Indie Spotlight: Bastion & Supergiant Games

By Colin Tan on January 19, 2012, 4:06PM EDT
PCX360

The Indie scene has been around for many years now, but only recently has it become much easier for a group of talented individuals to come together and craft something unique. It is the hope of this feature to shine the spotlight on some of these creative gems and get you all talking about, and even playing, them.

First up is Supergiant Games' action RPG Bastion, which won several awards in our 2011 Game of the Year awards, including Best Indie, Best New IP and Best Indie Developer! The game is available on Xbox Live Arcade, Steam and even Google Chrome.

With this feature, we'll talk about the game, as well as its developers, give you our impressions and finally, Greg Kasavin of Supergiant Games was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to exchange a few words with us.

Bastion (1)

What is Bastion?
Bastion is an action RPG developed by Supergiant games. You play as a silent and nameless survivor, who's only ever referred to as The Kid, of a disaster known as the Calamity. It's not quite like the standard fair of action RPGs especially when it comes to narrative and art direction. Taking a rather unique spin on the two, the story isn't told from The Kid's point of view, but rather narrated by an old man. But what's so unique about that, you may ask. It's all reactive. From smashing up enemies to finding and using a variety of combinations of weapons and skills, the narration reacts to just about anything The Kid does. Check out our review of the game to find out more.

Who is Supergiant Games?
They are a small and creative group of seven founded by Amir Rao and Gavin Simon, former employees of EA. Bastion is their first independently developed title, written by Greg Kasavin, also formerly of EA and executive editor of GameSpot, with art from Jen Zee, audio conducted by "one-man band" Darren Korb, and voices provided by Logan Cunningham. Let's not forget about Andrew Wang, the man that ensured the game ran nice and smoothly.

Our Impressions

Colin Tan, Deputy Editor: It's a funny story, I originally passed on the game because it seemed to me like another action RPG adventure with some pretty art. I was quite mistaken. Bastion delivers on a powerful narrative that is both unique in how it's told and how I as a player experience it. Themes of trust and betrayal play into crafting a world with a really, really dark history, one you may not want to learn at all. The characters feel very real and you feel for them even though only one does the talking.

When it comes to gameplay, Bastion delivers an incredibly polished and varied experience. Each weapon offers a unique way to play the game. The best thing about it is there aren't any restrictions on weapon load-outs, I can choose my favourite combo of Hammer and Carbine or continue to experiment with various weapon combinations "“ which then change up the way I play. Being an artist myself, the art of Bastion had me floored. I simply couldn't stop looking at the world of Caelondia, or what remained of it, it is hauntingly beautiful. Accompanied by the charming soundtrack and it's just an experience you can't miss. Truth be told, I stopped playing Skyrim for Bastion.

Chloe Read, Community Manager: Stylistically speaking, Bastion has what all games should be striving for and so often forget about, though perhaps slightly to the detriment of some aspects of the gameplay. Gameplay isn't by any means awful, but feels simple and not innovative, with standard practices of releasing mouse buttons at the right time to get a power shot, and otherwise button mashing as wave after wave of Squirts and other foes spawn around you.

Despite this, the main thing that grabs me about Bastion is the way that it has been constructed by the sum of various high quality parts. In many mainstream games, although there's rarely anything terrible, there's nothing that stands out as being much more than mediocre. With Bastion you have stunning art work, fantastically composed & arranged music and, perhaps most of all, one of the best narrative structures I've seen in a game for a long time. Each part stands out and is award-worthy in and of itself, but put them all together and you get something incredible. Perhaps this is due to the development being the result of a very small team of passionate creators with a single vision, rather than the amalgamation of shared concepts being watered down from a large amount of creative minds, and the pressure of a publisher and release date.

Beyhan Moustafa, Contributing Editor: Bastion is a unique game in respect of how the story is narrated and how the actions of the protagonist dictate the narration. Unlike a lot of games on the market that offer the player blocks of text before and after a mission, or a cinematic cut scene, Bastion delivers the story as the player progresses, piece by piece and always leaving you wanting for more.

