This Could Be Good

Transistor

Speechless

The hero of Transistor has lost her voice, but Supergiant Games hasn’t lost theirs.

By Matt Gerardi • June 14, 2013

Preview events offer only brief glimpses at very big games. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.

Bands with successful debut albums have it rough when it comes to repeat performances. Unless the act decides to go in a completely new musical direction, it’s forced to seek the thin line between stagnation and maturation. Landing on the wrong side could mean the difference between cementing a band’s place among critics or fading from the zeitgeist. The team at Supergiant Games, creators of Bastion, find themselves in a similar situation with their second project,Transistor. The demo I played and the conversation I had with the game’s writer, Greg Kasavin, left me feeling that this sophomore effort will land on the side of healthy artistic growth.

Transistor

Transistor is both an affirmation and growth of the Supergiant style. The hero, a famous singer whom we know only as Red, has had her voice stolen, and to make matters worse, she’s the target of assassins who command a robot army. Cornered by her pursuers, Red zings across the futuristic city of Cloudbank with the help of a mysterious talking sword-like weapon called the Transistor. It calls out for Red to pick it up. Vulnerable and shaken, she obliges. And now the robot army, known as The Process, chases her with renewed vigor. What these forces want isn’t clear. In fact, nothing about the game’s story beyond this basic premise is clear yet—and intentionally so. As with Bastion, the story will unfold deliberately, filling players in on Red, the Transistor, and the state of the city around you.

Bastion is known for its dynamic narration. Your actions are accompanied by a voiceover from a gruff old man who seems to occupy a different time. At first, Transistor appears to be pulling the same trick—the voice of the titular weapon is provided by the same voice actor as Bastion’s narrator—but the storytelling here is more nuanced. It’s clear from the outset that whoever is trapped inside this weapon wants nothing more than for Red to be safe. “I couldn’t stop them before they took your voice,” the blade tells her mournfully.

If it wasn’t clear from the phrase “robot army,” Transistor is very much a science-fiction work, but it’s sprinkled with traces of film noir. You come across advertisements depicting Red in her glory days, hands wrapped around an old-timey microphone. She looks like she was plucked straight from a smoky lounge, her crimson hair and golden gown adding the only splashes of color to a hazy room. The Transistor speaks in poetic bursts that are reminiscent of beat poetry that could have been performed in the same bar. The vocals of the game’s music evoke that same slinky lounge feeling even more, though they’re augmented with the industrial clatter of a drum machine, bringing us back to the game’s slick sci-fi setting.

Transistor

Action scenes prove to be the biggest divergence from Supergiant’s prior work. You can run around and bash robots wantonly, but you’ll probably get your clock cleaned. Instead, you can pause the action to plot a course around the arena and set up a string of attacks. There’s a meter that fills up with each step you take and each action you lock in. Once it’s topped off, you’re out of moves and it’s time to unleash your plan. The fun comes once you start chaining the Transistor’s various abilities together. A single turn might involve teleporting behind an enemy, hitting it with a short-range attack, and lining up a long-range shot that finishes off your foe—and starts chipping away at the next distant bot.

Transistor isn’t just more of the same. Sure, the bits that I saw had a lot in common with Bastion, but those commonalities struck me as superficial. The demo left me with a sense of Supergiant’s growth as a creative team with a distinct approach to building games. It’s a style that is all about tonal cohesion: a harmonious synthesis of writing, visual art, music, and game design that results in compelling worlds. I’m already eager to know more about Red’s journey. It’s going to be a long wait for this sophomore effort to drop.

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  • The_Helmaroc_King

    YES. I’m looking forward to this game so much. Beautiful style, but I especially love the beautiful music by Darren Korb. Just listen to that trailer!

  • Sudden_Valley

    The trailer visuals are frickin’ gorgeous. Are there any other gameplay vids available?

    Edit: Aaaand missed the header, which answered my initial question.

    • an_anonymous_commenter

      Haven’t read the whole thread so someone else may well have linked this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPyD4FuvuOE

      It’s pretty much the first 15 minutes of the game and it’s gorgeous.

  • Cloks

    Studio decides to make a game. Will it be as good as what came before? Can’t ever tell until the deed is done.

    • DrFlimFlam

       They sit down and code a while.

  • caspiancomic

    I’m replaying Bastion at a pretty leisurely pace right now, since it’s the only outlet I’ve got for how god damn amped I am for Transistor. I want this game. I want it very badly. Also: just release that Darren Korb track as like the OST equivalent of a single already. I want to listen to it forever.

    • Marozeph

      Bastion is one of the few games i can replay from time to time and enjoy just as much as the first time. It’s probably mostly due to the imho perfect pacing, but the excellent soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.
      (Maybe “Games you can replay over and over” would make for a good Q&A?)

  • Jackbert

    Continuing with the stagnation versus maturation thread, the new turn-based combat sounds like a perfect evolution to me. I liked the aesthetics of Bastion, but frustration with the imprecise hack’n'slash controls caused me to ditch it. Transistor also seems better aesthetically; the urban setting is more appealing to me and I absolutely love the trailer music. Basically, I’m excited for this game.

    • Sudden_Valley

      There were also moments of Bastion that just seemed too…crazy. You’d suddenly have enough weird enemies on screen to contend with that you’d spend so much time trying not to die and sort of miss out on some of the gorgeous level design. Transistor seems to be fixing some of that by slowing everything down a notch.

      • Fluka

        I found my experience of Bastion vastly improved by turning it on easy/narration mode, where you can’t die.  (Well, you *can* die, but you can do it infinite times and just drop down at the same location, instead of starting the entire level over again.)

