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.