Bastion Interview with Writer, Designer Greg Kasavin

Bastion is the first game developed by Supergiant Games which originally released as part of Xbox Arcade in the Summer of 2011. Four years later, and over 3 million copies sold, Supergiant Games is proud to bring their original action-RPG to the PlayStation 4 and a new group of fans.

The PlayStation nation will recognize Supergiant Games from Transistor which released in 2014 on the PS4. Both Bastion and Transistor create an expansive world for players to explore, discover and return to normal (maybe, hopefully) after catastrophic events. One of the staples in both experiences is an emphasis on a strong narrator that comments on the player’s actions.

Greg Kasavin, Writing, Design for both games, was able to offer insight into the process of finding the voice for Bastion and the importance of storytelling within games.

Bastion world“When you are a small team, totally unheard of making your first game everything is stacked against you, you are more than likely to fail statistically. What advantages do you have?,” Kasavin recalls the design process for Bastion, “One of ours was that we knew this great actor with a cool voice, Logan Cunningham.”

“Let’s go crazy with that. Even on big AAA productions they will have 3-4 voice over sessions…we were recording multiple times a week until we felt that it was just right. I think that has a lot to do with how well Bastion did. We cut stuff, redid it, rewrote, edited and would work until it was just right. We consider Logan an essential part of the team.”

With such an importance placed upon the narrator within Bastion, I had to ask what came first the gameplay or the story. Kasavin answered without hesitation, “Gameplay comes first, it’s as simple as that. Despite how it may look from playing our games, we consider ourselves a gameplay studio first and foremost.”

“The narrative experience is extremely important but we are in the business of making games, and if all we wanted to do was create stories there are more optimal ways of doing that than to try and put them in video games. When you are talking about the inception point for what is created it will always be the gameplay experience, followed by what story can support those mechanics.”

Bastion 1Supergiant Games was able to create two critical and commercial successes to date, but Kasavin recognizes that luck still played a part in their story, “Some games happen to be in the right place in the right time. We were a small team of seven and fortunate that there were no large delays.”

“The way we approached the development was important to us, our team was configured around the way we wanted to work. We came from EA and had been in these big team environments and just wanted to work where the team would determine how they would complete projects. It was validating to the entire process because Bastion contains what we care about as developers and players.”

Kasavin goes on to highlight that the industry is constantly evolving, as tools become more readily available, studios shift their focus from AAA to smaller titles and more companies are able to publish games on their own. But despite the lower barrier to entry, there are many companies which will fail and designers who will never have a chance to create their game.

As a small studio, many could turn to Kasavin for insight on how to break in but he believes this isn’t the right approach, “It is difficult to give blanket advice. Instead, here is my own experience and if someone can find value in it…great. However, I wanted to make games since I was a little kid but didn’t get my start until I was 30 years old so if I knew everything I would’ve done this sooner.”

1408083032113_Bastion_112010_0002“I think the silver lining is how accessible the tools are and there is no formula and anyone who says they know the correct way is lying or worse. Even if they did, it would be different in six months. It is an entire industry built by people who did things their own way and some got successful. I think that pioneer spirit still lives on; work hard and trust your instincts.”

What did Kasavin do before he was with Supergiant games? He wrote for Gamespot and managed to work his way from intern to Editor-in-Chief. With his dual background in media and development, I thought he could talk to both sides of the industry and some misconceptions that often occur.

“There is a lot of second guessing of the media’s intentions and motivations [by developers]. But it isn’t that complicated, they just want what they say the want. There is no ulterior motive usually. They are looking for good games that are exciting to their readers.”

On the other side, “There are two things that were surprising to me. First, how much developers cared about reviews. I was writing for players but the developers cared about the feedback and insight reviews would bring. Second, was that when a snarky review called out something, like rotating the camera, there was typically a reason for that.”

Kasavin stresses that his thoughts are based upon what he has encountered and might not apply to the entire industry, “My experience is that game developers know what they put out there and are their harshest critics. They hope the flaws the see in the game can be swept under the rug and that the experience still shines. Developers are often very critical of their own work and they know what they are putting out there.”

Bastion 3Supergiant Games has two successful games under their belt and fans want to know what will come next. Kasavin and team value their independence and the freedom to make decisions that fit within their own design philosophy.

“I honestly have no idea [if we’ll do a sequel]. The nice thing about being small is that we don’t have to plan too far ahead. Very few studios can do what they want. From a raw mercenary business standpoint it would have made sense to make Bastion 2 instead of Transistor but we wanted to make Transistor, so that’s what we did. We follow our hearts.”

“As we work on these games we fall in love with them and we develop the worlds to house multiple stories, but we want the stories to be complete. Every game we work on should feel like it will provide a sense of closure and could be our last.”

Kasavin is right, developers are their harshest critics, because despite the success Supergiant Games has seen he remains conservative for future prospects, “Bastion surprised people and preserving that element of surprise will be challenging for us moving forward. If I knew what that would be, it wouldn’t be surprising. We must keep doing the most creatively challenging product; if its not creatively challenging or on the edge of your understanding maybe you are taking the easy way out.”

Bastion is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Steam, IOS and Mac.