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Show-and-Tell at E3: Supergiant’s Rao on Bastion

Monday, 4 July 2011 06:57 GMT By Nathan Grayson

Bastion is a video game with its own narrator. A recipe for round-the-clock annoyance? Sheer brilliance? Both? We played the game and spoke with Supergiant Games to find out.

Bastion

Action-RPG featuring a dynamic narrator.

The game world appears before you as you move.

Created by independent developer Supergiant Games.

Releasing on July 20 as part of Microsoft’s “Summer of Arcade” promotion.

The E3 show floor is an incredibly shitty place to try out games. Thousands of people swarm, stomp, and chatter, creating a cacophonous din that pretty much steamrolls immersion – and, in some cases, basic sanity. Meanwhile, booth babes strut about, desperately hoping to lure you into some horrific ad-based trap, and PR reps bore holes into the back of your head as you play – silently judging your naked, perhaps somewhat-lacking gaming skills as they flap loosely in the breeze. In the comfort of your living room, games are more-than-capable of whisking you away to another world. But when you’ve been physically whisked away to E3′s world, you’re lucky to find a game that won’t come up as the root of one of your many crippling phobias some years later during intensive therapy.

For me, Bastion was the exception. Here’s the thing, though: to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting much coming into it. To make matters worse, I’d just walked out of a hands-on session with Batman: Arkham City, which – somewhat ironically – had nearly convinced me to take up a life of crime if it meant owning just a tiny morsel of the game right that very second.

Then I picked up the controller, and – just like that – I was gone. In another goddamn world. This 2D isometric hack ‘n’ slash had beat up numerous triple-A titles, taken their lunch money, and hung them from flagpoles so they’d have a better view of it being everything they’d ever wished they could be.

Put simply, Bastion was different. Even surrounded by a packed LA Convention Center – my gigantic, screaming fire hazard of a home away from home – it felt like a place I’d never visited. The game was fun, sure, but it absolutely oozed atmosphere. Gentle acoustic guitar music, a gorgeously bright color palette, a world that built itself as I moved forward, and – perhaps most essentially – a narrator painted an incredibly deliberate, subtly powerful picture.

“Hold the phone,” you might be thinking. “A narrator? In my video game? Truly, god is a spiteful being.” I was skeptical at first too, but believe me: it’s a stroke of genius. Between smart, occasionally hilarious writing and a voice that compares favorably to Morgan Freeman, the narrator’s near-constant dynamic commentary on your hacks, slashes, and unintentional leaps off the face of the world never grates.

Instead, a game that might otherwise emulate the solitary, indie-vogue vibe popularized by games like Limbo feels strangely friendly and inviting. No doubt about it: in an industry inundated with “intense, visceral” triple-As and “ephemeral, unsettling” indies, Bastion’s breaking new emotional ground. Speaking with developer Supergiant Games, the reason why quickly became apparent: this definitely isn’t just some throwaway gimmick.

“When you do, like, Uncharted or any of those things, you don’t get 50 chances with Nolan North.”

“For us, our process at the beginning was just to sort of prototype and keep supporting what was working – and kind of cut or leave off to the side what we or other players weren’t responding to. So narration became a very central part of the game from about January or February or something. We were working and iterating on it basically four months into development,” lead designer Amir Rao told VG247.

“So yeah, it was a pretty organic process. We could have Logan record with Darren – our audio director – like three times a week. When you do, like, any triple-A game – Uncharted or any of those things – you don’t get 50 chances with Nolan North. You probably get a few. So, for us, having our voice actor be essentially part of the team was a big part of our advantage, because we could just keep changing it – keep making it better and better. Some levels had over a hundred lines written for them, and in the final game, they have a third as many.”

Apocalypse Earlier

Many games task you with saving the world. At Bastion’s outset, it kind of already ended. Whoops. Everyone you knew and loved is dead, and the narrator’s not above crushing your soul once or twice to drive the point home. But why? What happened? Bastion – foremost – is a game of discovery. Just as tiles of all shapes and sizes rise up to populate an otherwise almost empty game world, Bastion’s about filling in blanks.

“You’re coming into the place after The Calamity happened,” said Rao. “You don’t have a sense of what it was like before, but we as developers have to know, right? Because we’re making these spaces – we’re populating them. What this place was like before the Calamity and what it’s like after is the central mystery of the game.”

Bastion’s E3 2011 trailer.

“So, for us, a lot of this backstory won’t come through directly in the game, but much of it will; you’ll be able to see in both the environment and narration – even the equipment descriptions and the spirits you find – allusions to the way the world once was. We try to keep the story details pretty close to our chests, because there is a central mystery to explore, and part of the fun is the uncovering of that.”

