If you missed the New York Video Game Critics Circle Awards, here's your chance to see a whole bunch of videos from last Thursday's event, including a live rendition of Bastion's "Setting Sail, Coming Home" performed by songwriter Darren Korb and singer Ashley Barrett.
Bastion, an indie action-RPG released last summer for Xbox 360 and PC, took home awards for Best Music and Best Indie Game. Other winners included Skyrim (Best Game), Portal 2 (Best Writing) and Saints Row: The Third (Best Open World Game). (As a member of the NYVGCC, I helped select these awards.)
I also recommend checking out The Daily Show writer Daniel Radosh's hilarious presentation, unless you just flat-out hate fun.
Bastion, the critically acclaimed action-RPG that's claimed or been nominated for a bathtub full of awards, isn't available on physical media. Not unless you are serving your country in Afghanistan, and your base's Internet service is terribly slow.
"Richard," a fan of the Supergiant game, wrote the developer's customer service address asking if there was any way to get a copy of the game on physical media. He was surprised when, instead of a form response, Bastion writer Greg Kasavin responded himself, and when the two realized downloading the game would take prohibitively long, just up and mailed Richard a copy of the game, plus some Bastion swag. All he asked in return is that Richard acquire a copy of Bastion on Steam when he returns home.
This is the PC version of the game; I'm not sure how this would have worked had Richard been trying to get the Xbox Live version. Still, it's very gracious of Supergiant to recognize a service member in this way, and certainly worth some publicity here.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Adam Smith)
The headline doesn’t refer to an extravagant orchestral rendition that you’d have to pay money to see, but rather a short video containing two of Bastion’s most glorious audio treats. I’ll never find these songs as powerful as I did when they first drifted in, just as the structure of the world and the melancholy of the situation slotted into place around my gun-toting kid, but I still get shivers up my spine when that vocal starts. An intimate performance by audio director Darren Korb and vocalist Ashley Barrett, this is a lovely way to start a Friday, or any other day. Pretty good way to end one too. Listen down yonder.
The nominees for the 2012 Game Developers Choice awards have been announced. The awards, which will be held at March's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, are one (if not the) most prestigious awards ceremonies in gaming. They occur the same night and location as the Independent Games Festival (IGF) awards.
Both Bethesda's Skyrim and Valve's Portal 2 (best known as Kotaku's game of the year) received a bunch of nominations. In something of a surprise, XBLA downloadable darling Bastion grabbed an equal number of nominations. This is why I love the GDC awards!
As a nice little treat, the folks at SuperGiant Games have posted a video of audio director Darren Korb and vocalist Ashley Barrett doing an impromptu performance of "Build that Wall," the track that won so many hearts (including mine) in the studio's lovely downloadable game Bastion.
In a nice bonus, Korb goes straight into "Mother, I'm Here," and finally the two perform the mash-up of the two songs titled "Setting Sail, Coming Home." If only narrator Logan Cunningham had moseyed in halfway through to provide some commentary.
"The Guitarist checked his tuning. Strings rang out, cold metal in the night."
Great news for two top indie games. A Team Meat tweet announces that "Super Meat Boy past the million sales mark last month!" The spattery plaformer recently featured in the superb Humble Indie Bundle 4, which took more than two million dollars in total donations before it closed. "PLATINUM BABY!" said the devs, understandably pleased.
The lovely indie RPG, Bastion has passed the half million mark. "It’s been a good year," said writer, Greg Kasavin on the Bastion blog. Sales on Steam and Xbox Live Arcade pushed Bastion over the half million mark and its success put Supergiant in a good position to start work on their next title. "It goes to show that a lot of folks out there like what we’re doing and want us to keep going, which is great, because we intend to stick together as a team and do just that," says Kasavin.
Woo! We liked both games very much. Find out why in our Super Meat Boy review, and our Bastion review.
Just as its sister site ModDB picks the top PC gaming mods of the year, IndieDB rounds out the year with a countdown of the top independently developed games of the year. Think of it as a shopping list to help establish your indie gaming cred. How many of the top ten have you played?
