Monday, May 18, 2009


Now that the Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3 all offer downloadable games, it has brought on a surge of independant developers. Since they no longer have to worry about marketing their games to retail all they have to do is convince Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft to allow their game to be downloaded. Rather than worrying about a factory printing discs and packaging, all they need is a file to upload online. Thankfully all three console companies are encouraging independant developers to bring their games to them, since it is a low risk business decision (if the game sells it is profitable, if not only the time and money of the developer was wasted; the big companies barely lose a cent). Now that independant game development is a worthwhile goal some truely unique games are coming out and breaking the mold. The real gem of these indy games is Braid. I have to warn you that their will be major spoilers throughout this post and you should avoid reading it if you want to experience the game with a fresh view.

Super Mario + Time Travel

What does Super Mario have to do with Braid? The designer, Johnathan Blow, used Super Mario Bros as a basic blue print for the game. Since most people are familiar with that game he could skip out on a lot of tutorial process. When you first see an enemy it is just basic instinct that jumping on it will kill it.

The time travel aspect of the game is its real gameplay masterpiece. Braid is not just a platforming but also a puzzle game. You have to collect puzzle pieces in every level and the only way to do it is through manipulating time. In the game you have the power to rewind time. Rather than lives you simply rewind the game back to when you were alive. This gameplay mechanic is expanded when you go to each level. Every level has its own gameplay specific to it. The levels are broken down like this (a video of the first level of each part will be shown. It gives the basic idea of gameplay without spoiling anything):

Time and Forgiveness: A basic platform game. It starts off basic so you can get used to your ability to rewind time.

Time and Mystery: Some items and enemies in these levels are not effected from you rewinding time. The player has to think harder about their new skills and how to manipulate the world around them.

Time and Place: The game world moves as you do. When you go right the game goes forward in time. When you move left the game rewinds. When you are standing the game pauses. Since every step you take effects everything on the screen the whole world becomes a puzzle with the pieces constantly moving.

Time and Decisions: After you perform an action and then rewind time, a shadow version of yourself will play out what you did before rewinding time. These levels have you basically controlling two seprate characters at the same time. Doing so causes the player to really think about every move they make.

Hesitance: (THIS VIDEO SHOWS A LOT MORE THEN THE OTHERS! Do not watch the whole thing if you don't want the puzzles spoiled). This level has a magic ring which slows down time. When the ring is dropped it forms a bubble. The closer to the center of the the bubble the slower time moves. This is the first level that really has the player thinking of the speed of time.

Untitled:(THIS VIDEO SHOWS A LOT MORE THEN THE OTHERS! Do not watch the whole thing if you don't want the puzzles spoiled). This whole world is constantly flowing in reverse. Rather than rewinding time you make time go forward. This level flips the entire game mechanic on its head.

The puzzle solving aspect of the game is one of the most satisfying aspects. Some puzzles can have the player thinking and stuck for hours but once they are figured out the player can pull it off in a matter of seconds. Because the game works the players brain in such a way, the player grows with the character. In reality the character has all the skills already but through the learning of the player, the character has a chance to show off those skills. It is a great experience to figure out a puzzle and gameplay mechanic on your own and then be able to pull it off again and agian with ease.

Art Style

The world of Braid looks like a painting. You can even see the paint brush strokes in the artwork. This meshes video games with visual art. The game looks like a painting come to life. Johnathan Blow is a believer in video games as an art form and it shows. He tied his game to a more respected art form in order to use it as a vehicle to enhance his world. Even the puzzle pieces you gather through the game create paintings that hang in the overworld. The levels are always colourful and fun to look at. Even simple screenshots can capture someones imagination, and this aspect works even better in motion. Furthermore the art direction looks simple but when you look at it more closely you can see all the detail. This mirrors the gameplay and story of braid which on the surface seems simple but in reality is much deeper and complex.

Johnathan Blow isn't soley responsible for the artwork. Johnathan would give a basic outline of the level and puzzle and David Hellman, a famous web comic artist, would draw over it, then together they would polish it. David Hellman used a great deal of symbolism in his art in order to drive the players emotions. When Hellman was explaining the split nature of the game he said, ("In the case of the "parallel realities" world, I represented the theme by combining luxurious domestic objects (nice furniture and fabrics) with rugged outdoor objects (swampy water, rotting piers and nautical rope). The result is incongruous, but intentionally so! Hopefully players will have two simultaneous reactions – "what a nice ottoman" and "what a yucky swamp" – again reiterating the theme of splitting, or staying or going")

You can see what Hellman is saying in this screenshot.


