Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why Braid Sucks, Pt. II: The 'A' Button

Building off my rant from yesterday:

One of the single most frustrating parts of Braid's design is in its opening moments: teaching players the game controls. Tutorials are notoriously tough to do well in games, and designer Jonathan Blow had noble intentions of letting the player learn the controls on their own instead of flashing "PRESS 'A' TO JUMP" across the screen. Instead, he did this:

A box near a ledge with a picture of the Xbox 360's 'A' button on it. The player can't jump over this little ledge without pressing 'A', so it forces them to learn that 'A', in fact, makes the character jump.

But this helpful box is unnecessary. It's the 'A' button--the most cardinal of all video game controls. Even the original Nintendo Entertainment System featured the 'A' button to jump in most of its games. Braid itself is a satire of the most iconic "press 'A' to jump" platformer on the NES, Super Mario Bros.

Suffice to say, I doubt anyone savvy enough about video games to purchase Braid would need to be told to press 'A' to jump. This would be like a novel telling the reader "turn the page to read more." I could understand explaining more complex control schemes to players, but 2D platformers like Braid have the most basic and intuitive of all video game control schemes.

Even if someone were playing a platformer for the very first time, when faced with this small ledge to jump over in Braid they'd have no trouble figuring it out. The 'A' button is prominently displayed on the Xbox controller; when one holds the controller, their right thumb naturally rests on 'A'. Not only that, but the button is green--the universal indicator of "press this button."

My second big issue is that the 'A' button onscreen is in a box. In most platformers (including Mario), boxes are something you destroy to reveal a power-up.

When I played Braid for the first time, the first thing I did upon seeing this 'A' box was jump on it and try to open it, to no avail. The three other people I've watched play Braid for the first time have done the exact same.

So not only is Blow's 'A' box redundant as a tutorial mechanism--it's outright unfaithful to the genre whose conventions it's attempting to emulate for dramatic effect.


  1. I think what's notable and important about Braid is how experimental it is--it's far from a gaming perfection, but I don't think anyone ever argued it as such. While I agree with everything you said about the "wall of text" distraction in your previous post, this seems a little exacerbated. Even Shakespeare had typos, but nobody's going to spend time or energy arguing that this ruins his literary merit or his status as one of the greatest author/poets in the English language. Regardless of Blow's trip-ups here and there, you can't really discredit his accomplishments at experimentation within the medium. Especially considering he was flying solo as he created the game.

    1. You're completely right, and as I touch on at the beginning of my last post, I do think Braid is a milestone in game design. But since we put this game on a pedestal as the Holy Grail of indie games, I'm scared people will avoid any sort of criticism of it at all.
      And yes, this post is a bit nit-picky. The 'A' button box has a total screen time of maybe 3 seconds. But unlike the rest of the game where Blow treats the player like an intelligent adult, this is a part where Blow assumes the player is stupid. It seems to undermine the rest of his design philosophy.

  2. There are way better things to discuss about Braid than this.