Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Perfect Game?

I don't write about design so much as of late, but I decided to partly because of the impact a game made on me over thanksgiving break and the brainstorming I've been doing to come up with an idea to pitch to my class at the beginning of next semester (due on the first day of class, crazy right?).

So this game that made such a huge impression on me: Braid. A little late to the game on my part, because I had only heard good things about it... but I had trouble finding myself in the mood to seriously sit down and play a 2D platformer, but when I did, Braid just blew me away. And the reason is that Jonathan Blow sat down and made what I would be tempted to call a perfect game. Maybe not my favorite game of all time, or even the best game, but a perfect game. The reason that I say perfect is because Braid is a complete game. Something that developers I think have learned to think of as impossible because no matter what it's got to ship on time, right?

Wrong. Chris Hecker had a very interesting rant about this at GDC entitled "Please Finish Your Game" that uses Braid as one its core examples. Braid is a finished game, and to me that's very important, because that means that Braid can convey its ideas in much the same way that a good piece of literature can.

But what makes Braid feel like a game that's been completed? It's partly because there are a set of underlying concepts, messages, and themes that drive the games purpose for existence to be something other than end of quarter profits. That's just the first step though. The second is that from these ideas came mechanics and puzzles that complement those ideas. These core elements of the gameplay are accompanied by art, pieces of writing, and music that all fits with what is happening. and part of it is that I understand is that Jonathan Blow had time to go through and polish the gameplay multiple times while his artist iterated over an art direction several times. As a result the game stands as a testament to what a game that wants to be called "art" should actually be striving for- it should be something that conveys its underlying message from every angle you examine it from.

Nothing is without purpose in the game. I was recently asked at a party what type of games I want to make after I graduate. That's the type of game I want to make. But I don't want to make them after I graduate. I want to make them now.


  1. I have to agree with you here Mr. Manatee. However, the reason for Braid being so 'perfect' is not entirely completeness or that it was finished, but rather that each individual part was so well executed and polished. Yes, the concepts and mechanics really fit well together, but if they were all a bit crap, the game would not be as good. The mechanics and level design in Braid have a level of polish and attention to detail that is only occasionally seen.

  2. @Dillon It's not that I don't think the quality of those aspects isn't important, it's that there's very little "fat" in the game design- features that either didn't belong or didn't get the attention they needed, and part of that is that no feature is orphaned from the other parts of the game. Take for example the puzzles that the player constructs. The imagery is beautiful as art, but at points they even tie back into the puzzles as a mechanic. It's those types of connections that show that a feature is not just polished, but meaningful as well. If the game elements were bits of crap, then they would not be able to contribute to the other parts of the game because they've already failed to be effective.