        That said, Bastion + pause-based combat + female protagonist + noir-ish sci-fi setting = this is the game I am looking forward to the most in the next twelve months.

        • Roswulf

           I…had no idea this was possible.

          I now must go buy Bastion; I had been scared off by the fear of my general awfulness at quickly pressing buttons to kill things making the whole thing an unforgivable frustrating experience.

          Thanks Fluka, now I’m excited about two games!

    • http://www.facebook.com/zetes.johnson Zetes Johnson

       I gave up on Bastion probably far too quickly, but I got bored within two hours or so of gameplay. It just didn’t do anything for me.

    • NakedSnake

      I was thinking the same thing. That’s pretty smart if Supergiant finally decided “we can’t do action” and veered into another direction.

  • aklab

    I really need to play Bastion, huh…

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

      Yes. Do it now. And while you do so, listen.

      • aklab

        Do you suggest keyboard + mouse or controller for Bastion? 

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

          I used keyboard+mouse and I think it’ll give you a lot more control/precision for the ranged stuff. If you’re not generally comfortable with keyboard+mouse, or you find it frustrating, try with a controller, I guess.

  • DrZaloski

    After Bastion, how can you NOT look forward to this game?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

    Seriously, I haven’t been this psyched about anything since I was a virgin.

  • The_Primordial_Dr_Zoidberg

    Bastion is the only game I’ve played in my adult life (aside from maybe the first Dragon Age and WoW) that conjures up intense imagery when I think of it as if it was a real thing I experienced.  And the only reason the other two do that is because I spent so much time in those worlds.  Bastion managed to conjure that up within me in the span of a week.  I don’t even want to think about how much time I spent logged on running around Orgrimmar at the auction house, but it’s easily hundreds of times more than the hours I spent in the world of Bastion.

    Pretty amazing for a top-down hack and slash with cartoonish graphics.

    Hey, big game devs, listen up:  STORY IS IMPORTANT, HIRE GOOD WRITERS.  I’ve pretty much stopped gaming as I’ve gotten older because I need to be invested in the story OR have shiny random loot to be found with 17 hour grind fests.  I finally gave in to my artistic side and am now a published writer and musician- neither of which were true before I was 28 years old, believe it or not.  All because I don’t spend most of my free time gaming (i somehow managed to maintain a 4.5 year relationship while playing WoW- don’t ask me how much sleep I got in college).  What could have been had I not spent 100 hours getting the golden Chocobo in FF7 in 7th grade! Or spending weeks in the stupid casino thing to get Cloud’s best sword (the “omni”-slash or whatever- yes, I remember it 16 or so years later, fuck me).

    I’ve found I’m the ultimate min/maxer in every game and I can’t help it.  I have to be the best.  I must see every ending, do every side-quest, win every stupid card game, “defeat” the in-game economy, see every Easter egg, stay near the top of every leader board, research strategy, and ride a stupid fucking golden Chocobo you couldn’t even CONTROL.  Children: if that’s true of you in games, it’s probably true with literally anything else you are passionate about.  So get off your ass.  Just because you work and/or go to school doesn’t mean your self-improvement ends the second you walk into the door of your home.

    Only play memorable things like Bastion because they’re art to experience and feel.  If you feel nothing, you’re just passing the time. Then, all you’re left with is memories of you, yourself (and probably a sleeping friend on the couch or significant other in your bed) watching the sun come up while constantly reloading your save games grinding out the best items you can find so you can two shot the final boss who was the whole purpose of the fucking story. 

    I have no idea where this rant came from, but Bastion was that good.

    • NakedSnake

      Yea, there’s definitely something to be said for understanding how involvement a game will require, and limiting your choices accordingly. One of the best things about the indie gaming revolution is that you have a chance to experience new ideas and beautiful worlds, but you don’t have to invest 30 – 100 hours to do so.

    • aklab

      Nice rant! I suffer from a lot of those same impulses. With all the hundreds of hours I’ve put into Zelda games, probably half of that was actually playing through the games, with the other half devoted to scouring Hyrule for a couple of pieces of heart (even though what I had was more than enough to finish the game).

      I also went through a time, around 2004-2008, when I had pretty much quit gaming aside from occasional DS stuff. I had so much work, so much school, and so much just life that I didn’t have time to game or watch TV or play music or do anything I really enjoyed.  

      But there’s a balance. I eventually found that I needed that hour or two of escape. It’s not that I was choosing an hour of gaming over an hour of self-improvement; I’m choosing it over an hour of watching TV or something. Or sleep, I admit. But I just feel better in general and hopefully am more productive in my real life if I know I can completely unwind some each day. 

      Oh and I will check out this Bastion game I keep hearing about!

  • snazzlenuts

    Fuck. Now I have to buy a PS4.

    • Jackbert

      Or play it on your computer, since the required specs won’t be too high?

      • snazzlenuts

        As long as work doesn’t mind, sure! This computer works great!

    • Fluka

      Yay simultaneous Steam release!

  • DrFlimFlam

    It really seems like Bastion was a foundation for their approach to games, and Transistor is an expansion of that. I can’t wait to see this company evolve over the years.

    One way or another, I need me some more Supergiant.

  • duwease

    Greg Kasavin?  Ex-GameSpot Greg Kasavin?

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve
    • DrFlimFlam

      The very same. Giving us words to chew on since 1996.

      Or whenever GameSpot launched.

    • Toparaman

       Yup.  Back when Gamespot was good. 

  • http://i821.photobucket.com/albums/zz132/toemali/stuff/bosun.jpg Colliewest

    This is going to be my first day one purchase ever, and I played my first video game in 1982.

  • boardgameguy

    Even if this is just Bastion with a new protagonist, story, and setting, I’d still buy it.