Games for 2008: Braid

By Kieron Gillen on January 30th, 2008 at 11:05 pm.

Level 40 Dungeon Braid.

While they may not be the largest demographic in the world, for a certain group of gamers Braid is going to be the most keenly anticipated and closely watched game of the year. And while it’s a fascinating-looking, both aesthetically and mechanistically, it’s not entirely because of its innate qualities that there is such anticipation. The game was notable enough to win the 2006 IGF Design innovation award, but it’s still not because of that: it’s because Braid is Jonathan Blow’s first full game (Putting aside his glorious prototypes). He’s one of the major driving forces in the experimental end of the indie-field, hosting the Experimental Gameplay Workshop at GDC. Most relevantly, however, he’s the indie-scene’s premier agent-provocateur. Decrying World of Warcraft as unethical and eviscerating Bioshock’s so-called moral choices will do that.

In other words, certain people are paying close attention to Braid for one simple reason: It’s put up or shut up time.

Is it out yet? Braid not.

Braid, with its charming graphic style by comic-artist David Hellman of A Lesson Is Learned But the Damage Is Irreversible is based around a radical extrapolation of the time-control mechanics we’ve seen explored in games on-and-off for the last few years. It just goes a lot further. For example, its control of time isn’t based around a resource. If you die you just rewind to the point where you want to be. This essential invulnerability inevitably moves the game away from a traditional platformer into something that’s a lot more based around physics. From what impressed observers have reported, we see that the puzzles are based around how each place visited alters the rules. So for example, some places objects may sit outside the time-effect and… shit, I’m just paraphrasing the previous piece and Kyle’ll kill me. Go read it. Read what he says, as he’s keeping things prosaic and purely factual.

Which is something Blow doesn’t thankfully. Take the following quote, talking to MTV News. “I want ‘Braid’ to be mind-expanding…. I want people to get experiences from it that they have not gotten from anything else. I want it to inspire people to go out and do other strange things that I wouldn’t have thought of.” Well, exactly. He continues onwards, talking pastiche, quantum physics and everything else. Read it. And read his blog. And then decide whether you want to hail him as a messiah or – well – crucify him like one.

Some bad Braid pun.

Problems? Well, for us there’s an obvious one. It’s only definitely coming out on the 360 Arcade. “In the long term I want to release Braid on many platforms. What those are, I don’t know. The PC will probably happen,” he says over at his blog. To which we can only hope that probably happens and happens soon, and if it doesn’t…. well, I’ll have to weigh my distaste at gamer entitlement (i.e. Anyone who argues that developers shouldn’t do what they like should stop bloody whining. It’s not their game. That’s what “creator” means.) against my mild outrage of capitulation to closed corporate interest from someone who, you’d think, should realise the symbolic nature of slipping into those particular developmental chains.

But I don’t think that’s going to be an issue. I suspect it’ll end up on the PC. And I hope it ends up being great.

1) Because the world needs more great games.
2) Because it’ll give Blow the license to tell the industry to fuck-off and die as much as he chooses.

, , .

49 Comments »

  1. Alex says:

    You use the word “mechanistically” a lot, what do you mean by it exactly?

    I always was under the impression that you meant ‘gameplay’ with it, but then why wouldn’t you just use the word ‘gameplay’ (or a variation), so I’m guessing there’s more to it?

  2. Kieron Gillen says:

    Gameplay’s a really ugly word that doesn’t really say what it means. Mechanistically focuses on that I’m talking about the individual pieces of what you do in the game and how they interact, with no reference to anything else.

    I admit, I’m deep in a “mechanistically” phase at the moment. It’ll calm down.

    KG

  3. Alec Meer says:

    Gameplay is not as good as Songlisten.

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    Or Moviewatch.

    (I stress – that I link to this doesn’t mean I agree with it)

    KG

  5. Tunips says:

    In a similar way to Braid, I am frequently given to bouts of fist-shaking rage that Sony had the audacity to steal Everyday Shooter from its rightful home on the PC.
    Because I live in Melbourne, I can frequently play the IGF build at ACMI – on a PC. Which is wonderful, but also feels like like sony snubbing its nose directly at me, the gamer.

