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Transistor Was a Celebration of Supergiant's Strongest Asset; Plus the Tedium of Thrones

UNPREDICTABLE | Caty looks backs on Transistor in honor of the release of Pyre, and reluctantly watches Game of Thrones.

Analysis by Caty McCarthy, .

Unpredictable is a column from Caty McCarthy circling around recent games and other happenings bustling in the world of media. This week features the game Transistor (in light of the release of Pyre) and the show Game of Thrones.

Supergiant's latest game Pyre is out today across computers and consoles. It's an ambitious game from the developers of Transistor and Bastion, one with excellent twists on RPG progression, world building, and molding a sports-like core into something strange, mystical, and unfamiliar. As with all Supergiant's releases it still has its faults, but it's a game still well worth playing even in sight of its failings.

Bastion never hit me like it hit a lot of players, but the developers' follow-up Transistor did. Transistor has flaws too. Its locale, the cyberpunk saturated city of Cloudbank, often feels more like the shell of a city than one once inhabited by citizens. After playing Pyre, I felt like Supergiant's excellent art direction finally got a chance to truly shine, adding a rhyme to the reason for their gorgeous art even if it was at the cost of something else that made Transistor so great: its music and hyperfocused story.

Transistor wasn't a tale of exasperated redemption like Pyre, but of revenge. When we first meet Red, the red-haired heroine of the game, she's pulling a soft-glowing sword out of a corpse. The sword talks to her; she was once a famous singer—posters of her crowd the walls of Cloudbank—but now she's without a voice. Only a soft hum remains. The sword does all the talking for her, essentially. The sword, or rather the Transistor, is close to Red, and she's close to the sword.

The story that unfolds is a solemn one, but it's earnest. In a hub-like oasis, Red has the opportunity to revisit her vocal-driven past; her songs play loudly in the mini-paradise. We grow close to Red through this, learning of her past through her music, and the person she was once able to be. Not the one cutting down robots in the street with a giant teal sword.

The music in Pyre, meanwhile, is far more subdued. It remains alluring—much like Bastion's too—but it's parsed down to a harmful degree compared to Supergiant's prior games. Your musician sorta-companion in your party is the one who plays hymns for you on occasion, and his voice is soft, aching, and bringing a much-needed sense of melancholy to the game itself. But aside from his very occasional soft musings, music hardly plays a role in Pyre. At least not as evidently as it once did in Transistor.

Transistor uses its music past just setting a tone as most games do, it complements everything in the game, and even has a part in telling the story on its own. Music is a source of life, of yearning for Red. Music is granted as big of a role as any other asset in the game—residing carefully alongside its setting, gameplay, story, and art to tie the entire game together. Music in Transistor was the cherry on top of an already fine game. Without it, Transistor wouldn't be the same game at all. That was its power. The power of music.

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I honestly, honestly, honestly have no idea why I've kept with Game of Thrones for so long. I've been watching from the start, technically lost interest somewhere around season three. And yet every season I'm right there on HBO Go, readily awaiting episodes to go live.

I wouldn't qualify Game of Thrones as a hatewatch even, because I don't hate it. I'm just utterly bored by it, week after week, season after season. Character deaths feel perfunctory, instead of the jaw-dropping shockers they once were. Romances feel forced in the post-George R. R. Martin-penned novels world, where the world itself feels like fan fiction—because that's what it's seemingly become. I've just been so tired of Game of Thrones for so long; it's a cultural fad that's prevailed for what feels like my entire life. I worry we'll never escape it. (And with news of spin-offs, we maybe never will.)

For some reason though, I can't stop watching. I don't watch it for pure joy, but more through obligation. I've wasted so much time watching this far, I can't drop it now, can I? That's the mental gymnastics I've wrestled with at least. I just gotta see who winds up on that throne. (Surely it has to be Daenarys, right? At least at some capacity?)

Game of Thrones is the only show that's seemingly trapped me by its spell. Usually if a show doesn't get better, I have no qualms dropping it. Like with Shameless, a show I haven't watched in years but is still somehow going (in accordance with the Showtime curse). With anime, I drop more shows than I end up finishing, giving each series around three episodes to win me over usually. In most cases, they don't.

