We’ve read a giant amount from a super company: We’re here to showcase our round-up on Supergiant Games and their plethora of four titles – Bastion, Transistor, Pyre, and the early access game with version 1.0 later this year, Hades. Enjoy!
After transcribing the entire game’s dialogue twice (once for new game plus), Katherine Castle makes the case for a better story lurking underneath the surface, and how we can’t always look back on the past.
“Actually obtaining a Bastion core is similarly destructive – the moment you touch it, the world you’ve just brought back into being is plunged into chaos, all hell breaking loose as you make for the exit on the skyway. Rucks tells us the cores will fix everything, but so far it seems to be doing the exact opposite.”
Ty Gale discusses their experience with diaspora in Bastion and how it correlates to their experience with heritage from their Grandmother.
“The complexities of diaspora are central to Bastion. You rescue two additional survivors over the course of the game; Zulf and Zia, both of the Ura people, historic enemies of Caelondia. Zulf is a proud Ura, a diplomat sent to keep the peace between your peoples. Zia is the child of a refugee, raised in Caelondia with almost no knowledge of her heritage. She wears the traditional garb, sings some traditional songs, hunches down to play her instrument as if she carries the weight of all that was left behind when her father Venn fled his homeland.”
Some games are outside the box, and others like to stay in the box. Zachary Welter makes the case for why Bastion, as conservative to game design as it is, showcases the medium well, and makes the case for games being just that: Another medium to enjoy.
“And here’s where the genius kicks in. The first half of Bastion is just simple fetch quests. The player goes to a place to get a core, power up the Bastion, get a new building, and do it all over again. But these fetch quests are so stylized and immersive that the player simply doesn’t realize it. The game could be just a simple Brawler, but the Narrator gives power to your actions. You’re not just moving up the stairs to get closer to the core, you’re “pressing on to higher ground.” You didn’t just accidentally fall off the world while walking, the Narrator was just trying to test you to see if you were paying attention by saying outrageous things.”
A decade later, and we’re all still discussing Bastion. In this article (from an author we could not locate; originally posted on Pixels or Death makes the case for why Bastion is a full fledged masterpiece.
“I’m not just saying that Bastion is a fun game to play or that I recommend you buy it or anything like that – these are all, as far as I’m concerned, foregone conclusions and mere platitudes. The true marvel of Bastion is that underneath the gameplay mechanics rests a deep, enriching experience that truly pushes the envelope with what videogames are capable of.”
Ellis Powell takes a deep dive into a-dimensional protagonists, how Red differs from the norm, and uses one of Transistor’s most powerful story moments to discuss her.
“What does it mean for a game, a machine, to create a feeling of agency? As much as games may react to a player’s inputs, and as much as players may personify games or equipment (e.g. “Stupid game made me lose!”), few individuals believe that the game has agency in the same way that they do. This is not because the game has no effect on players, but because, as mentioned before, there is no meaning, feeling, or significance in the game having agency. Transistor, on the other hand, takes control from players and ascribes meaning to that seizure of control.”
Transistor definitely breaks many of the narrative tropes seen in both sci-fi and games. Victoria Liao gives a breakdown of such.
“Transistor takes all this and tosses it out. In an effort to keep Red safe early in the game, the Transistor guides her to a motorcycle, their intended escape vehicle. “Take the second right. Do not turn left. And, thanks for the lift.” Moments later, he is taken aback. “You turned left.” And so Red has, in a cutscene without the player’s input. Of course she turned left. She’s the hero now, and despite being voiceless, that one action has established her agency as distinct from the Transistor’s narrative guidance. It is a joy to play a woman character who has her own agency and makes her own decisions in a genre that is sorely lacking in nuanced female protagonists. But the Transistor is not the enemy here—he has a close relationship to Red, which is slowly revealed as they travel together, and he tries to support her as she confronts the Camerata”.
Transistor was originally going to use a deck-based random system akin to Magic: The Gathering. Shocking, right? Amir Rao, co-founder of Supergiant Games, does a deep dive of Transistor’s game design:
“Previously, I said we were trying to discourage players from sitting on the same powers all game long and denying themselves a deeper and more varied experience. That sentiment came from a very ‘eat your vegetables’ school of game design that I think many developers can be prone to. You see a relatively natural path-of-least-resistance sort of behavior in your players that you want to discourage, so you try to design all the ways in which it will be thwarted.
