Tim, the protagonist of Braid, visits various imaginative worlds during his journey, but in between excursions, he always returns home. Home serves several functions, and as a result was a complex and interesting area to design. It is the “hub” which links the different worlds, a place of repose and reflection, a “status screen” representing progress within the game, and a reflection of Tim’s character.

Here’s what it looked like when I joined the project. Each door leads towards a different world; within those worlds, Tim grapples with the laws of time and earns jigsaw pieces as tokens of understanding; he brings those jigsaw pieces back home and assembles them on the puzzle boards you see paired with each door.

A basement room contains a visual clue that you can play with the WASD keys. (Well, not on XBOX, but if you were playing on PC, that would be true.)

This hallway leading to a final door is inaccessible for most of the game. It is full of gates, each corresponding to a jigsaw puzzle. Complete a jigsaw, and its gate opens. Only when all the jigsaws are complete can you access the final door.

Jonathan and I tossed around several ideas for what this area should look like. In these early screenshots, it’s sterile like a gallery – an association supported by the large picture frames. But it could have been an office, or Tim’s home. It had to be a real-world place to contrast with the more fantastical realms Tim visits.

I’m glad we decided on making it Tim’s house, because Tim’s journey is a personal obsession. I imagine him going home in the evening and completely submerging himself in his idiosyncratic thoughts, losing track of the hours as they tick towards morning. The player follows him into that personal space, experiencing his subjectivity through the reality-bending nature of the worlds.

It also reminds us that, to the extent his journey is inward, Tim doesn’t have to actually go anywhere to have these experiences. He can stay home, bent over a drafting table or stretched out on the sofa. The domestic backdrop is a natural context for the jigsaw puzzles, too.

This is the first concept drawing for what Tim’s home could look like, based directly on the existing layout. It’s full of details that suggest Tim is a man of diverse interests, a tinkerer. There’s a guitar, a Rubik’s cube, a model ship, an easel, and even a small cage on a high shelf – maybe he used to have a gerbil? I wanted to show the unfinished nature of his ambitions, how some avenues have been abandoned, others are in progress and still others have yet to develop.

Certain things from elsewhere in the game are repeated here, like the mobile which references the constellation from outside. In Braid, motifs are often repeated in different forms. Reiteration of an idea through different media (prose, visual environment design, puzzle images, gameplay, etc.) is a big deal in Braid.

The lighting is intimate, with an emphasis on lamps rather than even, ambient illumination. Mainly because that is what my apartment is like.

You will also notice that the scale is totally FUBAR. We talked about playing loose with scale, but it was quickly apparent that it made Tim look really out-of-place. This is his home; he should fit in. It required a bit of a mental shift, though, because the rest of the game is so much more spread out than this screen.

Second try. Scale has been corrected. Also, there are discrete rooms. The first draft was, vaguely, a bed room upstairs and a kitchen downstairs. Now we were being much more specific. We started talking about what rooms would be appropriate for each world, given their particular themes and moods. The picture frames are over the doors now – a space-saving measure which introduced other problems, and was soon discarded. The frames also differ in size and orientation. That wouldn’t last, either.

Now that each door was in its own room, we could have the rooms light up as their worlds became accessible.

The steps around the ladder are a good example of how we considered every little thing. When they showed up in this concept, Jonathan asked me what they were for. “I like them,” I replied. “Meaningless,” he said. “Get rid of them.”

Just kidding, Jon is a nice person (nicer than me, anyway). But we did talk about the purpose of such details. Braid is the kind of game that presents things directly, without unnecessary or distracting adornment. This is most meaningful in the time-based puzzles, where extraneous information could either be misleading or just obscure the essential dynamic, but also carries over as a stylistic preference to other areas.

The ladder was originally on the extreme left, and the player used it to enter this area from above. Now, though, the entrance was on the left, which seemed more normal and house-like. We moved the ladder so the player would encounter the door to World 2 before anything else.

As described above, there was a hallway filled with gates leading to the final door. Each gate opened upon completion of its corresponding jigsaw puzzle. But elsewhere in the game, gates are opened by keys. This was a confusing inconsistency, and we talked about alternative mechanisms that would be unique to this scene.

I suggested that the final door be in a room of its own, the attic…

… and that the ladder would appear piece-by-piece as the jigsaw puzzles were solved.

At this point we tried 150 million different arrangements. If I recall, mainly what was going on here was that the ladder seemed fairly un-housey, and we were trying to replace it with a staircase.

If you click the above image for the full-sized version, you can follow along with my morbidly intricate explanation.

A: Same as previous.

B: Little ramps instead of steps. The ladder is two colors (maybe this is less-un-housey than the single, unified ladder?).

C: The ladder to the downstairs has been replaced with a staircase. Keep in mind we would have dressed this up to look like a staircase, with a banister and everything. Sadly, this takes up way too much room; you can’t really put anything to the right of the staircase.

D: Here we attempt to solve the space issue by having the staircase end before it touches the ground. That way, you can walk under it. However, now you’d have to jump to begin climbing it, which felt unnatural.

