Shadow of the Colossus – Splendor through Minimalism

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 Shadow of the Colossus has been analyzed to death since it first came out over 13 years ago. But given that it is one of my favorite video games of all time and I recently played it for the first time in half a decade (or rather, it’s new PS4 remake), I may as well give a quick breakdown on why I think this game has such a lasting legacy.

 SotC is a triumph of minimalism. It creates a hauntingly beautiful world packed with enough atmosphere, mystique, lore, characterization, and excitement to make SotC one of the most well-respected and studied games of all time. And it does this precisely by doing so little of all of it.

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Why We Create – A Transistor Analysis – Introduction



Transistor is one of my favorite games of all time. Upon completing my first playthrough I was enraptured by the atmosphere, visuals, soundtrack, characters… and that I understood next to nothing of what happened over the preceding six hours.

Transistor is clearly not meant to be easily understood. Its story is presented in a manner that’s somewhere between “avant garde” and “infuriatingly vague.” The game shows a world dramatically different from our own based on unexplained rules that defy all physical and metaphysical rules. This world is populated by quite strange individuals who not only never react with as much shock as one would expect from, say, having one’s soul become trapped in a giant sword, but also never bother to just sit down explain whatever insane event happened two minutes ago, like, say being attacked by a sentient, semi-organic building.

Yet I love Transistor dearly. I not only love it for the aforementioned atmosphere, visuals, soundtrack, characters, and bewildering narrative, I love it for the vision. It blows my mind that a group of people actually conceived this idea, sketched out every component of its otherworldly presentation and utterly unique combat, raised money from investors, and then made a full-fledged video game product out of it. There simply is nothing like Transistor1. It looks like nothing else, sounds like nothing else, feels like nothing else, and therefore stands out as the type of singularly-envisioned creation that the characters of Cloudbank would be proud of.

One of the things I love most about Transistor is that it is maybe the densest game I have ever played. For one thing, I managed to write 29,580 words about a game that takes about six hours to play through. So an experienced Transistor player should be able to play through the game again in less time then it takes to read my analysis of its world, plot, and themes. But that’s just the nature of the game. You could freeze any single frame in the entire game and spend an hour talking about the implications of every detail, from the architectural designs to the characters’ clothing. I’m not sure there is a narratively-based game out there which packs so much content into such little space.

I didn’t set out to make this work so long, but the piece just kept extending itself. Every time I tried to write about one tiny aspect of the game, I had to go back and write about five more things to put the original item in context or fit it into the larger narrative and world-building structures. Honestly, just trying to figure out what, how, and when to explain every mechanic of Cloudbank and how it fit into the general plot was enormously challenging and rewarding. So if at any point during the analysis you find yourself not understanding a particular explanation, I suggest making a note and coming back to it later after you’ve read more; the added info might make the pieces fall in to place.

Furthermore, I am completely open to suggestions on where I have made mistakes or overlooked important details. Feel free to send me a message about anything worth changing or adding in this analysis.

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This analysis is broken into four parts:

Part 1: Blank CanvasA description  ofthe nature of Transistor’s universe and the backgrounds of its key characters.

Part 2: In Circles – A quick timeline of events during Transistor’s gameplay.

Part 3: Impossible – A complete walkthrough of the game’s entire narrative.

Part 4: Old Friends – An evaluation of Transistor’s themes and what is ultimately the point of the whole game.

1. Except maybe SuperGiant’s other games – Bastion and Pyre.

Why We Create – A Transistor Analysis – Part 1: Blank Canvas


Part 1: Blank Canvas


To explore Transistor, I will go through the game in the opposite order to which it is presented to the player. Transistor starts with its focus sharply on its two main characters, Red and the Man, and then expands outward to reveal the city of Cloudbank, some of its inhabitants, the Camerata, and glimpses and theories at the true nature of Transistor’s self-contained universe. But the best way to understand the minutiae of these characters and setting is to start with the game’s most abstract elements to establish the fundamental rules of Transistor’s world.

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Why We Create – A Transistor Analysis – Part 2: In Circles


Part 2: In Circles

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As with pretty much everything else in Transistor, the timeline of events is vague and the best we can do is piece together a few details with a healthy dose of speculation. Everything described here will be discussed in greater detail later in Part 3 so it might be helpful to refer to this timeline while reading the next section.

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Why We Create – A Transistor Analysis – Part 4: Old Friends


Part 4: Old Friends

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Transistor tells a story about sentient AIs, quasi-utopian political systems, the dangers of limitless creative vision, metaphysical alterations, body-horror, and dozens of other highly abstract themes and concepts that are quite difficult to convey in a single 3-4 hour video game. What often gets lost in discussions of Transistor, and what I personally had trouble conveying in Part 3’s complete walkthrough of the game, is that behind all the sci-fi tropes, endless barrage of minute world-building details, and highly avante guarde plot structure, Transistor is ultimately a love story.

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Medium Term Goals in Video Game Design

“Modern video game design has a problem with player motivation. In Pong you hit the ball until you couldn’t, in Tetris you stacked the blocks until you couldn’t, and in 2D side scrollers like the original Super Mario Bros, you ran left until you couldn’t. But modern, big budget-3D action games don’t have the luxury of such linearity. Tunnels are boring, so games either discard them or disguise them.

But I worry that modern game designers have failed to replace the built-in motivation found in Pong, Tetris, or Super Mario Bros. Too many games just dump content in front of the player and expect them to care enough to plow through it. This failure to provide adequate player motivation in modern games is ultimately due the absence or failure of medium-term goals…”


Read the rest of the article at Gaming Rebellion: