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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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    PlayStation 4 firmware 2.50, codenamed Yukimura, is due for release tomorrow, March 26. Firmware update 2.50 for PlayStation 4 will be launching tomorrow, March 26, Sony has announced. Codenamed Yukimura, the system update is promised to bring suspend/resume feature, trophy sync improvements, accessibility options, and much more. 2.50 has been in beta testing a while […]

  • GTA 5 Online Heists guide: adversary modes, daily objectives, free roam challenges and more

    Heists aren’t the only addition in GTA Online’s latest DLC – there’s a lot of content that can earn you big RP and cash payouts. GTA 5 Online Heists guide: adversary modes, daily objectives, free roam challenges While heists are the talking point and big payoff after more than a year of waiting, there’s a […]

  • Battlefield Hardline: what’s the best Police sniper rifle?

    What’s the best bolt-action, Police sniper rifle for the Professional class in Battlefield Hardline? Let us help you answer that question. As you’re probably aware, Battlefield Hardline weapons are class specific and faction specific. This makes deciding on a good weapon and loadout much harder than it was in Battlefield 4. Which is where Westie […]

  • Evolve 1.3 patch nerfs Wraith, adjusts Kraken

    Evolve is receiving a new patch that aims to put an end to the Wraith’s dominance. Evolve developer Turtle Rock outlined a few of the changes coming in patch 1.3. The patch brings balance changes to the monsters – mainly the Wraith – as well as other various changes to Hunters’ tools based on player […]

  • Bloodborne: watch the opening 40 minutes

    The opening minutes of Bloodborne really do set the stage for what’s to come. They’ll also help you decide if this game is for you. Arekkz Gaming has captured the first 40 minutes of Bloodborne. Complete with the opening cutscene, and the first few obstacles you’ll face. The video is commentary free, so wear headphones […]

  • YouTube will relaunch livestreaming service with focus on eSports and gaming – report

    According to industry sources, Google is preparing to relaunch YouTube’s livestreaming service with a focus on eSports and gaming. According to anonymous sources speaking to TheDailyDot, Google is planning to bring back YouTube’s livestreaming service. The company is said to have started recruiting around 50 engineers with experience in the field, “a pretty big statement […]

  • I think I’m too old for Final Fantasy 15

    Final Fantasy 15 was nine years in the making – and counting. Are we the same people we were in 2006? Final Fantasy 15: Episode Duscae A demo available for PS4 and Xbox One. Offers a couple of hours of gameplay. More if you jump over the borders. Bundled with Final Fantasy 15 Type-0 and […]

  • New multiplayer mode for Splatoon announced

    Nintendo has sent over three screenshots for Splatoon along with information on the Wii U another of the title’s multiplayer modes. Called Ranked Battle, it keeps track of each player’s online ranking. Splat Zones is one of the additional ways to play online in this mode. It differs from Turf War, which is the main […]

  • 2015 WoW Arena World Championship has a $250,000 prize pool

    Blizzard has announced the WoW Arena World Championship will culminate at BlizzCon 2015. World of Warcraft 3v3 Arena teams from around the globe will compete for spot at the 2015 WoW Arena World Championship and for a share in the $250,000 prize pool. Online qualifiers will be held for North America, Southeast Asia, Australia, New […]

  • The Crew two-hour demo now available in US, tomorrow in the UK

    Ubisoft has announced a free trial of its driving MMO The Crew will be available tomorrow, March 25 in the UK. It’s live today in North America. For current players, the Vintage Car Pack and Vintage Live Update, including a new PvP mode, are now available. The Vintage Car Pack included the Chevrolet Corvette C2 […]

  • Minecraft Mass Effect Mash-Up and Pattern Texture Pack out from today

    A Mass Effect Mash-up pack and the Pattern Texture Pack will release on PlayStation 3, PS4 and Vita today in North America and tomorrow in Europe. The Pattern Texture Pack is also available for Xbox consoles today. The Mass Effect Mash-Up pack contains the Mars Facility from Mass Effect 3 plus textures and craftable items […]

  • The Talos Principle expansion pack Road to Gehenna announced

    An expansion for The Talos Principle has been announced titled Road to Gehenna. The expansion follows the narrative of Uriel, Elohim’s messenger, as he explores a “strange, hidden part of the simulation” on a mission of “mercy and redemption.” Uriel is attempting to free the souls of the damned “at all costs.” Road to Gehenna […]

  • Twitch Plays Pokemon finally catches ‘em all – even the rare Mewtwo

    Twitch Plays Pokemon players have captured all 151 original Pokemon which were included in a modified version of Pokemon Red, and this includes the rare Mewtwo. It took 39 days for Twitch players to catch ‘em all. Have a look at the impressive feat for yourself below. Thanks, Polygon.

