Spot On: The music of Braid

Developer Jonathan Blow and the composers behind the time-twisting puzzler tackle the hows and whys of the Xbox Live Arcade critical darling.

When indie developer Jonathan Blow's latest game Braid arrived on Xbox Live Arcade last month, it challenged gamers in every sense of the word. What appeared at first to be a platformer with a simple story about a man looking for a princess was deceiving. The appropriately named game interwove a fairy tale open to interpretation, a time-manipulation game mechanic, and vivid watercolor visuals into one strong cord.

Although each of those elements has been lauded and dissected in the weeks since the game's release, one oft-overlooked aspect is the haunting soundtrack, a collection of pieces that Blow discovered on the site of music licensor Magnatune. The developer told GameSpot that he decided to license existing music instead of commissioning it partly for budgetary concerns, and partly because he wanted it to have meant something to the composer.

Blow needed music to fit the game's "painterly" visuals and story themes.

"The reason it was all from the same place was because that's where I found everything that I wanted," said Blow, who wanted high-quality music from musicians and understands that film composers spent many hours to create the right mood.

"My not-so-charitable opinion of game-music people is that most of them are not at that level of skill," he continued. "Most of them don't really understand gameplay that well unless it's very simple, traditional gameplay. If they give you a song, it's usually not very high-quality, like what a real musician makes. By real musician, I mean people who made the song because they cared absolutely about that song. They weren't making it for anything. They just made what they most wanted to make at that time, so that's what I was looking for."

Magnatune founder John Buckman was stunned by how it all integrated together.

"The daring 'painterly' graphics, the thinking/action gameplay, and the manipulation-of-time idea is just genius, and the music that was picked gives a sense of dancing along, of immersing yourself into this strange otherly world," Buckman said.

"It certainly set a tone," said David Hellman, the artist behind Braid's visuals. "When the game was early and the graphics were rudimentary, the music was certainly one of those things that made a strong impression as far as the atmosphere of each world. I think his musical choices were very good. I always felt they were interesting and well chosen."

Artist David Hellman said the music of Braid helped shape its visual style.

Blow went through a lot of music before settling on the eight tracks that are in Braid. He had specific requirements in mind when he started his search.

"There were aesthetic goals and functional-gameplay goals," said Blow. "So I wanted songs that were long because if you're sitting in a level trying to solve a puzzle...often you're just sitting there for 10 minutes to try and figure something out. If there is this short, looping music that just repeats over and over, that's going to drive people crazy."

He was also looking for the right music to go along with the atmosphere, even though the artwork would come later.

"I wanted them to be organic and complex because that's kind of the mood the game is trying to set as a whole. Thematically in terms of the graphics, it's trying to present something that isn't necessarily clear-cut. There are all these layers in the graphics and in the emotion," he said.

"There were other functional aspects," Blow noted. "I wanted the music to be composed with instruments that worked well with the rewind. When you rewind something, the song should sound interesting going backwards, the texture of the instruments should be different and interesting going backwards and feel different."

Jami Sieber, the composer behind five of the tracks used in Braid, admits that she doesn't play video games, but has received e-mails from gamers around the world commenting on her music.

Every aspect of Braid ties in to the rest of the game.

"I've heard great things about how he uses the music," said Sieber, who composed "Maenam," the first theme heard in Braid and one of Blow's favorite tracks. Sieber explained that the word "maenam" translates to "river" in Thai. The piece came from an experience in Thailand in which she had the opportunity to play music for elephants. She used a cello to invite the elephants closer to observe what she was doing. "That's where that piece came from, and to me it's a gathering of where spirits and soul meet."

When the player moves from the menu of the first world to world two, the environment transitions from a dark cityscape to a lush rainforest that is accompanied by a playful melody, "Downstream" by Shira Kammen.

"'Downstream' was written in the Grand Canyon; it is several tunes in one," said Kammen, who also previously recorded a brief piece for The Sims Online. "I was camped on the Colorado River [with] a friend of mine who had to row downstream to meet somebody who was hiking in. It was twilight and he had a headlamp on and he was rowing away into the twilight, and all you could see was his headlamp bobbing, going downstream."

Although Hellman didn't know the inspiration behind "Downstream" when he sat down to create the game's art, he thought that the piece was very appropriate for a "forward-moving jumping game."

The mood created by Braid still allows for some levity.

"It works with the clouds, the way the sun moves. The music actually enhances the feeling [of] sunnyness and warmth in that world. I think it's the sound of the violin," he said.

Kammen was also delighted to hear that her music was able to reach a wider audience.

"It's hard to get your music heard," she said. "There is this particular audience for the kind of music I do, and it is a really different kind of audience...a few have written asking for sheet music, [I think] that's really neat and very nice. I would never think before this that a video game would inspire anybody to think about music."

