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The Development of Braid

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the weaving-strands dept.

Games 27

Gamasutra sat down with Jonathan Blow, creator of the successful independent game Braid. He talks about going through the three-year-plus development cycle as a one-man team, and how his concept of the game changed as he worked on it. He also discusses what he feels is the difference between "natural rewards" and "artificial rewards." "... for the most part, when you're playing Tetris, you're enjoying it because you enjoy fitting the blocks together. Whereas when you play World of Warcraft — and what I'm about to say is a generalization, since different players enjoy different things, obviously — a lot of the appeal of playing World of Warcraft is not in the core gameplay mechanic, because it's boring, a lot of the time. ... I think what keeps them in there is, at first, the level ding, because it's very addictive to get that. 'Okay, I've got more gold. Whatever.' And eventually, they've made this huge time investment and they've got a character there and they know what that level ding feels like and the next one is pretty far off, but they can get there! And it's not any better, because this is like number 67. It's got to be better than 66!"

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one over the other (-1, Offtopic)

philspear (1142299) | more than 6 years ago | (#24992237)

Man, it took that guy 3 years to figure out how to braid his hair? I guess it might take some people that long to grow their hair out long enough, but it's still pretty easy! 2nd graders know how to do it with play-do!

wtfux (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24992329)

Are we still circlejerking over this shit? 3 years for what? Some stupid indie game.

  Great going Mr. Blow.

Re:wtfux (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24992807)

Call Mr. Blow, that's my name, that name again is Mr. Blow!

Re:wtfux (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24992881)

Mr. Blow is a loser and I think he's a boozer.

So you better make that call to the Blow King!

Simplifying WoW (1, Interesting)

MindlessAutomata (1282944) | more than 6 years ago | (#24992359)

He doesn't really seem to understand what drives people on WoW...

In earlier levels, yes, leveling up is the *big thing*; however, at higher levels, the questing becomes more involved and people play to read the lore and, more importantly, get better armor or weapons or a flying mount. Anyway, leveling up cannot be what keeps players there; that wouldn't explain why so many people play at endgame.

I think it's more of an ego thing. Having better weapons/armor, being in a top raiding guild, or being the best arena team, is what truly drives people. Leveling up is only one portion of that.

Re:Simplifying WoW (5, Insightful)

Urkki (668283) | more than 6 years ago | (#24992465)

Getting new stuff is a form of "leveling up", especially when you know (from FAQs etc) what gear you're trying to get and how. In this context (giving player a so called artificial reward) there really is no difference.

Re:Simplifying WoW (2, Interesting)

Kamokazi (1080091) | more than 6 years ago | (#24992569)

Actually, a much smaller fraction of people are in high-end raiding guilds than what most people realize (think about the numbers...2-4 big guilds per server vs. the rest of the players...anyone not in the top tier guilds that wants to be in them is usually in a 2nd tier guild which is still a very small fraction of the total playerbase). It seems larger, because people in those guilds are often more vocal (partly due to the ego thing) than people that are not.

What parobably keeps the largest majority of people in the game later on is the social bonds developed with other players, and the continual drive to improve your character past the level cap (most often gear, but can be alternate forms of advancement, titles, extra abilities, crafting professions, etc). It is when those secondary options start to run out, or become too much of a time investment for the rewards obtained, that players begin to become burnt out, and quit.

The early drive is because each ding leads you closer to that final level, where all the 'cool stuff' is.

I do disagree with the deveolper though. Those artificial rewards, even though I have not played those games, are still important to me, and I feel a sense of accomplishment, even though they are just a representation of time investment, and not any actual skill or ability on my part.

Context Typo (1)

Kamokazi (1080091) | more than 6 years ago | (#24992581)

Oops, context typo (yes I should have hit preview):

"Those artificial rewards, even though I have not played those games in quite a while , are still important to me, and I feel a sense of accomplishment"

Re:Simplifying WoW (2, Informative)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 6 years ago | (#24993249)

Actually, Blow's been involved in the online gaming scene for over a decade.

Although WoW's success is certainly too complex of an issue to ascribe to one or two factors, replayability, and the entire "team" dynamic appear to be two of the most important. Leveling up comes far far after that.

Blow's first project [wulfram.com] is actually still alive over 10 years after its original release.

Re:Simplifying WoW (4, Informative)

CoolGuySteve (264277) | more than 6 years ago | (#24993339)

All the best gear and consequent social esteem comes from random drops. Because the drops are random, your best strategy is to spend as much time as possible killing as many things as you can to increase your chances of getting rewarded. Since these drops give social esteem, for a lot of people the payoff is high enough to be worth a significant investment in time.

It's basically the same kind of thing that causes people to spend hours in front of slot machines.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operant_conditioning [wikipedia.org]

And ya, I had roommates in college who only ever played WoW. They were losers desperate for all the esteem they could get.

Social Rewards (1)

Databass (254179) | more than 6 years ago | (#25001407)

This is the kind of thought that is almost true, yet subtly totally wrong, like what someone who had read about or seen the game would come up with.

