So, here’s to 10 years of Braid. And 10 years of Blow.
Braid went on to become a hit, critically and commercially. It contributed to the rise of indie games, digital distribution being a viable platform and self-publishing. Its most profound achievement is showing an industry what games can be – like Ico before it – that games can be an art form and it inspired this sensibility, not just for indie games, but the AAA market too.
What Braid is, is a fine – and very rare – example of postmodernism in videogames. Braid takes what we know from platforming games – especially citing the pinnacle of the genre Mario on several occasions – to only flip it on its head; to take what we conceive and then change our preconception of it.
This is evident in the closing level when you finally come to rescue the princess in more ways than one. How its narrative is told through books of text and not a cutscene, or how its story is fragmented and deconstructed is like the postmodern literature of Vonnegut, Moore or Pynchon. It takes the fun and simplicity of Mario (Modernism), then changes it to a high concept and philosophical platformer, Braid (Postmodernism).
Everything in the game has meaning, even if it’s not clear consciously. This has many people speculating and theorizing the true meaning of Braid; such as the game is about a scientist working on the atomic bomb, obsession, etc.
The game’s story sees you playing as Tim to rescue a princess from a monster. The story is told through text at the start of each world, here you’ll read that Tim has made a mistake that he would like to forget. After completion, more text is revealed adding more narrative, in a more ambiguous nature highlighting more of the deeper themes of the game.
Aesthetically the game is seeping with European and British iconography of countrysides and castles smeared with whimsical watercolours. All this accompanied by a folk-inspired soundtrack, that just hearing it makes you smell the fresh moisture produced from the green pastures. It screams of classic children’s novels like ‘Peter Rabbit’, ‘Charlotte’s Web’ or ‘Wind and the Willows’.
Braid, on the first glance, looks like a typical platformer with puzzle elements, with an added bit of collecting jigsaw puzzle pieces to complete a jigsaw on each level.
It’s when you play the game where one of the mechanics is the manipulation of time, mainly reversing time. It’s here where Blow shows his skill as a game designer and takes what I call a ‘Nintendo’ approach to game design; using a single mechanic and exploring that single mechanic to its full potential (now if anyone wants to debate this, please write in the comments as I’ll happily discuss… Even if you are Jonathan Blow yourself!).
This time manipulation is stretched and rolled like a piece of dough with some in-game items not being affected by it, the player’s shadow leaving an imprint on the world, slowing down time in a specific area or the world where time is governed by the direction you walk. Time manipulation isn’t just the mechanic, it’s the central core of the gameplay.
Here in the UK, we never had a video game crash. It was around this time the rise of independent video games happened. Teenagers coding on the ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro or Commodore 64. Hobbyists turned into rock stars and the biggest entrepreneurs in the UK.
So, independent games have been around for decades but the rise of independent games from the past 10 years owe it to Braid. Braid was released on the infamous Xbox Live and then saw ports to various other systems. It cemented Johnathan Blow as a video game legend overnight; ushering a new wave of independent developers with new sensibilities to game design.
I was in my second year of university studying media when a close friend from my hometown, I kept in contact through Xbox Live and party chat, told me about this game he was playing that blew his mind.
Eager to share this experience, my friend purchased me an Xbox cash voucher and told me to buy a game called Braid. Like my friend, I too was entranced by this video game, this piece of philosophy, this work of art. Never had I gazed upon a CRT for that length of time simply not moving – watching, understanding the levels and their logic.
You don’t simply play Braid, you assimilate Braid.