Thursday, April 29, 2010

Creativity's Cradle, and Braid Review

Ok, this is something that I'm probably going to do quite a bit. I'm going to do a segment inspired by the game I'm currently playing, probably referencing it quite a bit, and after that I'm going to do a review of the game, or at least a post. Sometimes they might be integrated together.

Creativiy's Cradle

Independent games, like Braid, are important. They give up-and-coming developers with absolutely no connections or record an opportunity to test their skills, and show the world what they can do. It's kind of like a flash game, but less (MUCH less) competition and you actually make money for it. (Of course you could with some flash games, but probably less of them than XBLA games and the like, and there's a LOT more flash games.)

They also are (relatively) unhindered by restraints. You would very rarely find something even remotely like Braid, even in spirit, in a multi-million dollar blockbuster. Of course, they have awesome physics engines and unbelievable graphics, but those are, in some ways, not as important. You're free to do pretty much whatever you want with an independent game. You think of something cool, you talk with your partner, or partners, if you have any (seems like a lot of these are one or two-person deals), you just put it in the game. If it doesn't work or just doesn't appeal to a lot of people, it doesn't really matter that much. Would you care THAT much if something you spent a DAY on didn't quite work out the way you wanted it to? (I forgot what game that was, and it may have been a couple of days, but still!)

Some incredible ideas that could never make it as a full-scale game can do really well in the downloadable game format. Can you really imagine Braid as a $60, full-length game, complete with all the bells and whistles? It would (probably) never work, and I really wouldn't want it to. Small indie games are better than the big ones in some ways. They have charm and distinctive identities that the major games simply can't quite manage. The big games all borrow from each other and have similarities, but indie games have the opportunity, more than anything else, to be unique and creative. And that is a truly wonderful thing.


I said a fair amount about this game in a post last Wednesday, Braid part 1, so go read that first, if you haven't.

My final opinion is that it's like a good flash game, squared. You know how some good flash games, especially platformers, have that one gameplay hook? Take, for example, Shift. If you haven't played it, it's a puzzle platformer where you can shift from the white squares upside down to the black squares, and vice versa. It gets more complicated than that, but not that much.

Then there's Braid. The rewind is essentially equivalent to the shift ability, but Braid also has the unique aspect for every world, and they all have to do with manipulating time. Pretty creative, if you ask me. I'm pretty sure most of them have been done before, but not as well as this, and certainly not in the same game. ... I can't imagine how hard it would have been if all of it had been on the same stage, instead of individual worlds. REALLY messed up, I'd imagine.

The puzzles are wonderfully made, too. I don't think there's a single one that's actually physically hard to do once you figure out how you're supposed to do it. Sometimes there's really annoying, lucky ways to find a puzzle piece, but usually, or maybe always, a good way to figure out the puzzle and just put the pieces in there place. One puzzle that's easy for one person could be really hard for another.

It seems to me that the more people you have working on a puzzle, the easier it is. They seem to have different mindsets- maybe different level designers?- but some of the solutions I just flat out wouldn't have thought of. I won't give any examples, as you really should try to figure it out for yourself, but the puzzles are very diverse. Some of them you just need to go out there and experiment, and some of them reward sitting and actually looking at the problem, and searching for a logical solution.

Braid also has a story. I'm not going to talk about it, because it's incredibly confusing and I didn't actually pay that much attention to it, and frankly, I don't care that there's some deep embedded message that no one can agree on what it is, but seems to be worthy of Plato. The story is told as a story at the beginning of the half a dozen or so worlds. Having stories play out in that stop-start fashion would usually be bad, but it works because the world's aren't actually that long (I think there's an achievement for doing the entire game in 45 minutes), and the environment in the actual game very much contributed to the atmosphere of the story that is being told to you.

Which brings me to the music and art design. Incredible. This is what art, music and visual, should be like- not the style and all that, but the purpose. It is the main thing that makes Braid feel the way it does, solemn and contemplative and all that. I believe all of the art was hand painted, and it shows. You can tell that the developers really cared about this. The music even rewinds along with you, and it still sounds good, no matter what speed you're going at. I don't know about you, but that sounds really hard to me.

It's not that long, but it would vary from person to person a lot. One person who's mind just works the right way could (probably) do it in a couple hours or so, but for someone who is more straight forward and action-oriented, it could take several times that. Of course, they'd probably give up long before that...

In short, Braid is an incredibly unique, creative experience, and I hope that many nerds in their mother's basements will look to this game (and others like it) for inspiration and bring to life all those crazy ideas that they inevitably have circling around in their heads.

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