Already available for the Xbox 360, Braid is also expected to launch for the PC in October. All eight tracks from the game can be found and purchased from Magnatune, but Blow is also working with the site to put together a full-length Braid soundtrack.

The individual tracks in Braid are listed below:

"Maenam" by Jami Sieber, from the album Hidden Sky.
"Undercurrent" and "The Darkening Ground" by Jami Sieber, from the album Lush Mechanique.
"Tell It By Heart" and "Long Past Gone" by Jami Sieber, from the album Second Sight.
"Downstream" by Shira Kammen, from the album Music of Waters.
"Lullaby Set" by Shira Kammen and Swan, from the album Wild Wood.
"Romanesca" by Cheryl Ann Fulton, from the album The Once and Future Harp.

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Discussion

89 comments
VFG
VFG

Every now and then there will be a game that makes you want to fire up the system just to hear the soundtrack. Braid is one of those. A great game and an amazing score.

lagerfeldt1974
lagerfeldt1974

Yeah, the music is really nice in Braid. It's rare that the music fits the game(play) so snugly.

element4life372
element4life372

this is my favorite game, well, ever. :D great music, great story, challenging game-play. it's like mario on steroids.

Gogolor
Gogolor

You can get all those tracks from iTunes too, just FYI

da4kin
da4kin

indeed the music in braid is quite superb

draco934
draco934

I was really impressed with the music in Braid.

Ajanthan99
Ajanthan99

Hi, this a good Arcticle about the music of Braid. I downloaded the Braid Demo last Friday night. Actually i wanted to play FIFA08 with my friends who came along that night! But i said before we started, lets download this Game Braid, i saw a interesting short VideoReview on this Game. First i was a little bit irritated by it's ArtCover.It looked like a ShootingBlowUp Game...this little Guy standing in front of a burning city. That was the first impression on the Art Cover of Braid. We start playing the Demo an had so much fun! And we thought this is a superherb Game, the Game Music is superherb. We Expect the Unexpected. Defently gona buy this game on XboxA. Now i'm sitting at uni, doing my Work and listening on Magnatun to the Album of Jami Sieber. Go and get yourself Braid, it's worth it ;) Greetz from Germany Ajanthan

clarkspark
clarkspark

I listen to the soundtrack at work, it helps me concentrate...of all things ^_^ I like how on the reverse stage (4 i think) at the end, the dinosaur is askin me where i was going lol Too bad the game is short. We need a full blown game on this.

digi_matrix
digi_matrix

Off to Megatune and listen to this music, thanks Gamespot :) "Maenam" is the theme music, I can tell. He has a fair point about most of the game composers, so I think the Splinter Cell composers are some of the best. Especially the latest game, Double Agent. The music has to fit the gameplay, and "feel" important.

raverrozza
raverrozza

braid is one of the best games ive played in years!

ThAdEa82
ThAdEa82

They've made this story because of Braid's success but, more importantly, its uniqueness with visuals, story and its music. It's hard to get a great deal of people excited about mellow instrumentals, but that is exactly what this game is doing. Also, enough with the mario comparisons...we know it, the creator has obviously said that it's his take on mario in a way...its old news and welcome to several weeks ago.

bennae66
bennae66

buy it now. go on, log on, get those points and use em.

bennae66
bennae66

awesome game. every puzzle piece. it rocked. the ending rocked. very rocking. and people its alot DARKER than you think it is. buy it if you have live.

OremLK
OremLK

Why is this even a story? Almost every indie developer buys tunes instead of commissioning them. Braid was very good (although its story was overrated), but I still think Blow is too pretentious for his own good.

Anderjak
Anderjak

I think his statements toward game music composers wasn't necessarily toward every single composer out there, but more to the general masses, excepting the exclusions to the rule [Koji Kondo, Harry Gregson-Williams, Nobuo Uematsu, so forth]. Many games have a pretty listenable soundtrack, but it's sorta just "there," rarely wowing anyone, rarely standing out. It does just enough to set the mood, but does nothing to stand out. I think it's interesting Blow went the route he did; he picked music that helped inspire how the whole of the game would eventually flesh out. Animating to the music, so to speak.

A7Xfan
A7Xfan

The music is actually the factor that sold the game for me. I'm glad to see a developer really pursue art. I'm in Berklee studying media scoring so I can get involved in the game music industry, this is the kind of guy I want to compose for. Every bit of content in this game had a purpose. The story was interwoven with gameplay, which was brought to life in the presentation, and when you break it down it's a good thinking game from all perspectives too. Because I even consider how all the pieces fit every time I play it says a lot. I gotta get in touch with these guys.

