Braid: Understanding Difficulty

It’s my turn to take upon Braid. So far I’ve read some great articles about it. However, I often had the impression that people were more keen on discussing some quite superficial qualities of the game and made some very broad statements about it’s meaning. When they discussed details, they mentioned them often just brief examples. In the this article, I would like discuss in specific detail some of the game’s puzzles. Obviously, the game is very spoiler-sensitive. I must admit that even though I read a plot summary beforehand, the ending still caught me off-guard so I would advise you to read on even if you haven’t played it yet. Otherwise, you might just as well quit reading now and play it yourself.

Braid - Time and Forgiveness

If learning is not rewarding by itself, then maybe the lesson is flawed to begin with. Adding external punishment and rewards will just increase frustration

To give you a heads-up on what I would like to get across: I think the game is too hard. I do understand that there is a reason why the game is supposed to be hard. However, I think that the game hard in a SPECIAL way that doesn’t quite match the reason why it was supposed to be hard in the first place. It’s a milestone nonetheless exactly because it so successfully draws attention to an important challenge for game designers: to understand what difficulty means…

Puzzles like the ones in Braid can be compared to magic tricks. In a magic trick, the audience receives some information about a series of events. The magician skillfully manages how and what kind of information the audience receives to make the audience arrive at a WRONG conclusion – some impossible “magic” thing just happened.

Puzzles are often like that only when the audience arrives at the wrong conclusion, they will think the puzzle is “impossible” and get stuck. Like a magician, a game designer must understand how the brain processes information and use that knowledge to construct an information flow and carefully direct the player’s cognition. The difference between the magician and the game designer is that the magician simply needs to prevent the audience to figure out how the solution while the game designer needs strike a balance. The solution of a puzzle must be out of reach but it should be attainable after some thinking. Wrong interpretations and common pitfalls need to be taken care of, or players will get in a self-reinforcing dead end – they “get stuck”.

I would like to discuss how the difficulty of some of the puzzles in Braid depends on pitfalls that haven’t been taken care of.

World 3, Puzzle 6: “Irreversible”

Let’s start out with a mild contradiction that colors the subsequent experience of that first puzzle. In the first world, the player is introduced to a time rewinding feature which lets him undo every mistake he makes. At the time, the game appears very forgiving. The text in one books even emphasizes that feeling be a very insightful paragraph:

… But if we’ve learned from a mistake and became better for it, shouldn’t we be rewarded for the learning, rather than punished for the mistake?

This is what is often praised as so very special and innovative about Braid. And I also enjoyed that very much. It seemed like the game left behind old paradigms to create challenges that work on a new level – beyond the die/reload/repeat dogma.

However, in the second World (Called “World 3″), we are introduced to a situation where suddenly some of the objects are immune to the rewinding. Again, this can be very cool. In the first puzzle, you are able to retrieve a key from a deep well by rewinding yourself out of the well while the unrewindable key stays in your possession.

But then, in puzzle 6 you find yourself in a situation that combines rewindable and unrewindable keys and doors. This is actually the first time you encounter a rewindable/unrewindable door/key combinations.

Braid - Irreversible 1
3 doors, one key. As players we have learned that the most reasonable thing to do is…

Braid - Irreversible 2
… to ignore everything, jump down a well to find yet another key.

To solve the puzzle, you need to open the 3 doors in the correct sequence using two keys (and rewind just a bit at the right moment). Of course, the first key in the sequence is the one most difficult to find. You need to ignore the first key you find and actually go down a ladder to a room that way previously out of sight to find the key you need to use first. If you start with the wrong key, the puzzle will render itself unsolvable as soon as you pick up the second key. Rewinding the time will not fix it. As a player, this feels like a betrayal. The first level opened a new world to you by introducing a new, radical mechanic that challenges old paradigms. This revolution only seemed to last a few levels though as already the first new feature brings the player back to the old school.

And note how the correct key is out of sight when you first see the doors. Remember that according to the “official walktrough” there was supposed to be no guessing involved? Well at this point, you need to GUESS that this is a trap and that the correct way to solve this puzzle is to ignore the key and have faith that you will find the answer if you continue.

But the puzzle is even nastier: the correct first key is in a well. You have to go down a ladder. The ladder doesn’t reach all the way down to the bottom so you have to jump down at some point. You will then inevitably pick up the unrewindable key that lies at the bottom. You can’t see the bottom from the ladder so you can’t anticipate that. If you used the first key at that point already, you just unintentionally broke the puzzle because you can’t put away that unrewindable key.

And there is even a third catch. Even if you use the keys in the correct order, there is some rewinding to do after you opened the second door. You need to be careful not to rewind too much or the puzzle will render itself unsolveable again.

This is a puzzle where the player is BOUND to fail. It is deliberately constructed in such a way that even a smart player will fail the first time he tries to solve it. The fact that this puzzle is also a unrewindable one makes that failure count even more. To add insult to injury, the puzzle is located underground so it is even more difficult to reach than other puzzles, making restarting more troublesome and increasing the punishment even more.

The meta-message of that puzzle is that the player is in a world governed by any random rules the designer comes up with. He is subject to the free will of the designer. The designer will give him power and take them back again at will. The designer will lead the player down the wrong path and will punish him for it, randomly increasing punishment if he chooses to. For me, this was the point where the world of Braid changed from a world of new possibilities to a world of mindless grinding and punishment no different from old school games.

Here are some ways to take care of the pitfalls of that puzzle:

  • Introduce the rewindable/unrewindable door/key mechanic earlier, in a more simpler puzzle. There is already a simpler tutorial puzzle but it doesn’t teach you the pitfalls of that mechanic. Players could be prepared and the punishment for the wrong key would appear more deserved. Some players might be even able to foresee and avoid it.
  • Make the right key in-sight. This is a puzzle, not a magic trick. A game designer can hide everything from the player, if he wants to. He can even make things invisible. But an intelligent puzzle won’t rely on hidden information.
  • Lessen the impact of punishment. Place that puzzle near the exit so players can quickly restart. The point that rewinding doesn’t work anymore is quickly understood by the player. No need to emphasize it.
  • Finally, consider that this kind of puzzle is not the right one for this game. As already mentioned, the game introduced some revolutionary concepts. By abandoning that revolution so quickly, the statement of the game becomes muddled and contradictory.

World 4 Puzzle 6 “Movement, Amplified”

This one is my favorite. In a recent review, even a smart guy like Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation apparently didn’t get this one either. He called it a “Dick Move”. I cannot hold it against him because it is a quite obscure and random way of misleading the player (or at least letting him go astray).

