This was the phase of bafflement and anger.
Finally, I got to the phase of careful reflection.
Special message: There are apparently a lot of people for whom playing Braid was a positive emotional experience. That's great. But if that's the case, you may not want to hear someone venting his Braid-hate, in much the same way that you do not want to hear someone saying bad things about your lover. If that describes you, you should skip this post. I am going to vent my hate. This is not going to be a very rational analysis. It's therapy. It's frustration. There will be arguments, but there will also be rhetoric. You were warned.
I persevered... and almost wish I hadn't. That was it? This "revelation", and these pieces of completely disconnected, meaningless prose were what I endured all those keyboard-smashing moments of frustration for?
Don't let anyone tell you that the game is "easy", and more about "puzzles" than about "platforming". It's not. It's full of nasty platforming moments. That supposedly great final level with the nanosecond-tight timing for jumping on some ugly brown guy three times, pulling a lever, and then jumping down just in front of another guy so you can sneak through a small passage unharmed before the fire gets you -- that was what made me want to hit Jonathan Blow most. The "elevator action" (or whatever) level where you have to drop a ring, jump on a falling ladder and climb up all during the one second that you are still glowing green is a good runner up. And there are so many more.
And the puzzles! Some were really good. There were a couple of excellent levels, where I actually had fun. But there were so many other levels where finding the solution required you to somehow intuit what the unexplained rules of the game were. For instance, that same "elevator action" level has platforms that make you glow green. In previous levels, platforms that made you glow green were immune to time running back. In this level, they are not. Why? Nobody knows. How you are supposed to know this is unclear. These puzzles are not to be solved through thinking, but through trial and error.
The most egregious example of this lack of information is the level where you have to grab a key your shadow is holding as he falls into a spiked pit. Absolutely nothing in the game has suggested that you can grab a key someone else is holding -- in fact, I'm almost certain you can not grab a key held by a monster and they cannot grab a key held by you. (In both cases, one must first kill the other person.) So how can this puzzle be solved except by divine inspiration? Well, by reading a walkthrough.
I have already written enough about the prose in my previous post. No, wait, I haven't. This stuff is so bad that you could base a "learn to write" course on just the fifty or so sentences that occur in this game: every possible mistake will be exemplified. Let's discuss one new example: "[...] a light that [...] illuminates - or materializes! - a final palace where we can exist in peace." If you don't know what the verb "materialize" means, that's okay. Really, it's fine. But if you don't know what it means, please don't use it. It means: "to come into being". This is intransitive. You cannot use it in a sentence with a direct object. Seeing it used in such a sentence makes me cry. It is ugly. It is meaningless. Ugly and meaningless things make me sad. Go and reverse time to undo your mistake.
I have an explanation for the badness of the prose. In this interview, Jonathan Blow talks about his double bachelor in English and Computer Science:
English is very much creatively-driven. It's mostly analysis and interpretation and history of literature. And basically, the entire bachelor's degree in English is all about bullshitting things. And Computer Science, which was my other major, was exactly the opposite of that. You had to know what you were doing, and you had to know what you were talking about.Jonathan Blow believes that when it comes to English, you don't have to know what you are doing. You don't have to know what you are talking about. In university, he has learned to bullshit things. And he has put this skill to excellent use when writing the prose for Braid. It's all first-grade bullshit.
So, after hours of torture, one gets to the final level. According to everyone on the internet, it (a) shows that Tim really is the evil guy, and (b) the whole game has been playing in reverse time. But (a) has been obvious from the moment that we heard that Tim wants to cultivate a "perfect relationship", because as soon as someone says that you know they are a psychopath murderer who regularly talks to the mummified remains of his mother. And (b) just isn't true, unless I am supposed to accept that Tim is a guy who has this weird relationship with gravity where he can only go down using ladders or enemies, but can go up to any platform at will through thin air. Granted, the final level is somewhat interesting, but generate deep insight or recontextualise the game it did not. (And when I say that it was fine, I'm of course talking about the story, and not about the obscenity sequence where you have a nanosecond to jump on an obscenity monster, pull a lever and jump back down again in order to not be hit by that obscenity firewall. Obscenity Jonathan obscenity Blow. Obscenity. There is a difference between generating tension -- think of the firewall in that excellent Starcraft 2 mission, Supernova -- and generating frustration -- think of the firewall in Braid.)
And then there is an epilogue which gives us a lot of disconnected pieces of text that don't mean anything to me. And a lot of empty books. Apparently, the story Blow wanted to tell is about an atomic bomb, even though there is not a single sentence about an atomic bomb that I have seen. But that's fine: if you have something important to say, you don't just want to say it! You want to hide it! You want to say other things, and the really smart people will know that you actually mean something else. Or something. Or whatever.
Braid is a piece of crap. I actively hate it. As far as I can remember, it is the only game I have ever actively hated.
It is also a game that has gotten almost unanimously positive reviews, that has moved people deeply, that has brought joy and inspiration to thousands. This makes me willing to sort of suspend judgment. Maybe I do miss something. Maybe the problem is with me, not with Braid. (For the record, I believe aesthetic worth to be non-subjective.) This is possible. If you loved the game, please continue to do so. I am not here to dissuade you. But I very much doubt that you can dissuade me of my opinion -- although the comments are open, and you are allowed to try.
(But perhaps it is better to not have a lot of discussion. One of the things I dislike most is talking about something I love with someone who hates it -- it will always, in some measure, and assuming that one takes one's discussion partner seriously, poison one's subsequent enjoyment. I dislike having my enjoyment poisoned, and I dislike poisoning other people's enjoyment. Let's put this message at the top of the post as well...)