Bastion is a vibrant action-RPG that almost literally unfolds at your feet. You walk forward, and a whole colorful world rises block-by-block out of nothingness to meet your avatar, guiding in a way that is mechanically forceful but feels subtle and intuitive. While this eye-grabbing technique is certainly a new way to navigate through a game, what's most striking about Bastion – and this might be a first for any RPG – is the narrator's voice.
The narrator's voice. It's usually something gamers remark upon with disdain when reviewing their likes and dislikes about a game or so utterly mediocre it's entirely forgettable. Bastion's narrator comes out swinging with a constant stream of details about your objectives and accomplishments in an gravelly, rough-hewn voice. It's not obnoxious, it's not intrusive, and it immediately leaves an impression. For the first time, I've found the narration bringing me into the game, rather than keeping me out.
Even more impressive? This game was created by a small but apparently mighty team of six of which some members didn't even share the same office. The producer who wrote the game script (Greg Kasavin) and the actor who narrated Bastion (Logan Cunningham) worked remotely from the west and east coasts respectively.
“A number of us worked together at Electronic Arts before, so we know what it's like working with each other at 3 o'clock in the morning, so we just focus our strengths and do what we can do,” Kasavin said.
Bastion began with Super Giant Games trying to strike a certain aesthetic. They had the goal of making a game that had pick-up-and-play-appeal and would also quickly draw the player deeper into its world. Kasavin credited his and Co-founder Amir Rao's English literature backgrounds for drawing on source materials such as Cormac McCarthy, who wrote “No Country for Old Men” and “The Road.”
“We liked the idea of that kind of tone applied to a fantasy game, but with the key difference that … this could be more hopeful, uplifting,” Kanavin said. “The music [by Audio Director Darren Korb] helped us find it. The sense that it's something exotic, but also familiar. You get the Wild West in there, but there's also this Middle East thing going on. There's almost a fairytale quality to it.”
Drawing on the tone established by the music, Super Giant Games struck upon the distinctive art style and narrator's persona. Cunningham said he began recording the narrator's voice in February of last year. Super Giant Games took an unconventional approach of recording over intermittent sessions, rather than all within a short timeframe. Just about every week, Cunningham recorded new content.
“We've done this (the writing/script) basically in sequence, and for a big studio to do that, to find an actor available for the lifetime of the game's development, they'd have to pay him so much money,” Cunningham said. “So there's no way we could've received a completed script and then had it back in a week.”
The narration is incredibly varied, and rarely repeats. Kasavin said whenever lines repeated, the team felt it broke the immersion. So that meant lots of writing and lots of recording. But the two-person writing/recording team turned out to be advantageous.
“For us, it's just the right balance, of having a specific voice, but also without being totally insane off-the-deep-end what's going on,” Kasavin said.
He also added Bastion's narrative would completely tie up at the end – no cliffhangers in sight. He promises that the story will “pay off” in the end.
“This action RPG where old man talks to you all the time doesn't really sound that awesome, but in practice, people get pretty absorbed into it, and they ask 'well, what's going to happen?'” Kasavin said. “When people ask what's going to happen next, to me, that's the ultimate, because that's exactly what the point of the story is.”