Wednesday, February 8, 2012
The Great Wall of Text: Why Braid Sucks
The 2008 game is fantastic. It's got a beautiful visual style, stirring soundtrack, and unique game mechanics that play into the plot. It's a one-of-a-kind satire of Super Mario Bros.
With that said, Braid has no idea how to tell a story. Blow weaves an intricate tale of loss and regret, conveyed mostly through... walls of text.
Jonathan Blow is trying to move games forward as an art form, right? His message comes off as a bit stale when his own magnum opus relies on another medium to tell its story.
I'm not against writing in games. Gaming's history is built on text-based adventures like Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork. Even in modern games, text is often a better choice than the medium's notoriously abysmal voice acting.
But modern games should only rely on walls of text (or cutscenes) when it's absolutely necessary to convey points that couldn't be accomplished within the gameplay itself. As I wrote about yesterday, Valve is great at telling its stories purely within the mechanics of its games. Blow, however, uses copious amounts of text to give Braid meaning. It wouldn't be nearly as bad if his writing wasn't so... mediocre. The story is cliché and the characters bland.
What if he got rid of this? The "loss and regret" themes are still captured in essence through Braid's flowing gameplay. The game would be much more ambiguous, but would perhaps capture Blow's intended emotions in a more pure form if he had avoided the Great Wall of Text.
An example of this in practice is Danish developer Playdead's 2010 avant-garde Limbo. Both Limbo and Braid are indie 2D platformers initially released on Xbox Live Arcade, and both tell the melancholy story of a silent boy searching for a girl.
But perhaps due to their Scandinavian design instincts, Playdead created a much more moving experience with their game. Limbo features absolutely no text, and there's no HUD. None of the characters speak. The minimalist visuals are all in silhouette and even the music is dissonant. Through this, the game conveys pure emotion in a way no other art form can come close to, because the audience is completely involved with it. It's not static... as text is. Jonathan Blow, on the other hand, relegated the majority of his storytelling to text. It's a strange misfire for someone who seeks to be a spokesman for video games as a storytelling medium.
Limbo is the game Braid should have been.