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Transistor Creative Director Greg Kasavin Interview

/ Jul 1st, 2013 No Comments

Transistor is an upcoming title from Super Giant Games, a studio that made headlines with their last title, Bastion. At the Sony press conference that revealed the PlayStation 4 console, Transistor was given a feature to show off how the PS4 is a great platform for games. At the recent E3 2013 conference in Los Angeles, Associate Editor Kalvin Martinez received a hands-on demo of the game on PS4 and spoke with Super Giant Games Creative Director Greg Kasavin about what gamers can expect from Transistor.

Be sure to check out our Best of E3 2013 awards because Transistor was one of the five winners from the show. For even more reading, be sure to read our in-depth review of Bastion from 2012.

Interview with Transistor Creative Director Greg Kasavin

Kalvin Martinez (GI): I just played the Transistor demo. What are your plans with this compared to Bastion, which was a lot lighter in motifs and atmosphere? It’s still heavy in the end-of-the-world, post-apocalyptic theme… but this one has darker colors, a lot more shadows and contrast. What was the inspiration to go this direction as opposed to doing a Bastion follow-up, in the same model?

Greg Kasavin (BHG): Yeah, that’s a good question. One of the things we really loved about making Bastion was creating that world and creating that mood and atmosphere, this kind of fantasy-frontier world. Fundamentally, I think we were interested in seeing if we could make another world from scratch and something that felt quite different from Bastion. We wanted to see, if Bastion was our take on the fantasy genre … that’s admittedly somewhat of a weird take on fantasy … we wanted to see what we could do with science fiction this time around.

That’s on a high level where we started with it. Not only was that our goal from a world-building standpoint, but also from a gameplay standpoint, wanting to take it in this more strategic direction. That just made sense more to us in a science fiction setting. We take our inspirations from too many different sources to mention, really.

We were talking initially about a cyberpunk feel, this not-too-flung-in-the-future looking thing, almost like an anachronistic feel where you can’t quite place the time period. At the same time, we don’t want to play into the conventions of cyberpunk or too many conventions of science fiction … not because we don’t love those things, but because we feel they’ve been done so well before in so many other places, from games like Deus Ex to Mass Effect, and any number of movies, and so on. It takes us a while to explore and find a look and feel that is distinct, and that’s really what it’s all about for us. It’s just finding a distinct identity for this game.

Transistor by Super Giant Games

Transistor by Super Giant Games

Kalvin Martinez (GI): With the Western vibe of Bastion, it was more rounded, where this has a lot more angular buildings, with higher skyscrapers. Obviously, it doesn’t have the same texture, as the surface-buildings that were in Bastion. It is adding a really interesting game mode that’s as fast as the action was in Bastion … but obviously, for the science fiction vibe with gameplay, the mechanics are a bit more strategic … What are the plans going forward for the final build to make the gameplay really pop? What can we expect from gameplay in Transistor?

Greg Kasavin (BHG): Our goal with this more strategic mode of play is to have much more built-in drama to the moment-to-moment action, this ebb and flow to it. You have these moments where you’re against the ropes and all these powerful enemies are bearing down upon you, but you can essentially call “time out” and turn the tables on them, and have these dramatic reversals and have these spectacular moments where you achieve victory from near defeat.

We find those moments in games really exciting. We wanted to come up with a system that allowed those moments to happen more frequently as a core part of the game. We developed this strategic planning mode that you can engage when and how you want, and we found that people … players on our team included … use it in a variety of different ways, whether they want to go full-on on the offensive, or use it to get out of danger, or in these clutch situations, and so on.

That’s when it seemed really promising to us. That aspect, we think, creates for a deep-feeling game, or at least that’s our goal. We’re going to have a wide variety of abilities players can use and configure differently, and develop these robust strategies and see how they unfold. Of course, for us, a really exciting part of planning is the moment where the plan doesn’t quite go as expected. Balancing that is really fun. Most of the time your plan goes off as you want, and you’re really satisfied, like, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I want to have happen,” but sometimes there’s a surprise, and you have to react to it. We hope that keeps players on their toes.