  6. Jose Pagan says:

    Too bad it is coming to the Windows Live pastiche :(

  7. Alan Au says:

    Mechanistically speaking, this commentpost flavorencapsulates the neojournalistic pastiche of helpI’mstuckinaneologismfactorypleasejustkillmenow.

  8. Walsh says:

    Wow, looks like generic indie platformer #8913 written by guy who complains about mainstream game play.

  9. Dracko says:

    I’m definitely looking forward to this one because Jonathan Blow has his heads on his shoulders and knows exactly what he’s on about. He’s entirely correct with his complaints towards the medium and I can’t wait to see what he has to offer.

    So maybe I am setting myself up for a major disappointment, but any genuine and passionate attempt at pushing gaming further without getting embroiled in hype nonsense is to be encouraged.

    Walsh: Are you just looking at the screenshots?

  10. Zeno, Internetographer says:

    Mechanisticologismography aside, I hate how the main character looks, and everything else will have to be damn good to make up for that.

  11. Lunaran says:

    Alan> Should we use you as mechanistically separated nuggetmeat after we’ve done so?

  12. Rufus T. Firefly says:

    At first glance, I really thought this was a washed-out Maple Story screenshot.

    So I guess I am expecting some jumping puzzles.

  13. Alex says:

    Gameplay’s a really ugly word that doesn’t really say what it means.

    You know, “mechanistically” isn’t much of a looker, either, I’m afraid. It trips me up each and every time I come across it – but that’s also probably because the exact meaning remains pretty foggy..

    Maybe you should do a blog entry on RPS just on the meaning of “mechanistically”. It’d also be a good way to get it out of your system..

  14. Kieron Gillen says:

    Well, Mechanistically has utilitarianism on its side – it’s meant to be an functional word, and give that sort of impression of gears and cogs and similar – the elements which make up the machine.

    But, yes, more another time.

    KG

  15. The Pope says:

    Mechanistically makes sense to me. When people say game mechanics, they usually mean the set of actions available in a game and the way they work – in an FPS, this is things like weapon damage, recoil, movement speed, iron sights etc. Mechanistically, while sounding kind of silly, is meaningful.

    Gameplay is a useless word. I’ve seen arguments where a guy was trashing a game by saying the gameplay is terrible, but concedes that everything you do in said game was fun. It turned out that he meant it had a bad story.

    Gameplay even sounds like one of those Orwellian non words used to deliberately dumb down discourse. Actually, that would make a good catchprase – GAMEPLAY IS DOUBLEPLUSUNGOOD!

  16. dhex says:

    i’ll cop to liking gameplay cause like, uh, it is what it is. the play of the game.

    also i don’t believe mr. blow knows what the word “unethical” means.

  17. Brokenbroll says:

    Mr. Blow, for all of his many good qualities, tends to “talk out of his ass” somewhat frequently. His main problem seems to be an inability to see things outside of his own viewpoint as having value.

  18. Dracko says:

    Care to explain? His comments sound perfectly reasonable and valid to me.

  19. JP says:

    “Aesthetically and mechanistically” gets bonus points for its reference to Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics.

    Anyone who disagrees with Jon is dead to me. DEAD I SAY!

  20. Pesh says:

    This better come out on the PC lest this article be a sorrowfully pure console one.

  21. Robin says:

    My reaction to the screens was similar to Walsh’s. The game /could/ turn out to be amazing, in spite of being yet another 2D platformer with murky art and that horrible Captain Pugwash animation that everyone ripped off from Paper Mario.

    It is frustrating to see designers with well argued ideas reject The System to such an extent that they drastically limit the kind of games they can deliver. (Or in extreme cases – e.g. Greg Kostikyan, Chris Crawford – lock themselves out entirely.)

  22. gaijin says:

    if sticking with it through the boring bits in the hope of occasional pleasurable rewards is unethical, life is a prime suspect…

    It’s all going to come down to the puzzles, isn’t it? The rewind thing meaning that you don’t have to reload and repeat is a bit of a gimmick (quicksave ftw!), the rewind as a tool to solve puzzles is interesting. As long as the puzzles as neither trivial or unfairly arcane. I feel the woody of interest rising in the sweats of xbox arcade.

