Listen to a Story While You Play! (Bastion)

by Adam Lederer

That’s a dig at Bastion‘s story-telling, yes, but more like a jealous back-handed complement.  It works well.  It works so well.  I’m not a writer by trade, so I feel I’m at liberty to express myself here by means of “OMFG“.

I honestly wonder what the experience of Bastion would be like on mute.  For those not in the know, one of the things that sets Bastion apart is its use of an ever-present narrator.  What initially seems like a gag (albeit an excellent one) turns into a remarkably deep voice (literally and figuratively) that serves to characterize what otherwise could be considered fairly repetitive environments and encounters.  And by characterize, I mean I’m holding back tears here, man, please, I’m trying to fight a bunch of blue guys.

So we’ve established that it works (I know it doesn’t work for everyone, so if you disagree, please comment as to why!)

But is it cheating?

I mean basically I’m listening to an audio-book that’s talking at me with story points and history and tidbits while I wander and kill things.  Make no mistake, the execution is genius, it’s not easy to make it so seamless and connected to the contours of each level and plot point.  This isn’t an ethical question – I’m just asking does it sacrifice potentially more involving options for game narrative?

The reason I ask this is that because it works so well (it works so well), why don’t we all start using narrator voice-over during gameplay?  It’s efficient in terms of asset creation time/cost, it’s efficient in terms of delivering story at a constant pace, it keeps boring sections of the game interesting and heightens the experience of the more atmospheric sections.  God knows there’s probably more fiction writing experience out there than drama writing [this is probably a bad assumption, but I’ll allow it – ed. (who is also me)].

So let’s all do narrative voice-over like Bastion.

Right?  Or not?  If I have a flash of insight on the subject maybe I’ll come across an answer for myself, but I’d love to hear some thoughts.