To me, that’s what Bastion did best. It made me want to know more – to delve deeper. Its 20-minute demo dropped numerous hints about a quaint-yet-vibrant world that’d been alive and kicking mere moments earlier (even the game’s loading screen had glyphs from a language created specifically for the game), and I was hooked by the tantalizing prospect of piecing everything together.

The game’s central story conceit, then, dovetails perfectly with your character’s main goal: to walk up to The Calamity and say, “OK, come on now. Spit it out. Yes, the whole of existence. Now go to your room” by collecting a series of cores for individual areas. In the process, of course, you’ll beat the stuffing out of baddies of all shapes and sizes, because an action-RPG about one brave boy’s epic attempt to go on a long walk wouldn’t be too terribly interesting.

That said, Bastion’s no simple Diablo clone. After bashing a few scythe-wielding ghost-like enemies with my giant hammer, I acquired a repeater gun and a bow-and-arrow. All three weapons had their own control schemes, and each was completely upgradable. (Apparently, a total of ten will be available in the final game.) Before long, I found myself roll-dodging a giant boss ghost who broke the world with each swing of his tile-smashing weapon, narrowly dodging turret bullets, and screaming for the hills as the core-less area around me basically went nuclear.

Again, that all took place in the span of roughly 20 minutes. For Bastion, then, variety’s everything. Just because the genre’s called “hack ‘n’ slash,” that doesn’t mean those are literally the only activities you should be performing. So said Rao:

“Yeah, [variety's] a huge thing… We try and make sure that every area you go to has multiple hooks – some interesting piece of play to hang the rest of the design, narration, and feel on. For us, that was really important. I don’t want to spoil what the other hooks are, but I can say with confidence that every area you visit has some unique thing that makes its own special-feeling play experience – in addition to just being a new environment with new enemies.”

“And I think the reason we did that is we come from RTS games. In RTS games, campaigns are generally super weak when they’re just the core game experience rehashed over-and-over. RTS games require structuring and making your objectives unique and interesting – which is something I think the StarCraft II campaign did really well. For us, your goal is always the same – which is to find the core. It was important to keep the goal consistent, but the means of achieving it pretty varied.”

Adventure time

Core in hand and prospect of a horrific death at least temporarily postponed, I emerged at the Bastion proper. Using what little power one core granted, I was able to bring back an armory and un-fry my nerves with a quick shopping trip. Also, I met the narrator, who seemed to be having a nice enough time chilling out by the Bastion and being the only other living human in existence. After that, it was time for the demo to end – though Rao emphasized that your arrival at the Bastion is the game’s real beginning.

“So basically, the game opens up a lot after the prologue,” he explained. “The prologue is sort of your introduction to the game mechanics and the feel of the game. Right at the end of the prologue, when you get to the Bastion and you get to build your first structure, the game opens up there because you get to what’s essentially an over-map.”

“And you can sort of pick which levels you want to tackle in what order. Some of those are places where you’re trying to find these cores, and others are more challenge focused kind of moments where it’s testing a certain weapon or something else. And there’s also hidden content and material that you can access through various means… So it’s kind of non-linear from a structural perspective after you get to the Bastion. And beyond that, in certain levels, there’s less linear level designs too.”

Taken along with Bastion’s fast-paced, dodge-heavy combat and hook-centric levels, that degree of deliberately crafted variation is on track to separate Bastion from a resurgent, but sadly same-y action-RPG pack. Certainly, the risk of repetition always looms with this sort of game, and Bastion’s combat didn’t feel quite as satisfyingly skull-shattering as the genre’s top standard-setters.

Those things aside, however, Bastion showed an absurd amount of promise. More so than anything else I saw during E3, the game made me feel something – even surrounded by a crowd so densely packed that it only needed a tone-deaf man shouting “Jason” to put me in the fetal position.

That unique emotional impact, Rao said, sprouted from the seeds of small-time development. They may be called Supergiant, but for Rao and co, size really doesn’t matter.

“I think that’s part of the feeling you get when you play an independent game, and you’re like ‘Yeah, this feels like people made it.’”

“In short, we could never have made a game like this at a company like EA,” he said. “We needed to be able to take creative risks. And we needed to be able to be bold. And we needed to be able to be really fast. You can only be really fast when there isn’t a lot of management overhead – where people are free to pursue whatever ideas they have for something without having to check with someone first. Also, to be collaborative by talking and working together quickly on stuff.”