It happens in the world where the time is bound to your X position in space. If you go right, everything will move normally. If you stop, everything will stop. If you go left, everything will rewind.

In this world, if you use a unrewindable key on an rewindable door, you can only open the door going right. Which means you can only open a door approaching it from the left. If you go left while opening a door, the key will open the door, the key will break (which means it is used up as keys in games usually do), time will rewind which will close the door but the key will remain broken. All of this happens in a split second. What you will see as a player is that as you touch the door, the key will break for no apparent reason.

Braid - Movement, Amplifyed
“Two doors, one key. Key only fits one door, the other one makes it break, no indication which door is the right one, broken key cannot be recovered, have to start entire level again. That, Jonathan, is what we call a ‘Dick Move’…”
 – Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw”

This is a conjunction of various little mistakes. First, visualizing a used key by braking it might not be the best solution. I know it is difficult to explain visually why you can’t use a key twice. That particular destructive solution backfires in this particular puzzle. For a player, it seems like the key is destroyed by some sort of a malicious trap rather than used up.

Secondly, if you try to open the door going left there is not even an attempt to explain visually what happens. The door doesn’t move. There is no animation where it opens slightly and closes again or something. Your key just simply breaks in your hand. You are not even sure if the door caused it.

The, the logic of that whole mechanic is quite elusive. As a player you learn that the unrewindable objects are objects which aren’t affected by time manipulation. However, in this scenario the direction in which time flows clearly matters. And how can a key be “used” if the door didn’t even open? What process used up the key if nothing happened? Wouldn’t it be more logical if the door didn’t open and the key remained unused?

Finally, the puzzle is deliberately constructed for the player to make that mistake. There are two doors leading to the goal. Each can be approached from a different direction. Of course, the correct one is more difficult to reach. The effect cannot be undone. Restarting the puzzle is difficult as obtaining the key already requires some tricky maneuvers. The game designer seemed to be very fond of this combo as it is used at least in twice puzzles with almost no variation.

The meta-message of this puzzle borders on psychological torture. As in the first puzzle players are deliberately lead astray and punished. This time around, no effort is made to explain why. Some players will try again, avoid the right door and walk away never understanding the reason for why it didn’t work. If players do figure it out, they will gain nothing. The best case scenario is if the players end up thinking “Jeez! Give me a break!”.

Here are some ways to take care of the pitfalls of that puzzle:

  • Again, introduce the mechanics in a simple, less punishing tutorial puzzles.
  • Introduce visual clues to explain to the players how that mechanic work.
  • But this time around, I would seriously re-consider simply not relying on a mechanic you can’t communicate to the player.

Because let’s face it: this one is just broken. It is not logical as the “official walktrough” implies. It is a very fuzzy special case scenario where many different things would be conceivable. The player has no way to determine which particular solution the designer chose when he came up with the mechanics.

It’s a game programmer’s puzzle: A game programmer’s job often involves fixing very unintuitive special case scenarios that unexpectedly cause serious problems – bugfixing. A programmer is happy and proud if he finds a bug – it’s his job and it is not an easy one. That’s why a programmer would be inclined to display that kind of special case in his game. He would deliberately make the player fail because of the bug. He would also refrain from making that bug any easier to understand because he finds that working on figuring out a bug is valuable.

However, unlike the challenges the programmer faces everyday, the challenges in a game are human-made and therefore require the mindset and sense of responsibility of a game designer.

A game designer understands the perspective of the player. He cares more about what the player thinks when he encounters and tries to solve a challenge in the game than the actual mechanics of the puzzle itself. A game designer will abandon puzzles that rely on the difficulty to communicate the underlying mechanics. They are challenges for the designer, not for the player. If the designer fails, the player shouldn’t be punished. If you do, you deserve to be accused of a “Dick Move”.

World 5 Puzzle 4 “Crossing the Gap”

In this world, if you rewind time, your previous actions are being performed by a shadow twin. This particular puzzle is actually made of three parts. This is actually the only puzzle in the game I had to use a (un-official) walktrough for. Good thing I did because I got stuck in such a way I couldn’t recover.

The first part of the puzzle requires the player to work with his shadow twin on a switch that controls a platform to lead an enemy to a different part of the level.

Then you are supposed to jump on the enemy to propel yourself on a ledge where the goal is. The problem is that this isn’t sufficient to reach the ledge.

The third trick is that before you jump on the enemy you must make the enemy actually land on your shadow twin so it bounces up. Then you can try to bounce off the enemy at just the right moment to get that extra few pixels of height.

Braid - Crossing the Gap 1
After fumbling around with the mechanics to get an enemy to a different part of the level…

Braid - Crossing the Gap 2
… you have to make the enemy kill you. But it has to be in a very special way in a very special place. But it’s ok because you know the mechanics… oh wait, you actually don’t.

And as before, minor faults combine to make that puzzle more difficult than it is.

The biggest problem (actually not minor at all) is that similar to the previous puzzle, the mechanic for the third trick is something the player is simply not aware of. There are no previous puzzles that show and emphasize the effects of enemies landing on the player or his shadow.

To add insult to injury, the enemy has to actually land ON the the player’s shadow. Which means you can make this mechanic only work when you place your avatar under a ledge. In this puzzle, the enemy walks over that ledge only once. If you miss that moment, the enemy will end up perpetually walking back and forth and you will never realize that the puzzle isn’t solvable anymore. I actually had a hunch and made the enemy kill my shadow several times but since it was after the ledge, it had no effect so I abandoned that whole branch of thought, including the solution.

Additionally, the problem with puzzles made of multiple parts is that if a player gets stuck in one of them, he can be never sure if he made a mistake in the previous ones. Instead of working on just that one part of the puzzle, he has to suddenly question all of them.

Also, in this particular puzzle, the fact that Braid often relies on pixel-precise jumping made figuring that puzzle out even harder. I’ve spend at least half an hour trying that jump again and again, thinking that maybe I just didn’t have the skill.

Finally, while the whole process is rewindable this time, it requires some time to set up. The enemy falls down a ledge only once. If the player misses that singe event, it is somewhat troublesome to retry. Assuming, of course, he realizes what he is supposed to do.

So like the ones before, this is a puzzle that relies on insufficiently communicated, special case game mechanics. The puzzle’s complexity makes solving that puzzle much more challenging and more tedious than it could be. The final solution is hardly something a player would be happy having figured out on his own.