Instead, we became more accepting of the idea that many players will be inclined towards familiarity, and instead tried to make a system with enough richness that those more-experimentally-inclined might spend time to figure out what combinations worked for them…and maybe it could convert some less-experimentally-inclined players along the way.”
Cyberpunk often brings birth to a variety of lovely artstyles; Transistor is no exception. Kyle McKenney discusses just how awe-encompassing the city of Cloudbank is… even if it is a dystopian nightmare.
“Transistor’s story is about Red, a singer who was attacked by those who intend to control Cloudbank. She seeks revenge and to take control of the city back. This in-fiction poster for one of her concerts reminds me of art nouveau works by Alphonse Mucha, like the one below titled Sarah Bernhadt (1896).”
The world’s changing, and we’re all itching to make a better future. Writer Chas Carey provides some insight on how Pyre relates to the current political climate, and how to work to create a better future.
“In Pyre’s world, many Rites champions take cushy jobs the Commonwealth offers them on returning in the hopes of reforming the system, only to become part of the system themselves. But a long-suffering character ropes you, the Reader, into a plan (“the Plan,” of course) to topple the Commonwealth and install a new government by sending back exiles who will refuse the deal and incite the people’s passions. You get to choose who your team sends back — you may even throw matches and send back a deserving or politically expedient member of a rival team. The catch, as the game slowly reveals to you, is that the Rites are ending, and not everyone will get to go home.”
Many resistance stories talk about the ‘big hero that saves everyone’, but few really take a look at the nameless faces of those who were part of one. Claudia Lo takes a spoiler-filled deep dive into the looks at the revolution of Pyre.
“How many times have you played as The Hero of the Revolution? Where you get to lead the charge against an evil government, backed by a rag-tag rebel group, as a rough, gruff outsider. You’re the one who drives the action, at the head of every important rebel action – it’s your guts and your guns that will win glory for the revolution. You’re the face of change, in that you literally show up on all the WANTED posters. The rebels cheer for you when you walk close. Everyone assures you history will remember your name.
Pyre’s not that game. You’re just a hero of the revolution, no capital letters, and certainly no glory. No one will remember your face, much less your name.”
A thrilling conclusion, disrupting the status quo, and interesting takes on fictional races. Mac Riga gives us all an outlook on all of these, and how they all blend seamlessly to create a perfect ending.
“So it is noteworthy that in “Pyre,” your goal is to return from exile to your home, the Commonwealth, and overthrow your government. A far cry from Mario’s eternal mission to rescue Princess Peach, “Pyre” envisions a happy ending that is inherently tied to political unrest and a change in the status quo.”
Jessica Famularo interviews Greg Kasavin (Creative Director at Supergiant), talking about the narrative of Pyre, and how it makes failure a game mechanic.
“In life, we all learn through failure and not just through success. It was important for our characters to survive these confrontations and face their adversaries again.”
Love it or hate it, nobody can argue that Pyre isn’t unique. David gives a look on what the Basketball meets Visual Novel meets RPG so awe-encompassing
“How it actually works is this: 99% of the game’s dialogue and plot is in a visual novel style, with the player selecting their responses from a dialogue tree. (Pyre does something unique, that whenever you mouse over a highlighted word or phrase, it gives a short explanation of what that person, place, or thing is. It allows for quicker immersion and helps remind you what everything is if you haven’t played in a while). During the ‘sports’ section of the game, the gameplay switches to something similar to a 3 on 3 basketball game. The goal is to place the ‘celestial orb’ in your opponent’s pyre, and try to prevent them from doing the same. Since you can only control one character at a time this requires a bit of strategy and positioning.”
Ever feel physical difficulty with playing a game? Ruth Cassidy talks about how Supergiant made the hack’n’slash genre playable for her.