Me? I've only gotten around to experiencing half of the ten games voted by IndieDB community members as the best independent games of the year. I've spent a great many hours exploring the world of Bastion, as everyone should. Stephen got me into SpaceChem after raving about the iPhone version of the game. Trine 2 from Frozenbyte was a no-brainer, considering my great love of the original, and Minecraft-meets-FPS Ace of Spades was personally responsible for several near-oversleep situations over the past few months.
As for the number one game, the 2D building, exploring, and surviving action of Terraria...I'm ashamed to say I hadn't played it at all, at least until this morning, when I plunked down five dollars for a copy on Steam. I'm enjoying it so much right now that this post was nearly incredibly late.
Hit up the list to see not only the top ten, but the top 100 indie games of 2011 and beyond, and start building your shopping list.
Bastion snuck up on me—I had heard a lot of friends and fellow critics hyping it after seeing it at PAX East and GDC, but I didn't actually play it until it was released. For the first hour or so, I wasn't sold, but as the story snowballed and the levels stretched out, I fell increasingly under its spell.
It was a remarkably holistic game, especially in its presentation. Everything was of a piece: Jen Zee's breathtaking painterly artwork, Greg Kasavin's mysterious, ever-unfolding story, Logan Cunningham's throaty, Tom Waits-y narration. And tying it all together, Darren Korb's wonderfully trippy, six-string-fueled musical score. Bastion had one of my very favorite video game soundtracks of the year.
Here are five of my favorite tracks from the soundtrack, along with some backstory and technical details from Korb himself.
"Bynn the Breaker"
Bastion is a slow burn, a gradually building game that begins with a mystery and layers information and narration until it reverse-engineers a remarkable narrative tapestry. Each level is possessed of a steady, heavy momentum—the game marches forward, an inexorable drive towards an unknowable future.
This track is one of the first (maybe the actual first?) to play in-game, and it matches that sense of inexorable drive. The descending string line is probably my favorite part, recalling nothing so much as the hook from The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony." (No, seriously! Listen and tell me I'm wrong.)
Here's Korb on crafting this recording, which, like all of the tracks from the soundtrack, he did largely using sampled music within Logic Pro:
This is one of the more sample/MIDI heavy tracks on the soundtrack with almost no live instruments (that aren't samples). I use some Harp, some Oud, and some Electric guitar for the melodic instruments. This was one of the earlier tunes I wrote for the game while I was still experimenting with getting the right mix of live instruments, samples, and MIDI. I think this piece was helpful in defining the boundaries of what kind of music I wanted to make for the game.
I dig "Slinger's Song," because it captures the gut-blues open-string thing that much of Korb's music does so well. It calls to mind other soundtracks like Firefly and Deadwood by conjuring a sound that captures the iconic nature of the west without necessarily kowtowing to the time period's instrumental traditions. I was joking with Korb that I wanted to guess the primary instrument, but that I was going to guess "Dobro," which was my default guess when I hear a non-guitar guitar. I'm usually wrong. But this time, it actually was a dobro!
I played some bluesy electric stuff [on Dobro] over the top of this one, along with some heavily reverbed harmonica samples. I was looking to make something more frontiersy for this piece, as it occurs in our "wilds" portion of the game. Oddly enough, I hadn't really watched any Firefly or Deadwood when I was working on Bastion, but a lot of people have mentioned the similarities. My main influence for the more bluesy stuff in Bastion was mostly Led Zeppelin, actually! In each song I tried to include something that made it feel a little "nasty," whether it's contrasting rhythmic parts, or 3 over 4 bass, or distorted ukulele!
"Build That Wall (Zia's Theme)"
Awww, yeah. This song was the moment the game won me over; it was a bit of a "Far Away" moment a la Red Dead Redemptin. One minute you're playing, the next minute, someone is singing! And yet, it was far more organic than in Rockstar's game, mainly because in Bastion, you were rescuing Zia, the singer who performs the song. (The actual singer is Korb's friend Ashley Barrett.)
This was very much Bastion's "Get on board or GTFO" moment, and I personally got right the hell on board. I also loved the bit later on when narrator Logan Cunningham gives a rough, half-remembered a cappella rendition of the same tune.