  • GameStop will have limited units of Majora’s Mask New 3DS XL back in stock

    Those who missed out on the Limited Edition Majora’s Mask New 3DS XL will have another opportunity to purchase it outside of eBay. Tomorrow only, GameStop stores in the United States will have four units in stock, according to and internal memo sent to Kotaku. This is every store in the country, and again, only […]

  • Second phase of Fortnite closed Alpha launches today

    Fortnite’s second closed Alpha test will go live this afternoon, according to the official website. Those currently participating will have until April 14 to test the online aspects for 12 hours per day (noon -12am EDT). All progress from the previous Alpha test will be wiped, and other changes are listed in the patch notes. […]

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition: Jaws of Hakkon out now on PC, Xbox One

    As promised yesterday, the single-player DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition, Jaws of Hakkon, is now available on PC and Xbox One. It will run you or £11.99 or your regional equivalent. The new content expands the land of Thedas with mountainous regions and forests, and it is full of “vicious enemies.” Players will also be […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare trailer shows Ascendance gameplay

    Activision has released a new gamepay trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare to support the Ascendance DLC which releases next week. Ascendance, will release first on Xbox consoles March 31 and includes the next chapter of the Exo Zombies Saga, Infected, along with four new multiplayer maps: Perplex, Site 244, Climate and Chop Shop. […]

  • Batman: Arkham Knight will be a digital only release on PC – report

    It appears Batman: Arkham Knight will not see a physical release on PC, according to ShopTo. The retailer was told by its buyer the Rocksteady game will only be released on PC in digital form. ShopTo is currently double checking the information. If accurate, it is unknown if this will be case in North America […]

  • Bloodborne patch focusing on load times, performance optimizations in the works

    A patch for Bloodborne which will address load times is in the works, Sony has said The load times were one of the issues noted in Digital Foundry’s report on the From Software title. Sony told Eurogamer the patch would also explore other issues as well. “The development team is currently exploring another patch for […]

  • Gearbox would “love” to have entire Borderlands collection on current-gen

    An Xbox One and PlayStation 4 version of the original Borderlands game is something Gearbox Software is interested in, according to studio boss Randy Pitchford. Speaking in the latest Major Nelson podcast, Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford said should Borderlands: The Handsome Collection prove successful, 2K Games might consider a current-gen version. “The fact that The […]

  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood artwork shows the catacombs, dock, more

    Over the weekend we posted Wolfenstein: The Old Blood artwork along with news of a retail release in Europe. Today, we have better quality images of said artwork to share with you. Enjoy. The standalone prequel will be released digitally on May 5 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in North America, and digitally on […]

  • Slender: The Arrival terrorizes PS4 and Xbox One this week

    In case you forgot, what with Bloodborne out today and other high profile releases of late, Slender: The Arrival is out today on PlayStation 4 in North America. The scary game will arrive on Xbox One tomorrow, March 25, and in Europe on PS4. Slender: The Arrival is an expansion on the original Slender game […]

  • World of Warcraft’s WoW Token rollout slated after launch of patch 6.1.2

    Blizzard has announced it will start rollout its WoW Token option in the weeks following the launch of patch 6.1.2 on March 24. WoW Token allows players to exchange in-game gold for game time and vice versa. Blizzard will release WoW Token first in realms serving North America, Oceania, and Latin America and will expand […]

  • The Evil Within: The Consequence dated for April, teaser video released

    Part 2 of Juli Kidman’s adventure in The Evil Within will arrive next month with the release of The Consequence. Above is a brief teaser showing some of the “madness” Kidman will encounter. The Consequence will arrive on Tuesday, April 21 on PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. European PlayStation players will […]

  • Bloodborne sometimes “struggles to run at a smooth frame-rate” per performance analysis