Johnathan Blow took a unique step with not writing his own music. In fact the music in the game was not even created for the game specifically. He instead bought the rights to use licensed music from Magnatune, (an indy record label). He bought songs from the artisits Cheryl Ann Fulton, Shira Kammen and Jami Sieber. Each of the songs are long enough that they avoid any noticable loop. Johnathan Blow also used the music to influence the artwork in the game. Rather than creating a level from scratch and then adding music later, the music came first and the levels were created with the feeling and mood of the soundtrack in mind.

The music in braid is light and sound almost magical, which is fitting considering the way the game plays. This is the first level of the game, where the player does not have to think as hard. The music is very welcoming and fun, which is perfect for getting the player used to the game world.

The final level has a more menacing tone to it. Throughout the game even though the challanges are getting harder the music still stays light. In order to let the player know the end is approaching the music changes into something a bit more dramatic. Even with this change the transition is not jarring and it still maintains the overall feel of the music before.


Side scrollers and puzzle games are not particularly well known for their storylines. Typically they depend on the platforming skills or the puzzle solving to engage the player. In Braid the main focus still is the gameplay and puzzles but there still is a storyline deep within it, and it is so complex that many players have different interpretations of it. The storyline plays through books that you can read before entering a level. You can run right past them if you want and ignore the story and the game isn't hurt by it. But if you read all the books you can get a larger idea of the goal of the game.

An example of the books in Braid. As you can see Johnathan Blow put a lot of effort into his text. The story is never clearly laid out, and it takes a bit more analysis to understand.

The one thing that is clear is you are saving a princess, and there is a past relationship with her that has become strained. The game actually starts at world 2 and goes sequentially up to to world 6. The last level of the game (after world 6) is world 1. In this level you actually see how the game storyline starts. You see your princess and she seems to be running away from a knight. As you go through the level you are overcoming obsticles to meet up with the princess. Once you get to her the game then plays in reverse and you see what really happened. You are not saving the princess, the knight is. You are actually the villain.

The ending to Braid played out. You can see how it originally looks like you are saving the princess when in fact you are trying to capture her.

There is a theory that the overall storyline of Braid is actually about the making of the atomic bomb. The following are clues that support this theory (even though it is in no way the official meaning behind the game:

  • There is a bang right before trying to capture the princess

  • Some of the text after the ending may imply that you are playing as a scientist and the search for the princess is the search for the atomic bomb. The text in question is, "He worked his ruler and his compass. He inferred. He deduced. He scrutinized the fall of an apple, the twisting of metal orbs hanging from a thread. He was searching for the Princess, and he would not stop until he found her, for he was hungry."

  • The overworld of the game is burning, suggesting a great disaster took place

  • The worlds in the game get darker and darker

  • There is also text at the end of the game that reads, "Now we are all sons of bitches" which is a direct quote of Kenneth Bainbridge's, a physicist at Harvard, reaction to the atomic bomb.

Again this theory is not supported by Johnathan Blow but it is also not denyed by him. He created the story purposely to get people thinking. It can be a complex allegory for the Atomic Bomb and its destruction, or it could be a story of a man who lost his love through a mistake and wants her back, or it could be a simple platforming puzzle game.

Braid is a game that looks and plays simple but it is far heavier on closer examination. I have only played through the game once and I think it is one of those games that would benefit from a second play through in order to get more pieces of the puzzle that make up Johnathan Blows vision. Like most great forms of art, Braid works on so many levels and can be appreciated on each of them.


  1. Playing through Braid now, so I admit I had to skip a lot of this post.

    Was 'expecting' this game to be good due to all the hype, but I had no idea the story itself would be so evocative. Perfect.

    Also, did you mention in an earlier post that you were stationed in Okayama?

  2. Yes I am in Okayama!

    Where in the prefecture are you?

  3. haha I'm in Okayama City--just a few minutes from the station.

    Was kind of proud of the fact that I was the only "Zach sensei" in the prefecture, but I guess I'll relinquish that to you, depending on how long you've been here ;)

  4. Been here for 2 years now going on my third.

    I live in the city but further from the station on the east side.