Transistor was the first Supergiant Games title that I played, and I had no idea what I was getting into. I fell in love with its art, music, and mechanics that were unlike anything else I had ever played before. It was what opened the door for me to try Bastion and, later on, Hades.
Like Bastion, Transistor is also about decisions. However, it is not about how or why we choose one thing over another, but instead one’s right to make decisions at all.
Video games are driven by decisions. The primary thing that sets video games apart from film or literature is the level of interaction involved, and that interaction comes through making decisions.
These days, there are entire genres of video games dedicated to decision-making, like visual novels. Apart from that, making choices is still a core part of narrative-driven games in other genres.
Bastion, the first game developed by Supergiant Games in 2011, is a typical action RPG on the surface. Beneath that, however, is a well-written story that culminates in two very charged decisions at the end of the game. The final scenes of Bastion have stuck with me since I finished the game a few months ago, and today, I’m going to take a closer look at what makes the game’s conclusion work so well.
Since I’m discussing the end of the game, spoilers for Bastion are below! I highly recommend playing the game for yourself first, but if you already have or just aren’t really a gamer, click to read on.
My family would probably be the first to tell you that I am a notorious paper-hoarder. Physical objects usually end up in the “donate to Goodwill” pile at some point, but I still have movie ticket stubs from 2012 for some reason. Eight years ago. And I assure you that’s not the oldest paper product in my possession.
At one point, I wanted to cover an entire wall of my bedroom with corkboard, or some equivalent. I insisted that it could be done. My parents told me I needed to calm down and got me to settle for three large bulletin boards, which did just as well.
And then I went to college. Obviously, I could not take all of my ticket stubs and theatre programs and postcards with me. It was a real shame too, because the walls in our dorm rooms came equipped with corkboards.
A year ago, in the midst of final exams and papers, I gave myself a few hours off to watch The Game Awards, the Oscars of the video game world (but with less gowns and more t-shirts). I remember that night, huddled on my bed in my dorm room, seeing Celeste win the Best Independent Game and Games for Impact awards. I was intrigued, because the Games for Impact Award generally goes to games focused on emotional storytelling and/or social issues. Not only that, but the developer, Maddy Thorson, spoke about mental illness in her acceptance speech. I kept the game in the back of my mind.
Later that month, I was visiting family, and saw that my cousin was playing Celeste. I learned then that Celeste is a platforming game that relies on quick reflexes and precision to make it from one “room” to the next. I really wanted to give it a try, because the music was catchy and the retro graphics were cute, but I’m horrible at platformers. Even Super Mario games with all of their fail-safes are a challenge for me. I had a feeling that Celeste would be a frustrating waste of money for me, so I shelved the idea of ever playing it.
That is, until the Epic Games Store gave it away for free this year. Knowing it was considered one of the best games of 2018, I “bought” it and decided to give it a whirl when I was itching for a new game to play.
As I suspected, I sucked at it. In the first chapter (or “level”) alone, I died hundreds of times. I would die hundreds more in the chapters to come. But what really drew me in to Celeste was its story and main character, Madeline. I found myself identifying with Madeline a lot, and in a way, her quest to reach the summit of Celeste Mountain became my quest too.
And we’re back! Thanks for sticking with me the last few weeks everyone – I promise this will be worth the wait!
In case you missed it, I spent the last three weeks on a “cross-cultural” trip with my school – basically, a three-week term in another country with the goal of providing a more hands-on learning experience. Our trip took us to Strasbourg, France, located in the eastern region of Alsace (practically sitting on the German border). Most of our trip was spent in Strasbourg and the surrounding area, with a final three days in Paris.
One fateful day many years ago, someone handed me a GameBoy Advance and a copy of Pokémon Sapphire, and my life was never the same.
I suppose you could take that in the literal sense – i.e. I became a huge geek after that, and my chances of ever being able to pretend I was a normal human being were completely shot – but I think there’s something more there too, something less tangible and obvious than discovering a new hobby.
The things that are a part of our childhoods often have a bigger impact on us than we realize, but we tend to brush these things off as being “not mature enough” to have any real significance in our lives. We look back at the hobbies we had and the games we played as children and think, “Yeah, that was fun, but it doesn’t really mean anything now.”
Fairy tales have told the hero-saves-the-princess story for about as long as fairy tales have existed. This plot was later incorporated into video games, with some of the earliest story-driven games requiring you, the player, to save the damsel in distress. This trope has appeared in dozens of video games since, but none more prominently than the Mario and Legend of Zelda franchises.
Back in the 8-bit days, both of these franchises revolutionized gaming with Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda. Though vastly different in terms of genre and gameplay, both games tasked you with fighting the villain and rescuing the princess – Princess Peach in the case of Mario, and Princess Zelda in the case of Zelda.
The appearances of Peach and Zelda in these early games are classic examples of a Damsel in Distress – no real plot importance other than being a person to be rescued, and essentially helpless (though less so in Zelda’s case). Over time, however, Nintendo has subverted these tropes in their games, especially in each franchise’s most recent entries, Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Although the safety of these princesses is still the goal of your quest, these two ladies are far more than just damsels in distress.
A Good vs. Evil story is usually pretty straightforward. You have the Good Guys on one side, and the Bad Guys on the other side, and you’re almost always cheering for the Good Guys to win. It’s the type of story you see in children’s fairy tales, but that doesn’t make it childish.
Lately, I’ve noticed people tend to steer clear of these types of stories. The argument is that “Good vs. Evil” is too unrealistic – people and societies really aren’t that clear-cut when it comes to morality. In reality, there’s a lot more ambiguity. That’s how we end up with writing advice about giving our villains redeemable qualities and giving our heroes flaws.
And don’t get me wrong, that’s good advice – you do want to have fully developed characters on both sides of the equation, or it isn’t a very fair story. But in the process of giving this advice, we shun the typical good vs. evil stories, calling them cliche, predictable, overdone, and so on and so forth.
But here’s a secret: I’m actually okay with these kinds of stories.