A strange and beautiful sci-fi/action/RPG hybrid, Supergiant Game’s Transistor debuted on May 20th to much fanfare on Steam and the PlayStation Network. As the highly anticipated follow-up to their 2011 breakout hit Bastion this wasn’t surprising, and we couldn’t help but harass the developer’s writer and creative director Greg Kasavin to open up about the team’s sophomore effort and what fans can expect. This is what followed.
Transistor clearly shares a heritage with Supergiant’s first game, Bastion. When the team was working on Transistor, did you make a conscious effort to differentiate the game from Bastion? What aspects of Bastion did you explicitly decide to carry over or drop?
GK: Our main goal with Transistor was to create a new game with its own distinct identity, as strong as that of our first game. Any similarities between Transistor and Bastion are mostly due to it being the same team that created both games, and a conscious decision on our part to continue exploring the action RPG genre. Other than that, we held over nothing from Bastion for the sake of doing so.
When we did come around to making similar decisions — things like the camera angle or the use of voiceover as a major component of the narrative — it was because we felt that those decisions were best for Transistor.
Upon Transistor’s PC launch there were a number of technical issues that hampered people’s ability to play the game. As an indie studio with perhaps less of a staff and budget for QA, how does Supergiant feel about this kind of problem and how do you approach it when it comes up?
GK: First off, if you personally ran into problems with the game at launch then I’m very sorry about that. I hope from your perspective that you felt like we addressed those problems swiftly.
For the small percentage of players who ran into compatibility issues or other problems around the time of the game’s launch, we responded often in a matter of minutes and worked closely with each individual to make sure they could get the game running. While there is no excuse for a rough launch in this day and age, if and when the reality of technical issues arises during a game’s launch, I think it is the developer’s responsibility to work swiftly to resolve those problems.
We invested heavily in the quality assurance of Transistor — much more so than we did or could on Bastion — both because we think it’s worth it and because we expected we might have a lot of folks trying to play the game on day one.
Fundamentally I think our approach was the right one: To test the game as thoroughly as possible on as many different systems as possible for as long as possible prior to launch, then to all be standing by for the launch to swiftly address any issues we did not or for whatever reason could not have anticipated.
Many of the “moments” that people always seem to bring up from Bastion involve Ashley Lynn Barrett’s vocal tracks. Was there a direct inspiration from the positive reception of Bastion’s audio that led to the focus on music as a theme in Transistor? How did the team arrive at the music choices that we see in the finished game?
GK: The music was very important to us during the development of Bastion, so we were thrilled with the response it got. We knew whatever we would do next that the music would be a big part of it as well. This isn’t directly to do with the positive reception, it’s just something we really care about — and it’s nice that other people seem to like it too. The music for us is a key component of the mood and atmosphere of our games, so with Transistor we wanted to create a setting where the music could have a lot of context.
All through development we were thinking of new ways we could bring the music to the forefront of the experience. That resulted in moments like the confrontation with Sybil, where you hear the song In Circles sort of deteriorate in real time, to our use of dynamic music as when you hear Red’s vocals when using the Turn() function, and so on. This all came out of continued iteration and our close collaboration with Darren our composer, and Ashley the vocalist. Once again we’re really happy with the response to the soundtrack. I think we will always strive to do interesting things with music in our games, knowing it can lead to such potent and memorable results when done right.
Transistor feels like a fairly complete experience and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for DLC expansion; the same could be said for Bastion, though we did see a pack come out for that title. What are the team’s thoughts on DLC and building opportunities for its use in games?
GK: Much like with Bastion before it, we aimed for Transistor to feel like a complete experience, so I’m glad it came across that way to you. Some time after Bastion’s release, we decided to try a one-off downloadable content update that added something to the game without undermining the story. We have no plans for anything like that with Transistor right now, though we didn’t have any such plans for Bastion either relative to that game’s release date. So, we’ll see how it goes! We don’t know what the future holds. For now, we’re very grateful to everyone who took the time to play Transistor, especially to those who’ve shared their thoughts about it with us.