“To me, with my favorite games, the love or the craft of the developers generally shines through. I think that’s something people kind of identify in independent games, because it seems to happen there more often than not. When I play a game like Castle Crashers or Braid, it feels like someone’s handcrafted work. Maybe it’s the 2D-ness of it, or maybe it’s part of the play experience, tone of the world, or play mechanics. It’s an identifiable but hard-to-pin-down thing.”

“And it’s not to say triple-A games don’t have that,” he added. “They certainly do. You know, some may have more than others, but it’s really hard to feel a lot of the time, right? A lot of those guys may love what they do, but it’s really hard for their voice to be a part of the game. Like, Greg does all the writing in [Bastion]. Jen does all the 2D art in it. Darren does all the music. Logan is the voice. And between our two engineers, they have control over the entire experience. I think that’s part of the feeling you get when you play an independent game, and you’re like ‘Yeah, this feels like people made it.’”

He’s right, you know. I was totally like that.

Bastion is a downloadable title on Xbox Live Arcade. It’s coming out on July 20.

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3 Comments

  1. mathare92

    Rare though it may be, it’s good to see games like this getting some of the media spotlight.

    I think that’s part of the feeling you get when you play an independent game, and you’re like ‘Yeah, this feels like people made it.’”

    Very much so.

    #1 4 years ago
  2. Blerk

    I’m really looking forward to trying this, I’ve heard nothing but good stuff about it.

    #2 4 years ago
  3. Gheritt White

    How’s that hole in the back of your head, Nate? ;)

    #3 4 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Just a friendly reminder to those planning on purchasing GTA 5 for PC: you have until March 31 to pre-order if you want all the bonuses on offer. Those who pre-order will be handed $1 million in-game cash plus a bonus $300,000. It is split between GTA 5 and GTA Online: $500,000 for Grand Theft […]

  • Games with Gold offers doubled for April – six games instead of three

    Microsoft’s April Games with Gold collection is being doubled. For the month Xbox Live Gold members will receive six instead of three games free. Here’s what’s on offer: Pool Nation FX: Available all month on Xbox One Child of Light: Available all month on Xbox One Gears of War: Judgment: Available from April 1-15 on […]

  • Pokemon players can grab a code for Shiny Charizard at GAME in April

    Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire players along with Pokemon X and Y owners can grab a free, rare Shiny Charizard from April 3 at one of GAME’s 320 stores in the UK. The redeemable codes for the character will be made available upon request and no purchase is necessary. Those who pop into one […]

  • F1 2015 will arrive on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in June, includes Mexico circuit

    Codemasters has announced its F1 franchise will make its series debut on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this June with the release of F1 2015. The game was developed using a new engine and contains improved handling and physics for all vehicles and parts attached. This includes: engine, transmission, aerodynamics, fuel tank, force feedback, suspension […]

  • Mortal Kombat X video confirms Liu Kang as playable character

    Liu Kang has been confirmed as a playable character in Mortal Kombat X in the latest video. You’ll also notice Bo’ Rai Cho in there as well. In the Shaolin trailer above you also get a look at Kung Lao and Kung Jin who is new to the series. Apparently, Raiden’s past champions of the […]

  • Short teaser for Star Wars: Battlefront shows the Battle of Hoth

    A short teaser for Star Wars: Battlefront has been posted by EA on Twitter. Well, that speeder isn't going anywhere. Can someone give us a lift to @SW_Celebration http://t.co/srEVrAA0zl #SWCA https://t.co/4W4LG8myke — EAStarWars (@EAStarWars) March 25, 2015 The teaser shows vehicles which we could be using in the game, but it mainly shows the snowy landscape […]

  • Pillars of Eternity releases today – get all the review scores here

    Pillars of Eternity, which still stands as the second most-funded video game on Kickstarter, finally releases today. It’s also getting some rather positive reviews scores, which we’ve rounded up for you. The isometric, party-based RPG from Obsidian Entertainment was one of the first video game projects to take to Kickstarter, and hit its $1.1 million […]

  • Take an in-depth look at Evolve’s Behemoth monster and four new hunters

    Evolve’s fourth monster, the Behemoth, as well as the four new hunters are shown off in new gameplay video. Evolve’s latest gameplay trailer gives everyone a good look at each of the four new hunters and the massive Behemoth monster. The hunters can be bought either separately or though the hunting pass, while the monster […]

  • PS4 firmware update 2.50 causing issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall

    The suspend/resume feature in PlayStation 4′s 2.50 firmware update is causing some issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall. Killzone: Shadow Fall developer Guerrilla has said that the game is experiencing some issues in some instance where the suspend/resume feature is used. The timing of when players put the game in suspend mode does have an effect, […]

  • Bungie on Destiny matchmaking: “We believe there’s no substitute for a pre-made team”

