An Interview With: Greg Kasavin, Creative Director at Supergiant Games (Bastion)
Recently we interviewed Greg Kasavin, who is a Creative Director at Supergiant Games, about Bastion and the future of the company.
Trendy Gamers (@trendygamers): What were the inspirations for Bastion’s gameplay and music, if any?
Greg K (@kasavin): It’s hard to pin down our inspirations since there are so many and they differ from one member of the team to the next. We all grew up playing games on consoles and computers (and arcades!) and wanted to make something that could recapture the experience of playing some of our favorite games for the first time – I don’t just mean creating a sense of nostalgia, I mean really trying to re-create that sense of wonder we all felt when games were new and we didn’t quite know what to expect. That aside, there are a variety of art, literary, and musical influences on the game. For example, for the tone of the story and writing, I took inspiration from the author Cormac McCarthy, who’s written Blood Meridian, and The Road, and All the Pretty Horses and so on. They’re these dark, lyrical Western-feeling stories and we felt like that kind of style could lend itself nicely to a fantasy game.
TG: Are there any prefered weapon combinations used at Supergiant?
GK: The moment we knew we were done tuning the weapons in Bastion came late in development when none of us could agree anymore about which ones were the best. We wanted all of them to feel distinctly different and to be viable all through the game, so we purposely didn’t play favorites with them on the whole.
On a personal level, though, I’m partial to the Cael Hammer because it’s our very first weapon and because of its backstory connections with the Kid, and I also like using the Army Carbine a lot since I’m a total sucker for powerful single-shot firearms in just about any game.
TG: How are the sales of Bastion on PC compared to the sales on Xbox 360?
GK: It’s a close call between the two platforms and we feel very fortunate to be on both. We hoped Bastion could do well enough to allow us to create another game on our own terms, without taking money from anyone while being able to take the time we need to get it right, and it’s looking like that’s going to be the case.
TG: How did you come to the decision of having a constant narrator for the game, and did it turn out as you expected it to?
GK: Our narration wasn’t there from day one. All we knew at first was that we wanted to make a game that could create a strong emotional response in players through the narrative, but we also didn’t ever want to interrupt the play experience with cutscenes or other traditional game-narrative techniques that tend to slow down the pace. Eventually this led to a prototype of our narration technique, which was made possible because Amir our studio director was already working with Darren our audio director, who was roommates with Logan our voice actor, and the three of them had known each other for years. It meant we could do something relatively ambitious with voiceover, and as soon as we got Logan’s voice in the game, the effect was pretty startling in a good way.
We quickly realized it was an ideal way to deliver the story we had in mind, and quickly found the voice that expressed the kind of tone we wanted. Overall it did turn out much like we’d hoped, and if anything the response has been even better than we expected.
TG: What were the difficulties of creating a world that builds itself in front of the player?
GK: Our technique of having the world form up around the player was one of the first design ideas on the project, and it stuck! We were tuning and polishing the effect for much of the project, though on the whole it opened up a lot of interesting possibilities for us both from a fiction and level design perspective. The idea came from our desire to orient players without forcing them to rely on maps. We didn’t want players getting lost and disoriented, so the world-building technique solved for that, in addition to becoming a central part of the fiction.
TG: Some people believe that “The Kid” actually has a real name, if so, do you care to tell us what it is?
GK: He does have a name! We just haven’t revealed it, and aren’t planning to. The Kid’s real name doesn’t matter. Those who’ve played through the game can stew upon this idea and see how it connects back to the rest of the experience.
Besides, I think it’s important for gameworlds, or any fictional worlds, to have their little mysteries. We chose not to reveal his name not because we want to mess with people but because it’s the sort of thing that feels pretty personal. Players might have different ideas about what the Kid’s name would be like, and we don’t want to invalidate those theories by providing a canonical answer.
TG: During development did he have any other names besides “The Kid”?
GK: We never really referred to him by a proper name during development. He started off as sort of a builder / engineer type of character, and that’s why he’s got his hammer and stuff like that. The builder aspect is still part of his backstory and tied to the Bastion-building aspects of the game though as you can see he evolved to become more of an adventurer / explorer type of guy. When defining our characters during development, we tend to refer to them by their roles in the story, so the Kid was the protagonist to us. Arguably the narrator is the protagonist, but you get the idea.
TG: Did you expect such a large demand for the soundtrack or were you surprised at the reception?
GK: We always intended to release the game’s soundtrack and had a good feeling people would like it, since it was important to us throughout development and we felt it added a lot to the game. Even still, the demand was even greater than we expected, and we were impressed to see the soundtrack emerge as one of the most talked-about aspects of the game. I’m really happy for Darren our composer since it feels like this was a breakthrough work for him, plus it’s the first game he’s worked on. I’m also really happy that our use of songs in the game went over well. More and more games are using songs these days, though it’s often treated as a novelty. In our case we wanted to integrate the songs into the fiction and the themes, and make them as meaningful as possible. Thankfully, those really resonated with players and I think really helped our soundtrack stand out.
TG: How are sales going in the new online store? I was thinking of getting a sweet Kid/Scumbag print myself.
GK: The store’s off to a strong start! We’re working like crazy to fulfill all the orders as soon as we can, which is a good problem to have. Our team was mixed about whether we should do any merchandise stuff prior to the game’s release since it seemed like it could be a huge money sink and distraction but we just couldn’t ignore the demand and saw it as a cool way of extending the game’s fiction and experience for people. For those interested, it’s at http://store.supergiantgames.com/. We design all the items ourselves and handle the fulfillment ourselves, so it’s the real deal in that respect.
TG: What prompted a Google Chrome release for Bastion?
GK: We saw it as a potential way to bring the game to a lot more players, in addition to being an interesting technical challenge. Ever since launch we’ve been getting requests from Mac users and Linux users asking if we had plans to bring the game to those platforms, and through this Chrome version we were able to get it out there to a lot of those players. I’m not an engineer but I was super skeptical at first that we’d be able to get the game running in a browser without any compromise to quality, and we agreed that if we couldn’t get the experience up to our quality level that we just wouldn’t put it out there. Sure enough, though, we managed to get it working. We still didn’t know what kind of response to expect, but it’s been really positive.
TG: Looking at the demand for the soundtrack how much do fans influence the things you do now, such as the soundtrack itself and the new DLC?
GK: Our fans are extremely influential when it comes to our post-release support of our games. We wouldn’t have released DLC for the game if there wasn’t such a strong demand for it, for example. The DLC was a bonus that was never part of our original planning, and the actual content of it is also based around the type of feedback we were getting. Some players wanted to be able to revisit areas of the game so we added that as part of Score Attack Mode. Some players wanted an even greater challenge so we made the Stranger’s Dream sequence bigger and tougher than the others. We did intend for Bastion to be a complete experience in the first place, so the new content is only accessible after players complete the game the first time. That seemed like the best of both worlds to us, where we could retain a “pure” version of the game while also expanding it with bonus content.
That being said, when it comes to any new projects, those ideas are our own. I feel strongly that part of the reason Bastion has been successful for is because we surprised people with it. Creating that sense of surprise and wonder is very important to us, so we will not simply give players more of what they want because they ask for it. That’s the obvious thing to do, and leads to diminishing returns on the quality of the experience.
TG: The DLC for Bastion will cost 80 MSP on Xbox 360 even though you wanted it to be a free release. What method does Microsoft use to choose whether or not one must pay for DLC? In other words, why are some DLC packs free while others are forced to charge?
GK: Microsoft didn’t allow us to release our first DLC free of charge. Their policy is that your first one can’t be free. I think some studios have been able to get around this, like Valve did with the Portal 2 DLC, but Valve is Valve!
So, we had a few options: We could have charged the same price for the DLC on all platforms. We could have canceled it entirely for the Xbox 360. Or we could have done what we decided to do, which was keep it free wherever we could and price it low wherever we needed to put a price on it. I appreciate that our players have been understanding about this.
TG: Other than the new Bastion DLC, what is in store for the future of Supergiant Games?
GK: Well the good news for us at least is that we get to stick together as a team and keep going! Apart from that, we don’t have anything specific we can talk about, though hopefully we won’t be too quiet next year. Bastion was more than a year into development before we revealed it, since we feel strongly that a game that isn’t ready to be played isn’t ready to be announced, so it’ll be a while before we have anything to say about whatever it is we do next.
TG: Congratulations on all of your success and thanks for making an amazing game.
GK: Thank you in turn for taking the time. We tend to post all our news and answer questions regularly via our @SupergiantGames Twitter feed if you’d like to keep an eye on us there.
Creative Director, Supergiant Games