Greg Kasavin, writer/designer, Supergiant Games
After more than a decade in games criticism, Greg Kasavin moved to EA and then 2K Games before joining Supergiant Games, where he has written and co-designed the studio’s three games, Bastion, Transistor and now Pyre. Here, he discusses critics, teamwork and why the studio’s latest game was the biggest challenge of his career. You seemed unsure about how Pyre would be received. Does your background in criticism make you more anxious about that critical response? If anything my background as a game critic makes me more resilient to criticism. I would be the worst kind of hypocrite if reviews upset me, having reviewed games for 12 years. I feel deeply at peace with what criticism is; I find it incredibly valuable. I’m happy that each of the games we’ve made has provoked some thoughtful criticism that I’ve enjoyed taking in – and that’s not just when someone thinks our game is great (laughs). It seems like this was a very personal project for you. I’ve known for three years that we were making something pretty unusual. Each of our games on paper has been deeply ill-advised as a concept. We would always joke with Bastion that it’s an action-RPG where an old man talks to you the whole time. It sounds terrible when you put it that way, and I think all of our games can be described in a deeply reductive way that really doesn’t capture what I know is special about them to a lot of people, because we’ve gotten that feedback. This one is definitely our biggest project, it once again pushed us out of our creative comfort zone, and in terms of my own contribution to it, it’s the biggest writing challenge I’ve ever had in my life. But it’s been a very personal project for all of us. There’s 12 of us on the team, and we put a lot of ourselves into our games. It’s never part of our thought process to make things that are different for the sake of it. We just make things that are exciting to us as a team and that’s always been a good North Star for us to follow – that if we’re excited about what we’re doing, then it’s going to translate to our audience and create a unique experience for them. In the pre-alpha build we played a year or so ago, you had to maintain your wagon’s fuel supply to get to each Rite. Why was that cut? At the time we were experimenting with more resource systems and things of that nature. So you had a certain amount of days to get to the next Rite, and if you ran out of fuel, you would have to waste a day scrounging for it. A lot of these systems were interesting to us intellectually, but when we played with them, they slowed the pace of the game down much more than we liked. Pyre is a game that takes its time, but we wanted for players to be able to get to the next Rite quickly if they wanted. A lot of the narrative content in the game is optional, and if you just want to beeline from one Rite to the next, you can do so in a few minutes. But with all those other systems, it made traversing the world feel really grindy – and it also set up consequences that were at odds with the idea of not having failure states. Logan Cunningham does a great job as the Rites’ MC – maybe too good, as it seems some people don’t recognise it’s him. It’s been ironic for us, it went from being amusing to us actually starting to feel bad because so many people don’t realise it’s him. If I was someone who could experience pride in anything, something I would feel proud of would be that everyone who worked on Bastion also worked together on Transistor, and now on this game. The fact that we’ve been together as a team for a long time is something that feels good. With Pyre, we were all chasing after things that we thought would be fun to do, and we’d figure out how to make it all fit together later. In the case of Logan, he’s portrayed these relatively stoic-sounding characters in our previous games, but in person he does this really funny impression of Gandalf, and this hifalutin wizard voice that he does definitely inspired aspects of the character. We wrote the character for him, and it happened to align with other ideas that we had. It was fun to write and for him to record, and it felt good to us really quickly. Did that strong team bond help you to capture that sense of camaraderie among the Nightwings in your writing? For sure, my experience working as part of a team became deeply inspirational to that aspect of the story. That sense of characters who are not alike having to, in some cases, set aside differences to work together, where these characters’ personal goals are intertwined with a shared goal. It felt really satisfying to work on a story where these characters were ultimately very genuine with each other, despite initial appearances. So much character-driven media today goes to a place of building up emotional investment, only to quite literally assassinate the characters, and one’s emotions. You can get that kind of reaction from people by killing off a character they love, but I wanted to write a story where the emotional depth came from something more positive. And that is very much tied to the positive emotions involved in being on a team that can work through thick and thin, where people can pick each other up through their setbacks and celebrate their successes together.
Each of our games on paper has been deeply ill-advised as a concept