Jonathan Blow talks Portal 2 and player freedom

Owen Hill

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Jonathan Blow, developer of Braid and upcoming indie game, The Witness, has been talking to Edge about the negative effects that focus testing can have on games development. He uses Portal 2 to illustrate his point.

We spoke to Gabe Newell about the lengths Valve go to to create a polished experience last year . Gaze tracking, pulse rate, and skin galvanic response all come into it. Blow says a testing environment that thorough can potentially erode player's freedom: "Valve very deliberately focus tests its games, and see how people react to situations, and refine the game to that. When you start to do that to a puzzle game you start to get rid of the puzzles."

According to Blow, Valve's heritage and extensive playtesting techniques can result in restrictive gameplay: "Part of the way Portal 2 ended up seemed to be due to what happens when you have a group of game designers that make games like Half-Life 2, which are quite heavily linear, and then put them on this other game."

No-one handles linearity like Valve.

Jonathan would have opted for greater sense of freedom even if it resulted in a steeper learning curve: "To me, a game about portals should be inherently nonlinear. If you don't make a non-portal surface at all, it means I can go from any place in the world to any other place. What would it mean to design a game around that? It might be a much harder design problem, but to me that's the excitement.

"I couldn't help feeling, playing the game, that they're fighting the portals all the time."

The indie developer also stressed that developers are entitled to their own design ethic, and that his motivations might be completely different to the PC behemoths: "I'm trying to provide opportunities for experience, whereas Valve is looking for the optimal experience for you to have. And that's fine - very valid and legitimate. But if every game becomes that, then we're missing something."

The Witness is due for release in 2012. Get more info at bit.ly/9R5Ubx

"When you give people freedom, you're giving them the freedom to have a bad experience as well as a good one," he concluded.

Do you value a streamlined experience over player freedom? Let's talk in the comments. For the latest on The Witness, pick up the latest issue of Edge .

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