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A Look Back At Building The Bastion

As Supergiant's first game nears its release date, we figured it'd be worth taking a look back at how it all came together.

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The first time I saw Bastion was back in our old office in Sausalito. Greg Kasavin came by and wanted to show me a quick glimpse of a project he was working on with some of the guys he spent time with back at EALA. It was a curious little thing that immediately stood out because of its audio. Even when coming out of a tinny little laptop speaker, hearing the narrator tell his tale while also reacting to the things I was doing on-screen felt different. At times, it felt like magic. The game itself seemed reasonably cool, too. The blocks rose up from the bottom of the screen in a really neat way, forming the pathways that The Kid ran along as he grabbed a glowing stone of some kind and made his way to the relative safety of the Bastion. Weirdly enough, that was the only sequence I played for around a year or so, but that bit--the beginning of the game, which will be the demo portion of this week's Xbox Live Arcade release--was enough to make me a believer in the project. Well, that and some discussion about where the game was going from there.

I think, over the course of development, I probably played that intro sequence three or four times, seeing bits and pieces of it improve around the edges, but the core of it was still the same impressive piece that it was when I first put my hands on it. The funny thing is that even after talking to almost everyone that's worked on the game and being a part of the recurring Building the Bastion series that we produced to chronicle what it's like to strike out on your own as an independent game developer, I still didn't know what to expect from the final game. All of the bits and pieces we had seen looked cool, and from seeing the beginning of the game, I knew the main idea was sound, but I guess I hadn't really put much thought into how it was all going to come together. In a way, some of us had become way too close to it. I sort of set the whole thing up with Greg originally. Vinny went through all of the footage and cut together the clips used on the show. Ryan hosted the show and asked them a ton of questions. Brad, wisely, hung back a bit. I think he probably had the purest experience of us all. Unsurprisingly, I think he's probably the game's biggest fan. As of this writing, he's the top guy on all four of its leaderboards.

Either way, none of that really matters that much. As soon as we went ahead with Building the Bastion, I knew we'd end up seeing too much of that game and that running an actual, scored review would be right out of the question. Rather than hem and haw about that end of the coverage, I said up front that we wouldn't review the game. And I'll say again, right here, that I recommend you seek out various reviews on the topic before making a purchasing decision rather than just taking what I'm saying here on faith. Better safe than sorry, right?

That said, we talk about the various aspects of the game on this week's podcast, and I recommend you check that out when it runs later today. The short version, however, is that I'm pretty blown away by how enjoyable Bastion is. The team makes good on that core concept--the narration that's powered by your on-screen actions while simultaneously telling you everything you need to know about the world--in ways I'd never even thought of. It builds up its own conventions and then breaks them in inventive ways. It provides an arsenal of exciting weapons that are as fun to upgrade as they are to use in a combat system that rewards skillful play. The story is surprisingly emotional, taking some exciting turns during the back third that made me want to finish it not once but twice. On top of that, it looks great the entire time. Ryan was the one that pointed out that, over the course of seeing all the pieces of Bastion as just pieces, it became easy to lose sight of the "simple" stuff, like the way that ground rises up from the bottom of the screen and forms the pathways you'll take from one area to the next.

I'll refrain from going into too much detail. After all, we said we weren't going to review the game. But if you'll allow me one more recommendation... grab the demo and see it for yourself. Anyway, here are links to the show, in case you want to see what went on during the game's development.

Our first look at Supergiant happened in the above installment of the Happy Hour, hence Will and Norm's... uh... well, I'm not sure how to describe whatever it is that's going on in that shot up there. Later shows were broken out into easily found pieces, and are listed below so you can catch up with Amir, Gavin, Greg, Jen, Darren, and the rest of the gang.

With the game nearly out, this seems like a good time to look back at the five installments of Building the Bastion. It's hard to believe that so much time has passed since we first covered the game, right when it was getting announced as a selection in the PAX 10. When we started this site, I wanted to try doing things differently. I think we've generally succeeded in many of our goofball adventures, but I'm also proud that we're able to handle something like Building the Bastion. Not to get all "behind the curtain" on you, but conducting interesting (well, they're interesting to us, hopefully you agree) behind-the-scenes coverage of games that goes beyond the dumb "what platforms is it coming out for and when is it coming out???" interview and starts to say something more about both the games themselves and the people making them is pretty difficult to pull off, especially when you're running a reviews section. In my mind, though, you can't have one without the other. It keeps everyone honest. Pursuing something like this with Supergiant was kind of a risky move, and coming out a year ago and saying "here's a game we're not going to review" was kind of wild, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I hope you've enjoyed it, and I hope we can do something similar in the future.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+