Last month at PAX East we got a chance to check out Supergiant Game’s next title, Transistor. Unsurprisingly, it blew us away just from the brief hands-on time we got with it. For anyone that doesn’t know, Transistor is Supergiant’s follow-up (not a sequel though!) to 2011’s Bastion, a game that was not only our favorite downloadable title, but also one of the best games released that year, period.
So when Transistor was unveiled a few weeks before it made its official debut at PAX East, we already had high hopes for the title. And now that Supergiant is on the map thanks to Bastion, there’s a lot of pressure on the small, independent studio to deliver again.
I had the chance to chat with Supergiant’s creative director Greg Kasavin following PAX East, after all the dust had settled. We talked about how Supergiant got its start, how the success of Bastion has not gone to the studio’s head and changed their development philosophy, and how with Transistor, Supergiant is hell-bent on building something new from the ground up.
CraveOnline: Before we get into things, why don’t we start with an introduction. Tell us exactly what you do at Supergiant Games.
Greg Kasavin: I do writing and level design among other things at Supergiant. On Bastion, I built about half the game's levels, and wrote the story and narration. Part of my responsibility is to help unify all the different ideas that go into our games, and develop the story, characters, and setting.
How did you get your start working at Supergiant Games?
I met Supergiant's co-founders, Amir Rao and Gavin Simon, while we were all working at Electronic Arts in Los Angeles on the Command & Conquer franchise. I was even roommates with Amir for part of it. We all quit around the same time in 2009. A month later, Amir and Gavin had dropped everything to form Supergiant in the living room of a house. I was able to join them about a year later. We had similar goals around the kinds of games we wanted to make and the way in which we wanted to make them. We also had compatible skill sets.
You guys kind of captured lightning in a bottle with your first game, Bastion. It was such a distinctly imaginative game, not only from a gameplay standpoint, but also artistically and aurally. I don’t want to spend too much time talking Bastion since its been available for a few years now, but how did you guys come up with the look and style of the game? Did those elements come first, and then the gameplay was built around them?
We're a gameplay-driven studio and Bastion started as just a rough gameplay prototype. The idea of a central "Bastion" location was always there but the presentation definitely came later. From the get-go I'd say we aspired to make a game that was more than just fun to play, that could leave a lasting positive impression on those who finished it. But that was just an ambition and we didn't know how we could back it up at first.
We did know we wanted to create a particular tone for the game, and we ultimately used the music, voiceover, and artwork to achieve that. Of course we were lucky to be able to work with such talented people in those respective areas, namely Darren Korb on music and audio, Logan Cunningham for the voiceover, and Jen Zee for the art. We configured the game around the talents of the people on the team, so for example, if not for our connection to Logan we likely would not have used voiceover in the game at all.
Where did Supergiant go following the success of Bastion? Did the company grow exponentially or are you guys still a relatively small studio?
We have no interest in growing exponentially because we've already been there as part of our past jobs and we like being small better. Being small isn't inherently better, mind you, it just has different strengths and weaknesses that we happen to prefer as a group of individuals. We were seven people on Bastion and we're ten people now, which is around where we intend to stay for the foreseeable future. We like being able to get everyone in the same room and reach consensus on things, which isn't possible when you grow to a certain size.
Bastion's success has meant we could grow our team to the size we wanted, as well as move out of that house in San Jose to a slightly more appropriate location. Most of all it means we get to make another game together as a team, which is what we really wanted to do and what we want to keep doing.
And that brings us perfectly around to discussing your latest game, Transistor. When did you start development on it?
Ideas for Transistor started brewing right around the time we finished Bastion. Our ideas for new projects come from all sorts of different directions, and it takes us a while to find the common ground between all the ideas we're excited about and turn them into something. The game has been in development for over a year now, though we haven't been working on it full-time for that entire period, since Bastion kept us plenty busy last year as well, such as the iOS version we launched in August. We now have the full team pushing full steam ahead on Transistor, which feels great.