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.
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.
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.