Think about a normal day in your life. How many words do you speak? How many words do you hear? While there are several different numbers floating around, an average human speaks a minimum of 7,000 words every day. Since we as humans talk so much, the effects the human voice can have on things seems to be forgotten. The human voice is a tremendous asset which can be used to make the ordinary, extraordinary.
The games Thomas Was Alone and Bastion use the human voice in a unique way that dynamically effects the way the player experiences the games.
Bastion is an isometric action RPG game that takes place in a beautiful water-colored world after a great catastrophe known as The Calamity affects the world. The player assumes the role of The Kid, the unnamed protagonist who must collect the crystal Cores to strengthen the Bastion. Everything that I have described so far seems to be nothing radically different from anything else right? Well the distinguishing part of Bastion, aside from the art and music, is the use of an omnipresent narrator. But the narration is far from static. Aside from narrating key story events, the narrator, Ruckus, also provides more dynamic insight to the proceedings occurring onscreen. He comments on your fighting prowess, your ability to find secrets, and if you do nothing at all, Ruckus usually has some commentary to impart. Here is a small sampling of Bastion’s amazing narration. The narration changes the way events unfold in the story as well as your perspective on the events. But it also lets the player know, someone is watching you. While there were not many moral choices to make in the game, The thought of someone watching your actions is enough to give the player pause before committing to an action.
On the other hand, Thomas Was Alone is a minimalist platformer involving shapes as the main characters.
Those shapes you see? Those are some of the main characters in the game. Why would anyone make a narrative-focused game, yes this is a platformer with a focus on narrative, with the main characters as shapes? Simple, you have amazing writing to tell the story the visuals can not convey, similar to older games which had severe graphical limitations. The writing actually gives these polygons, these lines, these damned colored shapes personality! Enough so to maybe broker some emotional investment by the player. The writing is terrific, but without the marvelous narration, the impact of the writing would be lessened. As you being every level, a brief introduction sheds more light into each character. Slowly the player starts to empathize with these shapes. Why? Because they are humans in a different form. The shapes experience loneliness, jealousy, sacrifice, and insecurity. You know, like we humans do. The fact that a player can be made to feel any sort of emotional involvement is simply amazing. And this would not be possible without the narration used in the game.
The human voice is an amazing tool that can have a profound effect on video games. While great voice acting for characters is always fantastic, using the human voice in different ways to accomplish different things is sorely underused. Using a narrator profoundly affects the gameplay and the experience the player remembers after walking away from the game. Despite reading reviews and information about both games and expecting what was to come, experiencing the narrative with the use of the narrators blew me away. I am still in awe of what these games accomplished. The fact that I am writing this years after the release of both games is a testament to the staying power of my experience with the games? If you have not played these games, do yourself a favor and fix that problem. You will not regret your time spent.