Braid – Progression Analysis

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Initial Thoughts

In a cheerful city, not everything was bright as it seemed… And as I began to look at the Character and the darkness surrounding him, I got to learn of how deep the seeds of darkness were sowed into him, just by looking at him and his surroundings. Following, I began to experience that there is beauty to this world, and that all is not grim and shady…

Three Pieces – The Tutorial

Although the art style was trying to be as realistic as possible, from my first touch of controls, I experienced that the gameplay is speaking to me otherwise. As I followed through the tutorial, I found myself learning about the universe in correlation with the gameplay; Simple and effective, that’s how I would like to express the way this game taught me its controls. It is not trying to be anything more or anything special, it just knew you wouldn’t mind if it wasn’t trying to be something. Though a bit hazy I was able to grasp the basics of the controls with the help of this tutorial.

Rewind

And then came “Rewind”, the ability to reverse time, to create various scenarios which couldn’t be achieved in a single run. I realized the potential of this mechanic and started to use it as a handicap to my abilities, and my limitations. It wasn’t too late until I realized that here, in this game, ‘Rewind’ is everything!

Slowly the game began adding conditions to the ability of Rewind, and not everything was instinctive as it seemed. To understand the mechanic better, I began to explore the mechanic further based on its capabilities, on its own grounds.

No matter how fast I “Rewind” the objects stayed true to their original speed. With this I was able to manipulate, enemies, clouds, was able to carry objects attached with me, I began to manipulate the environment to my will! These were my initial thoughts… and as time passed by, level by level, not everything was manipulative. I understood only some objects withstood the time barrier and it gave me my restriction to this vast openness of a game.

Backtracking

When puzzles in a game seem impossible for the Players who didn’t know how to solve them, they wonder if the Character might ever learn new tricks to cope with that certain puzzle. Tricks like, double jump, or dash, special items, etc.

I was under the assumption of, “Oh! The game will give me something to ease the puzzles up!” and with that exact assumption, I never tried to complete any puzzles. But as I quickly progressed through the levels, I understood there are no future enhancements to the character except the predefined abilities themselves. Learning about this, I began backtracking again to solve my way through the seemingly trivial puzzles.

The game is not intuitive/instinctive… not in the very least – you expect something to happen, but the game shows and teaches you the differences in its mechanics. It’s almost like the game is trying to speak with me, trying to show its differences in accordance to other games. I think the game being such way isn’t too bad… as now, the game differentiated itself from others in its genre and it has gained its originality. It has defined and created a new style of gameplay in platforming!

As simple as the levels might be, a simple mechanic has changed everything! I don’t even think we can call it simple just because of the applied brains behind the mechanic. This mechanic’s simplicity gave new properties to each and every object in the game, and the properties are further enhanced by the possibilities of actions created by various interactions towards the objects themselves. Thus in-turn, the game amassed massive density to the gameplay all while maintaining its intended simplicity.

World 2 – Progress

Experiencing the game’s mechanics, now my struggle has begun to implement them into the puzzles of the game. At the beginning, I didn’t even realize which part of the levels were puzzles, I was just aimlessly traveling from Point A to Point B. But later, because of the Backtracking, I realized that there is more to the game than what I had foreseen, more to each and every game object moving in the game. Noticing this, realizing the potential elements which could have been collected, I went back through the levels again in order to catch what I missed.

Even though I was neglecting the puzzles, the game still demanded small level of mechanical skill to proceed to the next world (Platforming phases, and Boss fights). Training with the available mechanics, on reaching the earlier phases of the levels, the game suddenly felt ultra-smooth and effortless to cope with.

There’s a very slim line between frustration and satisfaction in this game. Time to time I have experienced both the sides of the line. The feeling mostly comes from these factors – the ability to complete a puzzle or the inability in facing a failure. The game ticked both the sides of me; and although I’d like to agree it was a good experience, I also wanted to contradict myself that it wasn’t the case.

Backtracking gave me a whole new perspective on the levels; learning about the collectible puzzle pieces, the difficulty barrier has been raised once again! I know that the game is allowing me to proceed even without the Puzzle Pieces. But still, I had to collect them all! I can’t leave something which could be done! I with this feeling in mind, I began solving each and every puzzle in the level. Ensuing such struggles and pleasures, I began to wander in the world of Braid with both the darkness and brightness alongside me.