Here are some ways to take care of the pitfalls of that puzzle:

  • Explain and highlight what happens when enemies jump on the player in a previous, simpler puzzle. Puzzles that depend on game mechanics unknown to the player are bad game design.
  • Reduce the number of steps in a puzzle, especially if you introduce new mechanics. If you add new steps, they should be based on already established mechanics.
  • Make it clear to the player when the puzzle is unsolvable. Simply adding some spikes that kill the enemy shortly after the ledge would already prevent getting stuck.
  • Again, don’t center your puzzles on such special case scenarios. This particular mechanic isn’t even used anywhere else so why teaching it to the player in such a painful way?

World 3, Puzzle 6: “Irreversible”

Don’t be confused. I already mentioned that level previously. A level can have several puzzles and this time I will address a different one.

At the beginning of the level, there are two platforms sliding very slowly towards each other. One is rewindable while the other one isn’t. The trick to solve this puzzle is NOT to use the rewind feature until the rewindable platform passes the unrewindable one.

Braid - Irreversible 3
This one is like “Don’t shoot the puppy”. Only you are the puppy.

I’m actually guilty of using a similar trick myself back when I made Excit. In Level 10, you can get one of the MIS Logos only if you go right at the very beginning. If you move downwards, which seems more reasonable given the visual layout of the level, you won’t be able to get that pick-up anymore.

It’s a cheap trick for designing a puzzle and I will refrain from using it in the future. It’s the “I didn’t say Simon Says”-school of puzzle design. You add an unseeing but important and irreversible decision right at the very beginning of a level. When the player is at this point he hasn’t explored the puzzle yet. The player will see the level for the first time, look around, try different things and will mess up the puzzle without noticing. When he finally realizes what he is meant to do, the solution will seem impossible because he won’t remember the original state the level was in – back then he wasn’t paying attention.

In Braid, rewinding time is introduced as an important skill. It is implied that the player is supposed to use it to solve puzzles. Suddenly punishing the player for approaching level with that skill is yet another example of undeserved, random punishment. Using it at the very beginning, when the player is clueless and “innocent” is just cheap. And of course, there are even some extra difficult enemies at the beginning to make the player fall for it. Again, it communicates the meta-message that the designer is out to fool the player at every turn and that he will randomly change the rules by which he punishes the player.

Here is a way to take care of the pitfalls of that puzzle:

  • Use it later in the level. In this case, both platforms could be set off by a switch. This would make rewinding the platforms a more conscious action and punishment for rewinding more deserved.

World 4, Puzzle 7: “Frickle Companion”

Which brings us to the last puzzle pitfall. This puzzle is also in world 4 where the flow of time is bound to your direction of movement. In this last puzzle of the level you are given a key which you need to use to open a door. The key is rewindable and responds to time manipulation.

This means that everything is fine as long as you walk right. As soon as you walk left, time will rewind and they key will be moved to where it was just previously. You won’t notice it at first but If you choose to climb a ladder, you will see the key is actually floating in the air and moving backwards as if an invisible player was holding it.

Braid - Frickle Companion
If you move left, the key will leave your hands. The enemy on the other hand (a monster with no hands) seems to have mastered the ability to hold on to the key no matter what. Now that’s a puzzle.

This is already quite the brainfuck but it gets worse: enemies in the game can pick up and carry keys too. There is an unrewindable enemy in that very level. The behavior of the key becomes very erratic when it is picked up by the enemy. While the key has no problems leaving your hands when you rewind time by walking left, for some unexplained reason the enemy is able to hold on to it. So the key is immune to rewinding when the enemy has it. Again, this not consequent and not visualized by the game in any way.

Also, if you free the key by killing the enemy after it carried the key around, rewinding time afterwards will have even more strange consequences. They key won’t actually backtrack the way the enemy was carrying it around because the time wasn’t moving normally. In this world, your position controls the time so depending on what you did while the enemy was carrying the key, you might end up having the key jump around and flicker all over the place.

This is a very confusing and inconsequent puzzle.

Just like in previous puzzles (especially the “Movement, Amplified” puzzle) this one relies on a poorly explained, obscure special case scenario of the game mechanics that the game designer just chose to work in this particular fashion – it could (and should) have worked differently. But then of course, there would be no such puzzle.

Luckily, this time around the puzzle is slightly more forgiving. It can’t be broken so easily so the player will muddle trough even if he doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. Just as previously, arriving at the solution isn’t satisfying at all.

Still, the “official walktrough” of Braid claims that the puzzles are “natural” and “reasonable”. This is is a very striking counter-example. The whole logic behind it feels poorly thought-out. It seems like consequent behavior was abandoned just to preserve a “cool” trick. The players will hard time to reverse-engineer this skewed logic and will certainly have a hard time to digest it visually. It is not the kind of puzzle a responsible game designer would unleash on his players, at least not in a game otherwise so polished as Braid.

Here is a way to take care of the pitfalls of that puzzle:

  • Drop it if it makes no sense. Save them your players the inexplicable spasm on the fringes of your game mechanic. They won’t be missing it. They will be thankful if the game depends only on logically consistent and comprehensible rules.


To sum it up: A few of the puzzles in Braid rely on poorly visualized, exotic combinations of the games mechanics. In some cases, the mechanics have been specifically tweaked to afford the confusing results. Those kind of puzzles aren’t hard because the require the player to think. They are hard because they depend on withholding or hiding information from the player. They are puzzles that exploit the player’s lack of knowledge and the fact that the game designer can predict and provoke player behavior by designing the game accordingly. They are also unethical because they punish the player for falling for those traps.

The player solves them not by thinking but by blind trial and error. If the player fails to find them out by trial and error – he is doomed to “get stuck”. When the player finally finds out, his sense of success is somewhat limited because he discovers that information was being withheld: “How am I supposed to know that?”.

This is in conflict with what Jonathan Blow seems to had in mind when he made that game. Consider the following quotes:

The important part of ‘Braid’ is what’s going on in the player’s head when he’s trying to figure out a puzzle

“There are two parts of the gameplay in Braid. One is the part that happens in the simulator: the little guy who runs around and jumps and bounces off things. That part is a lot like other games. But the other part happens in your head: when you are just sitting there, looking at the screen, and the puzzle is unknotting itself in your mind, somehow. This latter part is much more important than the former part.”
- Blow’s Comment on

It appears as if he expects players engage the puzzles in Braid intellectually and analytically. Constantly milling the game’s mechanics in their heads, coming up with theories, checking them, abandoning them. Generally, having an engaging, intellectual struggle. As I pointed out, some of the puzzles in the game simply don’t afford this kind of interaction.

