Jonathan Blow

Jonathan David Blow (born (1971-11-03)November 3, 1971)[1] is an American video game designer, programmer and Twitch streamer, who is best known as the creator of the independent video games Braid (2008) and The Witness (2016), both of which were released to critical acclaim.

Jonathan Blow
Jonathan Blow GDC.jpg
Born (1971-11-03) November 3, 1971 (age 50)
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley (dropped out)
OccupationGame designer
OrganizationThekla, Inc.
Known forBraid, The Witness, Jai Language

From 2001 to 2004, Blow wrote the Inner Product column for Game Developer Magazine.[2] He was the primary host of the Experimental Gameplay Workshop each March at the Game Developers Conference, which has become a premier showcase for new ideas in video games. In addition, Blow was a regular participant in the Indie Game Jam. Blow is also a founding partner of the Indie Fund, an angel investor fund for independent game projects.

Early life and educationEdit

Blow was born in 1971. His mother was a devout ex-nun. Blow's father, an aerospace engineer manager, worked for the defense contractor TRW. Blow would say in an interview with The Atlantic, "Early on, I detected that there weren't good examples at home, so I kind of had to figure things out on my own ... I had to adopt a paradigm of self-sufficiency."[3]

Blow grew up in La Palma until he was 8, then he moved to Rancho Peñasquitos, San Diego, where he attended Mt. Carmel High School[citation needed]. He then studied computer science and creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley and was president of the Computer Science Undergraduate Association for a semester. He left the university in 1994, a semester before he would have graduated.[3][4][5]

He worked in San Francisco in contracting jobs, including one with Silicon Graphics to port Doom to a set-top device, until forming the game design company Bolt-Action Software with Bernt Habermeier in 1996.[5][6][unreliable source]

Their initial game project was to be a hovertank-based combat game called Wulfram, but at the time, the video game industry was undergoing a transformation of focusing heavily on three-dimensional graphics, making it difficult for them to complete the project;[clarification needed] the team was forced to take some online database work to cover their expenditures. Subsequently, in the wake of the crash of dot-com bubble, they opted to fold the business after four years in 2000, with them $100,000 in debt.[3][5]

Following Bolt-Action, Blow continued to perform contract work for companies like Ion Storm, and writing for industry publications such as Game Developer Magazine.[5] He also worked on a project with IBM to create a technology demo similar to the Wulfram idea that would highlight the features of the Cell processor that IBM was collaborating on, which would become a part of the PlayStation 3. Blow attempted to get additional funding to turn the demo into a full game from both Sony and Electronic Arts but was unsuccessful.[5]


Blow in 2018


In December 2004, feeling inspired during a trip in Thailand, Blow made a prototype for a time manipulation puzzle platform game. The demo had crude graphics, but featured the ability of the player to rewind all the objects on screen backwards in time to a previous state. Encouraged by feedback from his peers, Blow worked on the game from about April 2005 to about December that year before having the final prototype of his game, titled Braid. This version won the Independent Games Festival Game Design Award at the 2006 Game Developers Conference.

He continued work on the game mostly focusing on art and music while polishing some of the design until its release in 2008 on Xbox Live Arcade. By then, Blow was $100,000 in debt[3] and had invested $200,000 into the game's development.[7]

The game was released on August 8, 2008, to critical acclaim and achieved financial success, receiving an aggregate score of 93% on Metacritic, making it the top-rated Xbox Live Arcade game. Braid was purchased by more than 55,000 people during the first week of release.[8] Blow recalled that he did not receive any money until some time later when he suddenly saw "a lot of zeroes" in his bank account.[3]

The WitnessEdit

Announced in August 2009,[9] The Witness is a 3D first person puzzle game in which a player is stranded on an island, trying to solve various maze puzzles. Like Braid before it, Blow invested his own money—reportedly $2–3 million.[10]

Early public reaction to preview footage resulted in underwhelming assumptions that the game would simply be "solving simple maze puzzles." Blow responded by saying that footage does not capture the problem-solving process that goes on in the player's mind like in his previous game Braid, and that he "wouldn't make a game about solving a series of rote puzzles."[11]

In previews of The Witness (often at noisy conventions), Blow had journalists play the game by themselves in a quiet environment so as to fit the tone of the game's design. There was praise of the game's previews,[12][13] notably Kirk Hamilton from Kotaku calling it "an exercise in Symphonic Game Design."[14]

Blow reinvested all of his remaining profit from Braid into The Witness, and had to borrow funds when his own ran out.[15]

Untitled Programming Language and Untitled Sokoban GameEdit

Towards the end of development of The Witness, Blow began to become frustrated with C++, the language the game's engine was written in. While he liked recent feature additions to C++, he felt they "were encumbered by the rest of the language" and thought that C++ had "reached critical complexity".[16] He considered switching to Go, D, and Rust, but thought that each had its drawbacks.[16] Blow felt it would be possible to create a new programming language for game development which would increase programming efficiency by 20%, and make the job more enjoyable.[16] Further, he predicted that it would actually be easier to make a new programming language for professional game engine programmers than to make a videogame.[17]

If we can make a commercial quality game which ships on consoles and PCs, that's as good as anything we've ever made or better, that at least shows you that this programming language at least works well enough to do that, which is something that no other programming language has ever done.