The best gear and status in the game does not come from "random drops". That category is called "World Drops", and it is the lowest end of the upper end tier loot. It might be purple, but no one takes it seriously Sort of like how a Mini-Cooper is technically a BMW but at under $20k is the entry-level one.

No, the very best gear in the game comes from two sources- the top end 25 man raids (T6 gear) and the very top of the Arena (S4 gear). Neither of these is random and in fact niether is particularly time-consuming in and of itself. T6 is gauranteed in that Illidan, Kil'Jaeden, Mother Shazzrah and all the rest are GAURANTEED to drop 2 or 3 pieces of T6 each per kill, plus two other good things. Exactly which version of the two T6 pieces they drop is random per week, but guilds totally abstract this randomness with internal DKP systems that tell you when you'll get the next thing you want based on your contributions. The point here is a good team clears Black Temple, and the gauranteed 32 pieces of loot in about three hours. Once it is clear, you can't run it again for a week. So Operant Conditioning driving people to play 100 hours a week simply doesn't apply to Black Temple. Guilds clear it and say "Ok, see you guys next Sunday."

The best S4 pieces are gotten by being in the top 1% of arena PvP teams. Again, there is a fixed point schedule per week. Playing every waking hour is not optimal. Actually, you are only required to play a minimum of 10 games a week at a few minutes a game, and playing more than that could easily become a non-optimal strategy.

In both cases, the meta-game is recognizing, seeking out and socializing with people with elite skills and gaming with them. The payoff is that joining an effective team has a payoff 100x greater than an ineffective one. Being part of that effective teamwork dynamic is an amazing thrill. A well-oiled team can defeat Illidan in one shot without anyone dying. A poor one won't be able to get past his fourth or fifth outer guards in ten hours.

Most people who play WoW will never be on a Super Bowl-winning football team, in an award-winning choir or orchestra, on the management team of a Fortune 500 company. But people naturally seem to like being part of greater whole. Even the most basic 5-man dungeon or 10 man battleground team can give a player this. Each character has strengths and weaknesses that make it so they can only succeed by complementing the abilities of others. If they do their part of the job, the entire team will shine and they'll feel like maybe people really can work together sometimes. And this experience is magnified again if some of the people in game are your friends and family. Anyone who understands the social experience can share it with others. WoW is good at making little stories that are a fun shared social experience with anyone else who plays. "Oh man last night I accidentally pulled three mobs..." "So THEN this rogue decides to sneak up on me..."

You can ding 68 in a million other single player games. There are plenty of operant conditioning games that aren't as addictive to people. But as fun as Braid or any Operant game might be single player, fun in-game mechanics aren't the only reward. WoW shows us that social mechanics are a desirable reward unto themselves.

Re:Social Rewards (1)

MindlessAutomata (1282944) | more than 6 years ago | (#25005875)

People thought my post was overrated; I don't know how much you agree with me, but I will make an additional point:

Having raided in WoW myself, a lot of motivation was to top the damage or healing meters, to show one to be the "best". Despite what people say, WoW does have skill involved (even knowing when to spam a spell and knowing who to attack and when are important, and thus skill and intelligence are involved) and there are clearly some players that are better and some that are worse.

The social aspect, of course, is important; had I not played with the guild in WoW that I did, I would have quit a long time before I did, and I only quit because I no longer had a good guild to be a part of.

Re:Simplifying WoW (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24993367)

I played to kill night elves, Leveling up was just the excuse I used to go out and explore the landscape looking for more alliance to kill.

Re:Simplifying WoW (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24993727)

Any MMORPG has more or less the same kind of game mechanics - the difference here is that WoW is a great franchise that drove many fans early to the game. Others followed because players want to play the game that most people play. This happend before with Ultima Online and will likely happen again with Warhammer Online. The first time the reason for the change was that people wanted 3D and this time they will be tired of the fantasy theme. There will always be a huge gap between the most played and second most played online game.

WoW again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24996331)

Why must every reasoned discussion of games devolve into debating the true nature of WoW? "Game X is really nothing like WoW, but let me spend a half hour explaining why people play WoW so you can truly comprehend how it has absolutely nothing in common with Game X." Give me a break! I lose confidence in the author when they demonstrate how stuck they are in the mainstream. It's as if every review of a television program started out with a detailed critique of Dragonball Z.

Pussy Nazi Sez (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24992421)

No pussy for YOU!

Actually this is a very important article... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24992535)

...I don't know this guy or this game, but the idea of independent production of games (1 guy etc) or things like animation is perhaps one of the most important and interesting IT concepts around, yet is hardly ever exploited and perhaps, and I'm not sure Slashdot know this, but it remains one of the most taboo topics around the established industries for these things.

I mean obviously time is a factor, no one will disagree with that but there's a huge interest in this, yet very people have ever brought anything to market so to speak. And the attitude against this from the traditional industry side of it is enormous and ferocious.

Great that this guy got his project made. But he's not the only one, but you hardly ever hear about them and it's even difficult to talk about this subject around some people.

