One year later, it's finally time for Transistor

Transistor  Screenshot - 1163104

A year ago I played Transistor for the first time at PAX East. Now, a year later I’ve played the same demo area in a nearly complete state. What started as an idea and a beautiful world is now a full-fledged combat system and a fully-realized world. Transistor was already brilliant from square-one, and this latest taste has me hyped for the game’s May 20th release.

My first takeaway from the latest demo was the game’s programming/code angle. The upgrades for your weapon, the Transistor, for example, are written out like a traditional coding “function()”. Speaking with the creative director on Transistor, Greg Kasavin, he told me a bit about the world they were going for.

“Having created Bastion, we had this sort-of weird fantasy, frontier world in that game, and you spend the whole game learning about that world and what it’s like. Likewise in this game, we wanted to make a whole new setting and we wanted to see what we could come up with in the science fiction genre. We started with the cyber-punk aesthetic but we quickly started throwing out a lot of the convention of it because the straight-ahead cyber-punk thing has been done so well so many times.”

Transistor

“Some of the things you’re seeing early on are hopefully evocative,” he continued. “Like, right here, this guy is accessing one of these terminals that’s asking you how you want the weather to be, implying that the people of this world have decisions over relatively profound aspects of the world they’re in. Hopefully that’s interesting and gets your mind going.”

I tried to pry more out of him than that, but even I was hesitant to spoil a single aspect of this game’s story before release. “You’ll have the whole game to learn about what makes this world tick,” he assured.

The combat system, a sort of hybrid of real-time action and turn-based strategy, has been tuned and developed into something special. “Last year we we’re only implying what we were going for, whereas here it’s the real system,” Kasavin said. The combat system features a time bar that allows you to freeze time and plan out your attacks, then hit the play button on it to execute the final result. I found myself playing the game almost entirely in this turn-based style, taking advantage of the backstab attacks and taking the time to carefully line up area-of-effect attacks.

Transistor

“We want people to play in a way that feels intuitive to them. Our goal is for it to be very open-ended and to encourage a lot of natural experimentation -- for people to find their own playstyle within that,” Kasavin said. “We find people who will use it every time that they can and other people play much more predominantly in real-time, and just save it for clutch situations or emergencies. We like seeing all that because it means people are playing it in an expressive way.”

That ability to express yourself extends to the upgrade system, where you can slot functions into the Transistor. “You can use them all as active abilites or you can use them as upgrades on other powers,” Kasavin pointed out. “You unlock these different functions for the Transistor, and then you can mix and match them in different ways to produce totally different results. We only really hint at it here because it’s the beginning of the game.”

Transistor

As the game progresses you’ll be able to really take this system in interesting directions. “It opens up a great deal, there are thousands of different combinations possible. The Transistor is so key to the whole game that we wanted it to feel sort of mysterious and powerful -- that you’re always discovering new things that you can do.”

Transistor, like Bastion before it, is shaping up to be a beautiful and deep game. I still don’t know what the Transistor is, or who Red is really, but I can’t wait to explore the world and find out.

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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