You can see many of the ideas behind what would become indie gem Bastion in its original 2009 prototype, which developer Supergiant Games is showing off at its booth during this weekend's PAX East. But it sure looks different.

Before there were Gasfellas and Windbags, there were random bits of placeholder art from Dungeons & Dragons. And before there was The Kid, there was a robotic stiff man whose legs couldn't move. Man, how things change.


Video Games Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Mean Something You know why everyone's up in arms about Mass Effect 3's ending? Because it doesn't mean what they want it to. But, whether you liked the ending, hated it or lobbied to have it changed, BioWare's sci-fi franchise does means something because it aims to be a metaphor. And I wish more games would do that.

Games do a bang-up job with power fantasies and they try to take you to imaginary places. But there's not enough urgency when it comes to saying something about human nature. You save people, planets and universes all the time in games but ideas about humans confront each other or cope with life's ups-and-downs remain frustratingly infrequent.

Let's talk about zombies for a minute. Colson Whitehead's Zone One came out last year and focuses on a New York City just beginning to rebuild after an apocalyptic outbreak of zombie plague devastates the world. Whitehead's novel lives in the small details, showing how soldiers find new ways to break up the boredom of killing zombies day after day and how the way people talk to each other changes. As the book goes on, you get a sense of just how hollowed-out people's lives are, even if they're deluding themselves otherwise.

When I finished Zone One, one of my first thoughts was that I hoped someone at working on The Last of Us was reading it. Post-apocalyptic similarities aside, Zone One stretches the space inside of its conceit to make the reader reflect back on the real world. While we still don't know much of what The Last of Us will offer, I'm still hoping the developers inject some kind of symbolism into the game's action.

Now The Last of Us isn't out yet but other recent games show how embedding larger themes doesn't necessarily have to mean you get a dull experience. Remedy Entertainment's Alan Wake games may be big, ham-fisted metaphors about light and darkness—executed through gameplay—but they still provide a point-of-view on creativity and the dual nature of humankind. Bastion talks about how we deal with loss. What you do at the end of Supergiant's first release can tell you something about yourself and how you move on from tragedy. Journey's quiet triumph comes directly as a meditation on loneliness and companionship. All very different, all very enjoyable and all pretty good metaphors.

Going back to Mass Effect, the action/RPG series achieves meaning in multiple ways, from the way that its fictional universe was constructed and how it lets players steer a saga with decisions. The Mass Effect games can be read as a metaphor for cultures clashing and how individuals change inside the big moving socio-political systems we exist in. The fact that it's a big AAA corporate franchise doesn't preclude it from having metaphorical depth.

Games can be a product—and, yes, that's an ugly reality—AND have meaning. If you're spending 10, 20 or 100 hours inside a piece of fiction, whatever you take away from it and back into the real world can be incredibly powerful. Or the opposite can happen, where you find slices of well-observed behavior That's the kind of ending I want from video games.

Now You Can Buy Sheet Music for Bastion's Best TunesI (and everyone else on the planet basically) loved the music to Bastion. Now, SuperGiant is selling sheet music for four of the songs from the game.

Awesome. These tunes are simple enough that just about anyone could learn them, yet iconic and fun to play. Especially if you match composer Darren Korb's dropped guitar tunings.

Bastion Sheet Music [SuperGiant Games]

Now You Can Get Free Sheet Music for Bastion's Best TunesI (and everyone else on the planet basically) loved the music to Bastion. Now, SuperGiant is sharing sheet music for four of the songs from the game. Best of all they're free, not for sale like I originally thought.

Awesome. These tunes are simple enough that just about anyone could learn them, yet iconic and fun to play. Especially if you match composer Darren Korb's dropped guitar tunings. Each one is a free .PDF download.

Bastion Sheet Music [SuperGiant Games]


Bastion Was Originally All About... GardeningIn a sense, Bastion was a game about growth—over the course of the game, The Kid would bring back items and characters to the Bastion, which allowed it to grow and flourish. In a metaphorical sense, the Bastion was a sort of garden, growing over time.

