you were first designing Braid, did
you have a metaphorical meaning in mind that... I guess you didn't want to push
it on the player, but wanted to leave enough clues there to find that kind of
JB: I did. Even before I wrote any of the
code or anything, I had a full idea for the game. It would've been an okay
game, both in terms of gameplay and in what the story was about. Then I started
doing that, but even in the first day or two, it changed when I saw how the gameplay
was turning out and as I saw how the mood of the game was developing. That kind
of changed my idea of the story, and it went in a different direction.
I started the game with some very strong
literary influences -- Invisible Cities is a book by Italo Calvino. It's a
series of very short, three-to-four page pieces about different fictional
cities that have different kinds of reality and different ways that they work.
Then there was another book written by Alan
Lightman called Einstein's Dreams. He's a physicist, actually, and he wrote
this book which was very much like Invisible Cities, but was about Albert
Einstein thinking about... he still hadn't quite figured out relativity, and he
was still working as a patent clerk during the day and was very busy, but he
would go home and think about how time behaves in the universe. Like Invisible
Cities, the way that he was thinking about time was linked to how people are in
the universe. Because if the universe is a certain way, it's going to determine
what's in it and if people are in that universe, what they're like. That was
never quite a satisfying book for me, but it was definitely a strong influence
But I wanted to take that and go in a
different direction. The initial idea was to do something like that, but with
gameplay. Go to different rules, have different rules of time, have that relate
to humanity somehow, and just speak to what it means to be in our universe. I
didn't know the details. I had ideas for details. Then I started filling in the
details and that took the higher level idea further. So the game is still about
that, but it has a lot more to it now.
I started out by stylistically imitating
Calvino, and I moved away from that as I saw that there were better things for
this work. There are a lot of details in the game that I hope that people
notice or they at least feel at a subconscious level. There are a lot of
things, even in screenshots and stuff on the web, that no one has noticed. I
follow forum discussions about the game, and it's cool that nobody's noticing
them, because that means that they really are not obvious, and I think once
people start discovering those, they'll enjoy the game even more.
I was excited about the game when I
started, but what I ended up with was much better than the original idea. I
don't think that happens very often in game development. I got lucky there.
Usually, you have a great idea for a game, and you can't do all of it. You can
maybe do half of it. And it's still kind of cool, but it's not quite what you
thought. This is way better than what I had originally written. I don't know if
I'm going to be as fortunate in my next project, but I'll take what I can get
talked about how when you've got like a gameplay potion that you've made up
with those elements, as soon as you drop something else in there, then the
meaning and metaphor changes. With Braid,
I think I'm right in saying that the time travel came later? That way you could
rewind and fast-forward -- was that always there?
JB: That was the very first thing in the
game. What happened was I originally had the idea that it would be about time,
but I had other ideas about what it would be. The rewind was something I wanted
There was a mailing list discussion with me and a bunch of designer
friends about Prince of Persia and Blinx and games like that. It was kind
of cool that you could rewind, but they don't use it very well. I've given this
thread in lectures before. So that was kind of in the back of my head.
"Hey, I want to try out rewind."
But that wasn't even the major idea, since
a couple of other games have done rewind, and I wanted to be Mr. Experimental
Gameplay Guy. I want to do something totally different that nobody's ever done.
So I had some ideas about... there was this idea in quantum mechanics about how
time doesn't actually go forward at a small scale. It's called the arrow of
It's an obvious fact about our macroscopic world. You can remember the
past, but you can't remember the future, and you can't predict the future. But
on the quantum mechanic level, that doesn't exist. The rules go the same in
both directions. So where does that come from? I wanted to explore the idea of
what if that is actually illusionary.
So one of the worlds was going to be trying
to conceptualize that somehow. Maybe I go through the level with whatever
powers I have -- maybe it's just running and jumping and opening doors -- and
then time reverses, and I have to follow the same path in reverse, and I hope
that I did something that's actually possible to do in reverse. It can be a
puzzle like, "Hey, if I went down somewhere that's too high to jump up
again, then it was invalid somehow with the bidirectionality of time."
That was one idea that I had.
The other one was, maybe I can do something
-- it's a 2D game and has always been conceived as a 2D game -- where you run
around a level that gets extruded into 3D. Like, you stack the different frames
on top of each other, and you can see a cube from different [angles] and then
you can maybe do something with that, to visualize this hyper-gameplay thing.
I tried both of those to various degrees,
and other things too. The quantum mechanic thing or the bidirectional time
thing, I mean, just on paper really, and I didn't come up with enough
compelling... I thought the theme was cool, but the gameplay wasn't living up
to it. I didn't see why that would really be compelling. I ended up programming
the cube thing later, and it just didn't... that came later, and it was harder
to program, after the rest of Braid,
and it didn't add enough. It's like, "Okay, I'm rotating this graphical
thing and I'm seeing the future and stuff." I was like, "The rest of
the game is strong enough. It doesn't need that."
But the rewind was the first thing that I
actually programmed. Because I'm the programmer and the designer, this is one
of those things that might not happen with a bigger team. As the programmer and
the designer, I instantly saw, because of the way I programmed it, that certain
things were possible.
All of the ideas were mixed around in my head, and I had
the idea without knowing where it came from, which is just, "Oh! I made it
so you can rewind, which involves storing all the memory about where everything
was in the world somewhere so that the game can go back later and retrieve it.
Obviously, I can do that to only some of the objects. I can have some of the
objects always go forward in time."
I didn't logically plan that idea out or
brainstorm it. It just happened. From there, the rest of the game just
exploded. Originally, it was going to just be rewind and a bunch of things
unrelated to rewind -- maybe time-related, or universe or quantum
mechanic-related things. But from there, as soon as I had that idea, the game
was about rewind centrally, and everything else was as minimal possible changes
as I could make to that core rewind that would still be very interesting.
There was just no end of ideas from there.
It was like, "Oh yeah, I can do that. I can have time tied to your position
in space." That idea happened within five minutes of the first one. The
other ones came a little later, but right there, that was enough for a full
game. I programmed those little levels, and I knew that this was the best game
that I've ever been working on.
I don't know if I was just the designer and
there was a different programmer if that idea would've happened. This level of
idea mixture doesn't happen on a team. It might've happened. I don't mean to
say that Braid is somehow a brilliant
idea that only I could conceive. Given enough time, all ideas are going to get
explored. But I don't know, it might've been a while before anyone made this