization about what he was doing with his upcoming game—the way that his carefully crafted puzzles locked together like the motives and themes of a symphony.


So, I thought I'd ask about his favorite band. As it turns out, Blow is partial to Dirty Three, an Australian instrumental outfit made up of Warren Ellis on violin, Mick Turner on guitar, and Jim White on drums. They are super, super good.


Their music is simple, mournful even, something like a more rough-and-tumble version of the wonderful (and sadly, now defunct) San Francisco outfit Tin Hat Trio.


Blow told me he likes to listen to this music as he works; there are no distracting vocals, and each time he listens, he hears something new. I've noticed the same thing—their songs are very simple on the surface, but they carve out a wide open space for their music, creating an immersive and emotional hodgepodge with each tune.


The piece above, titled "Sea Above, Sky Below," is a great example of what they're all about. It even has a melody that comes close to the sax solo in "Careless Whisper," which earns super extra bonus points with me.


You can find more about Dirty Three and hear more music on their MySpace Page.


Braid

It's Mario Versus Braid in the Ultimate Bar Conversation Battle of Indie Cred Call him a sell-out. Call him a suit. Call him too mainstream. It doesn't change the fact that Mario was jumping and saving imperiled females before it was cool.


Ah yes, those young, hip fellows at the bar, sitting together exuding an aura of inapproachability. No one can get close enough to point out that all of their lofty achievements have been achieved before, and even if someone manages to slip past their defenses they simply rewind time so the transgression never occured.


This makes me glad to be the sort of gamer that will joyfully sit next to anyone at the video game bar and start chattering away. It's not about who jumped first. It's that they jumped at all.



Braid

Braid Creator's The Witness Gets an Intriguing Architectural UpdateWhen we last saw the upcoming game from Jonathan Blow this summer, The Witness already looked like an intriguing experience. The way that Blow's game design interwove puzzles and environmental cues created a hypnotic level of immersion where you had to pay attention to a gameworld like never before.


As a result of updated designs from a partnership with architecture firms FOURM Design and David Fletcher Studio, the look of The Witness' world and the resultant immersion will get even deeper. In a new post on the game's Witness website, Blow talks about updating the aesthetics of The Witness from the blocky placeholder structures previously seen to newer models with real-world architectural details:


If you see the different civilizations that came to this island as embodying different philosophies; and you see the structures they built as representative of the way these philosophies led them to interact with the world; and you see further that when they replaced a site, it represents the rejection of some older worldview that they consider no longer useful, then perhaps you start to get some idea of the amount of backstory that can be encoded into the world, nonverbally.


Further down, Blow explains even more what's driving the re-envisioning of his project's look:


Having smart architecture, it seems, really helps this process work, brings it alive. If you build a game where people are supposed to pay attention to details, but the details are wrong or naive or just don't have much thought put into them, then at some level the game just won't work. Even if you don't know the first thing about architecture, you have been in enough buildings in your life that the deeper parts of your brain have distilled plenty of patterns about those buildings. Your brain knows the difference between a real building and a nonsense building that wouldn't occur in the real world. It can feel the difference in veracity between carefully-thought-out structural details - on the one hand - versus stuff that was just placed by a level designer to look cool.


When I got my hands on The Witness this summer, the incongruity of the game's landscapes struck me as being on purpose. Were these structures from different dimensions? Were they meant to symbolize different states of consciousness in Blow's mysterious new adventure game? Now that Blow's offered some insight as to how interconnected the whole design of The Witness is going to be, it sounds even like it'll be a singular experience when it comes out… whenever that is.


Architecture in The Witness [The Witness]


Braid Creator's The Witness Gets an Intriguing Architectural Update
Braid Creator's The Witness Gets an Intriguing Architectural Update
Braid Creator's The Witness Gets an Intriguing Architectural Update


Braid

Indie Game: The Movie is Heading to SundanceLisanne Pajot and James Swirsky's upcoming documentary Indie Game: The Movie will be making its debut at the well-regarded World Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.


The documentary follows three independant game developers— Fez's Phil Fish, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, aka "Team Meat" of Super Meat Boy renown, and Jonathan Blow, who created Braid and the upcoming puzzle game The Witness. Kotaku's own Stephen Totilo played and was impressed by The Witness recently.


You can watch the trailer for the movie here—given its subjects and style, it certainly looks like it will shine a light on the process and artistic potential of games. Its debut at Sundance in January should help bring awareness of indie developers and indie games to a large new audience. Congrats, guys.


Indie Game: The Movie [via Gamasutra]


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