Supergiant Games has released three games to date: Bastion (2011), Transistor (2014) and Pyre (2017). All of them indie darlings, praised by fans all over the world. During these years, the studio has dropped games on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PlayStation Vita, but the future looks even more promising.
We spoke with Greg Kasavin, writer and designer at Supergiant (alumni of EA & 2K as well as former Gamespot Editor-In-Chief) about some specifics related to their latest game, Pyre.
Pyre’s rites gave me a lot to think about, both during and after I was done with the game. Not only did I really enjoy my time with the gameplay, but I was intrigued by everything surrounding it; the rules and meaning of the Commonwealth. I’m curious about how exactly you came to this idea, considering how different it feels from Bastion and Transistor.
Greg Kasavin: “With Pyre we were once again drawn to creating an original setting and cast of characters, as with Bastion and Transistor before it. We’re in a unique position as a studio to be able to make original games that are really exciting to us to work on — they push us out of our creative comfort zone, and I think our players feel that excitement and freshness in the end result. Each of our games thus far has done well enough for us to be able to stick together as a team and make another one after that, and we want to keep that streak going for as long as we can.
To be more specific about what we wanted to achieve with Pyre: We wanted to make a game with a large, ensemble cast of characters who would have to work together, with the player’s help, to achieve a shared goal, as well as their personal goals. We were interested in exploring new gameplay and narrative ideas through the format of this game. We were intrigued by the idea of these characters having to struggle to return from their exile, by competing in an ancient and forbidden ritual against other exiles whose own freedom was at stake. We wanted players to be able to grow closer to their party members through the course of their journey, then experience the bittersweet feeling of having to say goodbye to those characters… or not!
Our games have always explored dealing with failure in different ways, and with Pyre, we wanted to create a story that could branch in many different ways, but always moved forward, whether you succeeded or not at any point.”
A few weeks ago while searching for the extended versions of “Never to Return”, I found the version that was used for the initial prototype (something that was already stated in this tweet). Personally, I find impressive the amount of work that Darren and Ashley put into a song that never got to the final game (Ashley in particular, considering she sang through the entire song all by herself!)
What was the team thought at the moment regarding the version you first came up with? What made you change it?
Greg Kasavin: “We iterate heavily on all aspects of the game all through development. Quite early in development, we were drawn to the idea of there being two rival bards presiding over the most important Rites. We wanted an interactive and reactive song to play during those moments, and this was the first version that Darren wrote and Ashley performed.”
Was Tariq an already existing character at that time? Considering that we only hear Ashley’s voice, but she does not perform alone in the final game. Is this something that you thought about relating to the relationship between Tariq and Celeste, or it was a matter of preference by the singer?
Greg Kasavin: “Tariq and Celeste were planned from early on, and Tariq was already in the game at the time. Darren hadn’t yet added his own vocal track to the piece but it was always our plan to do so.”
In one part of the song, the lyrics say “Some shall prevail, some perish in the flame” – Were the Rites’ losers supposed to pass away in the initial prototype?
Greg Kasavin: “That part of the lyrics is metaphorical in nature. There was never a point in development when the Rites were going to be lethal. The non-lethal nature of the Rites is vital to the concept of the game, and how there’s no game-over state in the story. It was really important to us that the characters have to live to see another day if they fail.”
A few days before launch came these series of tweets: “I told myself all throughout this project that, whatever happens, I will not look back and think it was for lack of effort on my part.”
In the comments, folks understood that this might have just been a matter of a huge variety of emotions when a game this large was just a few days from release. But it made me think. Did the team experience any problems during the development of Pyre? Were you alluding to anything?
Greg Kasavin: “Yeah, that was just my way of saying I put all my best effort into the game and was motivated throughout it to make something worthwhile. I was waiting in anticipation to see how the game would be received, like any game maker on the eve of the launch of a game they worked on. The launch of a game is an exciting and nerve-wracking time. You learn the outcome of years of effort on your part. All of our projects have been challenging, and Pyre was no exception. For me personally, it was the most I’ve ever worked on one thing. We’re a small team of 12 people and choose to make games that push us to do things we haven’t done before. If it were an easy process, I don’t think the result would be as good.”
Were there any features or situations that you would have included in the game, given the time?
Greg Kasavin: “Pyre was our first foray into multiplayer, and we think Versus Mode is a really fun way to play the game either against a friend or a computer opponent. Online play wasn’t going to be feasible for a team of our size, though that would have been the next big step in fulfilling Versus Mode’s potential. Ultimately, though, much like our previous games, Pyre was designed to feel like a complete experience, and we don’t release our games until we’re happy with them. Pyre is a much bigger game than either of our previous games, and we were happy to include Versus Mode as part of the offering. I love being able to play as many of the antagonist characters from the story in that mode.”
Supergiant Games has successfully released three games, each with its own style and qualities. And, you probably know better than me what’s coming down the line. But I was wondering what would *you* like to experiment with? Even if it’s something that won’t come to anything and perhaps just end up as a prototype, is there a genre or a certain style that you would want the team to work on and see how it goes?
Greg Kasavin: “I don’t expect I’m going to find a limit to my interest in experimenting with interactivity and narrative in games. We iterate and prototype extensively as part of our design process here, both early in preproduction and all throughout development, to some extent. I’m reluctant to get specific in my response here as it’s going to be suggestive of games I might work on, or games I’d be disappointed if I didn’t get to work on. I also don’t want to single out any specific idea. I’m not the sort of person who’s hung up on chasing one specific idea or concept. My specific interests have changed over time, while my broader interests in games have remained virtually unchanged since I was very young.”
Just a few days ago, you were looking for a new member to join the team, specifically someone who could help in creating ports to other platforms. Have you found your candidate? Would it be possible to know which platforms the team like to see the games released in the future?
Greg Kasavin: “We’re hopefully close to finding the right engineer to join our small team, and help us support our growing library of games across all the different platforms where they’re available. We’re always thinking about what new audiences we can reach by bringing our games to new platforms, though those are very big undertakings for our small team, so we have to be very careful about which platforms we choose to support in what order. At our studio we play games on all platforms and have always played games across a variety of platforms, so we have no inherent favorites and would love to support them all if we could do so without compromise.”
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