Jonathan Blow on How to Program Independent Games

Braid image

I’ve just got done listening to a university presentation by Jonathan Blow, creator of the fantastic Braid, on his insights into independent game programming. It’s very good.

The talk is about 38 minutes with another 40 of Q&A, and he talks mostly about the “aesthetic” he maintains for being “brutally productive” the way he is required to be to create (and finish) something like Braid (with around 90,000 lines of code) by himself in just a few years.

Since it’s a talk to a group of computer science students it’s a little technical but not especially so. The key points are about not making things more complex than they need to be; effectively Keep It Simple, Stupid.

  • Avoid premature optimisation, including sophisticated algorithms and data structures, which are essentially about optimisation.
  • Don’t generalise a program more than necessary, even to the point of avoiding refactoring a 1,000 line function.
  • A “good” programmer will get things done quickly and solidly, and simply, with an emphasis on actuallygetting things done.

This is very congruent with my mentality, which is why you’re unlikely to see my writing about fancy algorithms and data structures (or the dreaded topic of “web scale“; warning, justified language). I like doing things, creating things that don’t already exist, and although I’m still relatively inexperienced I do very much hope to one day reach that point where I can put together something like Braid given a good enough idea.

Anyway, I’ve embedded the talk below (audio + slides) because I can (the embed code was provided). As an added bonus, you get to listen to him talk about The Witness (or more precisely, it’s editor) which he’s happily showing off on a different screen.