Here's Korb on the story of the song, and how it tied in with the world of the game:
We had planned to include some sort of vocal piece in the moment when you meet Zia for a while, so I knew basically how the piece would be used while I was writing it. I wanted to make it mournful and lonely to reinforce the tone of that moment. The singer is my friend Ashley Barrett and we recorded it like I recorded all the sounds, music and narration for Bastion: in my closet. For this piece in particular I looked at a lot of old Southern spirituals and proto-blues stuff. Generally, Jeff Buckley and Radiohead are big influences on my songwriting as well. The lyrics of the song are all based on the deep backstory provided by the game's writer, Greg Kasavin. It's written as a wartime song from the point of view of the Ura. For the level with Logan humming it, we wanted to have a place in the game where he didn't have anything to say, and we thought that players would get a kick out of the narrator humming this. So for the melody on that, I wanted him to do it sort of like Tom Waits, who approximates most melodies. We figured that's how Rucks would sing.
"Mother, I'm Here (Zulf's Theme)"
Not too much to say about this one, really, particularly since I'd rather not spoil the bit it plays during for those who haven't played the game. But here's where we get to hear Korb do some singing, a soft, mournful tune that stands in sharp contrast to the segment it accompanies. The second fully voiced song on the soundtrack, it is as effective as "Build That Wall" if not more so, and provides a degree of emotional catharsis that almost outdoes the entire narrative setup leading up to it.
My approach for this one was to write a song that might be sung at funerals in the world of the game. Again, the goal here was just to reinforce the emotion of the in-game moment. This is the only version (aside from the mash-up version in Setting Sail, Coming Home).
"In Case of Trouble"
Perhaps the most iconic of Korb's pieces for the game. That's partly because it plays during the opening menu and while in the Bastion itself, but also because it contains all of the various aspects that make this game's soundtrack so good. The dramatic western tinge of open-tuned guitars, pulsing electronic beats, all set off by dramatic, melodic strings. It's funny that Korb mentions Jeff Buckley as one of his influences, since the harmonic minor string line he uses here very much reminds me of the incredible string arrangements (that final melodic line!) on Buckley's "Grace."
Here's Korb talking about his guitar tunings and general process writing this song (guitarists, I recommend that "Dad-Gad" tuning, it's way fun):
I played all the live instruments on this track (and all the tracks in the game). For this song I used a DADGAD tuning (but for most of the rest of the game I dropped it down another step to CGCFGC). This is a very early piece (probably the 2nd one I wrote for Bastion), and the piece that eventually lead me to the term "Acoustic Frontier Trip-hop," which I used to thematically connect all the music in the game. Rather than having musical themes that I returned to over and over, I decided to make it like an album, where all the pieces are connected by genre and arrangement.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (John Walker)
Edit: We’re reading below that lots of regions outside the UK are being charged a really very much larger sum. Which sucks. Valve will always insist prices are decided by publishers, so yell at Warner. There’s also confusion over the inclusion of Arkham City and War In The North – to be absolutely clear, the Warner Complete Pack definitely> currently includes those games, whether by design or mistake. It also seems that some regions can’t see the deal at all. The solution: move to the UK.
I’m never quite sure whether posting about the Steam sale is doing mindless promotion for the company, or alerting our readers to amazing prices for games. I’m going with the latter in this instance, because bloody hell, this one took me by surprise. Not boasted of on the front page of Steam’s decidedly confusing sales page (not including the names of the games on sale is perhaps an odd choice) is the Warner Complete Pack. Clearly one of many extraordinarily reduced bundles (19 THQ games for £50, 80 Sega games for £70 for instance), the Warner bundle brings 18 games for £40, and one of them is Batman: Arkham City>. So that’s basically “buy Arkham City, get every other Warner game on Steam free.” And one of those is Bastion. And another is the brand new Lord Of The Rings: War In The North. And of course yet another is Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Supergiant Games has released a new update for Bastion, which updates the new Score Attack mode and addresses two issues with the game. This update will be applied automatically when players are signed in to the Steam client. The change list includes:
- Score Attack Mode: It is now possible to earn Fragments and XP when revisiting areas. Try revisiting areas using different weapons, spirits, and idols!
- Fixed an issue where the Fragment Globes in Bullhead Court ceased yielding as many Fragments as intended.
- Fixed an issue where certain subtitles containing accented characters appeared as asterisks.