Game of Thrones is a tricky one though. Seemingly the only exception to the rule. It is a curiosity that keeps me going; a wish that it'll return to the strong roots of its initial first few seasons. This season and the final one are both shorter than usual, giving hope to cutting out the fluff and nonsense that's plagued past seasons.

Alas, I'll keep watching Game of Thrones reluctantly; bored as ever. Maybe the true game of thrones is how long the thrones gambit can string us along until we die, Red Wedding-style.

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Comments 8

  • Avatar for hester2 #1 hester2 3 months ago
    I disagree with everything you said about Thrones, but I get what you mean. That pretty much sums up how I feel about Walking Dead.
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  • Avatar for catymcc #2 catymcc 3 months ago
    @hester2 Yeah I was never into The Walking Dead, but I know quite a few people who feel that way about it too haha.
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  • Avatar for Talraen #3 Talraen 3 months ago
    I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that way about Game of Thrones. I loved this show for about the same amount of time I loved the books (through book 3/season 4), but since then it seems like they've lost the thread. I'm not sure the series creators understand what made the books great. Game of Thrones is good because of how and why things happen, not because of what happens. Now everything seems to happen because they want it to - I second the idea that it seems like fan fiction. Though frankly, I'm not sure Martin didn't write himself into a corner that the show is just as trapped in. I don't really blame the show creators for making me feel no desire to watch, but that doesn't mean I'm going to keep watching it.

    Last Sunday's episode was the first I didn't watch, and so far I am very happy with that decision. Like you, I don't hate the show, but it does nothing for me. And since it used to be so great, that's a huge downer in comparison.
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  • Avatar for mattcom26 #4 mattcom26 3 months ago
    @Talraen it will be interesting to see in the future, once Martin's books have also run their course (if they ever do), whether he feels the show impinged his ability to create the best possible story he could have if he'd never gotten caught up in TV. Granted, he's said the two mediums will diverge and he's fine with that, but nevertheless it seems impossible he won't be heavily influenced by story beats and character development in the later seasons, including those that are to blame for the kind of watching experience Caty is lamenting.Edited 2 times. Last edited July 2017 by mattcom26
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #5 VotesForCows 3 months ago
    @catymcc A while ago I started ditching any activity if I had any qualms about it - be that walking out of a cinema half way through, ditching a game or book, etc. Its been brilliant! Life is too short to settle for mediocre stuff.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_cost#Loss_aversion_and_the_sunk_cost_fallacy
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #6 Kuni-Nino 3 months ago
    As someone who's a book reader that dropped the show at Season 4, I don't understand why you're bored Caty. I chimed in with a few peeks at some episodes and GoT seems as good as it's ever been. The Battle of the Bastards can take its place among the tv's greatest episodes.

    I think what makes GoT so popular is that through all the shit you put up with, it still manages to deliver epic moments no tv series has ever attempted to do. I think that's makes it worth it. Last season was considered the worst by aficionados but the last two episodes had everyone chirping. I think people are willing to stick around for that kind of payoff. I know I am.

    I think you probably are too.Edited July 2017 by Kuni-Nino
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #7 benjaminlu86 3 months ago
    I also liked Transistor more than Bastion. Maybe because I played Bastion later than most so there was less down time between the two? I thought the music overall was much stronger in Transistor (except for Build the Wall). I also found the Limiters in Transistor (other than Permanence) to be more of a fun additional challenge which added strategic depth, whereas the Idols in Bastion tended to just add frustration.

    Very much looking forward to Pyre!
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #8 Vonlenska 3 months ago
    I STILL haven't played Bastion yet. I need to just unplug from games for a few years and catch up on all the things I've bought and let collect (mostly digital) dust.

    I loved Transistor, though. It felt...incomplete, but in a way that stirred my imagination to fill in the gaps, which is in some ways a preferable antithesis to open worlds with no detail left unturned.
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