I watched Jonathan Blow’s talk How To Design Deep Games with Jonathan Blow which is actually kind of a misleading title because the talk is about the concept of “Deep Work” and how to sustain work on a long project. This is one of those talks where you need to watch it a few times, so these notes are probably not capturing the full picture.
What is “Deep Work“?
- Changes you, you are a different person in a substantial way and a unique specialist in something at the end.
- You are follow a Guiding Compass, a feeling, hunch or vague notion that seems like the right direction because the destination is unknown, it’s an exploration not a journey with a fix end goal.
- The work is Deep to you, this isn’t about meeting someone else ideas or standard:
The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution. – Paul Cezanne
- It is built on first principals, what makes it special is your technique and view of the world.
- It is not working on fundamentals, you need to be ready and already done training to get good.
- Avoid burn out, take care of your Human Animal (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.)
- Sometimes you need to take a break, a good rule:
You’re only allowed to take a break to work on something smaller than what you have already shipped.
- Take Showers – you have to rest, make yourself open to ideas aka invite a visit from your Muse
I watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Jonathan Blow‘s recommendation, he calls it an example of “Deep Work.” Jiro Ono makes sushi, and has been doing it for 75 years. Jiro has seemingly limitless passion and commitment to the craft of sushi. He is on a literal life long journey exploring, reaching, testing and experimenting with all elements of what great, perfect sushi IS. He pursues this perfection of sushi knowing it is bigger, greater and blindingly impossible to contain. Jiro is not an emotional man, he seems serious almost always, but you find his passion in the film through the juxtaposition to his son, Yoshikazu. Yoshikazu is obeying the Japanese tradition of flowing his father’s footsteps, carrying forward the mantle of the family, being a dutiful son (I believe the word in Japanese is oyakoukou). Several times in the film, Jiro says he is “in love with work.” Yoshikazu does not even hint at such things, he’s seem empty of passion for sushi, and full of a deep sense of respect for tradition and duty to make his father proud.
In the film, the Japanese term Shokunin comes up several times as a way to capture the essence of Jiro. This seems to mean master craftsman and life worker. Googling the term turned up this article talking about the film, Shokunin Kishitsu & The five elements of true mastery, which does a good job of capturing the five elements food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto describes in the film which make Jiro a true master at his art:
A true master:
- is serious about the art.
- always aspires to improve oneself and one’s work.
- works in a clean, fresh and organized space.
- is stubborn, obstinate, impatient and individualistic in his pursuit of excellence.
- is passion and enthusiasm.
look ahead and above yourself.
to improve on yourself.
Always strive to elevate your craft. – Jiro Ono
Jonathan Blow did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit Friday: I am Jonathan Blow, game development person; ask me stuff.
I was specifically interesting in advice type tidbits, here are my notes.
Who Is Jonathan Blow?
Game designer and programmer for the games Braid and The Witness; Partner in angle investor Indie Fund; And creator of programming JAI.
What advise do you have for aspiring game designers?
- #1 advice for the creative process, do “Deep Work” as explained in this lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0m0jIzJfiQ&index=3&list=PL_c7zXuU-zzfg3nxNmQp8IYpR_TO0UNj3
- Ideas aren’t worth much, it is execution that matter.
- Learn to program, because then you can create your vision. (see above)
- Take on ambitious projects
- Design is an interactive process, try stuff, keep what works, throw out what doesn’t.
- “In fiction writing, there is this concept that you want every sentence to do more than one thing: you want to describe the setting and set the mood and introduce the character. You want to say what happened and show how a character feels about it and foreshadow a later consequence.“
- Video’s that go in depth about the puzzle creation process (some is universal to game design):
- Do not listen to the Internet: “The internet is an extremely distorted lens. It is basically useless for understanding how your game is really reaching people.”
- How did you keep at it for so long without giving up? “There are low points, as with anything, but you just know what what you are working on is good, and you keep going. 7 years is not that long. If you watch a movie like Jiro Dreams of Sushi you’ll see someone who is very serious and for whom 7 years is no big deal.”
- How much time do you put into the craft of making games? “Most of them.”
What games to you recommend?
- Up coming games Jon is looking forward to:
- Favorite hidden gems of under-appreciated games: