Bound's beautiful world, captured by a fractured community

These images show how the PS4 dancing game is enchanting its weirdly polar fanbase.

A few days after my Bound review went live, a short string of tweets appeared in my Twitter Mentions, from the game's lead developer Michal Staniszewski. My initial reaction was "oh, no!"

There's a certain kind of developer who cannot resist "correcting" reviewers and critics. But Staniszewski's tweets weren't of the scolding variety. He just wanted to talk about the game. He wanted to share with me the way he had wanted it to be received, the ways he and his team at developer Plastic maybe could have done things differently.

This story is really an excuse to post some of these lovely images.

We arranged to chat on Skype. I too wanted to talk about the game's goals and its missteps.

One of the things we spoke about was how the game is being received, not by critics, but by players. There's something odd going on with this game, and how it seems to be attracting two very different congregations.

If you're a PlayStation 4 owner, I urge you to consider playing Bound. It's a thoughtful, gorgeous game with a big heart. As I said in my review, it's not perfect. The central mechanic of dancing through levels is, in my view, under-utilized. But it's a very fine game. Its surrealist world is one of the most enchanting I've ever seen.

The games that tend to stay with me longest are those that try most vigorously to innovate, even if they don't entirely succeed. Last year, I felt this way about Life is Strange. One of its developers tweeted that Polygon had disliked the game, because we hadn't given its episodes high scores, but I said at the time and I'll say it again, that game was greater than the sum of its parts. Its failures can't be ignored, but its ambitions must be appreciated.

Something similar is going on with Bound. On the one hand, it has a deep and engaging story, one which does not need a whole lot of skill to complete. On the other hand, it's also a playground for speedrunners, a method which by definition requires immense amounts of skill and practice.

There's also another group of players that is getting a kick out of Bound. In-game photo artists are taking some delicious pictures of the game's world and posting them online. Playing into this, Staniszewski recently announced a contest for the best photography.

I'm not the only person to take the view that this is an unusually good-looking game, as you can see from some of the in-game photos. Bound has a superb photo mode with powerful filters. The feature you are currently reading is really an excuse to post some of these lovely images.

But this story is also an opportunity to hear what Staniszewski had to say about the game's split personality, its attempt to both deliver a strong emotional narrative and to serve as a speedrunning experiment. So far as I can recall, those two things don't generally sit together. People don't often race through story games, like Gone Home or That Dragon, Cancer.

"We wanted to create a game that would say something meaningful for players. And looking at the reactions online, I'd say we succeeded," he said. "But we were also interested in creating environments where players could speedrun, and come back to the game to play it again and again."

In Bound, a human-like character dances through various levels, solving simple puzzles along the way. While minor enemies impede her progress, these are easily bested. However, they do slow the player down.

Once the game is complete, players are invited to go back and try to speedrun the various levels. They are playing the same game, but this is an entirely different experience from the initial, narrative playthough. This time, players are looking for shortcuts and for ways to finesse the dancing moves so that they slice time off.

"We've appealed to these two audiences," said Staniszewski. "But they are polar opposites of one another, and so it's been difficult to really explain the game. Speedrunners and story fans are both really passionate and vocal, but they don't talk to each other much."

So the post-launch communities are splitting between those who are raving about its unusually emotive story, and those who are eagerly testing the game's limits, even finding shortcuts that the developer didn't design.

"The speedrunners are slowly seeing how much hard work we put into the level design. I think people who say this is an easy game are not really understanding the detail we've put into the speedrunning sections," he said.

In the meantime, the in-game photos keep on coming. Here are more that Staniszewski sent through to us.

Photo: Koralsky
Photo: Koralsky
Photo: whiskeywizard
Photo: oPengu
Photo: oPengu
Photo: oPengu
The main image from this story is fromĀ whiskeywizard. Thanks to all the photo-artists featured in this story. You can see more photo work from Bound here. Babykayak