Story and Perspective in Braid

•August 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I found the Braid game very interesting in terms of the story. Usually, when I’m playing a game or watching someone play a game, I skip over the storyline to try and quickly progress through the game. But with Braid, the story or titles of the levels often gave hints and tied in with the game in innovative ways. For example, the level “irreversible” is solved by refraining from reversing at the start of the level. I couldn’t help peeking ahead on Wikipedia to read the ending of the game, because I was very curious. Everything from the music, to the odd puzzle pictures, to the characters’ melancholy expression evoked a very different feeling than I’m used to with platform games. Mario is peppy, happy, and upbeat. In Braid, the music seemed darker. Even the weather responded with a pathetic fallacy, as it rained often in the levels. The ending didn’t disappoint me. I won’t spoil it here, but the twist was fascinating from a story standpoint. It certainly made me consider perspective in games. Everyone thinks they are a hero, and everyone is a protagonist in their own story, but Braid challenges players to consider how this can change with time.

 

This is a particularly interesting point in gaming, since users can often choose their avatars and design characters. How do these characters reflect or misconstrue our own identities? On a fun level, I think of the song in the web series “The Guild,” “Do you wanna date my avatar,” because it can be entertaining to play or design characters that look awesome. In LOTRO I liked designing my own character, because I could choose good qualities and make a super version of a hunter. It can be interesting to play characters that represent ourselves (for example, characters that dress like we do like Tim in Braid with a suite and tie), but there are more facets to this idea. Most stories have protagonists and antagonists, and things change with perspective.

 

Some of my favorite stories are escapist, because I love fantasy and stories set in other worlds. In a way, Braid lent itself to that idea, because of the quest-like tone and beautiful artwork. But ultimately, the theme seems to reflect on the inescapable quality of time. I enjoyed the game as a cool, but challenging, platform game before I read the ending. When I read the ending, I had a completely different perspective. Each level seemed sinister, and I had a bad feeling throughout. Maybe this is also indicative of perspective and time—hindsight is 20/20, but we can’t actually go back in time. When I knew what was going to happen, I wanted to make different choices, but time ultimately only moves forward.

-Julia

A game as art vs art as a game

•August 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’ve created art since I was five years old. I studied seriously with a professional painter for ten years after that. However, I still hesitate to make the statement “I’m an artist.” For one, it’s a loaded term that implies a lot of grandiosity and arrogance. Mostly though, I don’t want to be identified as an artist alone, because I also happen to be a major techie nerd.

I started taking Computer Science classes my sophomore year and have been hooked ever since. But since then I’ve spent many semesters taking both computer science and art classes, anxiously switching back and forth trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, let alone what to major in.

For so long it seemed like there was no choice but to make a choice. Art and Science, I was taught from day one, were on opposite ends of a philosophical, academic, and professional spectrum. You were either one or the other kind of thinker and personality: creative or analytical, emotional or rational, passionate or cool headed. In figuring out what to do with my future, I thought the first thing I needed to do was choose between the technology or creative arts industry.

But then I discovered video games. It was pretty revelatory for me to find this whole growing field of work that was entrenched in both worlds that held possibilities of careers spent engaging with both creative and technological pursuits.

So with a new certainty (as much as you can have as a college senior) in the type of work I wanted to do post-graduation, I took on my computer science and art classes with new perspective and purpose. I tried to look at both fields through the lens of gaming and their impact on each other.

Despite being a terrible “noob” in the gamer world, I jumped in with vigor and tried to learn as much as I could from both a consumer and creator’s perspective. The first thing I started doing was comparing it to media I was much more familiar with like  literature, cinema and obviously visual arts, and I was a little dismayed at how little the video game world cared about or took the time to even think about games as art.

For the most part, the industry has been dominated by huge action, fantasy or sci-fi spectacles of violence and conquest. In most games, something or usually someone must be “killed” for you to beat the level and eventually the game. Whether its the stone walls of castles, the glint of the weapons or the gory spray of blood as you defeat yet another creature of some kind, each new game has tried (at least visually) to deceiving the player more successfully in the reality of the virtual worlds.The name of the game as far as art in video games has been making things as real as possible.

