Time and Perfection in Braid

I am a perfectionist in many aspects of my life. Perfection can mean many different things in a game though. Is it never making a mistake, or being able to fix your mistakes when you do make them? Is it finding every easter egg, puzzle piece, or extra point? Is it completing the game in as little time as possible and getting achievements? Is it playing every level and moving on as quickly as possible, or solving every puzzle in the level to advance the story further? Perfection can be any or all of these things. Personally, I like to advance through levels as quickly as possible much like how I read very quickly. This speed allows me to see every chapter or level and discover how the story ends as soon as I can. I constantly move forward and only go back if I need more collection items to move forward or if there was a particularly interesting puzzle I want to try to solve.

Braid allows you to explore the idea of rewinding time and doing something over and over again until you reach perfection. This repetition becomes almost an obsession with finding every single puzzle piece and completing every level fully, similar to the obsession the character has with erasing every mistake and finding his princess in the next castle. As soon as the character dies or fails to complete a puzzle you can shift backwards in time to act as if the mistake never happened. Every move can be repeated over and over and over again until you finally learn what to do and can jump across that gap or use your own shadow to pull a lever.

If you ignore this obsession with perfection and your ability to rewind time you can quickly progress through the levels without much trouble. The real difficulty in Braid, and where my team often got stuck, is in the puzzle pieces hidden behind elaborate puzzles that require you to rewind time again and again to solve them. We often ended up moving on to the next level without spending the extra time to challenge ourselves more and fully complete the level. Since we skipped a large number of the puzzle pieces, we were left with missing pieces to the story and could not fully experience everything the game wanted to show us. We could not experience as much of the frustration of repeating an action over and over again until perfection. It caused us to miss some of the point of the story and the complexity of the levels. The missing puzzle pieces left our image of the narrative and the game incomplete.

In order to experience the entire story of Braid you must have the skill and patience to truly perfect every level. This makes it so that more casual gamers can’t fully enjoy the game because the levels start out difficult and only get harder as the game progresses. Much like the character seeks to avoid the mistakes he has made searching for the princess by rewinding time again and again the player has to seek to avoid their own mistakes. This often requires more skill and patience than I have.

My team and I also did not originally realize just how important the puzzle pieces were to the story and by the end the puzzles were so difficult that we could not solve them. If you can achieve perfection though, Braid rewards you by hiding a secret ending in plain sight that can only be accessed by collecting eight stars hidden even deeper in the levels than the puzzle pieces. Even when you think you have reached the end by collecting every puzzle piece, you haven’t. For the few that can reach the hidden ending, the story changes significantly, pointing to an unreliable narrator whose quest for perfection and manipulation of time ruins everything around him. By truly achieving a perfect game you find an even worse ending than you would if you just stopped once you found all of the puzzle pieces.

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?

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.

Kill Me Later

By A.A. BENJAMIN

 

Braid seems like it was made by some guy who was slighted by love and needed a place to vent.

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And…I like that. The idea of a forgiving game creates a zone of warmth and comfort that propels game exploration. Braid is an escape and an innovative game style that has the potential to inspire other games to step out of the stoic guns-bared emotionless realm and into the hearts and minds of our everyday life. After all, game making is art. Just as the writer can lament in her journal, and the painter can brood in an attic and let his heart bleed paint, so should a game maker be able to get his heart broken and then construct a platform game that makes him feel good.

Aside from my judgmental assumptions, there is more magic in this game than the narrative. The creators not only say, “to hell with un-forgiveness” but take it a step further to say “you must make mistakes to win this game.” The gamer must take the stick out of their butt and do it again, and again, and again until they figure it out, or until they so-called “cheat,” snatching that magic key and rewinding themselves to victory. This piece of fictional media opens up our minds to the different realities of life, just as every good piece of fiction should. I read an article once that challenged the idea of multiple lives and checkpoints in video games. The writer wanted to know what would happen if games became more realistic and eliminated the multiple lives syndrome that desensitized us to death.

 Well, Braid does that by going in the complete opposite direction (pun intended). Because like humans the main character continues to live only because he never died. He escapes death and failure only because, like humans, he is able to adapt and learn from mistakes.

My favorite part about this game is the integration of this method into actual gameplay, rather than just a cool “perk” of the game. I was delighted every time I faced a boss and found out that I could not manipulate him in my time-turning shenanigans. It forced me to dissect the pieces of my in-game reality and use what I could manipulate to win (maybe that sounds a little bit scarier than I intended, but, maybe I’m manipulative?) I did not, in fact, beat the game. However, challenges such as these make me feel that I can go back and play again at least a couple more times without the experience being one-noted. I can make different mistakes if I choose, I can accelerate the success of my strategies, and, I can make Tim dance back and forth and remix the music if I so well please.

Braid: A New Take on a Familiar Design

First of all, you must be aware that I would not consider myself a ‘gamer’ by any means; however, I did spend a considerable amount of time in my childhood playing around on various flash video game websites. Most of these games were simple and easy to get the hang of, requiring minimal commitment on the player’s side. In opening the game Braid for the first time, I was immediately reminded of those ephemeral and ultimately forgettable games from my middle school years. But Braid stood out significantly from any of these other simple platform games in that it took this familiar concept of moving through a two-dimensional world with relatively few controls or abilities to maybe like four or five new levels. It both poked fun at this game genre while simultaneously achieving within the genre new feats that I myself had never seen before.

Braid’s most obvious spin on this old genre is the loosening of the representation of time within the game. The player has the ability to manipulate time itself and uses this to help the protagonist progress. While this player ability might seem rather trite, Braid incorporates it very elegantly in a way that kept me constantly intrigued with the advancement of each level. It reminded me a lot of the game Portal in that a ton of challenging puzzles come out of a rather limited set of rules and game mechanics.

Additionally, Braid’s use of narrative to enhance and complement the gameplay itself further indicated a mastery of the genre. While I do think that the narrative was a bit cheesy, I think we have to give the writers a bit of a break considering how small of a scale with which they were working. Braid put forward quite blatantly the themes of passage of time, forgiveness, ‘magic’ in a relationship, and wanting to undo past mistakes. However hackneyed or possibly even vapid these themes can be, I was still astounded by how the narrative and gameplay complemented each other so well, as I had never really seen that done in a game before. These themes are evident in the game from the very beginning when you first realize you are able to undo mistakes with the simple press of a key.

With its countless nods to the game’s ancestor Super Mario, Braid seems to be incredibly aware of its place within the narrative of video game history while at the same time pushing its genre to the next level in very interesting and intriguing ways. While acknowledging how little I know about the whole of video game history, I still was pretty blown away by what Braid accomplishes when compared to other games of its type.

– Logan W (logangaming)