Lately I’ve been tinkering with the idea of creating my own “indie” videogame. It’s a shitload of work though, so instead of creating something, I’ll take the easy road for now and tear down the hard work of others for my own amusement. Starting with indie darling, Bastion.
All indie games gotta have a gimmick right? Otherwise they are just a low budget commercial game. Bastion’s gimmick is the narrator. Watch the video and you’ll get the idea, the “stranger” narrates your path through the game. I think this idea is really cool, but the tone of the narrator and the cartoony art are incongruous. The gravel voiced “stranger” wants to set the tone of a desolate wasteland, but the colourful, vibrant, beautiful artwork of Bastion fights against it. It’s a shame, because the art on one side, and the voice acting, plot and atmosphere on the other are both great in their own right, if not for their schizophrenic combination.
The level design tries to make you feel that the world is crumbling around you, with no edges and long drops to your death; but as you walk around, the world actually falls into place and constructs itself in front of you. Your “leaps of faith” are all successful, making you feel safe, as if someone is looking out for you with a ready safety net. Contrast this with the approach of Dark Seed 2:
Dark Seed 2 is a point and click adventure game where you cannot fall off the edges (unlike in Bastion) but the narrow suspended walkways are much more unsettling. You can’t see the bottom, and their threat is more implied than real.
The combat in bastion is workable, but not very interesting. You have different melee and ranged weapons, with a bunch of special abilities, but on the whole it feels very button mashy. Dodging and defense are important but I found it easier to just eat the damage, spam hammer attacks and quaff potions like an junkie rather than employ any tactics. Turning the difficulty up or playing further into the game might invalidate this strategy, but I wasn’t having enough fun enough to warrant it. Aiming and hitting seemed imprecise, with the art and animation focussing more on looking pretty than providing functional feedback. The ranged weapons have a targeting guide that I found more confusing than helpful due to it being traced along the ground, rather than the actual flight path of the projectiles, and the height difference between the two paths caused by the isometric viewpoint.
So how would I improve Bastion? Or more to the point, how would I use this narrator concept in another game? A bit of unreliable narration would be nice, like in Spider and Web. Or subvert the usual RPG adventurer role goblins comic style, and have the narrator describe and condemn your every genocidal action. For example:
After setting the defenceless orc villagers on fire and laughing at their anguish, the ‘hero’ rifled through their home in search of valuables.
That approach would only work for a short form game though. For a longer play like Bastion, perhaps make the game itself much darker in art and music style, more punishing and scary in gameplay, and have the narrator as your one and only friend. Once the player gets accustomed to this, once they come to depend on the narrator, pull the plug on it. Make them feel alone, abandoned and afraid. When this becomes old, give them a hint and make them fight to get the narrator back. Apologies if Bastion actually does anything like this later, I only played through the demo on the google chrome marketplace (which worked brilliantly on linux).