From an artistic perspective, I see it as a shame that such a potentially rich and complex way to produce art has been so visually and creatively un-evolved. So, playing Braid was very much a breath of fresh air. On a superficial level, the first thing you notice is the painterly quality of the aesthetic. There is no intention of hiding the fact that these rocks and that sky were painted with a brush, (a digital one perhaps but a tool of creation nonethless). There is much less  of an effort spent on concealing the process of creation. Which is the the first step towards a complex and challenging engagement of the viewer, the foundational endeavor in high art.

When you start to shake up the viewer’s sense of stable reality and you stop holding their hand, you can begin to engage them on even more conceptually and intellectually challenges. But the qualifications of Braid as art don’t stop there. The elegant prose, as well as the intentionally existential questions posed by the very structure of the puzzles and gameplay all push the boundaries needed to be considered an “art game.”

Released in 2008, it was one of the first to be used as proof that games could be art. Roger Ebert, an acclaimed film critic famously declared, “Video games can never be art” in 2010. The debate has had impassioned proponents on both sides since. Other games like Journey, Limbo and Gone Home have furthered the cause. As a hopeful game artist I am pleased that the case for games being considered as art seems to get stronger.

However, until now the question has been about whether games as art is possible. I can’t help but wonder if art as games is possible?

The current turmoil and revolution has so far taken place strictly in the confines of the gaming world and among the gaming community, but I wonder when the conflict will migrate into art territory and what it will look like.

There has already been a great deal of controversy over curators exhibiting existing games and game art in museums. The Museum of Modern Art has already collected 14 out of a 40 sized wish list of a video game exhibit. But most of this is a curation and categorization of games as art after the fact of creation. While there are up to hundreds of well trained and creatively sophisticated artists working on a single game, there has been very little game creation made the purpose of being solely art from the get go.

Games like Braid, begin to teasingly bend and play with the conventions . Nonetheless, I am excited the inevitable hullaboo raised when artists begin to completely take apart and throw away the expectations of what a video game should look and feel like. Its not a matter of if but when, and I will be eagerly in the front row seats to see how the drama plays out.

 —Diana Zhu

Form and Function

•August 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Admittedly, I am a total newbie when it comes to gaming. Seriously.. I’m the kind of person whose experience with games stops with Mario cart and scoops for my iPhone. So when I jettisoned myself out of reality and into the world of gaming by downloading the game Braid, I was skeptical as to if I would have even the minimal amount of fine motor control to successfully play the game, let alone be able to enjoy it.

 

Luckily for me, Braid is the kind of game that is totally transformative. I found myself lost in the aesthetic beauty that appeared on the screen as it whisked the hero, Tim, and me to a fictional and imaginative land. It is the very visual appeal of this game that makes all the difference, as well as works in conjunction with the fiction of the game to elevate and transform the narrative.

 

The backdrop of the game is striking. It’s like being inside one of Monet’s masterpieces. The highly impressionistic setting is important because it lends itself to the creating the element imagination that so many gamers enjoy. I am personally in the camp with the game theorists that believe that the fiction and landscape of the game space are more than just decoration to the game’s rules, but rather are a part of entire gaming experience where form and function come together and help inform one another. I’d like to think that the creator, Jonathan Blow, is too. The game creates a cohesive theme of two-dimensionality within the landscape and the rules of the game that I assume help to enhance the narrative, but I’m not really sure yet. Don’t worry, guys, no spoilers here: it took me many hours and lots of help just to figure out the basics of how to play the game, and I still can’t figure out how to properly utilize the monsters to get more height… However, I assume that when I finally get to the end and have the whole story figured out (I can’t bring myself to read ahead on Wikipedia), this theme of two-dimensionality is going to tie-in some how.

 

Now, while the visual background to the game is exceedingly exquisite, I can’t get over Tim’s chic and streamlined menswear look. I love how his conservative and prep school-ish ensemble stands in direct opposition of his environment. Where a normal game maker might design a charter’s wardrobe to fit the theme of his surroundings, Tim’s outfit stands in stark contrast of it. However, his navy blazer and khakis don’t pull me out of the game, but rather help me to relate to Tim because he looks just as lost in this game as I feel. But actually, Tim’s outfit gives an ironic sense of realism to a game that plays with the concept of time and looks more like a painting than reality. And with class just starting back, the timing of discovering Tim’s outfit couldn’t be more perfect! With his navy blazer and khakis, he looks so ready to hit the books.

