Supergiant Games interview: How indie developers made the GOTY Hades

 

Bastion, Transistor, Pyre, and Hades. These are the games Supergiant Games has produced since 2011. The developer's games have all been known for their distinctive art and music, deep storylines, and great gameplay. Most recently, Hades — officially released in 2020 — won several GOTYs with its addictive roguelike gameplay, great visuals, and unique take on the Greek mythology and its characters.

 

The PlayStation and Xbox versions of Hades will launch this Friday, August 13. But what are the plans for Supergiants Games going forward? We got to talk with Greg Kasavin, the Creative Director of Supergiants Games, about Hades and Supergiant Games.

 

Supergiant Games Creative Director Greg Kasavin

 


 

Supergiant Games seems to be constantly enjoying new challenges. With Hades, you added a new Roguelite experience onto the usual Quarter View Action games you've been making. What's the driving force behind taking on new challenges?

 

We like making games that way. When we were making Bastion, the first game we released 10 years ago, our team had seven people. Our goal was to make games with an intense atmosphere, narration, and gameplay, even with a small team. We also added voices to the narration, adding depth to the atmosphere. Many players responded positively to this.

 

Since then, we've had the confidence that many people have been enjoying our work. Then we started working on another game, thinking that we should make something new instead of the same thing. That's how Transistor was born. We added SF-style instead of fantasy to tell a story different from the previous work with a new mood.

 

The reason we are taking on new challenges every time is simple. Everyone in our team likes challenges and making something new. I think it's possible because there are many talented people here.

 

For example, Art Director Jen Zee does outstanding work with art in a different atmosphere, concept, material, and background every time. Music & Art Director Darren Korb also composed all that music to the style that changes every time. Every member enjoyed taking on a new challenge every time, and we've come this far as we worked on them as consistently as possible.

 

There must have been some pressure to show the unique characteristics of Hades among many other Roguelite games. Why did you choose this genre?

 

All of our teammates enjoy many Roguelike games, and we thought, "Should we also try this?" Looking back to 2017, when we started planning for Hades, our teammates were playing many Roguelike and pitched the idea about what we can do. We also discussed multiple times what kind of work will create an experience that's different from our previous games, or other games in general.

 

When people think of Roguelike games, they usually think of elements like hardcore difficulty. But we did not believe that the difficulty is the only thing that makes Roguelike special. Instead, we thought the key was the possibility of enjoying a different experience in every time. 

 

So we thought a lot about how to progress the story while introducing such structure. From the lore to how the characters should react to every situation, what would happen in the process of continuing the challenge after death, and how the player or character would respond when they faced obstacles. Coming up with every step itself was fun, so we continued this process. 

 

Another reason we chose Roguelike is that it can give different pleasures every time over repeated playthroughs. We always want players to get deeper into the characters and the lore we created after repeated plays and to feel the bond and friendliness while learning them. Roguelike seemed like a good genre for the players to feel that way and we are very happy for players actually feeling that way.

 

Instead of interpreting Roguelike's appeal as "difficulty"...
...Supergiant Games interpret it as "enjoying a different experience in every playthrough"

 

Hades is the first Supergiant Games game without any original characters. Making a game based on the old Greek myths must have been quite a difficult job. Which aspects did you spend the most time thinking about?

 

I've really thought a lot about this question. Our previous works were all based on an original story. We made Hades based on Greek mythology and it was strange to work based on actual reference materials, unlike previous works. Of course, as we've said before, we enjoy taking on a new challenge every time and making something new. So we were able to make the game based on the materials of actual mythology, unlike the previous three works.

 

Greek mythology has a formidable amount of data. Some editions seem to contradict each other, but that does not mean we need the one genuine edition. Looking at Greek mythology, the interpretation of character relationships and even the conclusion usually differ based on the editions.

 

Here, we were inspired to create a world where such completely different stories can coexist at once. It definitely was not an easy job. The most challenging part was maintaining respect for the original mythology while creating various sources at every diverging point.

 

We decided to put a modern feeling about the Hades character in our game, and because the people who are creating this game are modern people, it was interpreted with a bit of a modern style. But we wanted to respect the original mythology and do our best to preserve the characteristics. That's courtesy to the character leading the story of our game and the core of this game's world. So keeping the balance between the modern feeling, the story's diverging points, and the original myth while creating arts and sources was very difficult.

