So Transistor was announced recently, and I can’t be more hyped. Bastion was perhaps one of the most important games of the last few years, demonstrating a mix of both novel and highly polished aesthetics and novel and highly polished mechanics. Even more stunningly, it managed to combine these in a few particularly beautiful moments. Most of all, the scene where you carry Zulf to safety, if you choose that path, is one of the best combinations of aesthetics and mechanics to create a powerful narrative I’ve ever seen.
Transistor looks like it will live up to the same standards and I’m particularly happy to see the choice of a female protagonist. I’m a sucker for good female protagonists, since my preferred genres of fantasy and sci-fi literature rarely feature them and, when they do, rarely feature good ones. This is even more extreme in games.
Just from the initial designs of Red, the main character of Transistor, I think we can safely add this game to the list. Red’s design is a clinic in how to tread that narrow line between pandering to a minority for the sake of it and just going with what ‘works’. IE, boobs and vacant badass attitudes.
Red’s core design is unashamedly sexualised, but in a very interesting way. Her background is as a performer, specifically a singer, and her design reflects her being dropped from the stage into battle. So her outfit is the sleek, elegant dress, hair and makeup of a 1950’s styled diva. I’m not sure whether the decision was deliberate, but picking an era which represented the first great push for women’s liberation in the west is powerfully symbolic.
This outfit is then messed up a bit, the full length dress is quickly shredded to a more practical thigh length skirt and a leather bomber jacket is added to the ensemble. Both the ripped clothes and the leather are a call to punk fashion, another movement with strong connections to egalitarianism and women’s rights. Two periods- one where women claimed ownership of their own appearance and one when they chose to rebel against the appearance that the typical male of the time would like/expect from them, combined in one outfit. Again, I imagine this probably wasn’t entirely deliberate, but it’s undeniably an effective melange. An acknowledgement of both sexuality and control over it, attention to appearance and practical spirit mashed together in one form the reader can interpret in whichever way they identify with most.
Red’s narrative background is a self-made woman, an important voice and a powerful figure in the setting’s society, which is why she is being targeted in such a way that we have a story to follow. Her style of combat, once that begins, is calculating and despite the brutal styling of her buster-sword weapon, she uses it more as a lever or energy projector than a club. The choice to include such a weapon and then subvert its exaggerated symbolism is again interesting, deliberate or not.
In short, everything about Red’s design is about calling attention to the fact she is creative, powerful, attractive (in such a way that there is an ever circling yin-yang of attractive because powerful and powerful because attractive, not just a simple position of the unrealistic former or misogynistic latter), important character.
It’s this last that is most significant. Red is important. She’s not just some farmgirl or orphan or vapid princess. Almost all female protagonists, even good ones, are coming from a position of weakness and earning their stripes through the male-mythos of fighting for power. Red is already a powerful figure, a celebrity by virtue of her own talents and capabilities and a respected voice. There is no subtle assumption, as there is in so many well intentioned but misguided narratives around women, that as a female she must inevitably begin in a position of weakness and oppression. Her story is instead about defending what power she has earned for herself which is, I think at least, a far more resonant kind of narrative for describing the sorts of trials real women go through every day. Her character design supports this in creative and elegant ways, rather than bludgeoning you in the face with ‘hey look at how un-sexist we are thanks to this shallow gesture to equality’.
So I’m a fan. I can’t wait to see what Supergiant come up with, I can only hope the narrative ties into my initial impression of it.
The artwork is my first attempt at using Mangastudio 5. I’m a photoshop guy, have been for years and years, but I’ve been wanting to branch out into proper illustration software. I’m going through the process of learning to use MS having picked up a Nostromo, which will help my workflow a lot (I really need more hotkeys than the 8 an old cintiq offers you). I’m still pretty rough, but there’s a lot of promise in the software I’m looking to get to know and frankly, compared costwise to photoshop, it’s a nobrainer.