“Now, with Twin Fists, I’m no longer having to dedicate a constant portion of my attention to my hands. I can be more immersed in the game – in its beautiful hand painted maps, in Supergiant’s trademark soundtrack, and in the strategic movement of the fight. Kasavin described the accessibility of Twin Fists as a “beneficial side effect” of the design approach, while noting that “the kinds of feedback our other weapons were getting made us think deeply about what style of play we weren’t already supporting.”Now, with Twin Fists, I’m no longer having to dedicate a constant portion of my attention to my hands. I can be more immersed in the game – in its beautiful hand painted maps, in Supergiant’s trademark soundtrack, and in the strategic movement of the fight. Kasavin described the accessibility of Twin Fists as a “beneficial side effect” of the design approach, while noting that “the kinds of feedback our other weapons were getting made us think deeply about what style of play we weren’t already supporting.”
If Supergiant loves experimenting with something in their games, it’s death. Most games just deliver a simple ‘game over’ screen, but Supergiant lacks such.Connor Trinske interviews Greg Kasavin to talk about how death plays a significant role into Hades.
“In video games, Kasavin explained, that moment of failure is vital. A player that dies is often excited to dive right back in and give it another shot. Other times, they might want to quit the game and never play it again. Knowing the difference between those moments is significant. Supergiant has always felt a need to give it careful consideration as part of each game the studio has worked on — “to do everything we can to weave it into the experience, and make it feel connected to our games’ broader themes,” according to Kasavin.In video games, Kasavin explained, that moment of failure is vital. A player that dies is often excited to dive right back in and give it another shot. Other times, they might want to quit the game and never play it again. Knowing the difference between those moments is significant. Supergiant has always felt a need to give it careful consideration as part of each game the studio has worked on — “to do everything we can to weave it into the experience, and make it feel connected to our games’ broader themes,” according to Kasavin.”
Watching fan theories unfold for a game is always exciting. In early access? Doubly so. Jay Castello talks about how watching and creating fan theories and experiencing the journey of it will have been more enthralling than wherever the final destination leads to.
“At the moment, Zagreus’s escape attempts are not strictly winnable. Even if you beat the final boss, the fourth-wall leaning narrator will make one of their dry comments as he perhaps “slips and falls” and is sent all the way back down to the beginning. Zag’s journey is fundamentally Sisyphean. This is, of course, amusing given the game’s source material and that you can actually meet Sisyphus (and his good friend Bouldy). But it’s more than that. It gives an extra dimension to Zagreus’s beautiful tenacity.”
Video Game crunch is no secret to the troubles that loom game development. In an insightful interview with Amir Rao and Greg Kasavin, they answer the formula to their success: Sustainability; not crunch.
“You mention sustainability,” said Kasavin. “That’s a word we use a lot, and it’s something that we really highly prioritize as a team. We’ve been working together for ten years. The percentage of folks on the team that have gotten married or had kids or something is quite a bit higher than when it was just Amir and [co-founder] Gavin Simon in the living room of a house and a kind of startup company lifestyle. It’s like, if we’re gonna be around for the long haul, we can’t operate the same way we did when we were just getting started.”
How Transistor Uses and Abuses Pedal Points
8-bit Music Theory talks about how composer of Supergiant Games, Darren Korb, makes use of Pedal Points
Haven’t got enough of Supergiant? Have a craving itch after reading some of these fine pieces? Video game documentary veteran channel, Noclip, provides documentaries of all of Supergiant’s games – thirty minute videos on the creations of Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre, along with an on-going series about Hades!
“Once invested in the world and its inhabitants, I got to know an imperfect society both from the perspective of those who still lived in it and those who do not. Exile in Pyre is their one-stop solution for a variety of crimes, and the reason for this harsh punishment lies in a divine prophecy that might be all based on a misunderstanding. Questioning what your characters previously took for granted can end in your team being instrumental in nothing short of a revolution. How you finish the game, even whether or not you win, is not as important to its makers as giving you something to think about. “
Bastion, Pyre, and Transistor. At first glance, three wildly different games by the same company. In a masterful interview with Greg Kasavin, Malindy Hetfeld makes an astonishing case for how all three of them address changes inlife – from the looming threat of war, to uprisings and revolutions across the world.