— Jonathan Blow, May 2021, [18]

In 2014 Blow begun work on designing and programming the new programming language, which has the codename Jai. When asked about the real name of the language in 2020, Blow noted that in many projects "people put all their effort into the cool name" before a project has had much effort put into it, and that he is "doing things in the opposite way".[19] For about a year and a half work on Jai was part time since Thekla was shipping The Witness during that period.[20] It was around the middle of 2016 when full time work on Jai and a sokoban game whose game engine is written in Jai begun.[20] By working on the sokoban game, its engine, and Jai at the same time, Blow is able to test out the design of Jai, and adjust it early in its lifetime to make it better. Blow has noted that no previous programming languages have debuted with a piece of software in that language as large and complex as a game. By doing so he is able to demonstrate the capability of the language.[18] Blow intends to release much of the source code of the sokoban game upon release, and said Thekla is trying to structure the code of the game to be "very malleable", so that when it's released it can "provide an in for people who actually want to start experimenting with a program."[21] The Jai compiler reached beta version 100 in December 2021, and is currently in closed beta.[22]

The sokoban game combines puzzle elements from a variety of other sokoban games, as well as adding elements of its own. For example, the majority of characters from Jonah Ostroff's Heroes of Sokoban trilogy appear in the game, as do the lilypads and skipping stones from Alan Hazelden's Skipping Stones To Lonely Homes. By combining so many puzzle elements together Blow is able to "explode out the combinatorics [of the puzzle space] even way further than The Witness did."[23] As of May 2021, the sokoban game has over 700 levels, and Blow stated that it will probably have more than 1000 upon release.[24] Work on the sokoban game, its engine, and Jai are regularly streamed on Blow's twitch channel.[25]

Game 4Edit

Since 2012 or 2013, Blow has been working on a separate project that will be broken into different installments and elaborations on the same game over the course of 20 years, making it bigger and more complex. They will be individual playable games, each related thematically and deepening in investigation of subject matter for each chapter. Blow stated that the game would not be puzzle-related and that it would be built with the Jai language and engine.[26]

Other workEdit

In March 2010, Blow, along with several independent game developers including Ron Carmel and Kellee Santiago, became a founding member of the Indie Fund, an angel investor fund for independent game projects.

In 2012, Blow was one of the subjects of the independent documentary film, Indie Game: The Movie, where he discussed his views on the role of independent video games and his work on Braid.

Philosophy and viewsEdit

Blow has spoken many times about his views on independent video games both in interviews and in public speeches, although he has said on his blog[27] that he has gotten what he wanted out of conferences from speaking at them. For his sometimes controversial views, he has received praise, notably being called "the kind of righteous rebel video games need"[28] and "a spiritual seeker, questing after truth in an as-yet-uncharted realm."[3]

Blow often speaks of the potential for games to be more. He has said that he tries to make games that are more adult for people with longer attention spans[28] and noted that games could have a "much bigger role" in culture in the future, but current game development does not address this potential, instead aiming for low-risk, high-profit titles.[29] Additionally, formerly being a physics major, Blow has expressed that games could examine the universe in similar ways that a physicist could.[30]

In referring to the progression of development in his games, Blow stated at the PlayStation Experience that he prefers to, "keep them playable and just make them better." This was stated during the live-cast panel while overseeing Justin Massongill on the playable demo.[31]

Blow has spoken out against some games for immoral game design. On World of Warcraft, he has said it causes societal problems by creating a false image of the meaning of life, calling it "unethical."[32] On FarmVille, he has said that the design of the game reveals the developers' goal to degrade the quality of players' lives, ultimately calling it "inherently evil."[33]

Despite Braid's success on the platform, Blow has claimed that Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade certification process would turn away developers because "they kind of make themselves a pain in the ass" and that they would lose market share to Steam as a result.[34]

Blow is a member of Giving What We Can, a community of people who have pledged to give at least 10% of their income to effective charities.[35]