Game Designers have a responsibility towards the player. The have the control over the game, its mechanics and the information flow. This means it is their job to consider what kind of challenges the game confronts players with EXACTLY. Just “hard” or “interesting” isn’t enough. Game Designers need a deeper understanding of the quality of difficulty and they need to be able to modulate it. They not only need to design the puzzle and the solution, they also need to design the process of arriving at that solution – the experience. They should also be able to dissociate themselves emotionally from “cool tricks” in favor the game’s experience.

This fits perfectly to another quote by Jonathan Blow, where he criticized Literature:

Because as I said, you can write anything the fuck you want down on a piece of paper, and as long as you’re clever enough with your language, and your flow of logic from one sentence to the next – the better you are at those things, the more you can fool a reader into believing you. Even if what you’re writing down is total bullshit.,8626/

What Jonathan forgets is that the same can be said of a game as well. Let me rephrase that passage:

You can code anything the fuck you want, and as long as you’re clever enough with the game mechanics, and the flow of information – the better you are at those things, the more you can fool the player.

Fooling the reader or the player shouldn’t be the goal. In this regard, a Game Designer’s responsibility is no different from other designers or even authors and directors.

(I’m sorry, I know it’s a mean trick but that cocky quote simply had it coming)

Addendum: Reason for Difficulty

Finally, I would like to add some thoughts on what I think is the “message” of the game. Jonathan Blow repeatedly stated in interviews that the game has a very specific purpose. I dislike the idea of setting up such meta-puzzle. In my opinion he failed if the game’s themes aren’t apparent. Yes, the discourse around other media needs time to settle as well, but it should be clear if a work is a statement on the meaning of life or the atom bomb. The discourse should work WITH the author explore the depths of a topic – even ones he didn’t anticipate himself. It shouldn’t work against him trying to jump over hurdles he set to make his “message” more elusive.

Anyway – for me, the game most prominent theme in the game is the pursuit of truth. It comes up in just about every aspect of the game: the written vignettes, the “ending”, the epilogue and the puzzles themselves. This explains why the puzzles need to be so challenging in the first place.

The vignettes do not tell the story just of one person but many (or maybe the same person at different ages). The describe at least 3 different stories where the protagonist fails to understand “the truth” in a certain situation: the boy unintentionally hurting the girl when trying to protect her, the scientist trying to understand nature’s mystery and the child being hold back at the candy store.

The ending itself is yet another situation where the player fundamentally misinterprets what is happening. The truth is revealed only afterwards which results in the special “aha!”-effect everybody refers to when reviewing Braid.

The epilogue ties the vignettes together but the last screen also ties the vignettes to the actual game. We are presented with a castle made of the icons that represent the puzzles of the game. The books on that screen read:

He cannot say he has understood all of this. Possibly he’s more confused now
than ever. But all these moments he’s contemplated – something has occurred.
The moments feel substantial in his mind, like stones. Kneeling, reaching down
toward the closest one, running his hand across it, he finds it smooth, and
slightly cold.
He tests the stone’s weight; he finds he can lift in, and the others too. He
can fit them together to create a foundation, an embankment, a castle.
To build a castle of appropriate size, he will need a great many stones. But
what he’s got now, feels like an acceptable start…”

Braid - Epilogue
I think the princess is yet in another castle. The one that isn’t in the game.

This refers to the idea that during our lifetime, we experience again and again situations where we find out small truths: when certain situations appear very different after we found out something. These little moments of truth add up to our life experience and bring us closer to an understanding of the world itself – the proverbial castle where the princess (the truth) is supposed to be.

The game’s puzzles can be seen as such little moments of truth which is why the castle at the end is built of of their icons. So I assume that the puzzles had to be at least somewhat challenging because they wouldn’t fit to the game’s message otherwise.

However, this doesn’t affect the above critique. Finding out the solutions of the mentioned puzzles often has little to do with the pursuit of truth. Like the boy in the game’s vignette, the game is unintentionally hurting the players.

The overall strategy to make hard puzzles because of the message is understandable and valid but I ask myself – if it is wise? The number of players who will be able to appreciate that kind of message is severely reduced by making the game that difficult. Many intelligent bloggers never finished Braid because of it’s difficulty and couldn’t discuss that message – they focused on the critique of the difficulty instead. On the other hand, avid gamers will have less problems beating the game due to their excessive skills and experience but may be unimpressed by the game’s subtle meaning.

A game designer should also consider his game as a product and how it interacts with the climate of the audience. Considering the subtlety and complexity of the message, I think it would have been wiser to come up with a more permeable structure. I would argue if the game’s experience is really improved by getting stuck. Writing something like the “official walktrough” doesn’t help.

But finally, because I do have problems with the idea of the pursuit of truth, the whole game comes out somewhat flawed. I think we abandoned the idea of a single fundamental truth long time ago. Even a scientific mind should realize that there are many stones and many castles. All we can do is to construct models. Those models can be proven false but will never be proven true. Confusing your model, your castle with the truth is a dangerous path because you need to be able to abandon a castle if it is no longer of use. There is no princess, only castles.

Similarly, the game has problems because it expects the players to follow a given path and find out specific solution. A game giving players more freedom would avoid many of the mentioned problems and create a more modern (or post-modern) model of what truth is. It would be also more challenging to infuse with meaning – it would shift focus on the actual experience rather than relying embedded elements (puzzle solutions, text, etc..). But here, were are drifting into a discussion about a different game altogether.

This may seem like harsh critique. It isn’t really. You hurt most what you love most. Braid is an excellent game. It received that harsh critique because it is tries so much and in many ways starts to define the direction games will develop in in the future. We hold up much higher standards to it than to any other game. Even if I used some harsh words in this review, I don’t mean to insult Jonathan Blow in any way. I don’t accuse him of doing anything I described intentionally. I thankful for his hard work and I’m looking forward to his future projects.

Until then: discuss!

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

19 responses to “Braid: Understanding Difficulty”

  1. Midwest Gamer Podcast

    Although I loved the game. I have to agree that aspects of could very well be considered too hard. The parts of the game I enjoyed the most were towards the beginning when I was able to run through the level, consider my options and almost on the fly make a decision to solve a problem. When that worked it was an incredible feeling of satisfaction.