Re:Actually this is a very important article... (1)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#25001739)

If you look at some of the early "revolutionary" games (eg: Colossal Cave, Dungeon, MUD, Elite, Revs, Wolfenstein 3D) they are almost invariably produced by one or two superbly talented programmers. Some of these ideas are then "enhanced" by the software houses and gaming companies, and some are "sponsored", re-badged, and so on, by such people, but generally the sweatshops are not the place to find real, cutting-edge innovation. Improved graphics, perhaps, but not core invention of whole new concepts. It happens, but the individuals and the couple of friends MUST invent if they are to be competitive and pay the bills, whereas a software house only needs to sell a few of each of a few hundred minor variants of the same core to stay in business. They have zero incentive to do something radical. If anything, radical stuff is riskier, as one failure impacts every single spin-off. Garage developers know that everything is risky, so differentiation becomes a higher priority.

What? (1, Insightful)

daveisfera (832409) | more than 6 years ago | (#24993141)

I don't see how someone who has received so much acclaim for his game design can completely miss the boat on a VERY popular game.

I've actually never played WoW (just don't have the time), but I imagine that the experience is much like Diablo on a grander scale. The enjoyment in a game like Diablo was far more complex than leveling up. The biggest driver for me was the social aspect of the game (playing together online, seeing how friends/others used resources to develop their character, etc).

I understand that the whole "RPG-style" of games like WoW/Diablo just isn't appealing to some people, but I don't see how a developer like this can completely misunderstand it.

Re:What? (4, Interesting)

JimboFBX (1097277) | more than 6 years ago | (#24993373)

No, he didn't miss it. He explained it quit well. His point was, as a GAME, its boring, and requires artificial rewards to keep you playing, then preys on the fact that the amount of time investment you have put into it obligates you to keep doing so.

And he's 100% correct. How many people are playing Spore right now more because they shelled 50 bucks into it and want to get their money's worth than because it is actually fun? How many people would have been done with the game at the tribal stage if it was free? The motivation for playing is that 50 bucks represents time you invested to earn... well 50 bucks.

And he clearly explains the social aspect - if you want a social aspect, there are certainly a lot of alternatives. Its there, and it makes it better, but it still doesnt change the fact its mostly menial tasks and if you want a good social aspect like teamplay, there, as an AVERAGE relative to time spent playing, are much better games for doing that.

Re:What? (1)

Forbman (794277) | more than 6 years ago | (#24996539)

...and yet, this does not explain why people continue to play strategy games, whether real-time or turn-based...against the computer.

Civ4, when it came out, cost the same as Spore...yet there is no on-line gratification like in a MMORPg and all that.

Doesn't exactly hit on the "one more turn!!!" psychology, but tries to only say that the social aspect of it in MMORPG is what makes them work, and probably the same stimulus-reward tricks that casinos exploit to their advantage rather adeptly...

I discovered a game development gem of WOW (1, Informative)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 6 years ago | (#24993241)

When you are by yourself hunting in other MMOGS and you run across a rare item, it is fun. When you play WOW and have 39 other players around when you win the roll for a rare item, people congratulate you. It is a bigger reward to find your rare in front of a group of people.

It reminds me of Asheron's Call 1 with server wide messages when you did something big. Everyone on the server got to see your character's name. It made the person who got it more famous, and it makes people who saw it think to themselves,"Someday I may be able to have my own server wide message." I'm just now realizing the psychology of having a reward in front of other people makes the reward even better.

Re:I discovered a game development gem of WOW (2, Interesting)

MWoody (222806) | more than 6 years ago | (#24993731)

I couldn't disagree more, having played... well, lets just say that when I type /played, I have to sit down and think hard about my decisions in life.

When you have 39 other players with you (24 or less in more recent dungeons), there's no real thrill of discovery or chance. There's loot in that dungeon, you know what it is, you know (usually) when it's likely to drop. It's not fun at all; it's just spending your dkp and getting your salary for all that work. Alone, though, you've gotten something totally unexpected and quite possibly rare or even unique on the server, to sell or use as you see fit. You can walk around town to gasps of "where did you get THAT!"

Wait a second... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24994025)

So, people are driven by virtual materialism, as if the real world equivalent isn't already our generation's soma.

How depressing is that?

Re:Wait a second... (1)

MWoody (222806) | more than 6 years ago | (#24996995)

What the hell is wrong with virtual materialism? Real-world materialism is arguably a problem because it causes waste, both of production resources and materials. What possible problem is there with wanting to flaunt a few silly bits on a server somewhere? If you want to argue that it's inane and empty, sure, that's at least a possibly valid point. But equating it to real-life materialism makes it painfully clear that you don't understand the issue you're parroting in the slightest, and are instead just trying to paint yourself as intelligent and righteous with some half-remembered slogan you read on a sign somewhere.

Karma Whore - Single Page (1)

danilo.moret (997554) | more than 6 years ago | (#24995191)

Ad free, single page...

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3786/jonathan_blow_the_path_to_braid.php?print=1 [gamasutra.com]

Yeah, I know, I know... how is the web going to survive without ads, my servers are down, karma whore... who cares, I just don't want to click Next six times.

I don't think so (3, Insightful)

shevsky (1353011) | more than 6 years ago | (#24996765)

Find me someone who plays Tetris just because they enjoy fitting blocks together.
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