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Afterwords: Bastion

Like a lot of the folks who played this summer’s Bastion from Supergiant Games, we came away extremely impressed. Now that the game has been out for several weeks, we wanted to ask creative director Greg Kasavin about the experience of making the game. He had lots of cool details to share. A portion of the interview appears in Game Informer issue 222. For all of Kasavin’s responses, check out the complete interview below. 

Where and when did the idea of Bastion’s narrator emerge? Why was it important to keep the narration a continuous part of the gameplay? Who ended up performing the narration, and how was that decided?

Like most of the ideas in Bastion, the idea for the narration was born in the living room of a house in San Jose where the studio is located. It wasn't something that was contemplated from the beginning of the project, but then, the project didn't start with some grand design document or detailed feature set. The narration came up as an idea during the course of the nine months the game spent in a prototyping phase, during which time it was mostly just Amir Rao and Gavin Simon, the studio co-founders, rapidly trying different things.

From the beginning of the project we felt we wanted to make a game that could have some emotional weight to it, but we also knew we didn't want to interrupt the play experience for any reason. At first these goals seemed contradictory, but as it turned out, using narration allowed us to deliver story and context and narrative depth at the player's pace. It was the perfect solution to what we wanted, plus it gave me some really interesting constraints to work with from a writing perspective: We would have a story filtered entirely through a single voice, who would be there to deepen the player's interactions onscreen by giving context to those actions.

We wouldn't have pursued this narration technique at all were it not for Logan Cunningham our voice actor. He's a childhood friend of Amir's and was rooming with Darren Korb our audio director at the time, so we had great access to this really talented actor who we were close with. And when you're a small team like we are, you need to make the most of every advantage like that. So we were able iterate rapidly with the writing and recording, trying lots of different things from a narrative standpoint. We never considered any other actor and Logan was just perfect for the part we had in mind, which happened to line up just right with the kind of story I had been mulling. In the end it turned out to be a large volume of content, somewhere around 3,000 lines of narration. Not only is this because the game itself is pretty big, at around eight or more hours for the first play-through, but because we wanted to account for as many little situational moments as we could think of in order to make players feel like their experience with the game was unique.

The music and visuals of Bastion combine to craft a world unlike many others we’ve seen in recent video games. What sources did you look or listen to for inspiration for the world of Bastion? What feelings or references do you hope the visuals and audio evoke in players?

We knew we wanted Bastion to be an atmospheric game because we feel that one of the most important aspects of games is their transportive quality, their ability to make you feel like you're in some completely different place. From the earliest days on the project we were talking about the tone we wanted to strike, and how we would express that through the game. One of the influences I brought up early on is the American author Cormac McCarthy, who's written novels like Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men, and The Road. He's got this amazing lyrical writing style, minimal dialogue rich with subtext crossed with these beautiful natural scenes. His writing has an Old West flavor even if it's not set in that kind of environment. We wondered what that type of style would sound like in a game.

One important difference, though, was that we wanted to extract the sense of evil from out of his work. Plenty of games deal with evil. We wanted to have a more positive and hopeful tone, ultimately. We wanted the game to be suitable for players of all ages, and I was very interested in writing a story from that perspective – like a modern version of a traditional fairytale.

With some of these ideas in mind, Darren Korb our audio director started creating music for the game. He called the style he came up with "acoustic frontier trip-hop", as a short-hand for the fantastic-yet-familiar setting and tone we wanted. It was the first content to really make good on the tonal ideas and bring them to life. Darren's music just nailed the tone, and the music ended up being important all through development. Our close collaboration enabled some of the key moments in the game where the music really comes into play.

Our narration came soon after Darren found the musical style, including the narrator's voice and manner of speech. The art style soon followed suit, too, when Jen Zee our artist joined the project. While the art style of Bastion was still largely undefined when she joined, there was a sense for the tone and fiction, and she was able to take that and create this high-contrast visual style that we fell in love with. We wanted this world that was strikingly beautiful yet one in which you could tell something mysterious and wrong had happened, and Jen really captured that through her art. Also our collaboration allowed for the sort of world where all the different visual details have greater meaning if you want to look for it, so the game isn't just pretty for its own sake. I think this is really the key to having an interesting gameworld – there has to be something there beneath the surface.

Next up: What weapons just didn't make the cut?

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