  2. Graham

    Very interesting post. I agree; too many people are discussing the words, and not enough discussing the game. Thank you. :)

    That said, I think that a lot of the specific problems you mention are actually more general problems. One you mention is how poorly ‘used’ keys are communicated.

    Another one that really got to me (and several other people I know as well) is that the glowing green effect on irreversible items is not pronounced enough. The ‘Don’t Shoot The Puppy’ puzzle you mention suffers severely from this. Everyone I’ve seen play this puzzle, including myself, takes a long time to even notice that one of the bars is glowing! This is even more fundamental than poor puzzle design. The high degree of accuracy needed in a lot of the platforming fits in this category as well.

    However, there is something that I’ve had a lot of trouble reconciling in my own thoughts about the difficulty in Braid: of the 5 puzzles you listed, I only had issues with 1 of them. In fact, I thought that ‘Movement, Amplified’ was one of the easiest puzzles in the game. That said, there were other puzzles that had me stumped for days. In all my discussions with my friends about Braid, there is inevitably, “Oh man that puzzle was so hard!” “Really? I figured it out right away!” or vice versa.

    I’m not sure how this could be resolved. This kind of thing often rears it’s head in games, where some players pick up on a clue and others don’t, but in Braid it seems to have much less pattern than in other games I’ve noticed this for. As you say, it does have to retain some challenge. If everyone says something different, how do you determine where the correct challenge to keep is?

    Back to my original point, I think this can be dampened by tweaking elements outside of the puzzle design (many of which you mentioned): more obvious puzzle elements, better delineation of where a puzzle starts and ends, a simpler way of resetting a puzzle, more ‘atomic’ puzzles to teach skills and clear connections between puzzles using the same skill. All these things are enablers, that would allow players to focus on solving puzzles rather than fighting the game, bringing the designer closer to understanding which puzzles are hard vs. which are unclear.

    In closing: I disagree that the game was too hard. In fact, I would have liked, overall, for there to be a bit more challenge! But I strongly agree that many puzzles were difficult for the wrong reasons, and to me, this is what people are actually complaining about.

  3. Graham

    Something else that just struck me:

    The game allows you to move through the different levels reasonably freely, but then requires absolute perfection to reach the last level.

    You said that you needed to use a walkthrough for one puzzle. If the game let you finish with one unsolved puzzle, then you could have beat it without using a walkthrough. Then what if you could have two unsolved puzzles, and still seen the ending? How many more people would have enjoyed ‘beating the game’? Three puzzles? Ten puzzles?

    Again, speaking from my own experience, I found the monologue only mildly interesting; I played the game for the puzzles. But many people played for the ending. So players like me got what we wanted — reward for completing the puzzles. But where was the reward for players who’s goal was to puzzle through the story? Since completing the puzzles was not the motivation they were looking for, the game had these large, arbitrary-feeling obstacles in it. Thus: “Too hard!”

  4. Krystian Majewski

    Well, I also finished the game fairly quickly and I needed help only on that one puzzle (which I couldn’t have solved otherwise). You are right: From the puzzles I’ve mentioned only maybe 2 are ones where you could really get stuck. However, the others can establish a general impression of a very hard, unforgiving game… even if it isn’t.

    But I strongly agree that many puzzles were difficult for the wrong reasons, and to me, this is what people are actually complaining about.

    I’m glad we’ve reached a common ground here.

    The game [...] requires absolute perfection to reach the last level.

    I found that there was plenty of wiggle room. It seems like getting one of the stars even depends on reaching the castle before the princess. I didn’t bother to collect those, though. They are just insane.
    You are somewhat right: there is some precision involved in the last level but you can achieve it fairly easy with the rewind power.

    As for the narrative – see that’s the thing. If we play the “what if Braid was a different game”-game briefly: if Braid was just a standard puzzle braintwister (like Timebot for example) without the narrative, I probably wouldn’t complain so much. Those games are mental measures of strength and you somewhat expect them to be unforgiving and hardcore. But then again, I probably wouldn’t bother to finish it, just like I didn’t bother to finish Timebot.

    But Braid DOES offer something substantial for finishing it and it is different from simply a mental challenge. Therfore, I expect the puzzles to be more carefully designed with a less frustration-tolerant player in mind. And this is ESPECIALLY true if the game has been polished for such a long time.

    As for finishing the game without solving all puzzles – I didn’t suggest that. I agree that it wouldn’t make sense. I do think that some puzzles would need some tweaking, though. I mentioned how in my article.

  5. WorldMaker

    Great post. I noticed most of these design issues myself in playing it, but I certainly did not write them up with the alacrity and clarity you have brought to the subject.

  6. 22samurai

    As someone who completed the game without hints, I wanted to comment on the issues you bring up. The majority of the levels you take issue with do provide hints to them in previous puzzles or provide simple workarounds that take a small amount of time.

    3-6: “irreversible” is the theme of the entire level, the player is given a warning and a hint at the same time. Resetting the puzzles is as simple as leaving through a door and re-entering. Though this does have some “you can get stuck” moments, I think the designer tried to minimize this problem by making it easy to reset the level.

    4:6 Movement Amplified. In 4:1, Jumpman, there is a puzzle piece locked by two doors, similar to this one. That puzzle warns you about the consequences of opening the right-hand door, with less punishing results.

    5:4 Crossing the Gap. The author states that there is no time where an enemy will fall on the player’s head to demonstrate what happens. The first part of this level has an enemy falling from a great height toward the player, and if the player starts running from the door, they are very likely to be hit on the head. This ability of the enemy is also likely to be discovered by players as they work through the game.

    4:7 Fickle Companion. The level records the key’s progress through the level at each instant in time(x position), until it is touched, carried, or dropped, at which point it overwrites the recording at that point. Only an enemy who can traverse the x axis while moving forward in time can send the key “back into time” so you can reach it when you go back there. This one was probably the most confusing puzzle for me, but there is some logic there, even if this behavior only shows up in one level.

    I agree that some changes / indicators could have been more pronounced, but exploration of time in a gameworld, a dimension explored only superficially by other games, is its greatest strength.

  7. Krystian Majewski

    @22Samurai: Thanks for your in-depth comment. I tried to answer it but my comment got eaten (grr) so here it goes again:

    3-6: “irreversible”: The title is too vague to make any difference as a warning. Calling a level in MegaMan “You might die” isn’t going to make the game any easier.
    Restarting that level is more difficult than others. Just recently, my collage Yu-Chung experienced a situation where he couldn’t get out of the underground area because enemies collected at the exit. And while you can always use the menu, it feels somewhat awkward.

