Braid: The game of a generation
With the arrival of the next generation of consoles, the sun has begun to set on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. As our attention turns to the new, we reflect on the old and take stock in the games that helped define the last nine years of our lives.
Mass Effect gave us unprecedented control over the development of our character in an epic sci-fi saga. Fallout 3 dropped us into a massive post-apocalyptic wasteland and told us to explore. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was an unstoppable juggernaut of popularity, effectively becoming the standard to which all other AAA games are judged. These games and others changed the landscape of game development in beneficial (or sometimes deleterious) ways, informing how we'd experience video games for years to come
While these games have clearly left their indelible mark on the games industry, one game in particular single-handedly changed the way we make and consume games, and has shaped the future of development in the most exciting and positive way, more than any other game released in the past decade.
Braid is the game of the last generation.
It’s an unlikely choice, but one that makes a lot of sense. Before Braid, independent game development was the refuge of the outcast. If you wanted to make games, you went to work for a big studio -- development tools were expensive, and the environment just wasn’t conducive to the sale and promotion of self-published titles. An independent developer would be lucky if they sold 10,000 copies for the lifetime of their product; Braid sold five times that amount in the first week of release. Braid was the first real breakout indie hit, and proved the viability of small-team development, digital distribution, and unconventional gameplay and narrative in one fell swoop.
Braid's forward-thinking approach to nearly every aspect of its development eschewed years of video game tradition. Its narrative was purposely oblique and open to interpretation, deconstructing the damsel in distress trope to great effect -- one need only look at its final level for evidence of the power of Braid's story. Its pricing even flew in the face of convention, launching at $15 during a time when downloadable games were rarely priced above $10, earning the ire of critics denouncing its cost-to-length ratio. Despite this, Braid was met with critical and commercial acclaim, and further proved that people will pay for quality, regardless of length. Smaller, more intimate experiences could stand proudly next to those gargantuan epic quests.
Because of Braid, games like Gone Home, Fez, and Cart Life can not only exist, but wildly succeed. Because of Braid, developers are less afraid to explore more personal, more contemplative themes like love and loss, without succumbing to the genre fiction tropes that the bigger blockbusters rely on so heavily. Because of Braid,companies like Valve and Sony have crafted policies which allow for the sale of self-published titles on their respective platforms. Because of Braid, an entire game development movement was born, ushering in a brand new renaissance of unique game experiences.
Sure, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare inspired a legion of also-ran first-person shooters, and Gears of War ensured many more games would have waist-high walls to hide behind, but no one game galvanized an entire industry more than Braid.
That’s why Braid is the game that defined this generation.