E: A similar idea with a two-part, tiered arrangement. Same problem, plus you’d have to jump over the top of the staircase to proceed past it on the top floor. That is even more weird.

F: Similar to E, but the top of the staircase comes after the door to World 3, not before it. Same issues.

G: A recipe for madness.

We agreed the staircase idea wasn’t working, and we’d have to fire ourselves if we couldn’t come up with something better. Even if it wasn’t completely normal for a ladder to join the floors of a house, it was the most straightforward solution provided by the vocabulary of the game. We proceeded to test ladder placements.

H: Same as A, but with no steps or ramps.

I: Ladder to the attic on the right, ladder downstairs on the left.

J: Ladder to the attic on the far right.

K: Like I, but reversed.

L: Ladders downstairs on both sides.

We didn’t use any of these.

This is pretty close to the final arrangement. I’m glad we used a unified ladder for accessing both floors, as well as the attic. That the incomplete ladder which eventually leads you to the final door is the same one you use routinely creates a nice continuity, and a reminder of mysteries lying ahead.

The WASD room has become the bathroom. Mainly because it would seem like a strange puritanical omission if the house had no bathroom, and people would accuse us of repression.

The other rooms are pretty well-developed here, too. I won’t go into a big explanation, but they are chock full of symbolism relating to their respective worlds.

As I painted the rooms, at some point it seemed like the black shadows and outlines competed too much for attention with Tim. No other part of the game has anywhere near this much unique background detail. So I lightened the dark areas a bit, to set it back some more.

Jonathan and I considered ways to clarify the connection between the completion of the puzzles and the appearance of the ladder segments. (Please overlook the fact that the puzzles are not complete here. Pretend they are!) In this concept, the finished puzzles have neon highlights around the edges, and illuminated conduits disappearing into the surrounding black area. In the tower above, glowing jigsaw icons beside activated ladders strain to make the connection.

By the way, here the inaccessible ladder segments are out of reach, to the right, and activated ones have slid into place – rather than having them appear from nothing. It gives you a sense of what might happen, even before you’ve activated any of them.

Further proposals for how to link the puzzles and ladder segments. In the end, we did something much more understated than any of these. It’s almost just left to the player to observe the connection on his own.

(Or maybe we should have Bloopi go, “Look, Tim! The magic of the puzzles is powering the ladder segments! It’s bee-yoo-tee-ful! What will happen if you solve more puzzles? Wowee!”)

Here is a concept image I made questioning whether the ladder segments should emerge from the left rather than from the right. The rationale is that in a side-scroller like this, progress is equated with moving right. On the other hand, by a similar logic, you could say that things to the right of Tim are still to come. Therefore … wait, did we make a huge mistake?

Here’s what the house looks like in the game now.

And here’s the tower. Looks like I have some puzzle solving ahead of me!

One day in early 2008, after several hours of scouring the top of my head for bald spots using an elaborate arrangement of mirrors, I received an e-mail from Jonathan pointing out where a shadow should have been.

He was right!

20 Responses to “The Art of Braid, Part VIII: Tim’s House”

  1. Scott C Says:

    Did you consider having stairs in the background behind the other architecture? That would get it out of the way so it doesn’t take up a lot of room and still have the important bits in the foreground. The user would use them by pushing up or down at the foot or head of the stairs respectively (ala Elevator Action). Tim would move behind the other room items as he ascended or descended, giving the house more depth.

    Thanks for these making-of articles. They’re a lot of fun!

  2. Braid » Blog Archive » The Art of Braid, Part VIII Says:

    [...] David Hellman has posted yet another entry in the Art of Braid series. [...]

  3. Jonathan Blow Says:

    We have certain rules of interactivity that we are trying to keep simple and consistent throughout the game. Introducing a new way of interacting just with staircases, only on this level, involving the character actually going behind background scenery, wouldn’t have been the right thing.

  4. David Hellman Says:

    My pleasure!

    As to your suggestion, we intentionally avoided any solution that would add something totally new to the game. Sure, there could have been a background staircase that you descend by pressing down when you’re standing over it, but it would be the only instance of such a thing in the whole game. Would the player understand how to interact with it? And if so, could it create an erroneous expectation that other things might operate the same way?

    Moving into the background, in particular, is an action well outside Braid’s vocabulary. It’s a strictly 2D space. Communicating those kinds of principles to the player very clearly and consistently is what enables him to form a mental model for how the world works, and thereby solve its puzzles.

    So, it’s an interesting idea, but does it fit the game?

    And I see Jonathan has just posted the same response. So there you go. Consensus!

  5. Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh Says:

    I always interpreted the “permanent” section of the ladder as a steep staircase seen head-on. I guess that doesn’t match the animations, though, does it.

  6. William Says:

    Your drawings are so beautiful it hurts. I can’t wait to play this game.

  7. WarpZone Says:

    I’ve really been enjoying these articles as well.

    It’s interesting to note the bathroom was associated with a world at one point, but I like how it ended up being apparently functionless (in game terms), yet its very presence still implies its functional necessity to Tim as a human being.

