11 September 2008

The Braid Post

I'd been loosely following the saga of Braid's development ever since the 2007 Independent Games Festival. GameTap was a sponsor of the event and fishing for some talent to bring to the service under the GameTap Originals program. A bunch of us in the QA department were tasked to play the majority of the entries and provide feedback to the suits. There was one title in particular that caught my eye, however, the build of the game submit to IGF was not permitted for distribution to the e-judges. That title was Braid.

It was my understanding that the creator, Jonathan Blow, was not yet ready to reveal his work to the masses or risk his build leaking to the net. Whatever the case was, the description of a puzzle platformer that used multiple time manipulation techniques piqued my interest. The fact that it was being built with Microsoft's XNA SDK caught my eye as well. There hadn't really been any great success stories of indie developers using XNA to create some original content at that time, so this game went on my watch list.

About one year later, a demo for Braid was released to Xbox Live Arcade. I fired it up with Lisa snuggling me on the couch in our new Colorado apartment. Immediately, I was entranced by the game's art style, soundtrack, and narrative structure. Before I even used a single game mechanic, I experienced that unique wave of pleasure that comes from playing something truly great. The demo was a good taste of the progress in time manipulation game mechanics and I wanted more.

It wasn't until I was back for a short stay in Atlanta when I had a chance to play the full version. My roommate, Jason, had purchased the game while I was in transit and already played through the relatively short story. I was hearing nothing but kudos on the net by the time I sat down and played it. And boy, was it good.

I've never had to think so hard about a puzzle game. Traditional puzzle games require a mindset towards object orientation and planning movement order. This game does those, too... but it introduces a dimension not often seen in games. It's a dimension that I always crave and for which I typically laud games. To play a game is to learn the rules of a new world. A high percentage of games today have a chart, a manual, a voice always forcefully telling a player what to do and how to do it. Press A to jump. Jump on this button to advance to the next tutorial. Not here. Not in Braid.

In the world of Braid, the player must discover how things work. How time flows. How the world reacts to your power. In many puzzles, I found myself experimenting with different scenarios in order to discover the solution I needed at present. When confronted with a height ten times the size of the character, new methods of ascension must be engineered. The game's designer cleverly provides hints via messages embedded in the terrain, in the narrative, or even in the name of a level. For my personality, at least, the opportunity to experiment with a game world and make my own discoveries is an enlightening and mentally orgasmic activity. Developer Valve has a key to my heart and wallet for this very reason.

Sure, the story is brief, but the medium needs more games like Braid to shrug off this misconception that games need to be 10+ hour experiences. I also applaud the developer for announcing that there is no Braid 2, even though I am saddened that he will challenge my brain no more in this way. I can only hope that he will extend his talents to new game concepts and use the same creative juices.

Also, the last level is holyshitawesome.

Braid is available for $15 on Xbox 360, through the Xbox Live Marketplace.

02 September 2008

Dr. Horrible Soundtrack Released

The Dr. Horrible soundtrack is now available on iTunes! For $10, you can sing along as Joss Whedon intended to all the wonderful songs from the short web series. Wait a minute. Ten bucks for the soundtrack? How much was the entire series on iTunes?

What the hell? The entire series is five bucks and today they release a sub-section of that product for twice the cost! This sounds like a scheme hatched by none other than the Doctor himself!

I certainly won't be buying the soundtrack on iTunes. I have an iPod; I can just as easily listen to the video tracks on it. Let's hope the inevitable DVD release includes a soundtrack you can transfer to your PC.

Must keep singing "Brand New Day"... =)


As my brother Kyle points out, blogs are meant for updating.

I've been engaged in a whirlwind of activity this past month. Much of said activity should have been reported here as it happened. I tried conveying some of my activities via the Twitter feed on the right and what I've been reading about via the RSS feed beneath it. Hopefully that has been some consolation for my dedicated readers. With a five-week technical school coming up for me, I will make my best attempt to keep updating, but I can't be sure I'll have the time to report on anything other than local area networks and communications infrastructure. Woo.

Here's a quick update on my status. I'm currently living in Atlanta for two more weeks. All of my stuff has been moved to Colorado with the help of Lisa's amazing parents. We are mostly moved in to the new apartment... we want to get a couch, new bookshelf, and some other odds and ends before it feels complete. I'm in love with the place. Pool and hot tub are right out the door and it feels like every store and service is around the corner.
After two more weeks, I'll be going to a five-week communications school in Hurricane Headquarters. This, in a word, blows. Har har? When I'm done there, I'll finally drive out to Colorado for good. Work will be interesting doing the same things from a remote home office, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.

More soon, I promise!