Supergiant Games have already established themselves as a developer to watch. Their previous work includes the critically acclaimed action RPGs Bastion and Transistor. Their newest title, Pyre is releasing on July 25th and features their biggest and most imaginative world to date. The new party-based RPG takes a colorful band of exiles on a life altering journey across a mystical purgatory.
Ahead of the game’s launch, the dev team hosted a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” community interview. Most of the team was on-hand to answer questions from fans and share what they’ve learned since founding Supergiant back in 2009. Here are a few of our favorite questions and answers from the event.
TigerLRG245: My question is how do you come up with such unique and yet different themes for each one of your games? what’s the process of creating a new world from scratch? Also, did you come up with the idea for Pyre and Transistor a while before they were created? Or do you have a brainstorm to discuss what to do next each time?
Supergiant Writing & Design, Greg Kasavin: The process of creating our worlds and themes happens pretty gradually over time. We tend to latch onto a few specific tonal ideas early on, that aren’t necessarily too well-formed but that are intriguing to us in some ways.
Then we just start building. Darren starts making music, Jen starts painting, I start writing, Amir and Gavin start prototyping, and so on. And then we look at it and see if anything about it sticks.
Gameplay comes first for us, though with an eye toward theme and with some sense of where the narrative could go. From a story standpoint I spend a lot of time outlining early on and looking for opportunities to build up the world based on the ideas we’re implementing. Slowly, it all takes shape.
We don’t have complete ideas for games before we start building them.
TallManStan: Question for the music team: What’s the songwriting process like? Do you do it all pre-recording, or does some of it happen in the studio?
Supergiant Audio & Music, Darren Korb: As the entirety of the music team, I record just about everything myself, except for Ashley Barrett’s vocals. I consider recording to be an important part of my writing process, so a lot of the actual composition is happening during recording and mixing. At no point is any of the music written out in notation.
Putting It All Together
JamesPSullivan: My question is this: your games seem to bring together really interesting mechanics, art, and music that come together to really make playing them an experience. Can you discuss the process of marrying the art with the music and then subsequently making it all cogent within the mechanics of the game? What new things did you learn in the development of the previous two games that helped inform the process for Pyre?
Supergiant Engineering & Design, Gavin Simon: For us it’s an extremely iterative process. All those aspects of the game are developed simultaneously and they all feed off each other. Sometimes the art or the story bends to a piece of design and sometimes a piece of design bends to the art or story. Every individual explores what is most interesting to them, it all gets thrown into our game prototype, we all play it and have a group discussion. The things that people are collectively excited about get expanded on and the things that aren’t working as well fall off. Sometimes everything comes together nicely right away and sometimes that marrying process just isn’t working and it takes many more iterations to get somewhere we’re happy with!
Dercomai: Have you considered releasing the editing tools for Bastion or Transistor, perhaps as a DLC? Whatever state they’re in, I’m sure players would enjoy having a chance to experiment with them.
Supergiant Design & Studio Operations, Amir Rao: We have considered this and continue to look at it. We have some really passionate fans and it would be great to see what they could do with our tools. We look at such a project like releasing a game itself: we’d want the experience of using the tools to be good and well supported. Because we’re small, we’re constantly making trade-offs around what we can do. Though we don’t have any plans for that right now, it’s something we’ll keep looking at.
Tackling Challenges As A Team
Momori66: What’s the toughest challenge when developing a game? Maybe take Pyre for example?
Supergiant Systems Engineering, Andrew Wang: From the engineering side it’s managing and communicating all the different tradeoffs, especially on such a small team. We all want more art, more music, more store, more frames per second. But, there’s only 24 hours in a day. So deciding the best way to spend that time is the most challenging. Sometimes the right answer is go to sleep or eat something.
Scw55: Any advice for an artist who is interested in working in the video game industry who is worried about being exploited?
Supergiant Art, Jen Zee: Yes! Compartmentalize your personal creative life and your professional creative life. You should treat them as two separate but linked identities. There is no need, nor is it appropriate to place all your artistic dreams upon the backs of a team you work with.
Professional work is changeable and influenced by outside factors which is fun and exciting in its own right, personal work is the work that will allow you to maintain independence if you’ve ever gotten yourself into an unpleasant situation.
Following Up On Success
Flemtality: Are you guys against the idea of sequels?
I can’t help but notice that you guys have jumped from one “franchise” if you care to call them that, to another. Virtually every other studio out there would have seen the smash hit that was Bastion and slapped a number two on the end of that and made a clone of what they already did with the first game, but you guys didn’t. Why is that?
Supergiant Writing & Design, Greg Kasavin: It’s more that we’re in favor of creating original worlds.
We’re in a unique position as a studio, having made two (and hopefully soon three) original worlds for our games and succeeded at it. It’s a struggle to make a successful game, much less in an original setting. And, if you do succeed, it can be the case that you get bound by that success—some of the biggest studios out there are ‘stuck’ having to make sequels to their huge IPs indefinitely because it would be fiscally irresponsible (i.e. too risky) for them to do anything else!
We operate on a smaller scale and our games don’t need to sell 10 million copies for us to stay afloat and be able to make something new. After Bastion, we were pretty sure that a Bastion 2 would have been a safer bet than anything else we had in mind, but we were more excited by the idea of making Transistor, and decided to pursue that instead.
We love the worlds and characters of our games and don’t build our games thinking we would never under any circumstances come back to those worlds. But we also build each game to feel complete in its own right, so that if we never made another game in that setting, it’d be OK, because there’s still this fully faceted glimpse of it in the game we did make.