    Crazy though this may seem, it’s possible that Destiny shipped according to plan. History points to community as a crucial component, far from the contingency that many now suspect. Paul Davies spoke to Bungie for clarity. “The community always engineers the best solutions for bringing players together. While Matchmaking is a great resource for introducing […]

  • Bloodborne works with suspend/resume, but only offline

    PlayStation 4′s newly-added suspend/resume feature works with Bloodborne as you’d expect, but only while offline. PlayStation 4 received the long-awaited suspend/resume feature today as part of firmware 2.50, and people are starting to test it out with various games. Bloodborne does work with the feature, but only if you play offline. Playing online is arguably […]

  • This is what Crossy Road looks like in first-person

    Crossy Road is fun and addictive. But in first-person, it’s mostly frightening. YouTube user Andy Front Films likes Crossy Road so much he decided to show off what it would look like in first-person. If crossing roads quickly and watching around for cars and trains, all of this as the camera chases you felt intense […]

  • Take a small behind-the-scenes peek at Mass Effect 4

    BioWare cinematic director Ken Thain has given us a very slim look behind the scenes at some motion capture work from the upcoming Mass Effect game. The upcoming Mass Effect game, whether it ends up being called Mass Effect 4 or not, will most definitely incorporate some form of motion capture work. How do we […]

  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – 8GB day one patch on PS4, 16GB on Xbox One

    Day one patches for Borderlands: The Handsome Collection are pretty hefty. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection require players to download lots of gigabytes to make the experience as smooth as possible. The PlayStation 4 version has an 8.31GB day one patch. The Xbox One version however has […]

  • Get a PlayStation 4 with Bloodborne and The Last of Us for $435

    If you’ve been waiting for the perfect game to get to buy a PlayStation 4, there’s no better time than the present. Amazon is offering a good PlayStation 4 bundle at the moment. For $434.99, you get a PlayStation 4 console, The Last of Us, and Bloodborne. The Last of Us is of course the […]

  • Upcoming Battlefield Hardline patch to nerf the K10, buff battle rifles

    Battlefield Hardline’s first patch will focus on weapon balance and a few changes have been proposed. Battlefield Hardline lead multiplayer designer Thaddeus Sasser posted a few of the balance changes that the team is considering for the next patch. K10: reduce bullet damage to 33 Saiga and PTR: reduce recoil to bring more in line […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and a new Resident Evil game coming this year, according to research firm

    According to digital games analyst SuperData, a new Resident Evil game is due this fall and that this year’s Call of Duty is Black Ops 3. In its latest report on digital console games, research and analytics firm SuperData revealed that a new Resident Evil is coming this fall. “We anticipate this month’s downturn to […]

  • Bloodborne: you can add gestures to your messages

    As players get deeper into Bloodborne, they keep uncovering so many of its little new additions, including this one. Bloodborne, like all of the Souls games before it, allows players to leave messages for other players. These messages could be used to point players towards impending doom, treasure, or just be sarcastic and witty. What […]

  • PlayStation 4 firmware update 2.50 is now live

    PlayStation 4 firmware update version 2.50 has started rolling out. Reports are coming in saying that Yukimura, PlayStation 4′s firmware 2.50 has been made available to download. The update is clocking in at just 245mb, so get downloading. 2.50 brings with it many new additions, including the suspend/resume feature, backup and restore, accessibility options and […]

  • Harley Quinn DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight is a prequel

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s Harley Quinn pre-order DLC is set before the events of the main game, according to Amazon’s description. Today we learned a few details about the pre-order DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight, namely the Harley Quinn one. According to the description on Amazon, the DLC takes place in the lead-up to the events […]

  • Bloodborne Vicar Amelia summon mystery solved

    Bloodborne players unable to summon near Vicar Amelia: here’s your solution. Bloodborne’s secrets are unfolding by the hour as clever players piece together From Software’s cunning design. Yesterday we reported problems summoning in the Cathedral Ward, before the Vicar Amelia boss fight. It turns out this isn’t a bug – or if it is, it’s […]

  • Steven Spielberg will direct film adaption of Ready Player One

    Steven Spielberg will direct the film adaption of the sci-fi, virtual world, video game themed novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Warner Bros. bought the rights to the film in June 2010 and hired screenwriter Zak Penn to rewrite the previous draft written by Eric Eason, according to Deadline. The book takes place in […]

  • Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets shouldn’t forget about the custom audio

    Here’s a friendly reminder for Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets: be sure to download the Headset Companion App from the PlayStation store if you haven’t already. As previously reported, the game supports a custom Bloodborne audio mode which can be uploaded. It contains custom audio created by developers specifically tuned to enhance the audio. This […]