 

Here, I’ve made this ensemble more ladylike by incorporating my favorite brown leather Christian Louboutin wedges to keep the outfit from looking too masculine. This Brooks Brothers navy wool blazer and white (wrinkle-resistant!) button down and J Crew tailored khakis keep the look true to Tim. Of course, I had to include a braid as a tribute to the game itself. Now that I look the part, maybe I can figure out how to actually win!

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-Sparling Wilson

I Feel For You Tim: Emotional Attachment in Braid

•August 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In the introduction to Half Real, Jesper Juul argues that “emotional attachment” is an essential component of video game construction. However, many critics argue that emotional attachment is largely missing from today’s popular games (Call of Duty, Halo etc.).  But emotional connection is  front-and-center in Braid. What’s more, the game offers multiple ways for the player to feel connected to the game. The world of Braid is visually stunning, musically compelling, and puzzling in the obstacles, mechanics and story; this makes space for any player to form an attachment with the game.

The story hooked me. We get snippets about Tim’s path at the beginning of each new level–his past romances, his parents, his own self-reflection–and we care about him just as we might the protagonist in a great novel. But the narrative is particularly compelling because it leaves so many questions unanswered–What big mistake did Tim make? Who is the monster? These questions can only be answered by playing and beating the game (or looking it up on Wikipedia, as I did). The story creates so much anticipation, and I enjoyed playing largely because I wanted to solve the mystery of Tim and his Princess. I was rooting for Tim. Learning the ending made me sad, made me reflect on the game, made me consider Tim and the Princess as a legitimate relationship that might exist outside of a video game. Deeply personal and delicate, this story touched on much larger themes than I would have expected from a game.

Game mechanics-wise, I echo others’ posts with my admiration. The rewind/re-do function extremely helpful for me as a new game player, and made the theme of multiple realities more concrete. Plus, players have the advantage of seeing other possible outcomes; if you don’t like where a certain path of play takes you, you can quite literally alter your own course. There is also a tension at play between fate and free will. The narrative is pre-set, obviously, and so although we can choose and re-do our path, all means lead to the same end. This element creates an even stronger bond between the player and the characters. Tim’s final loss made me question if anything he/I accomplished in the game was worth it. The game boasts time travel, magic and do-overs, but ultimately, Tim cannot win the princess back.  In fact,  one could argue that Tim’s use of all these technological advancements turned him into the monster that the Princess sees him as.

Overall, I really enjoyed this game because of how close I felt to the characters. Creator Jonathan Blow has spoken out about the importance of forming emotional and artistic attachment in video games, and I think he nailed it in Braid. I look forward to his next release!

Emma Baker

 

The Intertwining Narrative and Mechanics of Braid

•August 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

By Carly Vaughn

Braid is a frustrating game. In my opinion, this is mostly because the simple game mechanics belie the fact that introducing the element of time into a game creates a whole different set of complexities. While these complexities do tie in well to the narrative, it makes playing the game, for me, quite a challenge.

The game’s relationship to time seems, at first, to make the game very easy. Instead of having to start a level over when you die, you simply rewind time and correct your mistakes. As the narrative for World 2 says, “This happened because Tim made a mistake.” This simple statement mirrors time’s rather simple function in these early levels.

However, this time manipulation quickly changes from the game equivalent of Wite-Out, to an incredibly challenging dimension of the game experience. I found myself mystified, though my partner was not, by the levels in which time only moved forwards or backwards when Tim did, or the levels involving Tim’s shadow. Tim’s shadow was particularly confusing, as I could never seem to get him to do what I wanted, even when my partner patiently explained what I was meant to do. This complication in game mechanics, is reflected in the new, deeper context of the game’s narrative: “A trail of feelings, of awe and inspiration, should lead him to that castle in the future: her arms enclosing him, her scent fills him with excitement, creates a moment so strong he can remember it in the past.” The future and the past and the present are intertwined in this game, not only in playing it, but in Tim’s reflections.

I think the game’s creator made a very conscious decision to have this progression of the time manipulation; i.e. from a help to a hindrance. Tim’s narrative is about time, of course, and about regret. It seems easy to wish you could simply go back in time and correct mistakes, but the game seems to be arguing that time and regret and mistakes are more complicated than that. While this game is incredibly difficult, I want to finish it and discover what happened to the Princess, and what will happen to Tim.

