A solid break from stress and “Legion”

I think the moment I realized that I had gotten really into the game was when I stepped out of the Towers West Lounge and thought about walking backward to turn back time out of curiosity. That HUNT! puzzle killed me.

I admit that I didn’t spend as much time playing the game as my partner Katherine, but I did sit down and had the great pleasure of trying to wring out puzzle pieces and completion from worlds 4 and 5. The double lever shadow puzzle also killed me.

 

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I wasn’t particularly gripped with the story. I know the game came out a while ago, but I was dissuaded by the very tell-centric nature of delivering the narrative. I didn’t feel like I was playing through the story as much as just playing a puzzle game and reading about some aspects of the story every new world. As a creative writer and otherwise fiction analyst, I find that, especially with interactive media, it is so very interesting to be able to tell a game’s story through the actual game. Sometimes for games I don’t play, I look at cinematics to learn some parts of the story, and especially for fighting games it’s amazing to me how much story they can fit into fighting sequences. Considering that example is a fairly limited form of the video game medium for show-centric story, it seems almost cheap for a game like this to skimp completely out of showing and just rely on the several books at the beginning of each new world.

Nonetheless, I was thoroughly intrigued by the game, and I was so fascinated by the repetition of puzzles and the way they simply used newer mechanics to make the repeated puzzles less…repetitive. Adding new mechanics was a really fun way of taking puzzles that previously were fairly trivial and making us have to rethink them and really wrack our brains for good solutions. Still looking at you, HUNT!.

More on the mechanics – not a lot of games switch up mechanics midway through the game. Sure, you might be able to acquire new abilities or weapons that supplement the skills you’ve already developed, but I think a major part of the difficulty of Braid was encountering these new mechanics early on and needing to simply engage with them and figure them out as you were solving the puzzles. While the base skills remain the same (sure, the jumping and time rewinding), you fairly rapidly have to be able to integrate these new skills and at least attempt the puzzles with possibly underdeveloped feelings for how the mechanics will work.

One of the biggest preventions of that making me give up on this game experience was the fact that I could go through the game without actually needing to solve all of these crazy puzzles immediately was a major drawing point for me to this game. I’m not a huge platformer guy, and I like puzzle games, but mostly just on mobile devices. Despite all of this, I found Braid incredibly easy to get into and stay into due to my ability to move on from one puzzle to the next if I found myself stuck on one for more than twenty minutes.

Overall, I thought the game was incredibly intuitive and thoroughly enjoyable, through the difficulty. I probably wouldn’t finish the game by myself, but I thought that figuring out the puzzles that I did was particularly rewarding and I enjoyed the experience a lot. Even though I failed several puzzles. And I didn’t realize how to finish the purple lion puzzle. It was late and I had had some champagne, okay?

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New Clarity in Memory: How Braid Forces Us to Wade Through the Past

Our initial experience in the world of Braid may leave us with an impression of simplicity and straight-forwardness. We move to the right of the screen, like most platformers, and are greeted with a scenic backdrop and the promise of challenging levels and puzzles to solve. This sense changes as soon as we begin opening books and piecing together puzzles. As with any memory that we have, Tim’s memories become more convoluted and complicated the more that we delve in to them, and what seemed simple on the surface soon becomes an intertwined drama of perceptions of the past.

The first books that greet us in the game appear basic enough. Tim has made a mistake. Tim must rescue a princess from a monster. Tim’s memories have become muddled since he lost the princess.

As the books become less about exposition, they delve in to philosophical questions about romance, forgiveness, memory, and trust. It is easy to write off some of these notes as precursors of the powers that Tim will gain, but we should not be so hasty. Sure, one of the first books may tell us that we will be “rewarded for the learning, rather than punished for the mistake,” and this plays in well with Tim’s initial abilities to play back time, but there is much more at play here.

Each of these books gives us a small piece of Tim’s past, and, as we complete the puzzles, we are shown even more. This allows the player to construct his or her own narrative from the very basic pieces of the story that we are given. Players will move through the game with their own conception of how the narrative will play out, but as more books are unlocked, we are constantly challenged to redefine and reexamine the past that we have created in our heads.

For instance, our conception of the princess is entirely shaped by Tim’s interactions with the books, and the more he reveals about his idea of the princess, the more we are asked to redefine our own interpretation. Because of this, it is entirely reasonable for a player to revisit old levels and books to incorporate our new understanding with what we thought we had a hold on.

This sort of storytelling is very much unique to this sort of medium. While other styles of art have the potential for the viewer to return to older points to make sense of the present, the books in Tim’s world serve as constant pieces of the narrative that have to be returned to and pondered over, much like our own human memories, in order to be completely understood.

This effect is compounded by the player’s ability, in many instances, to completely skip any conflict in levels and move on, undeterred by the past. In order to fully complete the game though, we are forced to continually return to past levels and revisit the narrative from new perspectives. Many levels cannot be beat until later pieces of the puzzle have been acquired, asking the player to run past the sets of books many times and contemplate how all of the information fits together.

The answer to this question, is in the title. Memory in Braid is an overlapping and tangled blend of reality and perception that the player and subject must traverse, constantly learning new information only to the realization that it disproves what we took for granted. Past thoughts and new information overlap and twists together throughout the narrative, weaving the sort of  story structure that is only possible in this format. Much like our own memories, the more we revisit and reexamine the pieces of information in Braid, the more convoluted and intertwined the narrative becomes, and we realize how much individual recollections are influenced by perception rather than reality.

A game as art vs art as a game

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

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

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

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

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.