Beating the game

Shortly after it came out, I beat Braid, a puzzle platformer initially released for the Xbox 360 as an arcade title and incidentally the single best game I’ve played in years (it is now also available for Mac and PC). Braid was a short game (I finished it in one Saturday with lots of play, and a couple hours the following Monday; probably around 6 hours total) but it was one of the most satisfying gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time. Braid’s puzzles all revolve around your ability to affect time, and each one is unique. No puzzle requires you to travel until you find an appropriate item or hint that makes everything clear. You could, with patience and a willingness to think outside the box, solve each puzzle sequentially the first time you played the game. In a world where puzzle and adventure games have mostly devolved into mindless color matching or poking around until you find the hidden lever, Braid is a breath of fresh air.

If you’d like to get a great feeling for Braid take a moment to read through the Official Braid Walkthrough. I promise, it won’t spoil anything. Quite the contrary.

Early on when I was playing the game, I got frustrated at one of the puzzles and resorted to the internet to find a walkthrough with some pointers. I stumbled across the official one, read it, and rather sheepishly returned to the game without looking further (incidentally solving the puzzles that I’d had trouble with after leaving them alone for a while and coming back).

But the day that I beat the game, I cheated for real. In my defense, one of the puzzles that I sought help-via-walkthrough on was something I probably wouldn’t have figured out without some sort of hint, dumb luck, or an outside opinion.

For the second puzzle whose solution I looked up, though, I was just being lazy. I had one puzzle left, as far as I could tell it was impossible, and I wanted to beat the damn game and go to bed. After reading the solution, I realized that it was far from impossible, that if I had slept on it one more night and come back with a fresh perspective I would doubtless have figured it out for myself, and that I had just cheated myself out of the pleasure of discovering a solution on my own.

Which makes me wonder; when did beating the game become so important to me?

I don’t really know for sure, but I suspect I have beat maybe only 25% of the video games I’ve ever played, and most of those I completed before I entered junior high. This is in part thanks to the fact that my prime game-playing time (high school and college) I spent working for Inside Mac Games where it was more important to play lots of games than to play games to completion. Even for games that I loved and had a compelling reason to finish (like a few of Spiderweb Software’s games) I inevitably got interrupted by something new that needed to be played and written up; a few interrupted games I went back to and finished, but many more I simply let fall to the wayside. The rest of the reason that I have such a rotten record for games that I’ve beaten compared to when I was young is that I can now afford to just buy a new game if something ends up frustrating or annoying me. When I was in elementary school, Riven pissed me off more times than I can count. I constantly came up against impassable obstacles, and there were weeks or more when I would leave the game alone in disgust and frustration. I couldn’t afford to buy any other games, though, thanks to my all but non-existant allowance, so I kept coming back to Riven until I finally beat it.

Given my record, beating a game isn’t high on my list of priorities. Hell, just looking at my Xbox arcade collection proves that; of the twenty-two I own, I’ve only beaten two (one of which was Braid).

Which brings me back to the question: why was beating Braid important enough to cheat myself out of further time with it? I know, both from experience and from the official Braid walkthrough, that the journey is the reward and sometimes all you need is a good night’s sleep for a puzzle to open up to you. And I still ruined it.

My temptation is to blame the internet. The games I remember most fondly are the old LucasArts adventure games (Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Sam & Max, Day of the Tentacle, The Dig), and I played them through either before my family had internet, or when walkthroughs were harder to find. In a way, I couldn’t find spoilers, so I couldn’t spoil myself.

That argument, however, is unfair. The problem isn’t that walkthroughs exist and are easy to find. I actually prefer information to be readily available; there’s nothing worse than having something in a game you can’t solve that you’ve been working at for days with no luck, and then being unable to find any information online to help you. The fault lies somewhere else.

I think the real reason that I became so focused on beating Braid, despite knowing better, was because I have become accustomed to games having some worthwhile content that is then expanded with mountains of filler. A game of Braid’s caliber, where every puzzle is lovingly crafted and unique, took me completely by surprise.

And that makes me sad, both because the game industry as a whole is so focused on quantity rather than quality and because I as a gamer have reached a point where I’m so immured to games without redeemable qualities past the bullet points on their boxes that I unintentionally spoil the few gems that I do come across.

If you have not yet come across Braid, I urge you to learn from my mistakes: don’t just beat the game; play it.

4 responses to “Beating the game”

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  1. Stefan says:

    Hi Ian,

    great article. Somehow we share a similar gaming history. I am really grateful that I have read your article _before_ starting to read up on a puzzle that I can’t beat in Braid right now. It made me think about beating games too. Right now i am close to finishing inFamous on the PS3 – just another gem – even if this time a really big one.

  2. Ian Beck says:

    Glad you liked the article! inFamous is one of those games that makes me wish I had a PlayStation 3; unfortunately for me, I don’t really have much use for a PS3 otherwise, so it’s all Xbox all the time around here (with a little Wii or DS thrown in occasionally to liven things up).

  3. Ever given Portal a whirl? I only got to play it once for half an hour, but I thought it was amazing. You have to twist your mind into thinking about space in a completely different way, perhaps similarly to the way Braid requires re-thinking time. I’ll give Braid a shot…

  4. Ian Beck says:

    Yeah, Portal was a lot of fun. What surprised me so much about Portal was that something that appeared to be little more than a gameplay experiment turned out to have a story that sucked you in even more than the gameplay conceit. Definitely worth a complete play-through if you get the chance.

    Braid’s story was a lot less easy to figure out; it was the puzzle design and attention to detail for Braid that really sucked me in.

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