Braids and Doing Your Own Thing

Recently I read an article on Gamasutra (the best place for game stuff ever) on Braid – a platforming game that had been entered in the IGF last year and won some awards. The article was about the art specifically and how it was created. Of special note was the fact that the artist did some tests for what it would look like by drawing over the level, and his results were pretty good. Notwithstanding, I thought that it would be prudent to play a little of a competitor’s (peer’s?) product, so I got me the demo. First of all, I have to say that I am not impressed. The art is wonderful, it even has the cute rewindy POP style gimmick where you can undo your errors. It immediately reminded me of Sands of Time, and not in a good way.
In Braid, you jump around wonderfully rendered backdrops and the emphasis is on puzzle platforming. The design is simple – you jump on enemies, you have a button to pull switches and stuff and you have a stolen rewind ability. The game forces you to find ways to collect puzzle pieces. Oddly, I found that the goal of trying to collect these was worthwhile and I think the best part of the design. It was the only part of made me want to go collect the chotchkie puzzle pieces strewn about, since I used them to put together a puzzle. Of course, if you don’t have all of the pieces it drives you nuts and makes you want to find them.
However, (and this gave me bad Sands memories) the platforming design wrapped around these ideas is lacking. In Sands you have a rewind mechanic, but the game is not based on it – it is based on sound platforming design. In fact, the last level of Sands forces you to play the last level without rewind ability and really puts the platforming up front. In Braid, the platforming just isn’t there. There is no, substance. I’m not sure if they were trying to put the rewind and time abilities up front by making the platforming a secondary function, but that is the gameplay. Without it, it is a cute tech demo with outstanding art.
Oh, and so as to not totally crap on the game, the story, such that it was, was touching and gave me another reason to want to play the game…but it only goes so far.
Oh, and the “Princess is in another castle” thing was really cute. No seriously, I liked that.

– On doing your own thing, it occurred to me that my game has only a few basic gameplay elements, and I’m okay with that. You run, jump, dash and fight. You also press the Ctrl key when people are talking. You can even not read if you don’t want to. But here’s the thing – as the Designer it’s exactly like I want it. Sure, the placeholder animation leaves a little to be desired, but the game is simple by design. Each piece constructed so as to provide the maximum enjoyment of itself. I could install a combo system, or something with super flashy effects and all that, but I don’t want to, because they would just be more for the sake of more. If I cannot have something in a game and give the mechanic a chance to not only be the focus, but to interact with the rest of the pieces in a way that makes the whole better, then I do not need it. Those may just be good ideas that just don’t fit.
Also, to hell with what anybody else says. “You need guns, ” “The Thief is a jerk.” “Your people talk too damn much.” “The jumping isn’t far enough.” Blah blah blah. The only comment that should ever get any leeway with you (I’m assuming you are a designer too) is, “I am confused. I don’t know…” followed by, “Where to go next,” “How to do this,” or “What I am supposed to be doing.” Those are not the fault of brain dead players – those are your fault.
– So as to not poke holes and then call myself all mighty, this seems to be what happened with Braid. Admittedly, there are design choices that I would not have gone with, but the project was clearly the result of people that had a clear view of what they wanted exactly and their game is the result of that. In that, I salute them.
-In game stuff, I made a small adjustment to the falling code. Before, the “Falling to your death ” thing only worked if you were actually in the “Falling” state. This became a little weird though since you could fall a short distance and hurt yourself, but jump a surprising distance and be fine. So now the code is a little different so you can jump or fall and still accumulate velocity at the ground, which in turn figures if the fall killed you. I also tweaked the code a little to good effect. Now, the Stun effect is less and the Kill effect is a little more (so the levels I made before still work). This has a different effect on gameplay. Basically, early on it gives the impression that your little guy is fragile. The falls don’t deal damage – they did and I found that to be stupid, but they do let the player know that, “Hey, The Thief is cool and all, but nobody survives a 4 story drop. Be careful.” So it teaches before it tests. So, yes, the little guy looks hurt when you do that, imagine what happens if you drop him really far.
-In another thing, I seemed to have broken the Enemies somehow when I fixed the leak. Now they continue to attack no matter what. Their attack systems aren’t resetting correctly. Hmmm.
-Wow, that was an easy fix. Still no leaks too. May actually get a level built today.
-Okay, got more of the Prison Level built today. I’m finding that giving the player enough opportunities to learn the abilities and get a handle on them before I throw more at them to be a challenge. Mostly since the first half of the level is all Prison and mostly done. Granted, I could just add more, and I may, but I am concerned about the flow of the game so far. By flow I mean, teaching, testing, stress testing and giving a rest. The Rest turns out to be very difficult. Too much and you’re bored, too little and your anxiety level increases. It gives a, “Another puzzle? So soon?” kind of feeling. So getting all of that in the first level has been an issue so far. On the other hand, I am finding building the levels to be quite a treat.
-When ThiefEd works. Found a bug where it would erase my 1st rectangle. Not a huge issue, but the 1st is most often been the floor, so that had to go. All better now. I’ll get some pictures up later. Right now it’s 11:00 PM and I want to go to bed (up till 1:00AM last night with the leak. I did mention I hate leaks, right?)

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