Another notable aspect of this game is the fact that even though it is set in a post-apocalyptic world, it is incredibly colourful. The art direction in Bastion is nothing short of amazing, from the way each level offers a new aspect to the world and lore to exotic creature designs. One issue that did not resonate well with me was the the combat system which, while very well executed and balanced, can end up feeling a bit repetitive when facing the same combination of enemies on a regular basis.

Bastion (2)

Q&A with Greg Kasavin
Finally, we have a brief Q&A with Supergiant Games Creative Director and Writer Greg Kasavin that we'd love to share with you regarding the development of Bastion and the state of the indie market.

Bastion's your first game as an Indie dev, what was it like creating something as unique as this?

Greg Kasavin: It's been very gratifying and very surreal as well. We had high hopes for Bastion while we were working on it as we all felt like it was our one chance to make something meaningful and expressive of our collective feelings and interests about games. But of course that's no guarantee that anyone's going to like the end result or that it's going to end well. We're very happy that our intentions with the game have shone through to so many people. The response to the game tells us that a lot of people out there want to us keep pushing down the path we've set for ourselves, which is great because that's what we would have wanted to do anyway.

The story is deeply interwoven with the gameplay, what inspired this reactive narrative and the art direction in Bastion?

Greg Kasavin: When we set out to make Bastion, we knew we wanted it to be a substantive game that could carry a deeper meaning for people beyond just the moment-to-moment fun of the play experience. We knew we wanted it to have a strong narrative, but at the same time, we didn't ever want to interrupt the play experience for the story's sake. Several months into prototyping, we tried using narration, and that stood out as just the solution we were looking for. It turned out to be the ideal way for us to tell the kind of story we wanted to tell and allowed us to deepen the moment-to-moment play in the way we wanted.

It's quite an emotional experience, details like the ash remains of neighbours, finding new survivors, making new friends and learning Caelondia's dark history. How do you find the balance between story and game? Especially since a lot of the narration is reactive to The Kid's actions.

Greg Kasavin: It definitely is a balancing act, and there's really no formula to how to pace the experience and the story appropriately. A combination of intuition and playtesting led us to the end result. We aimed to fill each of the areas in the game with unique reactive moments but also to use occasional quiet moments to reveal more of the story. We tried to place these moments at just the right times to mix up the pace in an exciting way. And we wanted the story itself to deal with universal themes in spite of the fantasy trappings. We hoped the world and narrative would grow on players throughout the course of the experience.

As developers and gamers yourselves, do you feel that going indie gives you more breathing room for creativity?

Greg Kasavin: Absolutely. I and the two co-founders of Supergiant Games worked together at Electronic Arts prior to Supergiant, and we never could have made this game in that environment. There would have been too many perfectly good reasons to say no to any number of the ideas in the game. The reason being independent provides more breathing room for creativity isn't necessarily because it's less risky than working at a bigger studio "“ relatively speaking it's still extremely risky because we're putting everything on the line with our game. However, because we're small as a team, there are fewer people around to reject new ideas. We can work quickly and try new things and see if it works. We're not interested in being different for its own sake but we have strong views about games and trust each other, and want to make games that feel specific and personal.

Can you give us your thoughts on the growing indie market? What are some of the key factors that make it appealing?

Greg Kasavin: The quality of independent games over the last five years or so is what inspired us to quit our big industry jobs to try and do it ourselves. The advent of digital distribution services made it seem humanly possible to make these kinds of smaller downloadable titles for a living. It's been extremely exciting and refreshing, and once again we're just happy that our work has been well received. I do think there's an extremely competitive environment even among independent games, as there are so many good ones out there all the time, vying for attention. But then again, in a lot of ways it's never been easier for a small group of people to get together and make a game they care about and get it out there to people. It's amazing that these smaller teams are responsible for many of the most exciting ideas in games these days. At the same time, I think there's a lot of pressure on digitial distribution services to continue to make it easier and easier for game players to find the best content.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Greg Kasavin: We'd like to thank GamingUnion.net for recognizing Bastion and our studio in your year-end awards, as it really means a lot to see how the game left a lasting impression. We hope whatever we come up with next will have a similar impact. Our core team on Bastion grew from two to seven people during development so we're really excited to move ahead with our full team.

Now it's your turn. Have you played Bastion? Let us know what you think of the game in the comments below. If you haven't, we thoroughly recommend getting it.

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