  23. Matt says:

    I quite liked the “A Lesson Learned” web-comic, it will be interesting to see whether the game draws on more than just the artwork and uses the same strange humour of the comic.

    Even if it does come to PC though, it will probably use the Windows Live system, as someone already said. So far I have refused to use it, or any game that forces me to use it, for various reasons.

  24. Dinger says:

    If you want to get away with “gameplay”, fine, but please do the same thing with using screenshots to convey the sense of a game. “Mechanistically” gets me a little nervous since it’s based on “mechanics” which will be the new “gameplay”.

    Buzzwords lose value because they are shorthand for conceptual complexes that need to be specified. As people repeat them, the shorthand association gets lost, and the term takes on an increasingly broader meaning until it becomes worthless.

    What is gameplay? It’s the user experience of the mechanism of the game as expressed through the user interface. This is different from the user experience of the visual and audio artwork, the cutscenes, and the narrative structure. It’s the music largely stripped of lyrics, album art, makeup, video and production values.
    Does the term suck? Sure. What about “mechanistically”? Okay, but you’ve got two problems:

    A. Game designers like to talk about “mechanisms” because they’re in the business of building them. To what extent should a player (and hence a reviewer who writes for players) care about design process? If we discuss the game in design terms alone, should we be surprised if our audience consists of those involved in game design? (looks around. Oh wait…) And if game designers don’t consider the design from the perspective of the player, they end up building SimAnt, er Ant Farms (or RoboSport, the coolest game with a fundamentally broken mechanic).

    B. Focusing on “mechanism” compels us to assume an ontologically thick divide between “game” and “interface”, and, by extension, “platform”. Does a “game” exist independent of the ability to express it? Do you ever encounter a book review that says, “this is a great work of literature, hindered only by the author’s opaque grammar, turgid prose, and evident confusion between the precious and the récherché, not to mention his irritating habit of putting punctuation outside of quotation marks”? Can we consider a game independent of the fact that it’s running on an XboX, where it will be played on a couch, with friends, and with XBLA at hand, or on a PC, in a dedicated room, by a handful of dweebs who waste too much time reading gaming blogs?

    So hate ‘gameplay’ all you want, but choose yer words carefully.

    Oh yeah, I was gonna rant about screenshots. What the heck? Most screenshots tell us very little about the game beyond the artwork. So about this game I know:

    A. Its visual style is heavily based on the whole Super Mario Brothers canon, but replaces the stereotypical Italian with a stereotypical public-school boy (at least it gives a better backstory for the bow-legged animation, I suppose).

    B. It supposedly involves mind-shattering notions of temporality that are not clearly specified, and that cannot possibly be conveyed by screenshots.

    C. XboX-360 at the moment.

    Anything I missed?

  25. xagarath says:

    Blow’s been saying some remarkably perceptive things about the medium for quite some time.

    I am very much hoping this doesn’t do what Everyday Shooter did.

  26. ezequiel says:

    just wanted to add that, while also i disliked the character, this screenshot, in it’s full screen glory, with all that free space and that sky, it’s marvelous:
    http://braid-game.com/news/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/fleeing.jpg

  27. Robin says:

    It’s also worth noting that just because something comes out on XBLA, doesn’t automatically mean that the PC version will be restricted to ‘Games for Windows: Live: Marketplace for Games on Windows’. As opposed to Steam or anywhere else.

    Unless JB has explicitly said otherwise.

  28. Meat Circus says:

    Can I point out that “Jonathan Blow” is a great name and I wish it was mine.

    Yours,

    Hecketty Carbide

  29. J says:

    I think all the hating on this is a little unfair. I don’t want to get into those arguments though. I will say the game looks great (and utterly wonderful in motion). I watched a couple of Jonathan Blow’s lectures to see what all the fuss was about and was blown away.

    Braid was very impressive and clearly had a lot of thought behind it but what really impressed me was Blow himself. Listening to him I just got the feeling he really genuinely cared about making games.
    I don’t often get the feeling when it comes to game developers. That’s why I want to play Braid (and that whole near limitless time manipulation thing).

