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Designing The Apocalypse

Marc N. Kleinhenz | 23 Aug 2013 18:00
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Greg Kasavin spent 10 years at GameSpot, ultimately becoming the site's editor-in-chief, before taking the plunge into game development. As the creative director of indie start-up Supergiant Games, he's the chief writer of the studio's original and narratively inventive games.

But no story springs out of a vacuum, of course, and when I was first playing through Bastion, I thought I could pick out a few of its influences, socially and politically as well as creatively. I called Greg up to ask him about these, about what he saw as the very core of the story, and about the narrative's evolution over time and through gameplay iterations.

Amir and I were talking about the author Cormac McCarthy, and how come there's no game that sounds like that?

Did Bastion's story change much throughout development?

The story evolved over time as the game itself took shape, but the thematic core remained pretty constant. It was a combination of thematic and aesthetic ideas and also world-design types of ideas. And tonal ideas, as well. Tone was something that [designer] Amir [Rao] and I had been talking about forever. It's something that we're both just preoccupied with - creating something that has a specific tone. If the tone is specific, then the identity is specific. And we wanted to make a game that, for obvious reasons, would stand out to people and had a reason to exist. So we wanted to give it a tone that felt distinct.

Amir and I were talking about the author Cormac McCarthy, and how come there's no game that sounds like that? Not all of his books are set in the South, but they have this kind of Southern Gothic feel to them. And The Road in particular was a post-apocalyptic tale but has that feel, with very rich and minimal dialogue and these beautiful, lyrical passages, but a lot of darkness there, as well. So we liked all that kind of stuff, and that was one of the tonal starting points and directly influenced the writing style and the way the narrator talks and stuff like that.

I thought I saw a lot of The Matrix in there, too.

I certainly love the first Matrix movie in particular, but I can't say that that was a specific influence on this story. I mention Cormac McCarthy's work; that's stylistically a direct influence. Other than that, I think most of my influences are subconscious. A lot of the stuff that I grew up watching and reading and whatnot, that all kind of - I love a lot of '80s fantasy films and, also, a lot of classic fairy tales and stuff like that, like Hans Christian Anderson-type stuff, the dark, rather sinister fairy tales, rather than the kind-of Disney sanitized ones.

It certainly might have been. I really like the first Matrix in particular from a world design perspective. And from a story perspective, it was really important to me to make Bastion completely self-contained and not have the sort of pretenses of being part of a trilogy or something like that. I wanted people to feel happy with how that story ended.

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