Last week this series kicked off with some abstract color experiments. As much as I enjoy the idea of Braid emerging from a Genesis-like pre-existence chromatic maelstrom, my first job was actually something else. Jonathan sent me a screenshot and asked me to draw over it.

Braid back in the day

Here it is, in its programmer art glory. Though visually crude, the game was actually pretty advanced, from a functional perspective. Keys, switches, ladders, spikes, monsters, and a guy in a suit – it was all there. If you read the whole post, for dessert I’ll show you how little (or much!) this screen changed in the final game.


Here’s my first try. I deliberately got away from the materials and palette in the screenshot. This looks kind of like some areas in Yoshi’s Island, on SNES. The background was meant to radiate gently. In an e-mail I described the atmosphere as “ethereal!”


Again, something really different. Strangely, the background is full of dancing figures. Jonathan had used the phrase “thought-conjecture-worlds” to describe Braid’s setting, so I was trying to be non-literal about space. Why not compliment the foreground with something topically different but thematically related? (How are dancing people related at all? Not telling.) We didn’t use this idea, but we did support the story in multiple not-literally-relating ways. More on that later.


Ancient ruins (TM).


The best thing going on here is the color palette. That chalky blue, pea green and salmon mingle delicately. I like putting together colors with shaky self-esteem so they all end up deferring to each other. For instance, that chalky blue isn’t really blue, but a gray with equal amounts of green and yellow. In context, though, it looks blue-ish … to me, anyway. There are more dramatic examples of this sort of thing. Joseph Albers did loads with it.

With the abstraction, again I was trying to suggest a world of ideas. I wrote to Jonathan that we could build the background out of different parallax layers, so the more distant ones would be variously eclipsed by others drifting in front. Lots of games use this effect, but I wanted to avoid discrete background objects, so everything would have a fuzzy edge and blend in with stuff around it. We did use this idea; the game has watery background spaces that flow together ambiguously.


Ah, Hue Slider. The times we’ve had. The only significant change here is the leaves. I had this idea that leaves would drift towards the screen and settle on it, as though the background were a view looking up. Again, it’s a spacial ambiguity / thought-conjecture-world thing. But it would have been way too “in your face.”

When I sent these to Jonathan, he jumped on the rectangular “cut out” on the bottom of the center platform. It was a conspicuous geometric variation in a puzzle game where the player will assume everything has been placed for a reason. It would be bad for the player to get stuck trying to figure out the puzzle-solving purpose of something with purely aesthetic value. As we went along, I got more disciplined about eliminating stuff that might distract or confuse the player.


Now this is jumping way into the future, but here’s how that long-ago prototype has morphed into a nearly-finished game. Hooray!

“Hang on Hellman,” you are probably thinking. “You said you were going to eliminate stuff that was purely aesthetic, and I can see you got paid to draw a million little fronds and algae. Isn’t that intellectually dishonest?” Not at all! The trick is to make all that foliage cohere so the player sees it in a generalized way as “a load of foliage,” and doesn’t waste mental energy combing it for functional, puzzle-solving items. I think the game introduces its important concepts pretty gracefully, so you learn what to look for. But I would be interested in others’ perspectives on this.

18 Responses to “The Art of Braid, Part II: No Shame in Tracing”

  1. Braid » Blog Archive » The Art of Braid, Part II. Says:

    […] David Hellman has made his next posting about the art process for Braid. You can read it here. […]

  2. Zaphos Says:

    I love the abstract green one so much. Just looking at it I am at once relaxed and absorbed. I want to play a game which is that chill, some day! 🙂

  3. Chris Hecker Says:

    Very cool to see the stages, great post!


  4. Shih Tzu Says:

    Zaphos: Check out the freeware game Knytt Stories, then… It’s an extremely atmospheric platformer, although the art is more minimalist.

    And, er… sorry to promote someone else’s game when we’re here to talk about Braid. I really like seeing the different art concepts here, and I also love the title screen from the first post. Something about moody cityscapes strikes a chord in me more than even the most desolate Shadow of the Colossus vista… (I get this even from the NES Double Dragon II, so clearly I have my own problems.)

  5. Billy King Says:

    Great looking stuff, very interesting to follow. I agree with Zaphos about that fuzzy green one. I don’t think it would have worked as well for Braid, but for something like Knytt Stories it’s a perfect fit.

  6. David Hellman Says:

    The Knytt games are cool and yeah, that green one has a Knytt-like vibe going on.

  7. Sean Barrett Says:

    Yep, I had a Knytt reaction to it too.

  8. Enlaces del 17/03/2008 | El Chigüire Literario Says:

    […] autor de Braid nos habla de cómo llegó a tener mapas de niveles sin necesidad de tiles. Buena lectura para el inicio de semana. (Este y el anterior enlaces cortesía de […]

  9. Peter Says:

    The abstract green one also grabbed me immediately. Never mind the game (or why I’ve stumbled on a blog with concept art for a game I’ve never heard of), what I really want is a print of that, the bigger the better, on the wall of my office…

    I guess I need to cure my ignorance and find out more about Braid!

  10. alec Says:

    A couple of things here, especially the log platform in #2, remind me pretty strongly of _The Humans_. Deliberate? (I loved that game, and found it pretty aesthetically effective for its crude time, so that’s a compliment.)

  11. David Hellman Says:

    Not deliberate, since I’ve never played The Humans. You’ve made me curious, though. Google is showing me some Genesis and Game Boy box art, but no screen shots …

  12. Kevin Ghadyani Says:

    It was an amazing twist from the beginning to the end. I would like to see more of the before/after shots. It really makes the game worth more to see where it came from rather than seeing it as the finished product because it shows the amount of work and effort put into it.

    Awesome work though.

  13. Myoiden Says:

    David, your work is both beautiful and inspirational to me, you’ve created fantastic atmosphere for Braid!

  14. Die Grafik von ‘Braid’ im Wandel der Zeit auf - Das inoffizielle Xbox 360 Magazin Says:

    […] eins, zwei, drei und […]

  15. Alexander Says:

    Thanks, it is an amazing game with fantastic art! 🙂

  16. Conversations with the Communications Sector : Game Development vs. Game Content Says:

    […] particular post titled “No Shame in Tracing” particularly hits the point home regarding quality […]

  17. Stresslines » Blog Archive » the eroded sediment of my heart Says:

    […] just stumbled across some concept art for the game Braid. I like David Hellman and all (his webcomic is one of my favorites), but Braid […]

  18. Kareem Says:

    beyond awesome ;d

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