Jonathan Blow

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Jonathan Blow
Jonathan Blow GDC.jpg
Born (1971-11-03) November 3, 1971 (age 49)
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley (dropped out)
OccupationGame designer
OrganizationThekla, Inc.
Known forBraid, The Witness, Jai Language

Jonathan David Blow (born (1971-11-03)November 3, 1971)[1] is an American video game designer, programmer and Twitch streamer, who is best known as the creator of the independent video games Braid (2008) and The Witness (2016), both of which were released to critical acclaim.

From 2001 to 2004, Blow wrote the Inner Product column for Game Developer Magazine.[2] He was 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 was a regular participant in the Indie Game Jam. Blow is also a founding partner of the Indie Fund, an angel investor fund for independent game projects.

Early life and education[edit]

Blow was born in 1971. His mother was a devout ex-nun. Blow's father, an aerospace engineer manager, worked for the defense contractor TRW. 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."[3]

Blow grew up in La Palma until he was 8, then he moved to Rancho Peñasquitos, San Diego, where he attended Mt. Carmel High School[citation needed]. He then 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 1994, a semester before he would have graduated.[3][4][dead link][5]

He worked in San Francisco in contracting jobs, including one with Silicon Graphics to port Doom to a set-top device, until forming the game design company Bolt-Action Software with Bernt Habermeier in 1996.[5][6][unreliable source]

Their initial game project was to be a hovertank-based combat game called Wulfram, but at the time, the video game industry was undergoing a transformation of focusing heavily on three-dimensional graphics, making it difficult for them to complete the project;[clarification needed] the team was forced to take some online database work to cover their expenditures. Subsequently, in the wake of the crash of dot-com bubble, they opted to fold the business after four years in 2000, with them $100,000 in debt.[3][5]

Following Bolt-Action, Blow continued to perform contract work for companies like Ion Storm, and writing for industry publications such as Game Developer Magazine.[5] He also worked on a project with IBM to create a technology demo similar to the Wulfram idea that would highlight the features of the Cell processor that IBM was collaborating on, which would become a part of the PlayStation 3. Blow attempted to get additional funding to turn the demo into a full game from both Sony and Electronic Arts but was unsuccessful.[5]


Blow in 2018


In December 2004, feeling inspired during a trip in Thailand, Blow made a prototype for a time manipulation puzzle platform 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 $100,000 in debt[3] and had invested $200,000 into the game's development.[7]

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.[8] Blow recalled that he did not receive any money until some time later when he suddenly saw "a lot of zeroes" in his bank account.[3]

The Witness[edit]

Announced in August 2009,[9] The Witness is 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 invested his own money—reportedly $2–3 million.[10]

Early public reaction to preview footage resulted in underwhelming assumptions that the game would simply be "solving simple maze puzzles." Blow 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."[11]

In previews of The Witness (often at noisy conventions), Blow had journalists play the game by themselves in a quiet environment so as to fit the tone of the game's design. There was praise of the game's previews,[12][13] notably Kirk Hamilton from Kotaku calling it "an exercise in Symphonic Game Design."[14]

Blow reinvested all of his remaining profit from Braid into The Witness, and had to borrow funds when his own ran out.[15]

Jai language[edit]

In September 2014, Blow began work on a new programming language called "Jai" based on ideas he had previously expressed about video game development.[16][17] It is aimed at "low-friction" and fluid development, while directly supporting data-oriented design for high performance. The language is currently active, but is a work-in-progress, as no compiler for it has been publicly released yet. A small demo of the language was shown at Reboot Develop 2017.[18] Blow also uses Twitch to regularly stream demonstrations of new language features as well as improvements to the game engine that will be bundled with the language.[19]

Game 3[edit]

Blow's next project is being built with the Jai language and allows the player to guide characters through a variety of levels to solve puzzles.[20][21]

Game 4[edit]

Since 2012 or 2013, Blow has been working on a separate project that will be broken into different installments and elaborations on the same game over the course of 20 years, making it bigger and more complex. They will be individual playable games, each related thematically and deepening in investigation of subject matter for each chapter. Blow stated that the game would not be puzzle-related and that it would be built with the Jai language and engine.[22][21]

Other work[edit]

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 investor 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[edit]

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[23] that he has gotten 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"[24] and "a spiritual seeker, questing after truth in an as-yet-uncharted realm."[3]

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[24] 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.[25][dead link] Additionally, formerly being a physics major, Blow has expressed that games could examine the universe in similar ways that a physicist could.[26]

In referring to the progression of development in his games, Blow stated at the PlayStation Experience that he prefers to, "keep them playable and just make them better." This was stated during the live-cast panel while overseeing Justin Massongill on the playable demo.[27]

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."[28] 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."[29]

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 market share to Steam as a result.[30]

Blow is a member of Giving What We Can, a community of people who have pledged to give at least 10% of their income to effective charities.[31]