World 3 – Experience

Puzzle by puzzle, I began to muster enough knowledge to tackle any situation in hand. Mostly, when the Player learns the mechanics of a puzzle game, the game then proceeds to involve the Player motor skills into the difficulty curve. This is exactly the case with Braid, the puzzle mechanics remain the same, but the game with flow in time, started demanded additional motor skills with the addition of the new puzzles. If this is overdone, repeating puzzles with difficulty, most of the game’s puzzles might be considered “fillers” for the main puzzles. Braid on the other hand manages this scenario while keeping the above factor in mind; every puzzle of this game feels unique and non-repetitive, and although the game uses the same taught mechanics, it manages to steer away from the “filler” puzzle genre by the correlation between the game objects and the character mechanics.

To help me better understand the new mechanic introduced, I have noticed that the game tries to teach it by using the same old level design of the previous worlds. This ideology only lasts for a short while though, until you understand the mechanic to progress to the next worlds. After enough training using the old ones, the game then proceeds to present new level designs according to the new mechanic, to give its own novelty.

I always had doubts in the mechanics of the game, on whether they would include new objects? Or maybe new powers? This affected my inability to solve the puzzles a bit… only a tiny bit. This is the bad intuition/Instinct I was mentioning earlier – games which constantly break global symbols and controls by making their own. This slowly grows with each level/World of the game. You can never expect something to be what it is in this game. This factor tossed me off of many puzzles which could have been done easily! Nevertheless, I have to say, this thought of bad intuition only lasted till I quickly figured out what to do next.

World 4 – Change in Flow of Time

Aware of the game mechanics and the ideology flowing behind it, I began to venture into the unknown world of Braid while taking little yet large steps again. Braid has always surprised me with the level of detail retained with each and every puzzle. Now with the new World, I was under the trance of “Flow in Time!” created by a sphere of darkness and the light.

World 3 left me with the after taste of, “the game slowly is becoming more into a platformer than a puzzle game”. I was worried of its nature following on to next Worlds… but, World 4 totally shattered these feelings by making everything, from walking to attacking into a puzzle. With World 4, the game showed me into its realm of time! And it’s potential for puzzle design following on…

This time I had to face two time factors at the same time, each while managing all the previous game elements in play. The game Instead of destroying everything I learned till now, takes a step above of what has been done. It taught me its mechanics like an overlay, without spoiling my previous experiences.

The problem here, at least the one which seemed to me was – the game still had the bad intuition/instinct problem which I was mentioning earlier. And with this World, I saw it was unlikely they can solve this problem in anyway. This problem kept growing on me until the point where it became my THE only frustrating factor in the puzzles of the game. I no longer knew which part of the puzzle was a bug or which part was actually intended.

From here on out, the game never bothered to chill me out. It just had its own issues to deal with. Even the levels speak to me as, they won’t try to help me because they think that they are different and unique than other games. Because of its uniqueness, it’s pressuring the Players to figure out the controls by themselves. This might sound vague but what I’m trying to say is, unlike the newer games, this game never tries to chill/relax its Player from the frustration brought by itself. The game looks at this factor as a challenge rather than a pain it actually is. Sometimes beings different/unique might actually end up hurting a game.

The game clearly shows its love for old-school platformers, (especially Mario) from its difficulty, to its simplicity. Everything about this game is reminisce of old games. With this muse, the game as tribute presented the old schools level layouts with its own mechanics in the game. Personally for me, it was really charming to see an indie game made by a single developer give tribute to old-school titles. It could have been called off as lazy, but since it only enhanced my gameplay experience with its mechanics, I have no queries in this regards nor I think anyone would complain on its elegance in upgrade.

World 5 – Distance

Although the game has changed its pace once again… this time for good, I have started growing ‘distant’ towards the game. The darkness was creeping up on me, the other side of the line, the frustration has slowly begun catching up to me… and there are only little ways to deal with this situation. The only thing that is keeping me playing at this point is the mechanic of Player Death (You can’t die). If it weren’t for this mechanic, I wouldn’t even have bothered to come this far (Personally I don’t like “Retry” games, although this is one).

As a welcoming change to the game, I got to experience the old levels once again. But this time, I got to experience them with a new mechanic, once again! To catch up to my old self who knew nothing, learning from my mistakes, I spent some time in actually trying to figure out the new mechanic as I knew, the game wouldn’t bother to explain it to me; I think this is perfectly fine, learning something individually is always nice… but I don’t think it’s always fun.

To embrace me in the darkness while being alone, the game came to be my partner in solving the mysteries it brought. I followed its lead to help myself become better in experiencing the game. The game in the form of a breathing being has begun questioning me on the density of its mechanics and its setting. There was something going on behind every puzzle but I wasn’t sure what was happening, what is the game asking of me? what is the game trying to tell me? I’ve had these thoughts in my mind all throughout this World, on every corner of each and every puzzle.