Rewind and Go Play Braid

•August 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Squidward – Author

 

I’m motivated. I like to push myself to be my very best and I know I’m not alone. However, we all need to be motivated differently in order to study, run, call our family, and finish projects we have started. Personally, I love video games, I’ve played most genres and have definitely developed a taste for what drives me most to finish a video game. Typically, I’m not the guy that will collect every secret and beat every challenge a game has to offer. What I look for in a game is development. Once a story gets old, gameplay grows stale, or I feel like there is no more personal growth for me, I stop playing. This set of feelings has me quitting about 50% of games before completing the main story line or delving deeper into games. When I first opened up Braid, I thought I’d crush a few hours of game before moving on – completing the story wasn’t my plan. After about an hour, I craved to finish the story because although the gameplay is simple, Braid challenges the player to get better, think outside the box, and forget about immediate rewards in exchange for the long-run growth of skill and story.

When playing video games, most players are going to categorize a game by comparing it with personal favorites. For me, I immediately begun to stack-up Braid next to The Legend of Zelda, League of Legends, Star Wars Battlefront, and Elder Scrolls. It didn’t fit into any box and I had to figure out what about Braid made me like it so much when it had seemingly little in common with my favorites. You walk back and forth, you cannot die, and there is no fast twitch actions challenging the player. At the same time, I don’t know what exactly I’m fighting for, the character’s background, and no items or powerups for me to work for. So, what holds it together and why can I say I can compare it to games I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing? Simple, I (as a gamer) haven’t stopped growing and gaining skill from this game – and it’s as motivating as any weapon or quest in Skyrim.

Right of the bat, there is a great freedom to move to any level and finish the levels quickly without getting too caught up on menial tasks. I’m skipping puzzles I can’t figure out because I know I can come back once I get better. Every level has something unique but the gameplay skills the player gains from one can be used in the others. I’m constantly getting better and that is what excites me. There is this one puzzle piece I still cannot get (…my way of admitting I still haven’t beat the game) and I keep coming back to it. Every time I see it I have a different plan as well as faster, smarter fingers. I’m not leveling up my skills, unlocking new skins to show off, or getting a rush off the gameplay, but the fact that I have to have a set of puzzle-solving skills in order to say I’ve beat Braid just makes me want to beat the developers challenges and figure out why the protagonist has to combat time in order to get back what he once had.

I’m glad Braid didn’t pass me by, it’s a fun genre of its own that gets the gamer to play through intrinsic motivation. Whether I’m growing my skills, digging the artistic beauty, or guessing the ending of the story, all I know is this game makes me love video games….and I haven’t felt that in a while.

My Thoughts on Braid

•August 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Braid started off interestingly, with the dark shadow running through a background of skyscraper silhouettes. The graphics on the main character seemed very cool and I especially enjoyed that his hair and jacket blew in the wind as you run and jump. This beginning really did well with setting the tone for Tim’s ‘mysterious’ back-story, where he apparently betrayed a princess. This is where the Mario comparisons started to enter my mind. The books with background story were a pretty cool touch, though, and I got a heaven/hell sense with the coulds in comparison to the darkness of the first scene. Further the graphics of the grassy area and backgrounds were beautiful and the music was soothing.

 

The mechanics of the game were simple enough, but the game-play reminded me too much of Mario, to the point that it felt unoriginal. I did enjoy the shift function and found it quite innovative. It also fit the theme of a troubled past. As the game progressed, it was frustratingly similar to Mario, with the goombas, piranhas, and the ragdoll dinosaur that you met at the flag marking the end of each “World” (another Mario term). The rabbits were a more original feature (in my experience) and I liked the way the manipulation of time interacted with the glowing objects. I really began to excel with the way the game was played when shadows came into play and I thoroughly enjoyed the mental challenge it presented because it wasn’t a one-and-done system. For example if you mess up with the green keys, its over because they don’t move back in time.

 

My major problems were that the game was not immediately rewarding of good play, most of the levels could be skipped if you did not want to collect puzzle pieces, and that there was only one way to complete each level. The game was stimulating enough but without a perfect score, which I didn’t have the time/patience to achieve, you don’t see any reward for some of the harder things to do. There was also a lack of ability to interact with terrain, a feature that could have added a great deal of depth to the game. I suppose that I enjoyed it, overall, but I definitely don’t think it’s worth $10.

 
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