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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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    Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5 has been announced by Activision, which isn’t shocking in the slightest. Correction: My stupid brain has EA on it due to the financials release later today. The game is being published by Activision. Not EA and I previously stated. I apologize, and have reprimanded myself in a most sever manner. […]

  • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain Collector’s Edition is sold out in the UK

    Hopefully, you pre-ordered the Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain Collector’s Edition in the UK already. If not, you are likely out of luck. According to GAME, the pack which contains the Half Scale Replica of Snake’s Bionic Arm has sold out in the UK. The retailer confirmed the news to Videogamer this morning. […]

  • Far Cry 4 Complete Edition coming June 19 for PC, PS4 to the UK

    A Far Cry 4 Complete Edition has been announced and it includes the full game as well as the Season Pass. This is the sku which popped up on Amazon Germany earlier in the week. The Season Pass provides access to five separate pieces of DLC. Here’s a refresher on the DLC content: The Syringe: […]

  • The Witcher 3: live Q&A stream with CDP, new monster dev diary inside

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is out in just two weeks, and if you want to know more about Geralt’s latest adventure, CD Projekt is hosting a live Q&A now on Twitch. There’s also a new developer diary below which focuses on monster in the game. The Witcher 3 is out on May 19. Huzzah! […]

  • Forza Horizon 2′s Alpinestars Car Pack has five cars and is ready for download

    The Alpinestars Car Pack for Forza Horizon 2 is out now on Xbox One and its the only way you will ever be able to afford a 1992 Bugatti EB110 Super Sport. Unless, of course, you win the lottery or are left in some rich person’s will. In that case, I’ll take the ’53 Corvette, […]

  • Shadow of Mordor – Game of the Year Edition is now available in North America

    Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor – Game of the Year Edition has been released in North America. It will be made available in the Europe on May 7 and in the UK May 8 for £49.99 on consoles and £34.99 on PC. As previously announced, this edition contains all previously released DLC content as well as […]

  • Two GAME exclusive versions of Halo 5: Guardians now available for pre-order

    GAME has announced two exclusive versions of Halo 5: Guardians, and both are now available for pre-order exclusively through one of the retail chain’s 318 stores or online. The £79.99 Limited Edition Halo 5: Guardians, which delivers new digital content wrapped in a steel book. There’s also the £199.99 Halo 5: Guardians Limited Collector’s Edition […]

  • Deals with Gold: Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Bioshock Infinite, more

    Microsoft has announced its latest Deals with Gold discounts for Xbox Live Gold members. Franchises on sale include Far Cry, Call of Duty, along with individual titles Assassin’s Creed Unity and Bioshock Infinite. The full list is below. Bioshock Infinite discounts are available for both Xbox Live Gold and Silver members. Xbox One Far Cry […]

  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood has released, watch the launch trailer here

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood has launched on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. You can watch the launch trailer for it below. Boxed copies in Europe arrive from May 15, and in Australia/New Zealand on May 14. You can grab digital copies from the following online services: Steam, PlayStation Network, Xbox Store.

  • GOG’s online service GOG Galaxy is now in open beta

    GOG Galaxy, the DRM-free online gaming platform from the folks at GOG, has left Alpha and is now in open beta for all to try. As previously announced, the online service, similar to Steam, is option. Players do not need to play online as all games are stored by the service and can be played […]

  • DayZ-inspired Goat Simulator DLC GoatZ is out this week on Steam

    Goat Simulator players can download DayZ-inspired DLC this week called GoatZ. According to Coffee Stain Studios, GoatZ is “the only survival game on Steam that isn’t in Early Access.” Jokingly of course. The DLC features: Mandatory crafting system because everyone else is doing it. Zombies that bug out. There’s a pun here about actual living […]

  • No, Far Cry 4 is not currently free on PSN

    You may have seen a few Tweets from people saying that the PS4 version of Far Cry 4 is available to download from PSN for free. This is not true. A few readers have tipped us off to what looked like a glitch on PSN that allowed players to download the full version of Far […]

  • Metal Gear Solid: The 1984 Collection confirmed to be a clothing line

    Konami is teasing a Metal Gear Solid thing called “The 1984 Collection.” The Metal Gear Solid Facebook page posted this image about an hour ago: The caption reads, “Step back into the 80′s with our new MGS collection coming very soon! Stay tuned!” This is supposedly in reference to the clothing line that was announced […]