The puzzles were questioning me and my abilities. I was learning more about the Setting/Story and the Character just by completing the puzzles. The game began discoursing with me with each and every mechanic. In the end, I saw myself in the place of the Character trying to rescue the princess who never seems to be in reach…

As every person has problems in conveying something to someone, I think here is where this game starting growing “distant” towards me. The demand was too high at sometimes… it wasn’t just trying to teach me, it wanted something in return from me… and I was not able to reach the expectations of the game. I was not able to keep up with the difficulty of the puzzles. Losing the flow with time, and the game itself, the darkness has seen success in creeping up to me… in the form of frustration I wouldn’t dare to see…

Now keeping the difficulty nature in mind, I thought maybe I could learn about what I missed if just carried on with the critical path. With this I once again delve into the mysterious world of anguish and desires…

World 6 – Slow Death

Due to the continuous rise in skill demand, at this point of time, I was just trying to deal with the situation rather than enjoying the situation. To make the game fun for me again I began to neglect the puzzles, once again… Still, I solved what I could and what seemed possible, but now I began to wonder about the difficulty curve, thinking this might not be all too balanced. I was able to complete late game puzzles with ease and yet I was failing to complete the beginner puzzles of the World…

One has to wonder about the difficulty progression, why did that happen? Is it due to my understanding on the mechanics? Or due to the game itself? Here is the tricky part I learnt about the difficulty through trial-and-error. With making mistakes, I learned about the mechanics of the game. And the thing about trail-and-error is, the outcome can never be calculated, it always comes out as something unpredictable. From the trail-and-error method, I learned something which was put to use in later-part of the game and yet, I failed to learn what was right in front of me…

I have now understood the importance of “Filler” levels. The levels which make the Player play again and again using a singular mechanic. Games do that to train the player, to teach the hurdles they might face in future. But here in this game, I was left alone with a puzzle and a new mechanic by my side. The puzzle now seems almost impossible because I just received the mechanic and you can’t expect me to complete it with my fresh experience… First I need to be trained in that mechanic and only then I can hope to do something.

This is where the “Filler” puzzles come in, the ones which I was mentioning earlier. Filler levels purpose is not to expand/bloat the game, but to train the Player on the mechanics of the game. This game is missing this system. Although it might be cool to face a new puzzle with a new mechanic every time you play, I now think otherwise, that the Player at least needs some scenarios to train using the new mechanic in order to better understand it for future use. I don’t want to see a Player trying to figure out a mechanic without progressing in the game. It’s like playing with only the mud in an empty playground…

I have now reached the end of World 6 with little collected puzzle pieces in hand… I don’t see anything subsequent to me. Not even a hint on what needs to be done or what I missed. I think I should’ve collected each and every puzzle piece from each and every level to unlock what comes next. Either way, I think my level design experience of Braid is enough as of now. I think from now on, the game will just keep repeating its mechanics until its end, its demise.

I have a choice now, to deal with the game once again, or to neglect it for good… Judging from how I felt till now (from the latest Worlds), I don’t think my experience could get any better if keep continuing to play the game. I need a long, fresh break to keep going on…

Temporary End Note:

All my “Analyses” have been a cluster of feeling/experiences derived from the scenarios/levels of the game. I could have gone into the actual level design mechanics, but I thought they would be irrelevant because, mechanics are mechanics. Any Mechanic could be replicated in a similar way it was created. What seemed interesting to me was the emotions going behind each mechanic of the game, I think they decide the density of a good game.

To summarize what happened:

  • At the beginning I was genuinely enjoying the game based on its puzzles and its unique mechanics. I was learning and progressing in planned phases.
  • Somewhere around mid-way of the game, I began to connect to the puzzles and the game itself. I was in constant information exchange with the game, about each and every object and their correlation to the environment. In turn of the information learned, I formed a story of my own on “What is actually happening?”
  • In the later part of the game, the same mechanics and the puzzles seemed to frustrate me. There were many reasons for this, and yet even with all these things I’ve mentioned, the game I think feel still stands amongst the pinnacle of puzzle games.

I personally think puzzles of such credibility could be crafted easily, introducing new upon new elements, I think it won’t be hard to make the Player feel unique. It might be hard to connect with the Player as this game did though. But besides the puzzles themselves, I think a lethal blow dealt to Braid was the amount of time it takes to actually complete (or speed run) the game. The game demands too many things for the little duration it lasts…

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