A7Xfan
A7Xfan

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Thing2
Thing2

I played through the demo and bought it the next day, loved everything about it. I've been telling people at work how well made it is and that I'm addicted but, en masse they're turned off by the fact that it's a 2D game and could never imagine themselves buying it. I'm not claiming to be an elitist but I know a good game when I play one =)

Thorpe89
Thorpe89

Downstream really is an excellent piece. The later part of that track really was done well. Braid and its music associated are great. :D

Steffl3r
Steffl3r

Hallastoned, Man beleive it or not alot of us "cool, normal people" picked up Braid and I can't help but keep thinking about it, I love the music, the open interpretation .. Its all very drawing really. If your not willing to delve dep into the game and your owns mind tho its not 4 u

Sins-of-Mosin
Sins-of-Mosin

ms_hijikata - Yeah, the music was just great.

ms_hijikata
ms_hijikata

I only played a demo of this game, but the music was so perfect.

Rockclmbr6
Rockclmbr6

Love the music in this game, and I just love the game period. One of my favorites so far this gen.

Killer2401
Killer2401

The sound track was....different. I perfer Half-Life 2 and Halo. Still a fun game though.

not_turk
not_turk

i absolutely loved this game too, i bought it after 5 minutes!!! but then my xbox froze and its taking for ever to get repaired. i just hope it wasnt braid that froze it.

Butchcassidy79
Butchcassidy79

I agree about Braid's music, it's one of the reasons I bought the Game :) , Truly Amazing.

punkdsk8erdude
punkdsk8erdude

The best video game music in history, that entails skill, mood, tone, quality, emotion, etc, that was created for the sole purpose of that videogame, but alone is incredible music, can be summed up in 7 short words. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

buffdaddy69
buffdaddy69

Wait a minute? Blow is really, really happy about music that they didn't create? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH. Thats awesome. Im really happy they were able to become happy off of music that they didn't create

aygol
aygol

One of the best games I've played in years. Braid is a work of art, unlike most of the recycled casual trash that comes out of the games industry.

HellaStoned
HellaStoned

Braid is for videogame elitists. Cool, normal people will not like it so much as to rant about it.

Gigas_Yuu
Gigas_Yuu

I completely agree with Ek-Andy. I am starting to think the success of Braid is getting to Blow's head. The game is overrated, or atleast overhyped. I read an MSNBC article, a yahoo article and another article from editor's oozing over this game. I'll stick to castle crashers instead of people wanting to be told they are smart.

Ek-Andy
Ek-Andy

".sadly only RPG's get the added attention of amazing music." Not really. Games like Medal of Honour, Uncharted, Metal Gear Solid, Gears of War and even Super Mario (How can I not mention that?), all have great attention paid to creating a great sountrack that suits the mood of the game. Infact I find Blow's comment, "My not-so-charitable opinion of game-music people is that most of them are not at that level of skill,", to be quite unfair, when you consider how easily people can fall in love with the music found in video games. In all honesty I don't see how Braid's music is any better than any of the examples I mentioned above, and it dosn't fit the gameplay better either.

T070Y
T070Y

PS. worth the 1200 points

T070Y
T070Y

Love the "hunt" part music

Darkensei
Darkensei

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Darkensei
Darkensei

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Darkensei
Darkensei

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

DbleBassDrummer
DbleBassDrummer

The music from this game gave me a headache. The game itself wasn't that great, so it makes little sense to me to highlight the music.

KingSigy
KingSigy

@nynthninja Halo has an amazing soundtrack, regardless of the quality of the game (which is very low, haha).

Arc2012
Arc2012

I really thought this was about the band Braid.

buffdaddy69
buffdaddy69

I couldnt get down with the demo. I dunno. I like the arcade games, but only Castlevania, Double Dragon, Bionic Commando...ect...eh. Just wasn't my cup of tea.

nynthninja
nynthninja

@ Zalcitabine~ True..sadly only RPG's get the added attention of amazing music. Silent Hill got Horror, Braid got platformers, all we need is somemore genres to incorporate fitting music into the games. Its a simply way to push a title above and beyond

soldjango
soldjango

@Sexy Pirate: That could be because you don't like puzzle games, or because you belong to one of the stereotypical FPS-exclusive groups. Maybe it's because Braid is an indy-game, or it's 2D, has a varied colour-pallet, or what have you. I however, think Braid is a great game. It innovates, and I'm a sucker for watercolour :D

XxCiNCYSK8eRxX
XxCiNCYSK8eRxX

the musc is amazing and the game is amazing. period

Sexy_Pirate
Sexy_Pirate

This game is so overrated, the music aswell, it's not even funny.

THEB0YWH0LIVED
THEB0YWH0LIVED

This is one of those things that makes me have hope for video games! The music of the game was absolutely beautiful, whether in the context of the game or not. I really want to buy it!

illtihid_dude
illtihid_dude

I just played the game five minutes ago and I have to say that the game is amazing, not to mention the music. Are we looking at the next Mario?