Jonathan Blow in November 2008
|Alma mater||University of California, Berkeley|
|Occupation||Video game developer|
Jonathan Blow (born 1971) is an American independent video game designer. He is best known as the creator of Braid, which was released in 2008 and received critical acclaim. He is currently developing The Witness, to be released in 2013.
For many years Blow wrote the Inner Product column for Game Developer Magazine. He is the primary host of the Experimental Gameplay Workshop each March at the Game Developers Conference, which has become a premier showcase for new ideas in video games. In addition, Blow is a regular participant in the Indie Game Jam. Blow is a founding partner of the Indie Fund, an angel style fund for independent game projects.
Early life and education
Blow was born in 1971 to middle class, Southern Californian parents, Blow says he started to "check out" from his parents as early as elementary school. His mother was an ex-nun who constantly reminded her son about the imminent coming of Jesus and would later disown Blow's older sister for coming out as a lesbian in the mid-80s. Blow's father worked all day as a defense contractor and would come home to be alone in his den, where children were not allowed. Blow would say in an interview with The Atlantic:  "Early on, I detected that there weren't good examples at home, so I kind of had to figure things out on my own ... I had to adopt a paradigm of self-sufficiency." Blow studied computer science and creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley and was president of the Computer Science Undergraduate Association for a semester. He left the university in 1993, a semester before he would have graduated. He worked in San Francisco in various tech jobs until forming a game design company with a friend from Berkeley at the age of 24. The business folded after 4 years, $100,000 in debt.
In December 2004, feeling inspired during a trip in Thailand, Blow made a prototype for a time manipulation puzzle platformer game. The demo had crude graphics, but featured the ability of the player to rewind all the objects on screen backwards in time to a previous state. Encouraged by feedback from his peers, Blow worked on the game from about April 2005 to about December that year before having the final prototype of his game, titled Braid. This version won the Independent Games Festival Game Design Award at the 2006 Game Developers Conference.
He continued work on the game mostly focusing on art and music while polishing some of the design until its release in 2008 on Xbox Live Arcade. By then, Blow was $40,000 in debt and had invested $200,000 into the game's development.
The game was released on August 8, 2008 to critical acclaim and achieved financial success, receiving an aggregate score of 93% on Metacritic, making it the top-rated Xbox Live Arcade game. Braid was purchased by more than 55,000 people during the first week of release. Blow recalled that he didn't receive any money until one day he saw a lot of zeroes in his bank account.
Despite the positive reaction, Blow had a negative experience with the release of the game. Noting that while players would enjoy the game, Blow felt they weren't reacting to the game as he intended. As a result, he responded on many websites covering the game. This, in addition to the game's perceived nebulousness, resulted in a negative public image that Blow was "pretentious". Seeing that this image of himself was getting away from his own, Blow experienced a 4 month period of depression.
Since its announcement in August 2009, The Witness has been Blow's recent work. It's reportedly a 3D first person puzzle game in which a player is stranded on an island, trying to solve various maze puzzles. Like Braid before it, Blow has invested a great sum of money into his work—reportedly $2–3 million dollars.
Early public reaction to preview footage resulted in underwhelming assumptions that the game would simply be "solving simple maze puzzles." Blow has responded by saying that footage does not capture the problem solving process that goes on in the player's mind like in his previous game Braid, and that he "wouldn't make a game about solving a series of rote puzzles."
In previews of The Witness (often at noisy conventions), Blow has had journalists play the game by themselves in a quiet environment so as to fit the tone of the game's design. There has been praise of the game's previews, notably Kirk Hamilton from Kotaku calling it "an exercise in Symphonic Game Design." The Witness is expected to be a PlayStation 4 time-limited exclusive on the console market.
In March 2010, Blow, along with several independent game developers including Ron Carmel and Kellee Santiago, became a founding member of the Indie Fund, an angel style fund for independent game projects. In 2012, Blow was one of the subjects of the independent documentary film, Indie Game: The Movie, where he discussed his views on the role of independent video games and his work on Braid.