As it turns out, the game's planting parallels were originally much more explicit. Talking at the Game Developers Conference, Supergiant Games designer Amir Rao talked about the original plan to make the game revolve around gardening—players would plant seeds to grow everything from weapon power-ups to character upgrades to new areas to explore.

As Rao described it, players would gather seeds in the real world and plant them in the bastion, which would cause plants to grow and give them power-ups.

Rao was talking at the "failure workshop" during the indie-centric part of the conference; several designers gave short talks about various failures they've had while working on games. And true to the spirit of the talk, the plants idea was a failure.

The plants didn't clearly communicate progress to the player. Rao offered the example of a "hammer tree" that grew new, better hammers—but what does that look like? How do you make it clear that this tree grows hammers? As cool as the idea was, Supergiant realized that it wasn't working, and flipped it back to the conventional approach—they used graphical menus. As he put it, the key with experimenting systems like that is knowing that if it's not working, you can always return to convention.

In a humorous touch, Rao shared a recording of Bastion's now-famous narrator Logan Cunningham improvising some dialogue about planting things. It seems like a bit that started out earnestly, conveying the focus on planting that Supergiant was going with… but it goes off the rails into improv-ville pretty quickly.

Find a pair of socks? Plant it.
Find a Milli Vanilli casette tape? Plant it.

Heh. I dunno, I would have enjoyed collecting and planting Terminator 2 laserdiscs. Maybe in Supergiant's next game...


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.

Video: Critics Circle Awards [New York Game Critics Circle]


Supergiant Supports the Troops, puts Bastion on a Disc for SoldierBastion, 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.

The Folks at Supergiant Games (Bastion) are AWESOME!! [Reddit]


Bastion, Skyrim, Portal 2 Lead Nominations for the 2012 Game Developers Choice AwardsThe 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!

We can only hope that Mr. Tim Schafer will be there again, and that he will once more make a series of meme-worthy facial expressions.

The full list of nominees is as follows:

Best Game Design
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios)
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo)
Portal 2 (Valve)
Batman: Arkham City (Rocksteady Studios)
Dark Souls (FromSoftware)

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure (Toys For Bob)
Portal 2 (Valve)
Bastion (Supergiant Games)
Johann Sebastian Joust (Die Gute Fabrik)
L.A. Noire (Team Bondi)

Best Technology
Battlefield 3 (DICE)
L.A. Noire (Team Bondi)
Crysis 2 (Crytek Frankfurt/UK)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios)
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (Naughty Dog)

Best Handheld/Mobile Game
Tiny Tower (NimbleBit)
Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo)
Jetpack Joyride (Halfbrick)
Infinity Blade II (Chair Entertainment)
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (Capy Games/Superbrothers)

Best Audio
Bastion (Supergiant Games)
LittleBigPlanet 2 (Media Molecule)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios)
Dead Space 2 (Visceral Games)
Portal 2 (Valve)

Best Downloadable Game
Stacking (Double Fine)
From Dust (Ubisoft Montpellier)
Bastion (Supergiant Games)
Outland (Housemarque)
Frozen Synapse (Mode 7)

Best Narrative
Portal 2 (Valve)
The Witcher 2 (CD Projekt RED)
Bastion (Supergiant Games)
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (Naughty Dog)
Saints Row: The Third (Volition)

Best Debut
Supergiant Games (Bastion)
Team Bondi (L.A. Noire)
Re-Logic (Terraria)
BioWare Austin (Star Wars: The Old Republic)
Eidos Montreal (Deus Ex: Human Revolution)

Best Visual Arts
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (Naughty Dog)
Rayman Origins (Ubisoft Montpellier)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios)
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (Ignition Japan)
Battlefield 3 (DICE)

Game of the Year
Batman: Arkham City (Rocksteady Studios)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios)
Portal 2 (Valve)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Eidos Montreal)
Dark Souls (FromSoftware)


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."

Very cool, guys.


These Are the Best Indie Games of 2011 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.

IOTY Players Choice - Indie of the Year [IndieDB]


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