    I’ll try to link to the presentations I watched.
    http://braid-game.com/news/?p=102
    Hope that works.
    Like I said I get the feeling he really cares and not only wants to make good games but to make them for the right reasons.
    We need more of that.

  30. Optimaximal says:

    How can the guy talk about ‘doing what the gamers want’ and then only confirm the game for a closed console format. If he had any credibility, he’d offer the game for free/for a modest sum through his own website for as many platforms as possible so his magnum opus could reach as many gamers as possible…

    That said, could he just be in it for the money?

  31. Kieron Gillen says:

    Optimaximal: You know that Gamer Entitlement I was so down on in the post? You’re displaying too much of it here.

    There is no shame in a developer needing to eat. And arguably showing that an indie game can be more than an altruistic gesture is more useful and inspiring to a growing indie-scene than faux-piety.

    KG

  32. Jae Armstrong says:

    just wanted to add that, while also i disliked the character, this screenshot, in it’s full screen glory, with all that free space and that sky, it’s marvelous:
    http://braid-game.com/news/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/fleeing.jpg

    That has to be one of the single most beautiful screenshots I’ve ever seen.

    That’s it, I’m blowing up the graphics card fabs. Who’s with me? DOWN WITH 3D! etc.

    Anyway, to weigh in on the terminology debate, I always took the word “gameplay” to mean the interaction of all the mechanics and the player, where “mechanic” was an atomic process by which the game moves from one state to another. Essentially equivalent to the word “dynamics” from that Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics paper.

    Basically, if you’re talking about gameplay I’m interpreting it as the general feel of all the mechanics working together rather than the effect of any specific component.

    Never felt that it was particularly ill-defined, but it took me nigh on a quarter of an hour to put that concept into words, so perhaps…

    EDIT: :O

    We have comment editing now? ^_^

  33. Dracko says:

    Optimaximal: I still had to pay money for my books, DVDs and even, yes, even music and indie games. You’ll find that not even wannabe rebels can survive on air alone. And visionaries also tend to enjoy fine, or at the least, eclectic food, if history is any indicator.

    I somehow think that once an XBLA release has kicked off, Blow will then move on to see if he can bring it to PC or even the PS3.

    On the character in particular: Why do some of you dislike him? I’m honestly curious. He comes off as almost Everyman yet child-like in demeanour, which seems fitting. Then again, I always found Mario to be little more than a racist stereotype whose franchise is long overdue a retirement.

  34. Kieron Gillen says:

    Dracko: The Escapist did an article recently about how Mario is impossible to actually sell to anyone who doesn’t know about Mario, pretty much for that reason. As a character, he’s… nothing. He’s not an interesting and cool fantasy. He’s just a videogame character.

    I wouldn’t get too stressed: I suspect it will come to PC eventually. My worry would be the time lag – I’m informed that there’s an XBoxLive exclusivity thing Microsoft normally get people to sign. That may be as much as 12 months. Any developers out there able to confirm or deny?

    KG

  35. Dracko says:

    For all his weirdness, I find Sonic a more relatable character, I suppose: Sure he’s supposedly a hedgehog that happens to be blue, but the moment you pick up on his attitude, you got a straightforward and deceptively complex environment to speed through or explore as you want, and his appearance fits that dimension.

    I’m of course thinking of the early 2D fare. How the mighty have fallen. (And we needed less excuses back then too: Even Super Mario Galaxy falls prey to the Any Plot Will Do at Any Cost malarkey.)

    I like the Braid protagonist for the reason mentioned above. It’s a good effort. With all the talk of plot though, it remains to be seen just how consistent such a surreal experience will end up being. I don’t believe Blow’s gone into much detail in the story department, other than to say that there is one and he’s confident it fits the game he’s making.

    Now I wonder how long it will take, if this manages to kick off well enough, before we get to see more bizarre games like this. It’d be neat to see the likes of cactus working on a larger project.

  36. fluffy bunny says:

    “My worry would be the time lag – I’m informed that there’s an XBoxLive exclusivity thing Microsoft normally get people to sign.”

