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» Game Design

Braid would have been released a while ago, but it was delayed to improve the end product. The fact is, not everyone wants to solve puzzles; some people just want an experience. We’ve made a number of changes in recent months to ensure Braid can be enjoyed by the widest possible group.

Meet Bloopi! He will repeatedly jump into your path. If you touch him, he becomes your inseparable companion.

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This installment shows the developer tools created by Jonathan Blow, which I used to build Braid’s landscapes. It’s a backstage tour cluttered with scaffolding and pulleys. It’s not pretty, but it’s True. (Disclaimer: The text on the buttons is too big because we changed the font at one point and just never fixed it.)

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After doing those concept drawings and abstracts, it was time to bang out some useable assets and see how they’d work in the game. Jonathan had already written an engine for building level maps from irregular chunks of any size. He asked me to take a concept like the ones I’d already done, and break it down into pieces that could be copied and pasted to create the first world. (The first world the player encounters, for reasons initially unexplained, is World 2.)

Behind-the-scenes features sometimes create a false impression of ease and inevitability, like those glib “evolution” pictures showing a fish stepping out of the ocean, becoming a chimp, homo erectus, and then Groucho Marx. Of course it only looks easy if you ignore all the species that died out over millennia of natural selection. For every image you see here, assume a half dozen variations that would have diluted this article but were nonetheless important.

And certainly some stages of a process go more smoothly than others. Looking at this overwhelmingly green concept, it’s safe to assume I was not happy during its creation. The rock walls struggle from one approach to the next, looking like amphibious skin in one place and shattered glass in another. It was time to settle on something, but was what I’d come up with good enough? I kept searching.

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The latest episode of The 1UP Show features J.B. and me yammering on about Braid. You can watch that segment below. For the full show, including segments on Dark Sector and Smash Bros. Brawl, click here.

Chatting with Matt Chandronait and Jay Frechette was a real pleasure! They were genuinely into the game and very thoughtful about the indie scene and stuff in general.

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!”
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Today I bring you another new feature, Who’s Reading My Mind, in which I scramble to take credit for an idea I’ve recently learned someone else plans to implement. Word just hit the street that Wayforward Technologies, maker of Contra 4 and Shantae, is developing a Wii Ware game called LIT. According to the press release, it’s a 3D horror puzzler about maneuvering a scary, dark environment by creating safe paths with light. That’s right, you light the way to presumably stave off whatever horrors lurk in the 3D darkness.

Well! Dudes, I had the same idea back in 2003. Here are some hastily-snapped photos from an old sketchbook.

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Over the next month or so I’ll be wrapping up work on Braid, a video game by Jonathan Blow, coming to XBOX LIVE Arcade. (For an overview from my perspective, here’s the relevant page from my portfolio, and for general Braid-related news, here’s the official blog.) It seemed like a good time to “start talkin’,” as they say in interrogations. This is the first of a series of blog posts highlighting different aspects of Braid’s art, and explaining some of my thoughts behind them. Some posts may be fairly concrete-minded, but others (this one, at least) verge a little into my own associations and difficult-to-pin-down feelings. But hey, it’s art! Behind-the-scenes info and creator commentary are always interesting to me, so hopefully these will address someone’s curiosity at least.

(Certainly I welcome comments! Let me know what you’d like to hear about, and how I can make these features more interesting.)

Let’s start with these vague yet vivid digital paintings. They’re from the very beginning of my involvement in the project, in the summer of 2006. Even then it was known that Braid contained various worlds, and that each world had a different theme, and that each theme would call for a different graphic solution. These exercises were just an initial foray into mood and color, to see what range of sensations might be appropriate.

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