  • EA explains why FIFA Ultimate Team transfer prices are now platform specific

    EA has posted a blog entry explaining its FIFA Ultimate Team transfer market price ranges which now include platform-specific pricing in order to best the coin sellers. EA said it has implemented the changes to FUT over the last several weeks because it should be “fair and fun for every player,” ultimately coming to the […]

  • Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness now available

    In case you forgot, Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness was released today. It is available on Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. The third episode releases on iOS devices and Android tomorrow, March 26. The Sword in the Darkness finds Asher Forrester heading to Mereen […]

  • Bloodborne players are already documenting their crazy antics

    Bloodborne has been available for almost two days now in North America, and already players are posting interesting clips and character customization choices for the game. Below are interesting takes on creating a character and videos of a frustrating death and another full of blood coming from a very painful place – monster or not. […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team celebrates sixth year in existence with giveaways

    FIFA Ultimate Team is celebrating its sixth year in existence with special events running from today until March 29. According to EA, every FUT fan will be handed one free pack every day, and those who play at least one match in the FUT Birthday Cup will have a chance to win rare “tradable In-Forms” […]

  • Halo Online is a F2P PC game in development exclusively for Russia – video

    Halo Online is a free-to-play game which will launch this spring in Russia, and is in development with Saber Interactive. According the reveal event attended by IGN Russia, the game was designed to run well on lower-end PCs and runs on a modified Halo 3 engine. The game is set on a secret UNSC space […]

  • SteamWorld Dig Xbox One release expected in late May

    SteamWorld Dig is coming to Xbox One, developer Image & Form has announced. A firm release date hasn’t been announced, but the studio expects the title to arrive on the system in late May. “We’re preparing quite an elaborate Easter egg for the Xbox One version – a gaming thing that we really wanted to […]

  • SMITE celebrating first anniversary with a sale on skins, Ultimate God Pack

    Hi-Rez Studios is celebrating the first anniversary of SMITE with a sale. From today through Friday, March 27, the Ultimate God Pack, which includes all current and future Gods, will run you $19.99. Alll individual pre-launch skins are 50% off, and all Gem Packs will award bonus gems. In addition, from March 27-29, all SMITE […]

  • Borderlands 2 has sold around 12 million copies, says Gearbox

    Speaking with Microsoft’s Major Nelson in his podcast, Gearbox Software boss Randy Pitchford stated Borderlands 2 has sold somewhere around the 12 million mark. As of August 2014, it was announced by Take-Two in its financial report the 2012 game had sold-in 10 million units. Pitchford noted in the podcast he learned of the figures […]

  • Broken Age releasing on PS4 and Vita same day as Act 2 on PC

    Double Fine Productions has announced it will release Broken Age on the PlayStation Store next month. Act 2 will also be released on PC. The full Broken Age adventure will release on PlayStation 4 and Vita on April 28 in North America and April 29 in Europe. It features cross-buy and cross-save. Broken Age Act […]

  • Star Citizen earned another $1 million within two weeks – total hits $76 million

    Star Citizen continues its funding streak with backers pumping another $1 million into the game’s development in the last two weeks. The total earned for the space sim has now reached $76 million ($76,015,532 to be exact) with 851,395 backers contributing to the staggering figure. Star Citizen’s latest update was version 1.1 which included two […]

  • Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline top Media Create charts

    Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline were the big ticket debuts during the March 16-2 period in Japan, with each game claiming the top three slots on the Media Create charts, respectively. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD moved 92,094 on PlayStation 4, while Resident Evil Revelations 2 moved 73,373 units on […]

  • You can now learn English or Spanish on Xbox One with the Rosetta App

    Want to learn English or Spanish? Rosetta Stone has an App for that on Xbox One. According to the language teaching firm, Rosetta Stone’s Discover Languages, the new application teaches English and Spanish by way of immersive simulation. Users will virtually travel to learn vocabulary and grammar “necessary for real-world interactions.” Here’s how it works: […]

  • PayDay 2 and PayDay: The Heist have sold over 9 million units combined

    The PayDay franchise is a lucrative IP for Starbreeze and Overkill, as both games combined have sold over 9 million copies as of November 2014. The company has also sold over 8 million paid DLC packages since PayDay 2 was released in 2013 (via NeoGAF). In its Q2 half year report issued in February, net […]

  • Nintendo wants to “surprise” customers with NX, not expand upon existing hardware

    Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has firm wants to “surprise” players with its new NX system. Speaking in an interview with Nikkei, translated by Kotaku, Iwata wouldn’t go into details on the new system, but stated expanding on a current gaming system would be “dull.” “In the past few years, the idea of what [encompasses] a […]