    The final house layout is nice and simple, but with enough subtlety not to appear like a generic hub. The only real incongruity I can think of is world 6 is passed through (possibly in the dark?) on the way to world 5.

  8. David Hellman Says:

    Yeah, that passing-through-room-6-to-get-to-room-5 thing is one of those things we talked about, and was an argument for putting the ladder left of the center of the screen. We could also have exchanged the positions of rooms 5 and 6… but I think having them in proper reading order on the screen is more important.

    I dunno, running through a dark room 6 isn’t that bad, in practice. It’s kind of nice!

  9. Timo Says:

    Using colors looks like an interesting way to link the puzzles with the ladder segments, but in my opinion the rooms are now *too* colorful, whereas the earlier drafts are really homey. Then again, I don’t know how I’d make the effect less flashy without also making it difficult to see the connection.

  10. Text Says:

    I agree that the rooms are too colorful now, what about just having a dominant color for each of the puzzle pictures?

  11. David Hellman Says:

    Hmm, they are very extremely colorful …

    Hmmmmmmmmmm.

    Too late now to change, though!

  12. Jonathan Blow Says:

    If Braid doesn’t sell any copies, we can do a Teletubbies licensed game using the same engine and assets. Or something.

  13. Alex Says:

    That would be AWESOME. If I were doing DRUGS.

    MAYBE.

    PROBABLY NOT.

    Don’t even joke like that. Braid will be a great game. Several copies are guarenteed to sell, by looking around your forum posts, including me, and I’ll try to spread the word on Live.

    But, a level editor would attract more people… Ahem…

    But, I understand if that would be too difficult for Live, though I could see it as a downloadable thing, and BTW, are there going to be downloadable content things?

  14. Alex Says:

    Never mind about that last question. I already asked. Sorry.

  15. David Hellman Says:

    About the colorfulness of the rooms, I was just playing the game and I realized/remembered that part of the reason for it is to draw a clear relationship between each room and its respective ladder segment.

  16. tobe mayr Says:

    David,

    Thanks for sharing all that inside info. It’s very nice to see how you two progressed in creating this beautiful game.
    (The story actually made me stop playing in order to drive over to my lady’s place just to tell her about it – we found it rather moving)

    On thing though: I never even noticed that the missing stairs corresponded with the puzzles, I just assumed the way would be cleared upon solving them.

  17. Anton Jurisevic Says:

    Jonathan and David,

    Before anything, let me say that Braid was really excellent. Without a doubt, it is one of the best things to have come out of the indie scene and the broader game development community to date (Although I want it to be longer, next time D:).

    Having said this, I do have some comments. I think I agree with Tobe and, to some extent, Timo.

    While the house is freaking awesome, when I explored the attic, I had just presumed the rainbow colours of the ladder to be trying to paint a picture that was at once mysterious and magical – a hidden portion of Tim’s life with fantastic origins…

    I had just assumed that it’d all open up at once upon the completion of the other worlds. There really wasn’t enough motivation for the player to check the ladder, nor clear demarkation to make it entirely obvious.

    But really, it didn’t need to be made so; Homely understatement is a far better tone than a spectrum of neon “Gameplay Elements” which shove symbolism and garish causation down the player’s throat. Especially considering that Braid makes this concept of causation somewhat fuzzy, highly-visible iridescent leads would, perhaps, have conflicted philosophically with part of Braid’s message.

    In fact, it wasn’t until after I’d passed World 6 that I even remembered the ladder and its movements at all. It may well be that apportioning the attic off in another screen (as a contrast to the very obvious gates that were previously employed) had something to do with it, but I kind of prefer it this way.

    So, basically, Great Job, guys. Thanks and Congratulations for finishing this excellent piece of — and here I shall attempt to sidestep the games-as-art debate — symbolic entertainment.
    It was certainly a blast both to experience and to discover the means/processes by which it was created.

    All the best for the future, and here’s hoping for more breathtaking artwork and ingenious gameplay mechanics in future games,

    Anton

  18. idlewire Says:

    Pardon me, but I just don’t get the inclusion of the bathroom at all. If it was decided there was no need for a little staircase, then what is the need for the bathroom? If you are talking about not including things which are “the only instance” of something — what do you call a room without a world to enter here??? It’s very strange really.

    I don’t understand the design decision, and it makes me wonder if there is more to it. Why is the “Z” block to the right instead of underneath the others? And surely besides movement keys, we need at least *three* other keys: jump, rewind, and use. Not to mention possibly 2 more to affect the rewind speed.

    Are you *sure* there isn’t something else going on here?

  19. Gilberto Says:

    “Sim, idlewire, há um grande segredo no banheiro, como meu texto é um grande segredo para você: incompreensível e diferente… :)

    Just kidding a bit, but the bathroom inclusion was explained by David, don’t make a mistake with the first layouts that was made..

    Nice job, guys! This game is awesome!!!
    Cheers!

  20. gringer Says:

    How about having the attic ladders set up near the puzzles — how could Tim reach the top pieces without a ladder? When the puzzles are completed, their ladder is no longer needed, so can be used to climb further up to the attic.

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