  • Portal, The Simpsons, Jurassic World & Scooby Doo packs listed for Lego Dimensions

    Lego Dimensions is likely getting a few unannounced content packs. One of which is themed around Valve’s Portal. A set of unannounced content packs for the upcoming Lego Dimensions have been revealed by US retailer Walmart. The listings include packs for The Simpsons, Scooby Doo and Jurassic World, and most interestingly, Portal. The listings have […]

  • This is the most authentic recreation of GTA 2 in real life ever

    Affordable drones have many uses. Most of them are not nearly as exciting as recreating GTA 2 in real life. I am surprised it took us this long, but someone has finally captured footage using a drone that resembles the protagonist’s experience in the classic GTA 2. These aren’t just shots of cars from a […]

  • PlayStation 4 sales reach 2m in the UK

    Sony has sold 2 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the UK, faster than it did with the PlayStation 2 – the company’s best-selling machine in the country. MCVUK is reporting that as of last weekend, 2 million PlayStation 4s have been sold in the UK. The data is based on GfK Chart-Track estimates. This makes […]

  • H1Z1 gets female characters, skin colour options planned

    In an effort to improve diversity in the game, H1Z1 developer has added female characters. Female survivors can now be found throughout the world of H1Z1. Developer Daybreak added the new feature in a patch released last Friday. You will be able to choose a female avatar in the main game and in Battle Royale. […]

  • Possible teaser site for Castlevania creator Koji “IGA” Igarashi’s new game opens

    Either Castlevania creator Koji “IGA” Igarashi is working on a soon-to-be-launched Kickstarter for his new game, or someone is pulling an elaborate prank. At PAX Prime last year, during Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No. 9 panel, a flyer was handed out to attendees that showed what appeared to be a 2D game of some sort with […]

  • Destiny weekly reset for May 5: Heroic and Nightfall strikes detailed

    Tuesday is here and Destiny’s weekly reset is also here. Bungie announced that your weekly Destiny grind has now begun. The Nightfall and Heroic strikes are now live too. This week’s strike is Winter’s Run. Rainbow burn is back for the Nightfall, which means you do more damage with all elemental weapons, but also receive […]

  • PC version of Project Cars delayed in Australia due to severe weather

    Recent weather conditions in Sydney, Australia are responsible for a slight delay of the PC version of Project Cars in the country. Sydney recently suffered from storms that caused flooding in some areas. One of those is the place where publisher Namco Bandai was storing PC copies of Project Cars. The stock was “severely damaged,” […]

  • Twitch’s new process makes it easier for streamers to appeal flagged content

    Twitch has updated its appeals process concerning videos that have been flagged by the audio ID system. Towards the end of last year, Twitch introduced a new audio recognition system that scans archived streams and automatically mutes the audio whenever copyright music is identified. The system has been in-use ever since and Twitch has today […]

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a day one patch, but it’s not a major one

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will indeed have a day one patch, to make the first-time experience as smooth as possible. Like many modern games, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will have its day one patch. According to the developer however, it wasn’t born out of necessity. Miles Tost, level designer at developer CD Projekt […]

  • CoD: Advanced Warfare owners get free pistol today

    Advanced Warfare developer Sledgehammer Games is adding a new pistol to the game, free to all players. The M1 Irons is a new pistol that comes to Advanced Warfare starting today. The weapon is offered as a thank you gift from the developer. Sledgehammer says the Irons is good at range and packs a punch. […]

  • Fall down the Skullgirls Big Band music video rabbit hole with me

    Skullgirls is a pretty amazing fighting game, but did you know it’s also a passable music creation suite? Earlier today I was idly perusing an episode of PlayStation Underground showing off Skullgirls 2nd Encore, a re-release of the indie fighter packing in loads of new features and coming to PS4 – with full cross-play! – […]

  • The many uses of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood’s pipe weapon

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood adds a sick new weapon to BJ’s arsenal: a pipe. In Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, a pipe is not just a pipe. Not only can you bash nazis with it, you can use it to climb walls, reach hatches, and even break through some walls. Plus? You can dual wield it. […]

  • Mortal Kombat X teaser gives first look at Predator

    Mortal Kombat X’s next celebrity guest was teased during the latest Kast. Today’s Mortal Kombat X Kast was mostly about all about Jason, but also included a very brief nod to Predator. You can watch the full livestream to see the tease in situ if you’re really keen, but IGN shared this convenient edit: There’s […]

