Monday, August 31, 2009


Braid has been critically acclaimed (and rightfully so) for doing what it does right: innovation in conventional platforming (through a nifty time manipulation mechanic), beautiful hand-painted graphics, and an excellent soundtrack that all come together in a tightly polished package.

There's no question that Braid is an innovative, fun, and challenging game. However, where it fails, in my opinion, is by not meshing the story cohesively with the gameplay.

In Braid, the player is presented with a series of worlds with individual stages where the player must solve puzzles. These puzzles usually relate to collecting a piece of a larger puzzle that correlates to finishing each world and progressing onto the next. With this, there's no real connection between any sort of narrative and each puzzle the player solves.
The only exposition the game gives is before each world in the form of symbolic excerpts about love, loss, mistakes, and regret. The only way that this connects to each world and subsequently its puzzles is that Tim, the protagonist, is attempting to find the princess discussed in these excerpts by reaching a castle at the end of each level.

Thus, the only relation between the puzzles and the narrative is the player unlocking a further door to reach the next stage, and next stage, and then the final stage where the princess may finally be.

This doesn't detract from the value of each puzzle at all in hindsight. The player still receives the same joy and benefit from solving each puzzle, no matter how decontextualized it may be. What the puzzles DO lose however, is the emotional connection that is correlated with solving a puzzle, advancing a narrative, and progressing through the game.
What I mean by this is that in Braid, the player is solving the puzzles just for the fact in itself--to solve a puzzle. In Half-Life 2, the player's actions are always contextualized in the narrative. When the player kills an enemy guard, he or she knows it is to help liberate the fellow citizens of City 17 and continue the revolt. In Portal, when the player begins to break out of the facility by escaping through unauthorized areas, he or she has an emotional connection to each action, because the player's very freedom is at stake.

In Braid, there is never such an emotional connection that these--among other games--achieve when progressing through the game. Each puzzle is just an isolated afterthought to reaching the end of the game. The only time that Braid nearly achieves an emotional connection with its gameplay is in the end sequence, when the player finally sees the correlation of their actions and how it actually affects another character and subsequently the narrative. For this reason, the ending sequence of Braid packs a much greater emotional punch than the entire previousness of the game combined. If the designer(s) found same way to connect each prior puzzle to the narrative, rather than just "find key to unlock door to reach princess" then Braid would have been a much more powerful game.

As it stands now, Braid is still an excellent game thanks to its innovation and presentation, but it will never contain the same emotional connection that other games, such as Bioshock contain. What can be learned here is that there should be some correlation between gameplay and story, because the player needs to feel that he or she is influencing the narrative. If the actions that the player performs are independent of the narrative, then there is a lack of indentification and connection to what is going on. Instead, the player's actions should directly instigate the narrative to provide the player with an emotional attachment.

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