Tobold's Blog
Monday, September 05, 2011
Bastion tells the story right

I've been playing Bastion over the weekend. Brilliant game, and well worth the $15 it costs. Now normally I'm mostly looking at gameplay in a game, but in that respect Bastion doesn't revolutionize the genre: You get one weapon on the left mouse button, another on the right, plus one special attack, and the possibility to heal yourself with potions. And then you go and kill enemies and smash inanimate objects to find hidden loot, getting xp, and various upgrades. There are a lot of action adventure games with similar gameplay.

What makes Bastion special is its unique style. And a lot of that comes from the way that Bastion tells the story of the game: With a narrator who is talking about YOU all the time. The whole story of the game is told while you play, and in comments that are in direct relation to what you do. It is a bit like a sports commentary, with you being the only player on the field. Places, NPCs, items and events are explained as you encounter them. And even if you just fool around, the narrator gives an appropriate comment to that.

That style of narrative works extremely well to get you interested in the story, because you get the feeling that it is YOUR story that is told. You aren't just some interchangeable hero, some secondary actor in the scripted story of somebody else. There are no quest-givers telling you various boring versions of various boring reasons of why they want you to kill 10 foozles. The story is something that happens while you play, not an intro before playing that you'd rather skip.

There have been a lot of games that promised a revolution in story-telling. Bastion passes on that hype and goes directly to delivery. It turns out that it isn't just the difference between written text and voice-acting that makes you involved in the story, but the timing and subject of the story. In the end you want to be the hero of an adventure game, and that only really works if the story is about you and what you do, and not about some fictional characters and events you don't really care about.
I don't want to be the hero, though. I didn't like it when I played table-top RPGs, I never liked it in cRPGs and I loathe it in MMOs.

I've always wanted to be one of the guys that was there but no-one wrote about. Not the hero or the hero's friend or the hero's mentor. Not even one of the hero's staunch allies. I tend to see my characters as something like Bardolph, Pistol or Nym in Henry V.

None of which is to say that Bastion isn't a good game. I haven't played it, so I really can't comment. All the things you say in its praise, however, are things that would put me off trying it, and very definitely things I would hate to see come to any MMO I play.
Aargh, I hate Steam. I followed your link to the wikipedia page, and saw it is on Xbox Live, and recently on PC too. So I decided to see if Steam has it. And it did! I watched the demo video there, and thought it looked kind of familiar. Turns out I had bought the game already a few weeks back. It is on the pile of cool Steam powered games I never get around to play.
Interesting tidbit: It looks like the writer of the game is Greg Kasavin a very talented game reviewer that used to be the Editor in Chief of Gamespot left some 4-5 years ago for a job in the game industry.

It is great to see how someone was not only able to make really good points about games but can actually make a good game as well:
Just to make sure, there is a narrator (in the sense of a voice actor), and he's commenting and describing what's happening? A bit like a DM? Maybe like the one in DDO?

If so, that sounds awesome. I picked up DDO again recently, and I realized how much I like the idea of a DM narrator in that game. It gave a very distinct flavor of being more in a pen&paper game, or reading a book, than of playing yet another MMO.
I just beat bastion this morning. Everything was great, and I appreciated the way they nailed a lot of the little things -- the lost and found was a great idea, for instance.
I completed Bastion on xbox and it was a wonderfully refreshing experience. I found the whimsical haindpainted graphics beautiful and engaging. The old west industrial cowboy techno soundtrack was a melancholy companion which stood out instead of fading into the background. Invoking different gods to curse you and fortify your enemies as to customize the difficulty for greater rewards was awesome. Bastion had a big impact on me and I'm glad it has come to Steam.
well, my wife and I have probably 700 days played between the two of us. We tried rift, it was great, still quit halfway to level cap. I believe it is mass burnout of the mmo style. Personally I've been playing social games, indie games, terreria, minecraft, spaz, bastion, sims social, etc. At 28 with my son 8 monthes old we don't have the comittment toba full time lifestyle an mmo demands. And most of my friends have also abandoned the blockbuster fps and huge studio games in favor of creative, low tech inexpensive indie games that distill gameplay down to its enjoyable interactive, creative basics where gameplay is king.
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