    Bloodborne has been analyzed by Digital Foundry and according to the report, even with a 30fps cap the game sometimes “struggles to run at a smooth frame-rate.” The game’s day-one 2.69GB update 1.01 is “essential” as it contains improvements to game performance and stability and the frame-rate tests run by Digital Foundry were in single-player […]

  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection reviews round-up

    Borderlands: The Handsome Collection reviews are out in the wild so we decided to catch a few of them for you. Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is out today on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The collection packages Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel along with each game’s DLC content on one disc. Better graphics and […]

  • Evolve, Forza Horizon 2, WWE 2K15 are this week’s Deals with Gold

    Evolve, Forza 2 Horizon and WWE 2K15 are just some of the games which are part of this week’s Xbox Deals with Gold. You can also pick up the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Pro Edition for 20% off as well as the standard edition for 33% off. For the Xbox 360 crowd, there’s also […]

  • Xbox 360 2015 Spring Value bundles now available starting at $250

    Microsoft is offering a discount on three Xbox 360 bundles with prices starting at $250. The Xbox 360 2015 Spring Value bundles feature various content such as a Kinect, 500GB console bundle and one month of Xbox Live Gold. Xbox 360 500GB Spring Value Bundle: comes with Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare download and Fable […]

  • Rainbow Six Siege beta sign ups now open

    Ubisoft is letting everyone register for the upcoming Rainbow Six Siege closed beta. Rainbow Six Siege is due for a closed beta sometime this year. Ubisoft has opened registration to everyone. All you need to do is enter your preferred platform and log in using your Uplay account. You will be entered into a waiting […]

  • Advanced Warfare: Exo Zombies map Infection is creepy

    The upcoming chapter in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s Exo Zombies mode is called ‘Infection’ and Activision has been slowly revealing bits and pieces about it. A few teasers have been dropping ahead of Ascendance launch this month. The teasers are about the second episode in the Exo Zombie story, Infection. First off, the map. […]

  • This is the Bloodborne press kit in all its glory

    Bloodborne is a gorgeous game so it’s only fitting that the press kit it came in is a reflection of that. The pictures capture the many amazing bits of the Bloodborne press kit. A press kit is what’s usually sent to the reviewers alongside the review copy. They’re usually very ornate and almost all of […]

  • This Hearthstone turn is taking over 40 hours and you can watch it happen

    A very smart Hearthstone player has rigged his game to make one turn take over 40 hours, and it has been going for over 22 already. Hearthstone player Mamytwink set up a game against his friend to try and achieve the record for the longest turn in Hearthstone ever. Basically, Mamytwink set the game up […]

  • The Witcher 3: Geralt’s beard grows over time, but not Gandalf-long

    The beard of The Witcher 3 protagonist Geralt will grow over time, but you can trim it if you choose to. As part of a recently published impressions piece by German magazine Gamestar (translated by NeoGAF), The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt developers revealed that Geralt’s beard will in fact grow over time. Not content with […]

  • Sony mistakenly abandons Bloodborne trademark in the US

    The administration side of Sony Computer Entertainment has not been in the best of shapes recently. Sony has abandoned four game trademarks yesterday, one of which is for Bloodborne. The trademarks were all registered with US Patent and Trademark Office. All of the games trademarks pertain to unreleased games and Sony would’ve had to either […]

  • Payday 2 will be supported until 2017

    Payday 2 developer has announced that it will continue to support the game for the next two years. Payday 2 developer Overkill has revealed today that it’s planning to support the game until 2017. What this means is that more free content as well as paid DLC are in the works for release later. Payday […]

  • These are the top Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare weapons, according to the developer

    Based on their overall kill-to-death ratio, what are the best guns in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare? Developer Sledgehammer reveals the top 5. Sledgehammer’s Michael Condrey has revealed on Twitter the top 5 weapons in Advanced Warfare based on their overall kill-to-death ratio. Here’s the list: ARX-160 – Hole Puncher Ameli – Heavy HBRa3 – […]

  • H1Z1 has sold more than 1 million copies

    H1Z1 has already sold over 1 million copies on Steam. H1Z1 may still be in Early Access on Steam, but it has already sold more than 1 million copies. Daybreak president John Smedley announced on Twitter earlier. H1Z1 launched in January and instantly became a hit. The game has consistently been on Steam’s top 10 […]