So We Ride Again...To Another End...
When I finished Bastion in early 2012 I almost immediately sat down and wrote Greg Kasavin an email that expressed my love for the game and all its features, but especially for the story and the moments of quiet introspection that allowed certain emotional beats to sink in. It was bright and atmospheric, vaguely western and vaguely post-apocalyptic, with a dulcet narrator and a memorable score. The ending was compassionate and sad, but hopeful. It was everything I didn’t know I wanted so much at the time.
I was 20, so I didn’t really say all that or put it eloquently. Actually, I can’t find the email anymore, so I must have accidentally deleted it, but I do remember a short reply in which he thanked me for the message and that he was happy their game meant that much to me. And I’m happy to say Supergiant’s games have not stopped meaning that much to me since then.
Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of Bastion’s release, and I’m taking this moment to open my heart a little about a few of my favorite games and the studio that made them.
Since Bastion’s release, Supergiant Games has released three more titles — not a flop among them. Hades alone garnered an absolute deluge of praise and awards, and understandably so, as it looks and sounds and feels like a polished and loving culmination of everything that made Bastion feel special.
Hades took the rogue-like and ran with it, finally getting me to love the die-and-try-again model of dungeon crawlers. It also takes a familiar setting – everyone’s favorite: Greek mythology – and blends it with the kind of modern characterization that makes me feel like I’m trying to escape a family reunion, but with all the compassionate absurdity of telling my friends about it later. There’s so much to say about this game, and if you go looking for them I know you can find a thousand pieces about it, and some of the horniest fanart I’ve ever seen in my life.
Between Bastion and Hades sit Transistor and Pyre, two stunning departures both in terms of setting and style. Transistor is a gorgeous sci-fi art nouveau heartbreak action RPG, a pop adventure of revenge and reunion with an ending that carved me out by catharsis, especially during a time in my life when I felt particularly alone and was trying to find a new path for my life to take.
Pyre is the one that I jumped into later – after Hades – and its bold electric mystical fantasy setting, unique basketball-like combat system, emotional relationships, and dynamic musical motifs and narrative felt like 60s/70s genre fiction: something new and wild and yet comforting. Especially as a queer person with a non-cohesive, sometimes sparse family/support system, this kind of diverse found-family of misfits, building trust and trying to do better for themselves, hit a chord that had been overlooked in previous games. Not that they have to check every box, but it’s nice to know they’re probably going to come around to what you need, eventually.
I love Supergiant Games because they seem to be completely unafraid of stepping into new territory and absolutely killing it on the first try. Part of that is because Supergiant Games focuses on each fundamental part of their video games with similar intensity. The writing, gameplay, visuals, and audio each play seamlessly into each other, weaving into games that are not too long or too short, and with not a thing out of place. Their settings, regardless of genre, are bright and bold, detailed and curated for natural mise en scene of the interesting and the mundane. Characters are unique, every game bringing a new style that never gives up quality.
Darren Korb is a masterful musician — every score touches on many different techniques and styles, blends genres, fluctuates with action and character motif, and his vocal duets with Ashley Barrett have definitely made me cry. The writing ebbs and flows, exposing desires and sorrow and humor in imperfect and totally realistic ways. Bad and Good are mostly nebulous concepts, the quality of characters boiling down to motivations of the heart of complicated creatures. Everything works to tell all the little stories of characters and events that make up the greater narrative. And I could go on and on.
For such a small and down-to-earth team, they’ve taken a very humane game development style, both in the sense of an absence of crunch and that their games are so reflective of all the emotions and events that plague and celebrate the experience of being alive. It shows that thoughtful, beautiful, complex, and genuinely fun games can be made without sacrificing the people behind it, and that the size of the team or the project shouldn’t justify that sacrifice. And it all started with Bastion.
So happy anniversary, Supergiant Games, and thank you. I can’t wait to see how you outdo yourselves next.