I’ve just played Bound, the game for the PlayStation 4 developed by Plastic and published by Sony. Apart from some images and a brief look at a trailer, I knew nothing about it. If you want to play it, I recommend you try to find out as little as possible too. Seeing the tag line and the briefest of descriptions while finding the previous link gave me information I would have preferred gathering myself.
Here are some reasonably non-spoilery thoughts on it, based on having played it for an hour or so:
Unusual combinations of skill sets can lead to unusual products, and competitive advantage.
Bound is beautiful, and shows a rare combination and integration of visuals, audio, and programming. I believe Plastic has roots in the demo scene, and it shows. It has demo aesthetics but with a bit more sense and coherence than one usually sees in demos.
The animations seem to have been captured from a trained dancer. They’re beautiful and striking.
For how unusual skill combinations lead to competitive advantage, see my Gamesindustry.biz article on innovation.
I am not a huge fan of metaphorical stories.
Bound mostly takes place in a very non-naturalistic world, but there are obvious signs that this all symbolizes something in our world. The story is heavily metaphorical, or symbolical, or allegorical. (Let me know if you have a well-founded opinion on the differences between these, and which one Bound would be.)
It’s a way to tell stories that I think works well in visual media, and games can obviously be a visual medium. It works because it gives an excuse to visualize concepts that one would otherwise need words to convey. Also, gameplay actions can be a metaphor for more abstract struggles.
Still, it fills me with weariness. Spending hours trying to deciper the story will occupy my brain, but I’m not sure if I enjoy it. At least, since the meaning is outside what I am seeing, and hidden from me, it’s “okay” that my actions appear to have little meaning in themselves.
Games like Bound don’t fit common models for interactivity and computer games well.
Bound evokes a lot of emotions, but they’re not the emotions we typically talk about (to the degree that we do) when we use the typical lens of systems, meaningful choices, resources, etc. Bound is filled with discovery, joy, beauty, and it’s far from the only game like it. But if there are meaningful choices I’ve not seen any yet. That does not in any way mean that I believe Bound should not have been developed, or should not have been marketed as a “game”.
Beware of relying on a limited set of tools and theories. Be aware of your focus and specialization. Work on your mental toolbox.
Finally, Bound reminds me of a game I’ve worked on in the past, but since that game has not been release yet, and I don’t know how it has changed in the 3 years since I worked on it, I will keep my comments until later.