Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bastion and the Great Mosaic

Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
Developer: Supergiant Games
N.A. Release: July 2011

Every game has pieces, but there are few games like Bastion where every piece is sacred.

And no, I don't mean that you have to hoard or conserve everything in the way many games have flippantly employed the term. That's an external importance; one assigned only to you. The sacredness in Bastion is intrinsic, and comes from the meaning that has been ascribed to every last one of its elements.

Everything is something.
The world the player gets to experience in Bastion is the shattered remains of civilizations, ruined by a great “Calamity.” You are thrust right into the aftermath of all this with absolutely no backstory, and the game takes great pride in this fact.

“A proper story's supposed to start at the beginning,” says the voice of a narrator at the opening of the game. “Ain't so simple with this one.”

The narrator is a constant presence and serves as the glue that holds what the player finds together, offering his perspective and knowledge. He only progresses as the player finds the pieces, but pieces is really all there are to the land anymore. The land literally rises and falls into place around you bit by bit, forming the path ahead. Every object found is linked to the people and a way of life that no longer exist.

Even the enemies you face have a history intertwined with the past world.
Even the game's most basic unit, the fragment, is treated as essential to the mythos. Where in other games it would just be considered a form of currency, it is implied that fragments are the world itself. Things are not exchanged for fragments, but made and restored from them. So, for example, you collect fragments to create an object from the old world (that you are told about) which is used to modify a weapon from the old world (that you are told about) that belonged to a certain class from the old world (that you are told about). It all builds on itself, and all carries a certain weight of importance.

The way Bastion diffuses its story across every component of the environment makes it very much an archaeological experience. Everything you find or witness must not only be considered in itself, but as part of one overall picture. The player is charged with piecing this great mosaic together--with help from the narrator, but also through his or her own imagination--and must eventually make an enormous choice based on their own interpretation of the image they've pieced together. It's a powerful conclusion, and I had not been so hung up on an in-game choice for some time.

It's a little disconcerting to consider this piece-by-piece philosophy against our reality. In one sense, there is something relieving in thinking that who we've been and who we are is influenced by so many different sources, such that no one can ever have full sway. The responsibility is lessened that way. And yet, if our world were ever blown apart, what pieces would the future find and what would they say about us? Should we be more responsible, regardless?

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