Ever since the amazing breakout hit Bastion two years ago, questions have been floating around developer Supergiant Games on how they can follow it up. The recently announced Transistor seems to be that answer. What is it all about, though? Can it match or even exceed the same level of success as Bastion? We asked creative director and lead writer Greg Kasavin some questions to get a better idea of this intriguing title!
[UMDR] How did you approach Transistor with what you learned from the success and criticisms of Bastion?
[Greg] Bastion got a really great response and its success meant we could stick together as a team and make another game on our own terms. One of the things we loved about making Bastion was how we were able to create our own universe from scratch with that game. We wanted to see if we could do that again with Transistor, especially since many of the ideas we had around the gameplay and narrative felt like they belonged in a different setting. Having worked on a fantasy-themed game, we wanted to see what we could do in the science fiction genre this time around.
[UMDR] The art direction for your games has been nothing short of breathtaking. How would you describe the style used in Transistor? What makes it different from the one used for Bastion?
[Greg] Creating an atmospheric world is important to us and defining a specific art style is a big part of that. In the case of Transistor, we thought of this vast romanticized city and wanted to see if we could bring it to life. Internally, we call it a “vintage-futuristic” style as we like for the setting to have a sort of anachronistic quality that makes it difficult to place in time. It’s been a fun and challenging contrast coming from Bastion’s ruined world. We also decided to go with a slightly less cartoon-like look in keeping with the more modern feel of the environment. Bastion plays out almost like a fairy tale so the cartoon-like look felt right for that game and, likewise, we wanted a distinct identity for Transistor’s visuals.
[UMDR] Bastion presented a surprising choice at the very end which had an impact on the ending. Will player decisions come into play more this time around?
[Greg] It’s very important to us that players be able to express themselves through the course of playing our games. In Bastion, that culminates in some purely expressive choices that have to do with how you feel about the world and the characters. I don’t want to say too much about what we’ll do on this front with Transistor, although, the high-level goals of surprising and engaging players are similar. We really want for the stories of our games to feel personal for players.
[UMDR] I understand that Transistor has a silent protagonist with a separate narrator driving the story along much like Bastion. What is it about this style do you think works for your games? What kinds of challenges does it present?
[Greg] We like using voiceover in our games as a means of delivering narrative context at the player’s own pace as it’s much easier to listen and play at the same than it is to, say, listen and read at the same time. We also avoid interrupting gameplay as much as possible so we don’t like to rely on cutscenes or anything like that. From our point of view, the narrative technique in Transistor has some key differences and its own set of challenges compared with what we did in Bastion. In Bastion, there’s this omniscient-sounding narrator revealing the story as you play through. In Transistor, you’re travelling with a companion who’s experiencing the events of the story along with you. Another detail that’s important to us is that in Transistor, the protagonist is silent due to events related to the story. We liked the idea of this pair of characters, one of which has lost her voice while the other is reduced to only a voice, and how they might interact.
[UMDR] Female leads in video games has been a hot topic as of late. Was there a particular reason why you went with one in Transistor? What can you tell us about her?
[Greg] Our protagonists in both Bastion and Transistor are, above all, reflections of the worlds they come from. They’re the best insight into the kind of world you’re going into and the kind of story that’s going to unfold. So, in Bastion’s case, you’ve got the Kid who is this anonymous, hard-living, almost pathetic character who’s survived a terrible event of some sort. Everything is a struggle for him. Now, in Transistor, we’ve introduced Red, an elegant woman who inspired many people with her music but finds herself in a life-threatening situation armed with an extraordinary weapon. The concept around this character represents some of the earliest ideas on the project that stuck.
[UMDR] The combat in Transistor seems to take a more strategic approach with the ability to stop time and plan out your attacks. Was there something that influenced your decision to go that route? How would you describe the way it works?
[Greg] We were interested in creating a deep and open-ended feeling combat system that combined some of the pleasures of strategic and tactical games using the simple controls of an action RPG. The way it works is that at almost any time, you can activate an ability that freezes everything besides yourself and then you have a certain amount of energy to sequence several different moves. Then, when you’re happy with your plan, you pull the trigger on it and execute those moves in a supercharged fashion. Often, your plan will unfold just as you hope but once in a while it might not go exactly as you expected which is where some of the drama and excitement comes from. This ability lets you dictate the pace of battle and turn the tables in a dramatic fashion every now and then as well. We liked how open-ended it felt and how all of us on the team would naturally use it in different ways to suit our particular play styles. It also made us approach enemy design and encounters from a different mindset.
[UMDR] Fans who attended PAX East this year got the opportunity to play an early build. What did you take from their experiences as you continue with development?
[Greg] The response to Transistor coming out of PAX was everything we could have possibly hoped for. We got plenty of specific feedback but above all, the game just got a really great reaction that felt like a big vote of confidence in favor of what we’re doing. The game is still in a pre-alpha state so we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. That work is made much easier knowing so many people out there are intrigued by the world we’ve come up with and the gameplay direction we’ve taken. We love getting feedback from players out there which is why it’s so important to us to have something playable when we announce our games. People can always email us or reach out to us on Twitter @SupergiantGames and let us know what they think!
[UMDR] What kind of experience do you hope people will get out of playing Transistor?
[Greg] We want players to have a deep and interesting experience with our games. On a personal level, it’s very important to me that the games I work on are more than just fun to play. They can also engage players on all sorts of different levels and ultimately leave a lasting and positive impression that sticks long after they’ve moved on to playing other games. I feel like we were able to achieve that with Bastion for many players out there and we will do our best to achieve it again with Transistor. Having a similar goal does not mean you’ll be in for the same experience, though. On the contrary, I think part of why Bastion was successful was because it surprised people so I look forward to surprising them again this time around.
Thanks to Greg for taking the time to answer our questions! You can follow development at SupergiantGames.com as well as on the studio’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Transistor will be released some time in 2014.