  1. ^ Barratt, Charlie (August 9, 2011). "Is Braid pretentious? Creator Jonathan Blow answers his critics". GamesRadar. Retrieved June 18, 2014.
  2. ^ Blow, Jonathan (April 2, 2009). "NYU Game Center Lecture Series: Jonathan Blow" (Interview). NYU Game Center. Retrieved October 12, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Clark, Taylor (May 2012). "The Most Dangerous Gamer". The Atlantic. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  4. ^ Jonathan Blow: California Dreamin', (Czech)
  5. ^ a b c d e Machkovech, Sam (September 17, 2015). "The man and the island: Wandering through Jonathan Blow's The Witness". Ars Technica. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  6. ^ "Jonathan Blow (Person)". Giant Bomb. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  7. ^ Gibson, Ellie (March 25, 2009). "GDC: Braid cost 200k to make, says Blow". Eurogamer. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  8. ^ Horti, Samuel (April 23, 2018). "Does Braid deserve its status as the iconic breakthrough indie game?". PC Gamer. Retrieved October 12, 2021.
  9. ^ Barber, Tyler (August 4, 2009). "Johnathan Blow Announces New Game". GameSpy. Archived from the original on August 20, 2021. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  10. ^ Kuchera, Ben (March 14, 2012). "Jonathan Blow is betting $2.5 million you'll like The Witness as much as Braid". Penny Arcade. Archived from the original on January 31, 2013. Retrieved January 19, 2018 – via
  11. ^ Blow, Jonathan (October 19, 2010). "About the Blue Mazes". The Witness. Archived from the original on March 8, 2021. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  12. ^ Rubens, Alex (March 15, 2012). "The Witness Preview -- How to Unbraid Modern Game Design". G4tv. Archived from the original on November 3, 2014. Retrieved June 18, 2014.
  13. ^ Starkey, Daniel (March 8, 2012). "GDC: Witnessing Jonathan Blow's The Witness". Destructoid. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  14. ^ Hamilton, Kirk (March 15, 2012). "Jonathan Blow's The Witness is an Exercise in Symphonic Game Design". Kotaku. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  15. ^ Parkin, Simon (January 29, 2016). "The Prickly Genius of Jonathan Blow". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 12, 2021.
  16. ^ Wawro, Alex (September 19, 2014). "Video: Jon Blow on building a new programming language for games". Game Developer. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  17. ^ Blow, Jonathan (October 31, 2014). Demo: Base language, compile-time execution. Retrieved January 19, 2018 – via YouTube.
  18. ^ Blow, Jonathan (May 22, 2017). Reboot Develop 2017 - Jonathan Blow, Thekla Inc. / Making Game Programming Less Terrible. Reboot Develop. Retrieved January 19, 2018 – via YouTube.
  19. ^ Blow, Jonathan. "A Programming Language for Games". YouTube. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
  20. ^ Blow, Jonathan (July 13, 2018). #Gamelab2018 - Jon Blow's Design decisions on creating Jai a new language for game programmers. Gamelab Conference. Retrieved January 22, 2021 – via YouTube.
  21. ^ a b Takahashi, Dean (July 2, 2018). "Jonathan Blow: How Thekla is moving beyond The Witness". VentureBeat. Retrieved August 4, 2019.
  22. ^ Blow, Jonathan (March 1, 2019). PRACTICE 2014: Jonathan Blow. NYU Game Center. Retrieved July 11, 2019 – via YouTube.
  23. ^ Blow, Jonathan (May 29, 2012). "The Depth Jam". The Witness. Retrieved January 19, 2018. 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.
  24. ^ a b Totilo, Stephen (August 10, 2011). "Jonathan Blow, Opinionated Creator of Two Video Games, is 'Attempting to be Profound'". Kotaku. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  25. ^ "Jonathan Blow on future of video game industry". CBS This Morning. CBS. August 13, 2012. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  26. ^ Blow, Jonathan; Ten Bosch, Marc (October 24, 2011). IndieCade 2011: Jonathan Blow & Marc Ten Bosch. IndieCade. Retrieved October 12, 2021 – via YouTube.
  27. ^ Massongill, Justin (October 25, 2013). "Hands-on with The Witness on PS4". PlayStation.Blog. Sony Interactive Entertainment. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  28. ^ "MIGS 2007: Jonathan Blow On The 'WoW Drug', Meaningful Games". Game Developer. November 28, 2007. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  29. ^ Caldwell, Brandon (February 15, 2011). "Jonathan Blow interview: Do you believe social games are evil? "Yes. Absolutely."". PC Gamer. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  30. ^ Nutt, Christian (August 11, 2011). "Interview: Jonathan Blow – Xbox Live Arcade 'A Pain In The Ass' For Indies". Game Developer. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  31. ^ "List of Giving What We Can Pledge Members". Giving What We Can. Retrieved October 12, 2021.

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