    This is the Microsoft who always talks about how much it wants people to play games on the PC, and how much it’s doing to make the PC more popular as a gaming platform?

  37. Jim Rossignol says:

    I’d like to see some kind of digital-only PC publisher getting enough money to invest in people like Cactus and the other indie notables*. If we could get a consistent stream of disposable oddities it might change how people view their games. I could see there being a model for cheap, “boutique” games developed by half a dozen people over six months to be sold for $12 on Steam or whatnot.

    *Publishers, for all their problems, could bring things like talented consultant producers and useful tech to these smaller operations.

  38. Jonathan says:

    Does mechanistically mean how the game is put together in terms of design, how the developer made it (modifiable, custumisable, the game engine), how the player controls it purely in terms of input (intuitiveness), how the player controls the game in terms of responsiveness, how the game controls the players experience (linear, timed, sandbox) or the underlying principles and rules of the game (genre)? More to the point, why are we trying to introduce buzzwords to games?

    Also Blow kind of really gets on my nerves and I still haven’t seen any evidence that this game will bring us all as an industry into a an all new golden age. Looks like Prince of Persia crossed with Mario fun but not life changing.

  39. dhex says:

    and if nothing else, being controversial is a great way to get attention for your projects.

    and being a fan of david hellman’s work i would buy this just for that, if i had an xbox.

    “mechanistically” makes me think of the physical interaction between my hands and the interface that controls the game.

  40. JP says:

    Focusing on “mechanism” compels us to assume an ontologically thick divide between “game” and “interface”, and, by extension, “platform”. Does a “game” exist independent of the ability to express it?

    No, because the interface is defined by mechanics as well. It sounds like your definition of “mechanics” is narrower than others. Mechanics isn’t just what happens inside the black box of a simulation, it’s everything that happens in the core loop, which includes player input.

    Read some of the MDA theory, mechanics is far more specific than “gameplay”, and it gains clarity from being distinguished from dynamics and aesthetics.

    Terms only become buzzwords if they’re abstract enough to be amputated from their actual meaning, whereas designers can always point to fairly concrete things (insofar as mechanics are concrete) and say “mechanics”.

    and I still haven’t seen any evidence that this game will bring us all as an industry into a an all new golden age

    Good thing absolutely no-one has ever promised that of Braid.

  41. elias says:

    Sorry if I’m missing something (or just being American), but why wouldn’t you say “mechanically” rather than “mechanistically?” It makes more sense to me…

  42. Dinger says:

    Yeah, okay, I read the article.
    Now I know where a lot of “help the losing player play longer” crap gets its inspiration from. Sometimes a game is rewarding by ending quickly…
    You’re right that, in the concrete sense, the interface is, on their terms, “mechanic”. The operation of the interface is dynamic, and the experience generated by it would be aesthetic. So I’ll need to modify B. somewhat.

    I stand by most of the rest of what I say, in particular:”everything that happens in the core loop” assumes, of course, that a game has a core loop, which need not be the case.

    MDA is a design theory. It does not help us communicate the aesthetic experience of a game. Consider, for example, the award “Best New Game Mechanic”. Portals have been around found a while, and not just in Narbacular Drop. So are they talking there about the “mechanic” of portals, or the “aesthetic” experience they facilitate, as optimized by one implementation of that mechanic?

    Also, MDA as expressed there is terribly internalistic. It ignores external factors such as platform and social setting, and controls available. The wiimote, for example, isn’t a “mechanic”; it’s an environmental factor not covered by the model. Yet it’s central to many of what MDA theory would call “mechanics”, but few of these “mechanics” get called such by most people – they still refer to “mechanics” in terms of the “rules of the simulation” as opposed to the game.
    In his thought-provoking presentation, Mr. Blow cited Dan Radosh’s Halo3 review, notably the introduction, which makes the notorious internalist parallel to film (after decades of little growth, the 1930s saw a flourishing in development of the film art), without noting the very real technological developments that facilitated it (sound, electric-drive cameras, portable cameras).