  • Rock Band 4 has count-ins, drum fills and vocal harmonies

    Rock Band 4 will more closely emulate the feeling of being a real musician with some neat personalisation touches. For Rock Band 4, Harmonix elected to double down on player ownership of their experience rather than technical precision. To this end, it has implemented a number of cool new features. I am wildly envious of […]

  • Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, Lost Planet 3 developer shuttered

    Spark Unlimited has gone down with all hands. The Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z and Lost Planet 3 developer has been shuttered and all staff laid off. Chief technical officer John Butrovich confirmed the news in a statement issued to IGN. “Spark Unlimited is closing as a video game developer. The ongoing opportunities for smaller mobile […]

  • PS Now subscription available on PlayStation 3 this month, Vita coming soon

    PlayStation Now’s all you can eat service has finally been dated for PS3. Subscriptions to PS Now, Sony’s cloud-based gaming service, will be available on PS3 from May 12 in the US. The all you can eat package will also be made available on select Bravia TVs and Sony Blu-ray players on the same date. […]

  • GTA 5 is even better with a gravity gun

    GTA 5 modders have made a dream come true, adding a gravity gun to your arsenal of mayhem-causing weaponry. GTA 5 isn’t ready for this. It looks like a heck of a lot of fun, but the poor old Los Santos po po can’t deal with the resulting carnage at all. If Rockstar were ever […]

  • “Mod makers should be able to make money from their creations,” says DOOM creator

    DOOM co-creator John Romero has weighed in on the paid mods debate. Paid mods are a hot issue right now. For years, Valve has been enabling content creators to make money from their work on Counter-strike: Global offensive, Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2, but when it partnered with Bethesda to offer the same for […]

  • Watch WRC driver Kevin Abbring smash through a DIRT Rally challenge

    WRC driver Kevin Abbring has been participating in Dirt Rally’s daily events – and kicking ass. Dirt Rally seems to have ticked one of the most difficult to attain boxes of racing development – creating something professional drivers like to play, and which rewards their years of experience. Codemasters published the video below showing Hyundai […]

  • Mortal Kombat X patch to bring PC version up to console standard

    Mortal Kombat X PC will be fixed tomorrow, NetherRealm has promised. The PC version of Mortal Kombat X has come under fire for poor performance, including stuttering frame rate and bugs as plenty. About 45 minutes into a recent Twitch stream, NetherRealm boss Ed Boon said an update will drop tomorrow to address many of […]

  • Destiny House of Wolves: all new Crucible maps detailed

    Destiny’s House of Wolves DLC will add four new maps to the Crucible, the game’s competitive multiplayer mode. Let’s take a look at all of them. Alex brings you new footage showing all of the four maps that will drop with House of Wolves. He goes over the layout, landmarks, gameplay styles, and other important […]

  • Custom Xbox One Star Wars controllers look very tempting

    Microsoft is celebrating May 4 by showing off concept designs for Star Wars-themed Xbox One controllers. May 4 is of course Star Wars Day and the controller concepts you’re about to see are just that, concepts. Or at least that’s what they said they are. There are four designs and they don’t look very practical. […]

  • Project Cars launch trailer is an anthology of race cars, set to the beats of Deadmau5

    Project Cars comes out this week and there’s just enough time for one last trailer. Project Cars, Slightly Mad Studios’ ambitious racer that has been in development for ages, is finally coming out this week. The racer received plenty of changes throughout its development based on community feedback and the final product will be in […]

  • Star Wars Battlefront dev reveals planet Sullust

    Sullust, a planet that has not been previously shown, will be featured in one of Star Wars Battlefront’s maps. Star Wars Battlefront developer DICE revealed today that planet Sullust will be one of the game’s locations. The planet was mentioned in the films and other Star Wars works, but was only shown today. DICE posted […]

  • Destiny House of Wolves: Tower vendor changes

    House of Wolves will change the inventory of some of Destiny’s vendors and add new roles to others. Here’s everything that has been announced so far. You know that House of Wolves will bring a new social space to the game in the form of The Reef. But did you also know that the good […]

  • Nintendo apologises for Amiibo shortages, will reissue some out-of-stock figures

    Nintendo released a statement today to apologise for fan’s frustrations in finding some Amiibo figures and promised to handle distribution better going forward. Nintendo has been criticised recently for its lack of communication when it comes to new Amiibo figures. Something which has lead fans to not know if certain figures are limited to some […]