Game Designer Jonathan Blow on “Games that make you feel smart” [Room Design]

Braid and The Witness creator Jonathan Blow is among the finest adventure puzzle video game designers out there.

In this short talk he covers a lot of critical questions about adventure puzzle design. These issues transcend medium.

Screenshot of video, blue background with white writing reads, "'When a game makes you feel smart, that's so great!' This attitude is a disease."

The last subject he covers is going to be one of the bigger issues in escape room design in the coming years:

Games that make you feel smart vs games that make you be smart.

The video and sound quality isn’t great, but this is a must-watch. Enjoy.

2 thoughts on “Game Designer Jonathan Blow on “Games that make you feel smart” [Room Design]

  1. Love this guy’s work; I have even designed a set of physical puzzles unfolding in the manner of The Witness, using door chains instead of Nikoli-like path puzzles. Alas, I can see problems with translating his process in another medium.

    Disentanglement of complexity can be collaborative, but epiphany is individual. And once you get it, your options are either kill your flow by catching everyone up (which may also be a different difficult verbal task,) or exclude all other people from further game. This only gets worse if the revelation is built upon, both because the rest risk being stranded even further back, but also because you’re allocating all the puzzling time in building one skill and hoping it’s one every group will appreciate.

    Then there is the timing issue: bypassing the analytical and workmanlike in favor of satori and inspiration makes your single puzzle solving time distribution flatter. This makes pacing the experience tricky in the best of cases, and massively increases the risk of catastrophic failure. And I suspect that even from the set of people that are perfectly happy to fiddle with a puzzle at their desk for an hour and get nowhere, the subset of people happy to fail their one shot in the presence of, well, witnesses, is pretty small.

    TL;DR hell is other people; time waits for no man.

    1. I completely agree with you, and thank you for such a thoughtful comment.

      And while I posted this video with nearly no commentary, I am not suggesting that escape room owners should attempt to mimic Blow’s approach to puzzle and game design.

      I do think that there is a middle ground between making escape room “puzzles” so painfully obvious that they are basically dragging the player through the game… and puzzles that are so complex that they collapse under time and team pressures.

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