    4:6 Movement Amplified: You are right. There is the same puzzle in “Jumpman”. I mentioned that in my review. I chose this one as an example because it was clearer. The “Jumpman” puzzle doesn’t warn you on anything. It’s just the same puzzle with the same mistakes. If you failed to understand the mechanics back then, you will struggle again in “Movement Amplified”.

    5:4 Crossing the Gap: I agree that I haven’t considered that there is indeed an enemy falling from above in this level. However, claiming that it is there to explain the mechanic is quite the stretch. It is not set up to explicitly hit the player, there is no effort made to make the player pay attention to how the enemy bounced off the player’s avatar. The player will most likely try to avoid collision anyway. I don’t believe the ability is likely to be discovered. At least I see no effort from the game designer to make sure it would.

    4:7 Fickle Companion: I do understand the reasoning behind it. However, it is very obscure. Especially the fact that there are different rules for enemies and the player make this puzzle very difficult to comprehend. The problem is that if it would be consistent, it would look even more erratic. Best solution would be to leave it out.

  8. Mark

    In World 4-2 and 4-6, the door puzzle creates a divide by zero scenario. You're going backwards in time and simultaneously creating a forward in time action when you try to unlock the right door with the key. Maybe one way to fix this is to have the character face right the whole time while also allowing the freedom to move left. So the player ends up with his back to the right locked door with the key in hand and figures, "Oh, I'll never be able to unlock the door moving this way." This keeps the interesting paradox and doesn't punish the player.

    There might still be problems with this quick fix such as, "Why am I stuck facing to the right?" or the paradox not being realized again.

    I know this reply is ancient in this day and age of the internet. Been playing Braid recently and wanted to contribute. Loved Legend of Kay and Excit! Can't wait for your future projects!

    Edit: Corrected the directions of the doors I was trying to talk about. >_<

  9. Trevor

    I love this post very much. I love the explanation of the puzzles, and I hope Blow has/will read this.

    Your idea on the “message” is also the best I’ve ever seen. By totally ignoring any idea of the Princess being a person, or the atom bomb, or trying to make sense of the disjointed vignettes, I think you’ve probably arrived at the intended meaning, even though all the other meanings people have arrived at are equally as interesting.

    However, you totally lost me at your discussion about whether the message is appropriate: “But finally, because I do have problems with the idea of the pursuit of truth…”

    Before that, I was thinking to myself, “Yeah! It’s a message about science, REAL science!” Not bubbling beakers and tesla coils and hating religions; real science as in the search for truth and the beauty of understanding.”

    You explain that the game is about finding the Absolute Truth, but that’s wrong because a single truth doesn’t exist, but I disagree (with the first part- we can’t really say whether the second part is correct or not). Braid doesn’t even care whether a single truth exists, it focuses solely on the search. Indeed, you never find the Princess, you only get closer and closer.

    “I think we abandoned the idea of a single fundamental truth long time ago. Even a scientific mind should realize that there are many stones and many castles. All we can do is to construct models. … There is no princess, only castles.”

    Stephen Hawking once said, “My goal is simple: It complete understanding of the Universe and it’s reason for existing.”

    It’s completely reasonable to think that there is some fundamental truth, otherwise what are these models approximating? We may never know it… I don’t think any scientist reasonably EXPECTS us to ever know it. So thinking of The Princess as a metaphor for Absolute Truth really doesn’t contradict anything at all.

    Even though you say, “I think the princess is yet in another castle. The one that isn’t in the game,” you could also say the Princess is not in ANY castle. Tim/The Player will never find her, not in this game nor any other other. Nor will anyone else. She is unattainable.

    The message is, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to find her.

  10. Krystian Majewski

    @Mark: That’s actually a very simple yet excellent solution! Thanks so much for bringing it up, I certainly haven’t been thinking of this but it work perfectly!
    (And to be honest, my involvement in Legend of Kay was rather minor but I will make sure your kind words get to the right people ;-)

    @Trevor: Finally someone commented on that part. I was eager to discuss that.

    You bring up an excellent point. It’s true that you never find the princess. At least not the Truth-Princess. So in that way, the game doesn’t claim that the absolute truth is real. I haven’t considered that.

    However, there are a other aspects in the game which do support that ideology. It is especially the way every puzzle seems to be designed with a singular, specific solution in mind. And this has been critisized by other writers as well… but then again, that was the whole point.

    By the way I find it quite ironic that even though Blow claims he had designed the game with a single specific interpretation in mind, it was able to generate so many different ones – like the A-Bomb one.

    The game didn’t leave me with the impression that it was about the search. After all, there was a clear winning condition. If it was about the search, I think it would have to (to stay within the metaphor) focus more on castle building. Then it would need to have some Sim City’esque qualities where there wouldn’t be any winning conditions, just exploration of rules and designs and general pointers.

    The Hawking quote you mention illustrates quite well the fundamental misunderstanding many bright minds in the scientific community exhibit – they expect the universe to have a reason, they (maybe even secretly) expect a fundamental truth. One of the great insights of the humanities was the exploration and ultimate realization of the concept that absolute truth doesn’t exist. That neither the universe nor humans have a purpose but are merely means to themselves. I think the most striking example is Immanuel Kant with his concept of Human Dignity/wiki/Human_dignity which is the basis for the German Constitution and even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (as opposed to a religious one).

    It’s completely reasonable to think that there is some fundamental truth, otherwise what are these models approximating?I think that’s the tricky part where many people loose track of the argument. The models are just means of interpreting what is happening for us humans to somehow comprehend in a certain context. In order to do so, they reduce complexity and leave out details which can be important in different models. In any cases, they are simplifications. The question if there is a truth they approximate towards is useless. The function of the models works towards the human end – they work because they deliver us temporary answers. If they would to represent the world faithfully, they would in fact become like the world – incomprehensible. But there is the whole branch of Ontology with many way smarter and more eloquent people who wrote their whole lives about it.

    And I don’t think we need the notion of a fundamental truth to drive science. Society didn’t collapse into anarchy when we started secularizing after all.

    1. abelian

      Dear Krystian,

      Thank you for writing an insightful and interesting article explaining why you found some of the puzzles in Braid frustrating. It has helped me understand why I got up halfway through the game and never went back to it.

      I’m not sure if you’ll see this post, but if you do, I’d like to follow up on one of the replies that you made to another reader.