  1. ^ Barratt, Charlie (August 9, 2011). "Is Braid pretentious? Creator Jonathan Blow answers his critics". GamesRadar. Retrieved June 18, 2014.
  2. ^ Blow, Jonathan (April 2, 2009). "NYU Game Center Lecture Series: Jonathan Blow" (Interview). NYU Game Center. Retrieved October 12, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Clark, Taylor (May 2012). "The Most Dangerous Gamer". The Atlantic. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  4. ^ Jonathan Blow: California Dreamin', (Czech)[dead link]
  5. ^ a b c d e Machkovech, Sam (September 17, 2015). "The man and the island: Wandering through Jonathan Blow's The Witness". Ars Technica. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  6. ^ "Jonathan Blow (Person)". Giant Bomb. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  7. ^ Gibson, Ellie (March 25, 2009). "GDC: Braid cost 200k to make, says Blow". Eurogamer. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  8. ^ Horti, Samuel (April 23, 2018). "Does Braid deserve its status as the iconic breakthrough indie game?". PC Gamer. Retrieved October 12, 2021.
  9. ^ Barber, Tyler (August 4, 2009). "Johnathan Blow Announces New Game". GameSpy. Archived from the original on August 20, 2021. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  10. ^ Kuchera, Ben (March 14, 2012). "Jonathan Blow is betting $2.5 million you'll like The Witness as much as Braid". Penny Arcade. Archived from the original on January 31, 2013. Retrieved January 19, 2018 – via
  11. ^ Blow, Jonathan (October 19, 2010). "About the Blue Mazes". The Witness. Archived from the original on March 8, 2021. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  12. ^ Rubens, Alex (March 15, 2012). "The Witness Preview -- How to Unbraid Modern Game Design". G4tv. Archived from the original on November 3, 2014. Retrieved June 18, 2014.
  13. ^ Starkey, Daniel (March 8, 2012). "GDC: Witnessing Jonathan Blow's The Witness". Destructoid. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  14. ^ Hamilton, Kirk (March 15, 2012). "Jonathan Blow's The Witness is an Exercise in Symphonic Game Design". Kotaku. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  15. ^ Parkin, Simon (January 29, 2016). "The Prickly Genius of Jonathan Blow". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 12, 2021.
  16. ^ a b c Blow, Jonathan (September 19, 2014). Ideas about a new programming language for games. Archived from the original on December 19, 2021. Retrieved November 27, 2021 – via YouTube.
  17. ^ Ted Price (May 9, 2021). "Game Maker's Notebook" (Podcast). AIAS. Event occurs at 55:18. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  18. ^ a b Ted Price (May 9, 2021). "Game Maker's Notebook" (Podcast). AIAS. Event occurs at 58:07. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  19. ^ Bryan Cantrill and Jessie Frazelle (January 26, 2020). "On the Metal" (Podcast). Oxide Computer Company. Event occurs at 1:34:10. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  20. ^ a b Ted Price (May 9, 2021). "Game Maker's Notebook" (Podcast). AIAS. Event occurs at 57:16. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  21. ^ Ted Price (May 9, 2021). "Game Maker's Notebook" (Podcast). AIAS. Event occurs at 1:10:38. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  22. ^ @Jonathan_Blow (December 24, 2021). "We just shipped beta 100 of the compiler to The People" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  23. ^ Ted Price (May 9, 2021). "Game Maker's Notebook" (Podcast). AIAS. Event occurs at 26:50. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  24. ^ Ted Price (May 9, 2021). "Game Maker's Notebook" (Podcast). AIAS. Event occurs at 45:12. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  25. ^ "j_blow's Videos". Twitch. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
  26. ^ Blow, Jonathan (March 1, 2019). PRACTICE 2014: Jonathan Blow. NYU Game Center. Archived from the original on December 19, 2021. Retrieved July 11, 2019 – via YouTube.
  27. ^ Blow, Jonathan (May 29, 2012). "The Depth Jam". The Witness. Retrieved January 19, 2018. After about eight years, though, [being a conference presenter] ran its course and I had gotten the bulk of what I was going to get from this arrangement.
  28. ^ a b Totilo, Stephen (August 10, 2011). "Jonathan Blow, Opinionated Creator of Two Video Games, is 'Attempting to be Profound'". Kotaku. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  29. ^ "Jonathan Blow on future of video game industry". CBS This Morning. CBS. August 13, 2012. Retrieved January 19, 2018.[dead link]
  30. ^ Blow, Jonathan; Ten Bosch, Marc (October 24, 2011). IndieCade 2011: Jonathan Blow & Marc Ten Bosch. IndieCade. Archived from the original on December 19, 2021. Retrieved October 12, 2021 – via YouTube.
  31. ^ Massongill, Justin (October 25, 2013). "Hands-on with The Witness on PS4". PlayStation.Blog. Sony Interactive Entertainment. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  32. ^ "MIGS 2007: Jonathan Blow On The 'WoW Drug', Meaningful Games". Game Developer. November 28, 2007. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  33. ^ Caldwell, Brandon (February 15, 2011). "Jonathan Blow interview: Do you believe social games are evil? "Yes. Absolutely."". PC Gamer. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  34. ^ Nutt, Christian (August 11, 2011). "Interview: Jonathan Blow – Xbox Live Arcade 'A Pain In The Ass' For Indies". Game Developer. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  35. ^ "List of Giving What We Can Pledge Members". Giving What We Can. Retrieved October 12, 2021.

External linksEdit