Ya Gotta Have Heart, Kid

Bastion Cover Art

Like some monster of old, I’ll go a great distance to get me some heart.

A story that has heart has our attention. We know, right away, that something is different. There’s something being communicated. Something honest. In the low stakes game of watching a film, reading a book or playing a game, we get the feeling of something large and hard to describe under the surface. Something with risk. The easiest trap to fall into with heart is to point the finger at the content. A well told story that tends toward sentiment, coupled with good action, quality performances, great description and/or direction seems a prime candidate for the qualifier. But it goes deeper than that. There are plenty of films, books, games I’ve played where the content was pitch perfect and I wasn’t moved the way I am when confronted with genuine heart.

Heart comes from within. It’s like the organ, that way. It’s in the people who make the thing. It almost doesn’t matter what the content is at times or even how good it is. Kevin Smith, arguably, is a creator who’s made a career playing by heart. By his own admission his movies aren’t the best committed to film, but what you can’t fault them for is their honesty. You can see the love in those films, even if you think the acting or the dialogue or the story or the direction is terrible. The man is honest and his movies take chances because he is trying to communicate something personal. They have heart. Hell, Rocky has heart, and again it’s not because of the story. When you see Stallone in that part you’re seeing a part of Stallone. He wrote from himself and he had to fight to play the part. There’s an energy that comes off of that that’s electric. You can hear it humming.

Bastion, for me, is a game with heart, in the way that you see more often on the indie side of development rather than the AAA. Supergiant Games is a team of seven people who spent twenty months to build a game. They got a house for an office and put the time in. I first became aware of the Supergiant team through the Building the Bastion feature at Giantbomb. Itself a site that is run by writers passionate about games and the industry, Giantbomb followed the game through from creation all the way to final certification. And so did I . Watching those videos each month showed the behind the scenes of independent games development that I hadn’t seen before. All the effort and time this small group put in to something that could just as easily have disappeared when it came to market. While playing the game, the risk wasn’t whether or not I would finish or ‘win’, it was watching the risk of seven people swinging for the fences. The definition of heart.

Bastion is a beautiful game that has solid gameplay and amazing music. I enjoyed the few days it took to put it to bed. If I had any complaints, honestly, it would be how the final climatic run was handled in the narrative, as over the course of about twenty minutes a little bit too much information was delivered rapid fire. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but I felt that I had to think through the movements of the characters and the larger plot more than I should have. I don’t mind working for my story, but this didn’t feel like one of those times. But this is a minor complaint if it can even be called that. Is Bastion a perfect game? For what it is, it comes close. It does what it set out to do. Supergiant Games went out to create a self contained story in a well realized world with solid mechanics and they succeeded. But the real success for me is how clear it is in how that game was made, how it plays and how they’ve handled the community after its release. These are people who care, who love games passionately and created a heartfelt entry into the genre. Looking forward to seeing more from them in the future.

Bastion is currently available on Xbox Live for their Summer of Arcade feature.