Kalvin Martinez (GI): I saw in the demo, you get new powers or abilities. You’re finding these… I don’t know what to call them, like lost souls, dead people, that have been kidnapped by this, I guess, totalitarian government or power in the game. Is there going to be a lot of depth to the character profiles that you find for these powers?

Greg Kasavin (BHG): Yeah, we certainly hope so. What we’re showing here is just a taste of what we have planned around that. Yeah, this idea that the Transistor is gaining new abilities as it integrates these … we call them “Traces,” these ghost-like entities that you encounter … and we’re implying here that they are specific characters and people.

We definitely want to build that out more for the full game, and have that be your access point into learning more about this world and feeling like these abilities that you’re getting are just not weapons. They’re kind of connected to specific individuals, and learning more about the world that way.

Kalvin Martinez (GI): What are your goals narratively for Transistor? In Bastion, you were doing the unreliable narrator. You’re really challenging tenses there, the feeling of players being able to orient to this world because you’re going with this narrator recounting about this silent protagonist and who’s talking about meeting him, in real time, in the past. What do you want to do with Transistor? What do you expect to get narratively out of the story?

Greg Kasavin (BHG): Here, we’re very interested in developing this relationship between our protagonist character, who is a silent protagonist for reasons that are related to the story, and this other character, whose voice is coming from inside the Transistor itself, a character who’s been reduced to only a voice.

We like the idea of this partnership and how this speaking character is actually piecing together the story as he goes. He’s not someone like Rucks, the narrator of Bastion, who’s holding back a lot of information. He’s someone who’s still figuring this out. We like the idea that he doesn’t entirely know what the protagonist character’s intentions are, because she can’t even tell him. Playing with those dynamics is interesting to us and really just developing their relationship as much as possible.

Kalvin Martinez (GI): When you came on stage at the Sony press conference to reveal that you’re going to be releasing this first on PlayStation 4, also on PC as revealed at the end of the trailer. What made the decision to choose the PlayStation as the platform to roll it out on consoles, since Xbox Live was such a big help for Bastion?

Greg Kasavin (BHG): Yeah, that’s right. We had a great experience getting on XBLA and working with Warner Brothers and Microsoft in Bastion’s case. In this case, the PlayStation 4 is what made the most sense for us. We revealed this game a few months ago, Pax East for the first time, and everyone saw it at the same time. Thankfully, we got a really great response, and the Sony guys came and played it at the show and really, really liked what they saw, and have been very, very accommodating and gave us a great opportunity to be here at E3.

For us, it’s a chance to self-publish a game for the first time, both on the PlayStation 4 and on PC. They’ve shown us a tremendous amount of faith and support by giving us this kind of presence at their press briefing and here at the show. We think the console itself looks really, really great. Looks like it’s going to be a great home for a lot of smaller titles like ours, and some of the games that are right next to us here that were shown at the press briefing as well. So yeah, those guys were just incredibly excited to work with us, and that really came across, and we decided we wanted to work with them, too.

Kalvin Martinez (GI): It’s really exciting that this is your first self-pub game. I mean, that’s big. Last question: what should people out there who are interested in Transistor and who loved Bastion, what should they be looking forward to, come early next year, hopefully?

Greg Kasavin (BHG): Our goal with this game … even though we intend for this game to have its own distinct identity and be full of its own surprises … I think on a high level, the goal is similar to Bastion, which is that we really want to make a game that is worth people’s time, so that when you invest the time to play through this game, at the end of it all, you’re going to feel like it was worth it, and you’re going to get an experience that feels rewarding and hopefully leaves you thinking about it even when you’re not playing it, and so on.

We want to create the kind of games that leave a strong, lasting impression. Thankfully, the response to Bastion was really, really great and put us in a position to be able to make something new. We’re once again going to do our absolute best to deliver that with this game. But of course, you will have to be the judge of how we do that. It’s certainly challenging going every step of the way, but we feel like unless we’re pulling our hair out trying to figure this stuff out, that we’re not really doing it right. Yeah, we’ll keep doing our best.

Kalvin Martinez (GI): Thanks, Greg.

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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