Pixel Perfect

Published on January 25th, 2012 | by Matt

Bastion: How to Perfectly Mix Story and Gameplay

If you’ve been listening at all to our podcast, you might have heard me raving several times about Bastion by Supergiant Games.  There are several reasons why I simply adore everything about this game. The smooth gameplay, the beautiful art design, the superb musical score (which you would have heard in our first episode) all work together seamlessly.  But what really draws you into Bastion is its engaging and genuinely interesting story.

“That [story] may not sound like much…but wait till you hear it.”

And isn’t that the truth.

Bastion’s story has three things going for it:  amazing voice work,  characters you care about, and a story that emerges as the game goes on.  Each of these aspects makes you want to keep playing just to find out what happens next.  It’s an addicting formula, and as someone who really cares about good storytelling, it made me completely fall in love with this game.

For those worried about spoilers, I’ll try not to discuss any major plot points, but instead focus on the storytelling techniques that make this game shine.

Like Chocolate to my Ears

As you heard in the above video, the game’s narration by Logan Cunningham is delivered in a constant silky smooth, and yet simultaneously gruff and gritty flow.  Good voice work is essential for good story telling.  In order to immerse the player in the story the voice work has to sound natural.  Nothing jolts the player out of the game experience like a badly read line.

Bastion only has one speaking character, and so strong delivery of the voice acting is essential to keep the player interested.  The narration drives the plot and the interaction with all the characters, as well as providing lots of background details should you chose to explore the nooks and crannies.  Occasionally as you fall off a ledge or get struck by an enemy the game will point it out to you, in a wry, off-hand way.  Of course it knew you were going to do that.  The dynamic way that the narration brings the story to life makes Bastion truly stand out.

It’s just as if you were sitting listen to an old man tell a story.

Characters with Character

So how does a game with only one speaking character provide good character development?  Exactly like Bastion does.

It relies on a small core of characters that you meet one by one.  They join up as you meet them, and the game provides details slowly, but constantly.  Through the narration and different story sequences, as well as side missions, you discover more about each character.  As you play the game you start to really care about this group and what’s going to happen to them.  Each one has their own distinct personality and past, which is amazing considering they never speak!

I won’t spoil too much, but as the story develops and characters change, you’ll find yourself fighting as much for them as yourself or any sort of game completion.  Each character has their own arena, which explains their past as you fight waves of enemies.  It’s tough, but you’ll want to keep going back even if you fail just to hear the full story.

Tell Me What Happens Next!

Bastion starts with The Kid asleep in a bed.  On a rock.  In the sky.  Then it says: “Now go!”

What happened?  Where are you?  What was this place like before this disaster known only as The Calamity?  The only way to find out is to keep playing.

It’s the epitome of good story telling.  Explaining just enough to keep you interested and give context to your actions as a player without dumping too much information on you and bogging you down with meaningless words.  It’s the mystery that keeps the game alive.  You’ll want to keep playing just to find out if the next stage holds the secret to what’s going on.  And needless to say it takes a few twists and turns along the way.

Bastion is an example of what we need to see more of in video games: excellent story telling.  It’s creative, it’s clever, and it’s woven perfectly into the game play.  It’s not intrusive but it helps drive the context of the game.  If you care anything about games as an art form you owe it to yourself to play Bastion.  And as icing on the cake it’s also just plain fun to play.

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About the Author

Matt started Pixel Legends originally to cover E3 2011. Aside from video games Matt also enjoys books, wasting time on the internet, and being from England. He doesn’t have a British accent.

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