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False Perspective: Limitations of the player – Part 3

September 13, 2008

Looking at Braid the biggest gripe I have with the game is its narrative design in relation to the game’s level sequence. Through out the game the player is required to collect puzzle pieces which will invariably open up new levels for the player. This is aa acceptance of video game design which basically rewards for completion. However, for a game that plays with time and individual perspective, I don’t believe that with holding certain levels against the player is necessary. Mainly because each level appears to be isolated an episodic because the player can only use one aspect of time manipulation for each level.

What this creates is a linear structure in Braid which takes pride in non-linearity in it’s narrative. On the one hand the game promotes the subjectivity of time and space, while on the other sends the player down a fairly singular path. Yes, players are not required to solve puzzles in order but in order to unlock levels a pre-determined number of stages must be completed. For a game that attempts to break the mold of player response in games, it is odd that designer Jonathan Blow does not take more chances in this aspect. It’s a very schizophrenic design philosophy and truthfully I would rather had the Alone in the Dark 5 model of choose any stage from the very beginning of the game for Braid than withholding the player’s option on which levels he can play.

Bioshock does not have this problem because the story is meant to be told in a linear fashion. However, there are conflicting design philosophies in relation to the game’s RPG elements and the level design of its world: Rapture. Bioshock was highly toted for the ability to play through levels in multiple ways. And it succeeds to an extent. Though players may overcome obstacles through numerous approached, the novelty of this aspect wears thin near the end of the game.

As the player progresses he will be able to gain more ADAM to spend for plasmids, various powers that the player can give himself to adapt his play approach. However, as the player progresses, all of these upgrades will become so stacked that virtually the end game will become the same experience for all players. Though there may be slight variation, it is clear that certain upgrades are more powerful than others or offer superficial differences to player approach toward obstacles. Just as the ending, the choices made in the game have little baring to ultimate results of player.

In my next installment I will conclude my discussion on Braid and Bioshock and the impact respective designers Jonathan Blow and Ken Levine has on the industry and medium.

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