    Also, “content” is mentioned in passing, as “levels, assets, and so on.” Likewise, while “aesthetics” is discussed, if we are to take MDA seriously, “Aesthetics” would be the middle of five steps, ending with human mechanics, such as addictive processes (as rightly alluded to in Mr. Blow’s presentation).

    In other words, MDA propounds the principles of a subalternate science. An architect designs a building to serve certain tasks (protect from cold and wind), and the dudes under the architect decide how to do it. The kinds of questions MDA seeks to resolve are “how can we best build a wall?”

    “Okay”, you might say (but more likely “no way, idiot!”), “what’s wrong with talking about mechanics?” Nothing, other than we don’t judge mechanics in themselves. We judge the quality of their implementation and their affect on the whole system (and not merely their dynamic interaction with other mechanics) and the experience of the whole. In short, we play the game, not the mechanics.

    And whenusing an adjective referring to mechanics, why not use “mechnically” as opposed to the appalling neologism “Mechanistically”? Is there a parallel use for “Dynamistically” and “Aestheticismically”?

  43. Alex says:

    God what have I done..! ;)

  44. Jae Armstrong says:

    Sorry if I’m missing something (or just being American), but why wouldn’t you say “mechanically” rather than “mechanistically?” It makes more sense to me…

    If we’re going to be pedantic, we should probably be talking about mechanisms rather than mechanics.

  45. Dinger says:

    Sorry Alex – my bad. You’d never think I read this blog to avoid dealing with Aristotelianism.

    My apologies to all those hurt in the process.

    Oh, and the game: I stated what I saw in the screenshots, and frankly, the insufficiency in relying on them.

    No, not the insufficiency: the complete and utter inadequacy.

    Take the work of the late, revered Bruce Carver, founder of access software.

    Bruce’s first three games were all big hits on the Commodore 64: Neutral Zone, Beach Head, Raid over Moscow. While Will Wright was mucking about with making fighter jets land, taxi, refuel and take off again in Raid on Bungeling Bay, Bruce Carver was cranking out Neutral Zone. Go to your library and pull up a copy of Compute! from 1983, and you’ll see an ad for Neutral Zone. The Ad is largely screenshots, and if you compare them to the other screenshots in the magazine (both ads and features), you’ll see that they’re _far_ superior to everything else. “Dang, that’s an asteroid there!” and “Wow, that’s a floating space station.”

    Now consult (at your library, I’d presume) the game Neutral Zone: It’s a “use the joystick to blow up (very, very few) sprites” game across an extended left/right scrolling (hey those commands are free in 6502 assembly) background.

    That guy showed that pretty screenshots would sell, and his first games were built around pretty screenshots. Then he got the money and the tech to work on his passion, the golf game.

    So, yes, remembering my youth, I’m wary of screenshots. In any case, they are not nearly as capable of expressing the game experience as (unedited) video (and by the way, when we say “gameplay video”, everyone understands what we mean), or :gasp:, the gripping prose assessment of a good reviewer.

  46. JP says:

    Dinger, your points are great, but if they point to anything it’s a weakness shared by most academic models: to be useful within a certain domain, they have to reduce their scope and terms in a way that makes them inadequate for others, however closely related the domains are in practice.

    As a designer I find MDA useful, but it’s not a silver bullet and it doesn’t explain everything. Rather than feeling it fails me in this, though, this actually makes it a useful counterpoint to the experience-driven methodology of game design, where the aesthetics are technically all that matters because that’s where the player actually inhabits the game, cognitively and emotionally and otherwise.

    It’s only when you triangulate between models that are descriptive along different axes that you get the real picture. Your ones and zeroes become thoughts and emotions. So really it’s not so strange at all that the souls of men are enchanted from their bodies with the guts of sheep.

    … and with that I suppose I’ve thrown down the pretension gauntlet for all.

  47. JP says:

    I stand by most of the rest of what I say, in particular:”everything that happens in the core loop” assumes, of course, that a game has a core loop, which need not be the case.

    Again, our definitions may be at odds. To me having a core loop means the game is a game and not a screensaver.

  48. Doug Orleans says:

    Braid is not Jon’s first game– that would be Wulfram.

  49. Kieron Gillen says:

    MAN!

    (Thanks)

    KG