Wankhat disclaimer: Braid is a game that involves climbing ladders and picking up keys. However, it also has a plot, and you could quite easily complete the game without ever really coming across half of it.
This is that half.
(All of this is the work of both myself and a guy called razedinwhite.)
Braid is a story that focuses on the development and deployment of the atomic bomb, and the irreversible impact it had on all human conflicts thereafter. At the very same time, it deals with the very human story of a relationship breaking down due to one person’s obsessive need to control this power. Finally, at certain points, the perspective of the bomb creator as a child comes through.
The main source for all of this comes straight from the passages of the texts found in the epilogue screens, all of which are laid out openly below. Each screen has an alternative passage laid out, which only appears once Tim is located behind an object in the foreground. The italicised text is the alternative.
The boy called for the girl to follow him, and he took her hand. He would protect her; they would make their way through this oppressive castle, fighting off the creatures made of smoke and doubt, escaping to a life of freedom,
The boy wanted to protect the girl. He held her hand, or put his arm around her shoulders in a walking embrace, to help her feel supported and close to him amid the impersonal throngs of Manhattan. They turned and made their way toward the Canal St. subway station, and he picked a path through the jostling crowd.
His arm weighed upon her shoulders, felt constrictive around her neck. “You’re burdening me with your ridiculous need,” she said. Or, she said: “You’re going the wrong way and you’re pulling me with you.” In another time, another place, she said: “Stop yanking on my arm; you’re hurting me!”
I’m coming back to this one in a second. For now, take note of the location (Manhattan), and the somewhat schizophrenic splitting of events hinted in the alt text. Three women are shown speaking; the first being the spurned partner, the second being that of the bomb, the third being that of the mother of a persistent child.
He worked his ruler and his compass. He inferred. He deduced. He scrutinized the fall of an apple, the twisting of metal orbs hanging from a thread. He was searching for the Princess, and he would not stop until he found her, for he was hungry. He cut rats into pieces to examine their brains, implanted tungsten posts into the skulls of water-starved monkeys.
Ghostly, she stood in front of him and looked into his eyes. “I am here,” she said. “I am here. I want to touch you.” She pleaded: “Look at me! But he would not see her; he only knew hot to look at the outside of things.
Again; I want to come back after the big reveal. But the search for the ‘Princess’ is important, and the description of a man obsessed with observing, with deducing but never really knowing.
He scrutinized the fall of an apple, the twisting of metal orbs hanging from a thread. Through these clues he would find the Princess, see her face. After an especially fervent night of tinkering, he kneeled behind a bunker in the desert; he held a piece of welder’s glass up to his eyes and waited.
The desert unarguably being that of New Mexico; the bunker, the safe observation point for one of the single most important landmarks in the pursuit of scientific knowledge.
On that moment hung eternity. Time stood still. Space contracted to a pinpoint. It was as though the earth had opened and the skies split. One felt as though he had been privileged to witness the Birth of the World…
The above paragraph is a direct quotation (hence the footnote) from Robert Jay Lifton’s The Broken Connection, of which you can read some of right here: <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=WPiLtmZrG...esult#PPA371,M1" target="_blank">http://books.google.com/books?id=WPiLtmZrG...esult#PPA371,M1</a>
He describes in painful detail the explosion of the nuclear bomb, the first cry of a newborn world. Robert Jay Lifton himself was a psychologist, notable for his work around the effects on war and genocide on the human condition.
Someone near him said: “It worked.”
Someone else said: “Now we are all sons of bitches.”
The famous words of Kenneth Tompkins Bainbridge, uttered directly after the successful detonation of the first nuclear bomb, the “Trinity Test.”
She stood tall and majestic. She radiated fury. She shouted: “Who has disturbed me?” But then, anger expelled, she felt the sadness beneath; she let her breath fall softly, like a sigh, like ashes floating gently on the wind.
She couldn’t understand why he chose to flirt so closely with the death of the world.
The alternative text, written from the viewpoint of the bomb itself. The direct aftermath of the explosion, the fallout, and a failure to understand why anyone would want to bring such a thing into the world.
The candy store. Everything he wanted was on the opposite side of that pane of glass. The store was decorated in bright colours, and the scents wafting out drove him crazy. He tried to rush for the door, or just get closer to the glass, but he couldn’t. She held him back with great strength. Why would she hold him back? How might he break free of her grasp? He considered violence.
They had been here before on their daily walks. She didn’t mind his screams and his shrieks, or the way he yanked painfully on her braid to make her stop. He was too little to know better.
She picked him up and hugged him: “No, baby”, she said. He was shaking. She followed his gaze toward the treats sitting on pillows behind the glass: the chocolate bar and the magnetic monopole, the It-From-Bit and the Ethical Calculus; and so many other things, deeper inside. “Maybe when you’re older, baby,” she whispered, setting him back on his feet and leading him home, “Maybe when you’re older.”
Every day thereafter, as before, she always walked him on a route that passed in front of a candy store.
John Wheeler’s It-From-Bit theory describes that "... every it--every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself- derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely--even if in some contexts indirectly--from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, _bits_."
(If we were being really analytical, Quantum theory also has things to say around (at a base level) multiple worlds existing at the same time, in alternative states.)
The Ethical Calculus “refers to any method of determining a course of action in a circumstance that is not explicitly evaluated in one's ethical code.” Not too much of a leap to state that the deployment of nuclear technology at the end of World War II was one of the biggest ethical dilemmas encountered by mankind.
The Princess is the bomb, and we are being told the story of a man so focused on the development and harnessing of an immensely destructive power that it inevitably falls out of his hands, and into the wider world. One of the pre-word books reads;
"This improvement, day by day, takes him ever-closer to finding the Princess. if she exists - she must! - she will transform him, and everyone."
It is, simultaneously, the story of a relationship so burdened by a man’s obsessive, inquisitive nature that the search for his ‘Princess’, his power is the one thing that drives them apart. More;
"Through all the nights that followed, she still loved him as though he had stayed, to comfort her and protect her, Princess be damned."
The hub, the city burst into flame at the title sequence as the brightest of lights burns in the background, could easily be seen to be Manhattan.
Again, mentioned in the epilogue texts, and quite significantly, the placing of two very distinctive towers in the background of the attic screen.
One of the paintings also shows a World War II era poster on the side of a building located on a busy U.S. street, as a young man stares mournfully into flame.
The Princess, somehow harnessed and shackled, looms ominously in the sky, overshadowing everyone and everything with a threat, a power that can’t be taken back. Can’t be reversed.
Stolen from another forum; the flags at the end of each world are nautical flags.
World 2: N
World 3: U
World 4: L
World 5: X
World 6: K
U: You are (standing into/approaching) danger
L: Stop instantly
X: Stop carrying out your intentions
K: You should stop, I have something important to communicate
The warnings directed towards a man intent on bringing an indescribable power into being.
Think about the ending. A purging wall of flame chases Tim and the princess, all the way up to the point of Tim is found lurking outside a bedroom window. At this point everything reverses; Tim is now chasing her, not following. She is now trying to trap and block Tim from ever reaching her, not aid his progression. Instead of trying to escape the hands of an aggressive knight, he is now the one figure that takes her away from Tim’s ‘ridiculous need’, his obsession with control.
And the one point that rounds all this off – in the pursuit of the eighth star, Tim finally manages to reach the upper half of the screen, and come into contact with the princess herself. What happens?
She fucking explodes.