Blog Banter: More games like Portal and Braid

So I’ve joined in on Hawty McBloggy’s Blog Banter, whereby a bunch of gaming bloggers all blog at the same time occasionally on a specific topic. For my first entry in this series the topic is: "If you could ask for one thing this year from the gaming industry as a whole, what would it be and why?"

I’ve been thinking about it all week feeling a little weird now that I’m actually in the industry. Should I take the approach of what I want to see that I can directly influence? That seemed too much like, I don’t know, advertising. I figured I’d just write it as a gamer. So for those who might have a litany of Xbox things they want us to change or provide, you can email me.

I want more games like Portal and Braid.

When I first read about Portal Valve had not really talked much about the "plot" so the first impression I had of it was that of a first person shooter with an interesting gimmick. Not unlike Prey or Timeshift. Since it was going to be bundled with The Orange Box (oddest product name ever) I didn’t bother to read any reviews or pay a ton of attention to it until right up to its release. I already knew I was going to get Orange Box.

I’ve since spent hours with Portal and even replayed it when it was released to Xbox LIVE Arcade. You can boil the poral gun down to a gimmick if you want, but what it did in essence was force the designers to create a new genre, a First Person Puzzler. While they aren’t my favorite, I do enjoy puzzle games greatly and get that special little pleasure synapse firing whenever I solve something particularly tough. (Which is why I also think achievements are so popular) But we all have our standard view of what puzzle games look like and how they operate. Portal has shattered that. Instead of a gimmick added to put puzzles into a shooter, they tossed out the shooter entirely and focused on fun and atmosphere. And we got a great song out of it too!

Speaking of music, that brings me to Braid. Just like how Everyday Shooter took an established convention and made it seem new, Braid takes the puzzle adventure genre and provides a new sense of style to it. I love how Braid looks.

Roger Ebert often talks about how the primary purpose of movies is to show us amazing things we wouldn’t otherwise see. This explains why he tends to be more forgiving of a films flaws if it swings for the fences in its visual imagery (like, What Dreams May Come). You’d think, therefore, he would be a bit more understanding about games as an artform, but I digress. I feel the same way about video games. I can forgive a game a lot of flaws if goes for broke on something like visual style. If you really think about it, RezHD is the simplest possible gameplay dynamic. But the music and visual style make it a blast for me to play.

Same with Braid.

Like Portal, Braid isn’t afraid to muck about with the very conventions it uses to achieve its play style. The puzzles are very clever and several of them are real stumpers. But the art, music, and "plot" all combine into a result that shows that, whatever Roger Ebert’s view, games have passed the shaky toddler crawl/stumble phase and are really ready to start walking when it comes to being an artform.

Braid and Portal each have something to say. What it is, and how they say it, is what makes them standout experiences. When you look at their remise on paper, someone is going to say "but what makes that fun?" and might not want to take a chance on it. But Valve and Jonathon Blow took a chance and put in the effort. I would love for our industry to take their example and run with it in 2009.

Other participants!

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