 

Is there any particular movie or book you referred to when you made Hades?

 

First and foremost, Greek mythology itself. My desk is still full of Greek mythology books like Homer's Iliad. For example, Achilles, the main character of the Iliad, also appears in Hades. I kept reading Iliad and other references to find something new.

 

Of course, the game's core is the story of Hades and Persephone. I read the myth about the origin of the seasons many times and also researched other editions. Some of those had the story of Hades marrying Persephone to have Zagreus. At first, we were confused because it was different from the editions we knew well, but we tried in many ways to solve the story of Zagreus by tying it up with other editions.

 

It seems like Supergiant Games always put much effort into voice acting. In Hade,s in particular, there are many characters and a tremendous amount of dialogue and voices. Is there a reason you wanted full voice recording?

 

Full voice recording is a big challenge. Even adding narrations like this is not easy and takes a lot of time. But the reason we've continued to do this is that the voice is one of the essential elements to create the game's atmosphere and bring a sense of liveliness to the characters.

 

Our team is smaller than other major game-developing companies. We only have about 20 people on our team. There is no cinematic department or studio, and there is no equipment or workforce to do motion capture. We can't make sense of liveliness through those aspects.

 

Fortunately, we have an outstanding Art Director who can preserve each god's characteristics. We chose sample voices that fit each character to see how it works out. It reassured us that it is a work that brings a sense of liveliness to our characters, and we started working on it. We also had many other different jobs and did not have any extra resources. For some characters, our teammates recorded the voices. We wanted to express the character more vividly and give users a sense of immersion.

 

For example, the hero Zagreus and the narration were done by our Audio Director Darren Korb. He was in charge of every music of Hades, the narration, and the hero's voice. We hired professional voice actors for some characters, but he was in the lead directing the voice recordings. Whenever I work with him, I wonder how many people can do all of these jobs at once.

 

Did the feedback from the players help a lot in the actual development? What is the most memorable feedback?

 

Hades our first Early Access game, the first Roguelike game, and the first game based on actual mythology. As a result, it was inevitable to face difficulties in many ways, and player feedback was more important than any of our previous works. 

 

So over the past two years, we've collected much feedback from players. The feedback was so helpful to the development of Hades that it's challenging to point out specific parts. It was an opportunity to look through the game again, from finding problems we didn't expect to balancing, story, and art.

 

We were a little confused before we found a way to classify and apply such vast feedback. However, as the system was gradually established, Hades started to have a solid outline. Hades probably would not show the same level of perfection if it had been developed in the traditional way, which was quietly developing and then later releasing it.

 

For the most memorable feedback, it is tough to choose one. But to narrow it down, the feedback that positively expressed the overall direction of Hades comes to my mind. Gamers do not always give positive feedback but are somewhat more likely to respond immediately to specific problems. That is also very important to completing the game.

 

However, when we encounter difficulties while developing, we need to know whether this is the right direction. At that time, we reassured that many players enjoyed and had high hopes for our game by looking at supportive feedback from the players. We were able to develop the game with all our hearts.

 

We have always listened to the players and tried to make better games as best as possible. The player community, which has been the basis of this, is sometimes critical, but we are lucky to meet many people who encourage and support us. In return, we are still trying to make better games.

 

 

Since the game is very popular around the world, there are high expectations for the sequel. I wonder if there will be Hades 2 or additional DLC.

 

We have not decided on what's next. The only thing that's certain so far is that Hades will be released on PlayStation and Xbox on August 13. Releasing the game on other platforms is already a massive task for us, so we are focusing on that for now. We will have to focus on this for a while because we have to wait and see until it stabilizes, even after the release. After that, we can tell you more clearly about what we're going to do.

 

For now, we are paying full attention to establishing the value of our team. Although the games that have been released so far are different, there were characteristics of Supergiant Games from the unique immersive atmosphere.

 

In the future, we will have to develop that and think about how we will develop games. For now, we want to remain as a small team and make games by extending the style we had. But we are not sure about how we will be doing in the future.

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