      In that reply, you state that:

      “One of the great insights of the humanities was the exploration and ultimate realization of the concept that absolute truth doesn’t exist.”

      Later, you continue by stating:

      “It’s completely reasonable to think that there is some fundamental truth, otherwise what are these models approximating?… The models are just means of interpreting what is happening for us humans to somehow comprehend in a certain context….they are simplifications. The question if there is a truth they approximate towards is useless. The function of the models works towards the human end – they work because they deliver us temporary answers. If they would to represent the world faithfully, they would in fact become like the world – incomprehensible. ”

      How are you able to reconcile being able to state what you believe to be plain truth, that the ultimate realisation of the humanities (one categorical absolute) is that absolute truth does not exist (another categorical absolute) , with the idea that all we have to work with are models that only approximate the real truth? Moreover, though you state that “the question if there is a truth they approximate is useless”, your argument seems to draw on the idea that one ultimate truth has been established in the humanities; it is then not true that the question is useless – it has great significance in that it enables us to measure other truth claims.

      You also state that you don’t need the idea of absolute truth to drive science, to which you cite as supporting argument the statement “society didn’t devolve into anarchy when we started secularising”. Could you explain how your supporting argument actually supports the statement that you don’t need the idea of absolute truth to drive science, or even that society didn’t devolve into anarchy why we starting secularising? Society didn’t devolve into anarchy when we starting secularising not because we stopped taking certain truths as absolute – we just changed what we believed in as absolute. As you point out, the German Constitution is based on Kant’s idea of human dignity – is that not the absolute truth that is stopping anarchy?

  11. xario

    Hey, i also found this interesting to read, however, i find your level-critics too harsch:
    World 3, Puzzle 6: "Irreversible" – the name gives the major hint, i knew before entering that level, that i was going to have to use "exit current world" in the menu, which by the way is always possible and appropriate.
    World 4 Puzzle 6 "Movement, Amplified" – yes, the right door is a pure trap – so what? Re-enter the level and get the key takes less than 30 seconds, nothing I would regard as punishment.
    World 5 Puzzle 4 "Crossing the Gap" – yeah, that enemy-shadow-double-jump is not apparent, but: There is nothing there but these enemies, when you switch the brigde to left, the new cannon-spit-out-enemy comes right to the area, where it's needed after killing the old one.
    World 4, Puzzle 7: "Frickle Companion" – yeah, that was annoying: "Hey, wtf is the key doing? Why does it keep falling down ladders?…Oh, remember." BUT the enemy, that is able to keep the key, has a green aura. That's the reason, it is able to hold on to it. I agree, keymovent after killing the holding guy and rewinding seems buggy.

    You keep saying, that those advanced machanics like unrewindable key/rewindable door – pairs should have been shown earlier for a learning curve – i disagree again: You (me?) realize it anyway and reentering and getting to that point is always a matter of less than a minute.

  12. Krystian Majewski

    You (me?) realize it anyway and reentering and getting to that point is always a matter of less than a minute.

    When you die in a game, or when you break a level, it's the game's way of telling you that you did something wrong. But not knowing something is not the player's fault, it's the games fault. Of course, you can also learn by punishment but that's a very bad way of teaching people things. My girlfriend is a teacher, she'd gladly talk for hours about this.

    As for your arguments:

    3-6: "irreversible": The name is not a hint, it won't prevent you from doing something wrong. I explained that above.

    World 4 Puzzle 6 "Movement, Amplified": As I explained, the problem is not only the random punishment but also the fact that the game doesn't explain to you WHY it doesn't work.

    World 5 Puzzle 4 "Crossing the Gap": I beg to differ. There are a lot of different objects in that level – levers, ladders, platforms and other backrgound objects that may or may not be of relevance. Also, it only works in a very specific moment. I think there are too many variables to expect players figure that out on their own.

    World 4, Puzzle 7: "Frickle Companion": As I said, the fact that the enemy is green explains why it's not affected by your position. It does not explain why it can hold on to the key. In fact, he shouldn't as not even the player can.

  13. Monty

    I have a few comments about your complaints regarding the difficulty of this game.

    “Irreversible,” pt. 1: Though I agree with your complaint that leading the player into an irreversible mistake is poor design, I think that it is disingenuous to imply that no player would think to look down the well. As is clearly shown by your screenshot, there is a ladder there to suggest that interesting things might lie below. My experience with this level was that I made the obvious mistake the first time, and I then went to look down the well to see what was there. I noticed that there was a second key, and it was not difficult for me to put the pieces together to see what should be done in another attempt.

    “Movement, Amplified”: I strongly disagree with your and Yahtzee’s assessment about the difficulty of understanding the mechanic of what had happened. Again, forcing the player to completely restart the level isn’t great, but it was entirely and immediately clear to me what trap I’d fallen into by attempting to put the key into the rightmost door. The broken key mechanic had been very well established in my mind by that point, and I realized that by going left through an open doorway I was contradicting the time flow law for that world.

    “Crossing the Gap:” Here, I fully agree with you. The mechanic of enemies using you much like you’d used them was not something that had been established (or even hinted at) prior to this point in the game. I was extremely lucky in that it happened for me completely by accident and my own carelessness, after which point it was easy to solve the puzzle.

    “Irreversible,” pt. 2: You have a point here. I think a better solution to this problem would be to somehow establish earlier in the game that if you can’t find a solution to a problem, you should re-enter the door that led you into the room. This could have been done with a book in the clouds leading to the level.

    “Fickle Companion”: I can’t disagree with you much more on this level. I found the mechanics of the level (including the behavior of the key when touched by an enemy) to be very consistent. I wouldn’t say it was *easy* to predict the behavior of the key — my solution to this level involved me staring at the monitor for several minutes, plotting and attempting to find inspiration — but I thought the mechanic of the level was sufficiently obvious. It was clear to me very quickly that the time-constant groundhog must be used as a vessel for moving the key to the left.

    I actually have a different design complaint with the game: In World 2, Puzzle 2, “The Cloud Bridge,” you are unable to obtain the two puzzle pieces at the end without progressing further into the world, obtaining puzzle pieces in later stages, and returning to The Cloud Bridge to use those pieces on the portrait. I *love* the idea of interacting with the portrait, but having to progress further into the game to find the requisite puzzle pieces is extremely unhelpful. If the game was to be designed like Metroid — where one sees an unsolvable puzzle, progresses through the world and finds a tool to solve it — then this should have A) been a mechanic that was addressed in the flavor text, and B) been used more than once in the game. Whenever I encountered difficulty in a puzzle after this one, I always wondered if I was even able to solve the puzzle at that time. This is unhelpful in a puzzle platformer where you are occasionally running on the fumes of desperation and trial-and-error to attempt to solve puzzles.

