Just polished off Supergiant Games’ Bastion. I am a BIG fan. This thing gets added to my Hall of Fame.
One element I wanted to tease out more, that I don’t think many existing reviews have gone into, is how the world of Bastion – the remnants of Caelondia and Ura – is a really amazing feat of worldbuilding. I legit want to spend more time in that world, pre-Calamity or post.
There’s three elements that I want to make sure I remember as I develop my own things:
Each organization: Stage, Weapon, Material, Memento, and Bonus Stage
The organizations of Caelondia – the Brushers, the Masons, the Mancers, etc. – all have their own weapon. Each weapon is associated with a particular stage and bonus stage, and a particular upgrade material. While Bastion probably goes a little overboard with weapon variety, but I’m a big fan of how grounded these organizations are, how much a part of the world they feel, and how they’re even relevant to the player – different weapon selections mean you’re embodying different Caelondian organizations of old. This gives you a pretty good idea of these organizations, how they behaved, what role in the world they had.
For me, I need to give the organizations I want the player go care about a particular location in the world, as well as some bit of themselves scattered through the dangerous regions – ideally, bits the players can put to use, and even bonus rewards they can earn.
Worlds as Acts
Bastion has three “worlds” – Caelondia, the Wilds, and Ura. Each of these has distinct creatures and environments (the ruins of Caelondia, the bushes of the Wilds, the snow of Ura), and also serves the purpose of different acts. Within each world, the stages share a basic palette, though each also has unique twists on it, and especially unique things that happen to advance the plot. Bastion is never a grind – there is a flow of story and the twists come down the pipe at regular intervals. For a game with such a strong hub/spoke design, the story element is actually REALLY GOOD, and part of why, I think, is this idea of acts inhabiting the geography – you can never see more than a step or two a head of where you currently are before something needs to change.
A big takeaway there is to limit the options to “clearly not enough to meet your character’s goals.” And then something happens to expand what you can do. If you need to gather 7 MacGuffins, only have two known at first – it lets you roll out the story in a more structured way.
The deities of Caelondia play a not-insignificant role in the story, and their dual nature – one god is the god of Suffering and Pleasure, another the god of Wisdom and Folly, etc. – makes them particularly curious. They serve as sort of an opt-in difficulty system, each one increasing the challenge in different ways and offering bigger rewards. They serve a good mechanical purpose, but what is even more compelling to me is their identity as both sides of a coin – creatures who represent a certain marriage of extremes.
I think that’s something I’m pretty comfortable looting wholesale – gods of life and death, gods of earth and sky, gods of fire and water, gods of luck and misfortune….I like how this is an inherent conflict, an internal opposition that I’m inclined to not let players resolve. They must be both at once, be prepared to suffer both, to be rewarded for both.