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In this fascinating deconstruction, artist David Hellman explains his creation of the evocative, painterly art for Jonathan Blow's acclaimed downloadable game _Bra

Eric Caoili, Blogger

August 5, 2008

3 Min Read

In this fascinating deconstruction, artist David Hellman explains his creation of the evocative, painterly art for Jonathan Blow's acclaimed downloadable game Braid, which debuts tomorrow on XBLA. By the time Hellman became involved with Braid, the time manipulation puzzle-platformer had already appeared at two GDCs and won an award for game design. He described the game and its creative mechanics as nearly finished in terms of playability and cohesiveness. Visually, though, it was primitive: Its blocks, spikes and ladders were utilitarian, communicating merely the elements of platformer-ness. It could have remained a visually simple game, but it already contained hints that it wanted to be more, to express itself across the full multi-media palette available to video games. The fragments of fictional prose introducing each level indicated Braid's ambition. They mused on the nature of relationships, regret, and temporal paradoxes. World 2 introduces a limitless rewind mechanic -- you can reverse any mistake, erasing the concept of "failure" -- framed by a wistful reflection on perfect forgiveness between lovers... Hired as visual artist in the summer of 2006, my challenge was not only to clearly present Braid's mechanics and behaviors, but to help tell a story that was anything but literal: part anecdote, part artifice, part philosophy. This article explains the process of developing visuals for a nearly-complete game with a highly idiosyncratic identity, the challenges encountered, and some of the nuts-and-bolts of our methods and tools. Hellman went on to share several examples from his design process, including his initial attempts with World 2, the "optimistic start of the adventure" in which the game introduces fundamental player actions, such as jumping and climbing. The area also add the "rewind" feature, allowing players to take back their mistakes and try again without any penalties. Because World 2 is designed to introduce a forgiving feature, the art had to convey forgiveness and positivity: That lead to these more "normal" colors: brown rocks and a blue sky. The problem with this concept is the intrusiveness of the background. I was trying to create more "visual interest" by adding an arch in the background, and showing the field on the left rising above the foreground, as though it were receding three-dimensionally. But as Jonathan explained, and as I appreciated more and more over the course of the project, there was no point adding visual interest in a way that was contrary to the gameplay. The things to reinforce were those things true to the gameplay. For example, when the player comes to the edge of the cliff, with the ladder leading down, what matters is the cliff and the ladder. In this concept, the background extends the cliff further right. This interferes with the immediate perception of the cliff the way it really is. You can read the full feature on artist David Hellman's collaboration with Jonathan Blow to create Number None's Braid's artwork, with examples from the downloadable Xbox Live Arcade game's evolving design (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).

About the Author(s)

Eric Caoili


Eric Caoili currently serves as a news editor for Gamasutra, and has helmed numerous other UBM Techweb Game Network sites all now long-dead, including GameSetWatch. He is also co-editor for beloved handheld gaming blog Tiny Cartridge, and has contributed to Joystiq, Winamp, GamePro, and 4 Color Rebellion.

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