Games on my mind – some interesting ideas part 2

I have been focusing on the features of various that have stuck out for me; those mechanisms or qualities that have remained in  my mind long after I have finished/completed/moved on from the game.

Bastion

The game was built over the course of two years by a team of seven people split between San Jose and New York City. They debuted the game at the September 2010 Penny Arcade Expo, and it went on to be nominated for awards at the 2011 Independent Games Festival and win awards at the Electronic Entertainment Expo prior to release.

I realise this is an enormous image, but to depict the scope and magnificent colour pallet of this game from Supergiant, I feel it necessary . The line-work  the luscious landscapes are so well balanced with the narrative tone, making the game feel like a storybook come alive. And most of all, the music! I have never encountered a game which has used music and lyrics to such a powerful extent. The song below, titled Build that Wall (Zia’s Song), is a short hand narrative of the conflict central to the game, and serves as the introduction to the character of Zia, and won the Best Song in a Game award, the Best Original Score Award, and Best Downloadable Game Award at the Spike Video Game Awards in 2011. The tone of melancholy, weariness and the cultural folklore of the game world is depicted so clearly and succinctly through the song. The use of this song, as hummed by another character during the game’s progression is used as a tool to highlight certain narrative themes.  Bastion’s soundtrack was produced and composed by Darren Korb, and a soundtrack album was made available for sale in August 2011. he musical style of the soundtrack has been described by Korb as “acoustic frontier trip hop”. It was intended to evoke both the American frontier and an exotic fantasy world.

But the stand out aspect of Bastion is the character and sole voice of the game: the Narrator, voiced by Logan Cunningham. The character that you play as, the kid, never speaks, nor do any other characters, only the Narrator speaks. He is of the same race as the kid, and tells the tale/actions of the player as the game unfolds. The narrative you hear is directly dependant on the actions that you take as the player. This changeable story is not necessarily unique to game-play, but the quality of the voice work of the Narrator is near perfect. The timber, range and soft qualities of the voice work marvellously together. At a particular point of the game, the Kid is attempting to rescue a survivor (Zulf) of the Calamity (the apocalyptic event at the centre of the game). To make progress across the map, the kid has to destroy the petrified bodies of people he knew (play the video at the 3 minute mark). The mental anguish expressed by the narrator in these moments is one of the most memorable game events I have ever played (time mark 5 minutes in). The pathos  in this action of ‘spreading the ashes’ of these dead friends and the trauma of the suvivor Zulf make for some pretty emotionally arduous game play.

An excellent article is available at Gamasutra where an interview with the Supergiant Games’ Greg Kasavin and Amir Rao talk with Gamasutra about how Bastion’s unique incorporation of narration emerged, the challenges of forming an indie studio after coming from a major developer are discussed. The later decisions in the game are some of the most challenging morally and pressurise the game in a rare and mindful way for an action RPG. The game was nominated for the 2012 Game Developers Conference awards in the Innovation, Best Audio, and Best Narrative categories, and won the Best Downloadable Game award. Supergiant Games won the Best Debut award. It won the Best Audio in a Casual/Indie/Social Game award from the Game Audio Network Guild at the same conference, and Darren Korb was named the Rookie of the Year.

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