    In short, I disagree with your first, second, and fifth critiques. They seem, in part, predicated upon the player not making some key realization — a realization which (apparently) some players will make and others won’t. I don’t accept this as a strike against the game. However, I certainly agree that the user shouldn’t be expected to divine some of the stranger combinations of game mechanics — e.g. Crossing the Gap — without a nudge from the developer. I was absolutely shocked to see no mention of my biggest beef with the game, but I think that underlines the fact that different users can have dramatically different experiences with the game.

    Thank you for your honest, insightful write-up of your complaints with Braid. I loved this game with every fiber of my being.

  14. sahwar

    I just wanted to let you know that this is the most insightful article about game design choices I’ve read in a long time. I agree with most of your critique about the flaws of the game – I felt the exact same things while playing it myself, but you’ve managed to express them far better than I would have even hoped to. I salute you for that.
    Moreover, I particularly enjoy the part about the shortcomings of the ‘philosophical assumptions’ of Braid – you’ve elaborated on some really good points there:
    “But finally, because I do have problems with the idea of the pursuit of truth, the whole game comes out somewhat flawed. I think we abandoned the idea of a single fundamental truth long time ago. Even a scientific mind should realize that there are many stones and many castles. All we can do is to construct models. Those models can be proven false but will never be proven true. Confusing your model, your castle with the truth is a dangerous path because you need to be able to abandon a castle if it is no longer of use. There is no princess, only castles.”
    Finally, thanks for enriching the discussion about the value and flaws of Braid; your article is very insightful and seems to provoke a deeper understanding and critical analyses of the video games in general (and especially of the objective review and the subjective interpretation of the postmodern indie video games of today), not just the one in question.


  15. SvenBTB

    I understand where you’re coming from, but at the same time, many of the things you mentioned didn’t bother me at all. For example, in the thing with you not knowing or being introduced to enemies being able to jump off of your head, there are several areas in the first (World 2) world that I had this happen to me, so when I encountered a puzzle in which I had to use this, I wasn’t surprised. For the “Fickle Companion” puzzle, it made total sense to me why the enemy could carry the key and Tim couldn’t (once I realized that was what you had to do). Tim is effected by Time rewinding, and previously to that puzzle, we’re shown that objects/enemies with green tint aren’t affected by time alterations. So, it would make sense that he can walk ‘backwards in time’ with the key when you the player can’t. Anyways, just my thoughts.

  16. FalafelCopter

    I was one of those players who only really cared about the story. (I hate this kind of puzzle platformer with a passion.) I went through the game solving what puzzles I needed to solve to progress and grabbed the collectibles I could get along the way. By the time I got to the point where the game told me I needed to go back and collect all the thingies, I was already beyond annoyed with the puzzles and I stopped playing and never looked back.

    Oh, was there some kind of poetic meta explanation for why the game was forcing me to go back and grind annoying puzzles to get to the ending? What a piece of smug self satisfied tripe. Sorry, that was going a little bit overboard, but it really peeves me off when a game doesn’t warn me that I’m not going to reach the end of the game unless I do a bunch of extra things that I may not end up wanting to do. If the game had told me outright that I’d have to solve every single puzzle in order to conclude the story, I wouldn’t have even bothered from the start. The format of the game lead me to believe I’d be able to play the game a certain way and it felt like betrayal when I found out that it had just been stringing me along and expected far more from me. Of course it wouldn’t be giving me little snippets of story along the way to make them more bearable, either, since I’d gotten all the snippets it would give me already. (Don’t give me that “the puzzles themselves were snippets themselves” either, as I’m still being left with a different experience than I was having before they forced me to backtrack.)

    This happens a lot in indie games. Braid is the most notable for me, but it’s hard to call it bad game design because it has this air of subtlety to it where it tries to pass off any of it’s failings as something it meant to do all along. (”You know what else has bad game design? REAL LIFE! It’s so deep!”)

    Another example is Cave Story, where you are forced into a rather terrible ending unless you accomplish a bunch of really arbitrary things along the way. NOBODY gets the good ending on the first try, and the game seems entirely built around this fact. I felt coerced into playing the game a second time through to get the “good ending”. When I did get to the final section of gameplay that unlocks this ending, I found that it was about 100 times more difficult than anything else in the game and found myself bashing my head against the wall for what felt like hours trying to complete 2 minutes of gameplay. I gave up and never finished the game. Cave story betrays a completionist by first not making it clear that small arbitrary actions will lead you into a bad ending, and second by making the “real ending” require a feat of skill that even two playthroughs do nothing to prepare the player for. ARGH!

    The Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP has an obnoxious mechanic whereby the game is impossible to complete without cheating unless you wait from several days to almost a month(!) of real time for badly explained reasons.

    Jamestown has 8 difficulty levels and at the start it seems like you’re going to be able to beat the game on the easiest one to see all the bosses and soak in the story. What it doesn’t tell you is that after level 3, you’re going to have to play levels 1-3 again on the second highest difficulty to unlock the next level. It does this on EVERY SINGLE LEVEL, meaning that you have to play the first level like five times, and that the last level is going to be absurdly difficult. (RGRRRRHRHRHHH!)

    What these games all have in common is that they have intriguing story and ambiance that make you care about the conclusion of the story, and then pull those “dick moves” on you by being extremely dishonest about how much of the gameplay you’re going to have to sit through in order to absorb all of that story. This is especially egregious when it comes suddenly at the very “end” of the game through a sudden revelation that you’ve been playing the game wrong without knowing it the entire time, or that the very last hurdle is going to be exponentially more difficult than anything so far.

    Its hard to understate how angry I got while writing this. I really want to throw a tomato or something at some of these game developers and their smug faces, or at least to beg them to please stop doing things like this.

  17. bob

    Complaining that a puzzle game is “too hard” or “without any hints” is silly in general, especially considering the nature of this game.

  18. Krystian Majewski

    So according to you, this would be an interesting puzzle: “X is a number. What number is X?”


Game Design Reviews is a Blog used by a group of game designers from Germany to publish and discuss their thoughts on various games. The blog consists entirely of reviews of games. Each review focuses on the important game design ideas and concepts of that particular game. We also run a second, more informal Blog called Game Design Scrapbook.


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