During the second day of PAX East, I had the opportunity to chat with Supergiant Games’ creative director Greg Kasavin about Transistor, the upcoming spiritual successor to 2011′s critically acclaimed Bastion. Transistor and Bastion share many similarities–the beautiful art style, gravelly narrator–but Transistor’s setting, tone and protagonist have seen some interesting changes.
From my time with the game, I noticed Supergiant Games may have learned a thing or two from Bastion, despite the game being so well received. With this in mind, during my interview with Kasavin I tried to learn some of the inspirations and goals behind Transistor, as well as garner some tidbits of information regarding the game’s protagonist, Red.
Check out the full interview after the break.
Alright, so just for our readers who don’t know anything about Transistor, can you give us a run down of the game?
Greg: Transistor is the next game from us at Supergiant. Our first game was Bastion. Transistor is a new science fiction action-RPG. We consider Bastion an action-RPG as well, and we felt like we were able to sort of explore that genre in ways we feel was really exciting. Even after finishing Bastion, we knew there was more we want to do here. If Bastion was our take on a fantasy world, Transistor is our take on a science-fiction world. Some of these ideas have been percolating for some time, and we’re finally ready to show it here at PAX East. I think players will find that the game focuses on a more strategic combat system.
Were there any inspirations behind Transistor’s science-fiction background.?
Greg: There are too many. The question of inspirations behind Bastion was always something that threw me for a loop. I was always like, where do I start? We were a seven person team on Bastion—were up to 10 now—everyone on the team has their own inspirations from all sorts of media. From games, to movies, to literature, to comics, musics, and all sorts of things. We kind of mashed this all together.
A collection of things.
Greg: Absolutely. So it’s hard to narrow it down without sounding like picking favorites. There’s just too many individual things. Part of the appeal of a science-fiction setting to us was like, man what if we could set out a game in a city-scape where you’re blown away by all these huge buildings around you. More modern or more futuristic looking things both visually and gameplay wise. Some of the themes that come with an urban setting as opposed to a destroyed fantasy setting in Bastion. There were a bunch of different reasons why we were interested in something like [Transistor]. For whatever reason I get gun shy going into specifics.
Awesome. In my preview I said it reminded me of Blade Runner mixed with Bastion. I kind of saw a bit of in there.
Greg: I would say its impossible a science-fiction city without acknowledging Blade Runner. The way we think about it is we love material like that so much that we kind of want to get away from it. Whether its a cyber-punk game like Deus Ex: Human Revolution that nails cyber-punk, or a far-future franchise like Mass Effect that’s totally awesome as far as intergalactic races and stuff. We want to have our own identity. We don’t want to just uh…
Greg: Yeah! We don’t want to copy because we’ll just be inferior to things that are so great already. It takes us awhile to come up with something that is remotely coherent. This is what we have so far.
I see with the art style you’re pulling off the identity thing really well.
Greg: Thank you. That’s thanks to this [Jen Zee]. She’s our art director and I am a huge fan of her work. Thankfully other people enjoy it too. I’m always inspired by the work she does.
Bastion was really well received. It won a lot of awards and stuff like that. So did you learn anything from Bastion coming into Transistor?
Greg: We learned an awful lot making [Bastion] for sure. At the same time, I don’t think we’ve made things too much easier on ourselves. I won’t speak for everyone, but at least for myself unless something is very difficult I don’t feel like we’re doing it right. So I think we sort of create new problems for ourselves. So there’s a lot that we’ve learned but we’ve bitten off a lot more with this type of game as well. We’re always pushing to try to get at something that feels like it’s always out of reach all through development. We’re clawing away at something, trying to find whatever is at the heart of [Transistor]. The most important experience we gained working on Bastion is just continuing to work together as a team. I’d like to say that the single most important thing we have is the creative chemistry on the team. The best thing we have for us on this project is that everyone who worked on Bastion is working on this game again together. The shared experience that we have having worked on [Bastion] is now informing what we’re doing here. We’ve sort of been through thick and thin together, and I think that if nothing else it helps me feel reassured that things will hopefully be alright because these people that I’ve got working with me, I’d like nothing better than to keep working with them indefinitely.
Perfect! I hope in the future you guys get to continue.
Greg: We’d like nothing better than to keep going.
So for maybe a bit more specific question, I had a chance to play Transistor and Red is our protagonist. I noticed the beginning intro said she was attacked by assassins. Does her gender play an important role in the game? Or why did you go with Red as a protagonist?
Greg: We certainly don’t flip a coin when it comes to designing our characters. I think the simple explanation there is that the second most important thing about [the protagonist characters from Supergiant Games] is they reflect the world they come from. With Bastion it’s sort of this frontier fantasy world. It’s a hard livin’ and hard drinkin’ world. You get this scrappy kid smashing stuff with his hammer. Our goal with him was just to have this like empathetic scrappy character that you just don’t want him to die. He’s in such a bad situation. Whereas in [Transistor], the setting of Cloud Bank is intended to be a romanticized setting. So here you have this elegant woman who reflects the values of this world. Her gender is no accident. Part of the story involves her relationship to the character who’s speaking, a voice coming from this weapon called the Transistor. So that relationship is important to us, and her identity as an inspiring singer who has had something bad happen to her at the beginning of this game. Those are some of the ideas there, but yeah that’s kind of it. It’s not something that we saw as let’s be edgy and make her a woman.
[The gender selection] wasn’t trying to make a statement.
Greg: I’m aware of some of the kind of prevailing commentary around that. Some of my favorite games as a kid were Phantasy Star, games like Metroid and Super Metroid. These were games where the gender of the protagonist was an interesting part of the game, but not the point or the message. I take inspiration from games like that.
Perfect. I think we’re going to have to wrap it up. Thanks for chatting with Pixelitis. We’re looking forward to it. We’re still looking at early 2014 [for Transistor]?
Greg: Yup. Thank you.