I'm not afraid to admit I'm a bit of an indie game junky. My favorite games of the past two years bear names like Braid, Super Meat Boy, Fez, Trials HD, and other small developer titles. Indie games bring a breath of fresh air to the industry that large developers are either unable to or uninterested in creating. Perhaps the epitome of what indie games have accomplished in recent memory is exemplified in Supergiant Game's initial release, Bastion.
Bastion is action RPG bathed in mystery, catastrophe, and a lonesome atmosphere. The Kid, Bastion's main character, wakes up with no context of the world around him and only a deep voice and trusty hammer to guide the way. Throughout the adventure, he meets the last human survivors, learns of the calamity that shattered the world, and rebuilds the last safe haven for humanity, the bastion. Bastion impressed me so much last year, I had no choice but to call it my favorite game of 2011. At PAX East this year I met up with Greg Kasavin, Creative Director at Supergiant Games, to discuss Bastion's creation and subsequent success.
The kid wakes up with almost nothing around him.
Bastion's final design opened up to Supergiant Games over the course of building the project. "We're not the sort of team where we're struck by a single flash of inspiration and there's the entire game design." Greg said. They wanted to create a 2D action RPG with tight, responsive controls, but the details were still hazy. Early on, narrative struck the team as a vital piece to the Bastion puzzle. The game employs a mystical narrator that responds to events in the story as well as the action of the player. The etherial commentary helped Bastion stand out amongst its Xbox Live Arcade peers, and may influence many games to come. It's already inspired two gamers to overhaul their wedding ceremony.
The narrator concept was a big risk for Supergiant. "We were pretty confident about most aspects of the game but the narration was the real wild card where we thought some people were going to love it and some people would be really turned off by it." He told me. Despite their early fears, fan response to their narrative technique has been overwhelmingly positive. "People seemed to really enjoy it and get pretty attached to the story and its ending." I, like many other gamers, felt the narrator was an integral part to Bastion that, if removed, would make the game a shell of its former self.
The player chooses what buildings to place in the Bastion. Each building offers its own advantage to the player.
Besides the narrator, the biggest part of Bastion that stands out to me is their soundtrack. Particularly, the use of two lyrical tunes at key moments in the game's story. Darren Korb, friend of Supergiant studio director Amir Rao, wrote the haunting melodies that define Bastion's atmosphere. Greg was able to collaborate closely with Darren during the key moments in the game when the songs take center stage. "It's the kind of music people in this world would listen to themselves. We wanted everything in the game to reinforce the atmosphere and tone of the whole thing." Greg told me. Much like the original Portal, Bastion is home to tunes that fit and accentuate the themes of the game itself.
Without diving into spoilers too heavily -- the game's almost a year old, people -- choice plays a major role in the game's story as it wraps up. Until the final hour of the game, though, the story is completely linear. Greg said this was a conscious decision by Supergiant to hold off on choices until the last possible moment. "We wanted to subvert expectations with the climax of the game. We wanted there to be an ultimate choice and, instead of being about gameplay, for it to be about your experience with the game." By showing restraint, Bastion manages to shock and impress with its story decisions. My favorite gaming moment of 2011 is tied to one of Bastion's choices, and it's hard to imagine that another player may have never seen it.
Bastion creates a creepy, lonesome atmosphere both visually and audibly.
I admit I'm a bit of an indie game fanboy, but I still know a good game when I see one. Bastion accomplishes storytelling that puts most $60 games to shame and does it all on an indie game budget. I can't wait to see what's in store for the future of Supergiant Games and how Bastion will influence the industry going forward. You can find Bastion on Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, and even Google Chrome. You have no excuse to not give this great action RPG a shot. Who knows, you might be hooked.
Written by Erich "H2O mystakin" Sherman. Erich is the PMS|H2O Editorial Director. Keep track of him and his shenanigans on Twitter!