Philosophy and views
Blow has spoken many times about his views on independent video games both in interviews and in public speeches, although he has said on his blog that he has got what he wanted out of conferences from speaking at them. For his sometimes controversial views, he has received praise, notably being called "the kind of righteous rebel video games need" and "a spiritual seeker, questing after truth in an as-yet-uncharted realm."
Blow often speaks of the potential for games to be more. He has said that he tries to make games that are more adult for people with longer attention spans and noted that games could have a "much bigger role" in culture in the future, but current game development does not address this potential, instead aiming for low-risk, high-profit titles. Additionally, formerly being a physics major, Blow has expressed that games could examine the universe in similar ways that a physicist could.
Blow has spoken out against some games for immoral game design. On World of Warcraft, he has said it causes societal problems by creating a false image of the meaning of life, calling it "unethical." On Farmville, he has said that the design of the game reveals the developers' goal to degrade the quality of players' lives, ultimately calling it "inherently evil."
Despite Braid's success on the platform, Blow has claimed that Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade certification process would turn away developers because "they kind of make themselves a pain in the ass" and that they would lose mindshare to Steam as a result.
Blow lives in a hilltop condo overlooking the San Francisco Bay area and drives a Tesla Roadster electric sports car to his office. Blow practices tai chi, kung fu, and possesses many books on Eastern philosophy in his home. He has said all of these have fed into his game design process. Blow is friends with fellow independent game developer Chris Hecker. Blow also gives away a portion of his income to the most cost-effective poverty relief charities as a member of Giving What We Can, an international society for the promotion of poverty relief.
The method of relaying the story in Braid through lengthy sections of on-screen text prompted criticism from several gamers, who labeled these on-screen soliloquies as pretentious. Blow addressed this criticism, stating that "I disagree with the use of that word [pretentious]. I don't think any of my games are 'pretentious' because I'm not pretending. I legitimately mean everything that I put into the game. Whether that comes across or not, I don't know… But what it really comes down to is that some people think, 'Games do this sort of thing. They don't do this sort of thing.' And I think games can do any kind of thing that we want them to do."
- About page, the-witness.net
- "The Most Dangerous Gamer". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2012-10-04.
- Jonathan Blow: California Dreamin', Hrej.cz (Czech)
- "Jonathan Blow is betting $2.5 million you'll like The Witness as much as Braid" http://penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/jonathan-is-betting-2.5-million-youll-like-the-witness-as-much-as-braid
- http://the-witness.net/news/2010/10/about-the-blue-mazes/%7Ctitle: About the Blue Mazes
- The Witness Preview -- How to Unbraid Modern Game Design http://www.g4tv.com/games/xbox-360/65972/the-witness/articles/76862/the-witness-preview-how-to-unbraid-modern-game-design
- http://www.destructoid.com/gdc-witnessing-jonathan-blow-s-the-witness-223458.phtml | "GDC: Witnessing Jonathan Blow's The Witness"
- http://the-witness.net/news/2012/05/the-depth-jam/ "After about eight years, though, [being a conference presenter] ran its course and I had gotten the bulk of what I was going to get from this arrangement."
- Jonathan Blow, Opinionated Creator of Two Video Games, is 'Attempting to be Profound' http://kotaku.com/5829591/jonathan-blow-opinionated-creator-of-two-video-games-is-attempting-to-be-profound
- "Jonathan Blow on future of video game industry". CBS This Morning. CBS. 2012-08-13. http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7417988n. Retrieved 2012-08-13.
- IndieCade 2011: Jonathan Blow & Marc Ten Bosch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGSeLSmOALU&feature=player_embedded
- "MIGS 2007: Jonathan Blow On The 'WoW Drug', Meaningful Games" http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=16392#.UG3cUk3A-xU
- Jonathan Blow interview: Do you believe social games are evil? "Yes. Absolutely." http://www.pcgamer.com/previews/jonathan-blow-interview-social-game-designers-goal-is-to-degrade-the-players-quality-of-life/
- "List of Members". Retrieved 2012-11-22.
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