Braid. Braid definitely needs to be talked about (as if it’s not talked about enough these days).
When I first came across Braid, I wasn’t especially excited about it. The art style just doesn’t grab me the way it seems to everyone else. I mean, it’s not bad by any means, and the more I’ve played it the more I appreciate it, but I think that’s just preference. I think because of this reason, coupled with the fact that the game has been in various stages of development for YEARS, and I mean YEARS and YEARS, I had decided to just wait and see if it was worth my attention at some point in the future. I’m sure the long development is one of the major reasons why the level design is so excellent; pure iteration (I’m a huge fan of design iteration). But again, at first glance the game didn’t really grab me.
As time went on, though, and as those around me got more and more excited about it, I too became swept up. All the early reviews were talking about how amazing a game it is, how it is a (excuse the pun) game-changer, how the story actually MEANS something (unlike most games), and it’s an example of what all us game lovers and game designers should aspire to achieve.
When Braid was released I immediately ran home from work and downloaded the game. The process I went through to obtain Braid is almost laughable; because we had recently moved apartments nothing was set up and we had no internet. I pulled TVs and consoles from room to room in order to bootleg our neighbor’s erratic internet. Fortune favored me in the case of Braid, but the internet cut out before Geometry Wars 2 could be completed (awesome, awesome game BTW). Because my girlfriend was sleeping, I dreamed up a crazy method of receiving audio into my headphones (which involved undoing all I had done to set up the stereo system in the first place), plugging in various wires through not one, but two amplifiers (one for my guitar, the other for my computer), and in the end, yes I had gotten the music, but the amps had distorted and magnified the audio so much that I could barely get the headphones next to my ear for how loud they were. The sound quality wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.
Braid was different than I thought it would be. Through everything I had read about the game, it was somehow left out that it involves turning back time. I guess reviewers were too busy hailing it as a masterpiece. I think this feature is unbelievably wonderful; the ability to go back indefinitely coupled with the idea of having no lives makes the game that much more accessible, letting the player essentially learn at their own pace. (File that one away in the design repertoire.). Having to play and replay the same parts over and over would have been over-the-top aggravating, and I’m sure the game wouldn’t be half as awesome without it. And of course, turning back time is integrated into the puzzle solving itself.
The game is much harder than most other, similar games are, yet at the same time, like I said, unbelievably accessible. A better way to put it would be that the game actually forces the player to think about finding a solution to each of the puzzles. There were more than a few times in which the solution just clicked in my mind, only to have me say “you bastard, I can’t believe I have to do THAT!” And it’s an amazing feeling. It plays exceptionally well into the whole learning = fun thing. (Read Dan Cook’s The Chemistry of Game Design if you haven’t already, Dan’s great at explaining this concept.)
The story didn’t make me cry bittersweet tears of emotion, but it was certainly deeper, and maybe hit closer to home, than most other games I’ve played. I loved the fact that the story wasn’t pushed on the player (I’m a big believer in the Valve-esque non-cut scene.).
Right now Braid is the highest rated XBL game in history, according to Metacritic. Wow. Jonathan Blow estimates that in the first week of release the game may have sold around 55,000 copies, not yet enough to recoup development costs, but enough to extrapolate that development costs will be covered sometime soon and enough to support his next project. That’s pretty cool.
But for being the #1 rated XBL game, 55k copies isn’t exactly phenomenal. Braid, for starters, is a game made by an experienced gamer FOR experienced gamers. This is in no way a bad thing (I love it!) There are tons of references to games, and it’s great to see that. But at the same time while the game is accessible, it’s hard to imagine it being played by the masses. Maybe it requires too much deep thinking and not enough stuff blowing up. It’s more proactive than reactive. It’s not quite puzzle solving in the traditional math class sense that, say, Professor Layton is, so maybe the platforming aspect is not quite as intuitive to non-game players. The story itself also requires a certain amount of critical thinking; and not everyone wants “deep.”. Those who get it, get it, those that don’t, well… don’t.
There is no doubt in my mind that Braid will be hailed as the masterpiece of flawless execution that it is. It pushes the boundaries of what 99% of games out there are willing to do, and it’s obvious when playing it that Jonathan Blow actually CARES about his game. I mean really CARES. Only someone that invested, both emotionally, and I’m sure monetarily, can create a game with this much attention to detail. Hats off to Jonathan and the whole Braid team for setting the bar that much higher.