In our latest issue of Game Informer, we’ve a studio profile dedicated to Supergiant Games, however we didn’t wish to cease there. We’re additionally taking the celebration online, sharing the tales behind every of the indie developer’s incredible titles. After Supergiant’s debut with Bastion after which its follow-up Transistor, we’re lastly shifting on to its most distinct and concerned venture: Pyre.
For its third sport, Supergiant felt prefer it was time to extend the problem and, within the phrases of studio director Amir Rao, “go bigger across all dimensions.” What resulted is a sport not like some other. Both fascinating and complicated, Pyre gave the studio an opportunity to take its detailed world-building even additional, contain the gamers and their decisions in a significant manner, and most significantly, experiment with a brand new model of gameplay. “It’s a game that pushed us creatively in many ways, like more than any game we’ve ever made, including Hades,” says artistic director Greg Kasavin. “Because with Hades, we did come back to certain types of ideas that were more comfortable for us.”
Pyre was all about not dreaming huge and studying new abilities, even when it meant having to just accept some onerous classes alongside the best way. And the crew created it in three years, the identical time it took to make a a lot smaller sport – Transistor.
New Studio, New Attitude
With two hits underneath its belt, Supergiant had the urge (and sources) to strive one thing extra formidable. After having so many challenges on Transistor, the group was in a a lot better place when beginning work on Pyre. Their newfound success allowed them to improve to a fancier studio, shifting to a nicer a part of San Francisco proper subsequent to a espresso store and chocolate manufacturing unit.
According to principal voice actor Logan Cunningham, the work/life steadiness was beginning to “click into place,” as extra crew members had been having households. New wellness insurance policies, like obligatory trip, had been making certain members took care of themselves. “The whole process on Pyre was just much more pleasant than anything we’ve done before,” Cunningham remembers.
The crew additionally felt it had proved that Bastion wasn’t only a flash within the pan, and it was able to experiment in methods it hadn’t earlier than. For Pyre, the group determined to go greater, with a party-based RPG and a procedural narrative. However, it additionally bought a bit experimental and eccentric with NBA Jam-inspired gameplay. “We went wild, and I think we also went wilder than we thought we were gonna go,” says artwork director Jen Zee. “I think what I remember as the motivating factor behind Pyre was we were sick of doing worlds where there was only one person.”
One vital side of Pyre’s growth is how the studio selected which concepts to pursue. Supergiant believes in a collaborative course of, the place members talk about their pursuits and decide the weather that the majority excite them. As a approach to keep away from Transistor’s lengthy and fraught pre-production concern, Supergiant Games bought straight right down to enterprise on Pyre. “We just told everybody to go chase their passions and then we’ll figure out how to put it together,” Kasavin says.
Kasavin tackles the synthesis of these concepts, combining everybody’s contributions and deciding what ties all of them collectively for a sport idea. “I would go so far as to say that’s my primary role,” Kasavin says. “That’s probably one of the most important things I do, because we’re not a studio where one person says, ‘Here’s the game we’re making.’ So with Pyre as a concrete example, Amir and Gavin were prototyping this competitive sport. Jen was creating these wild characters – tree people and worm people – and I’m giving my own ideas about what the world and what the play experience can be.”
The Power Of Saying Goodbye
While the Supergiant crew may be shy to make use of the phrase “sports” to explain Pyre’s style, it was on the studio’s thoughts. Technical director Andrew Wang remembers fantasy soccer changing into standard at Supergiant, and the sports activities followers had been questioning the way to incorporate the enjoyable of following a crew. Then issues took an fascinating flip. “Amir was talking about retirement, specifically in a sports context when a star athlete has to make that calculation,” Kasavin remembers. “Do you go out on top? Do you play another season? And what’s going through your head when you do that? That led to these broader conversations about the experience of saying goodbye to a close friend.”
That final half is what made players connect with the game in a special way. Sure, competing in Rites to win in opposition to different groups brings the adrenaline rush of competitors, however you basically had been preventing to present a personality you’ve befriended their freedom from exile, or as Kasavin likes to place, “giving them a return to glory to where they came from.” Every Rite got here with the chance to present a personality a greater life, however the goodbye at all times hit onerous, as they had been out of your get together for the remainder of the sport.
“A lot of players who enjoyed Pyre, they remark on these moments in the game, the liberation rites, where you have a chance to say goodbye to someone you care about,” Kasavin says. “I’m really glad that that worked out, because in hindsight, that was a really hard thing to prototype. You needed all the surrounding context and the build up [to these matches], but you also needed to have time with these characters and grow to care about them for the stakes of that moment to be meaningful in any way. Then you need all the stuff after that moment to [create the] experience of them no longer being around and have other characters talk about how they miss that character.”
And that is solely a pattern of the additional thought and care Supergiant needed to put into every part in Pyre. The sport succeeds due to how all of its elements complement each other, but it surely took a variety of effort to make every part come collectively, each technically and creatively.
Having extra characters who interacted with each other, taking part in in greater areas, and accounting for participant decisions gave the crew rather a lot to tackle, and so they did all of it whereas staying the identical measurement: 12 individuals. “We dreamed big for Pyre, and from the technical side, it ended up being quite challenging,” Wang says. “Pyre was almost like doing two games. On the technical side, there were very different requirements for being able to see this wide-open world versus the more reactive, action-oriented sports stuff. What I optimized in one version wouldn’t necessarily help the other.”
The venture bred problem, particularly for the narrative having to account for the totally different states a participant’s get together might be in as a result of their decisions. “For my part, it was this big exploration into procedural narrative,” Kasavin says. “Essentially, there’s a lot of optional procedural scenes that are varied based on the character. We had to account for you having any number of characters in your group at a given time.”
This meant supporting a playthrough the place the participant misplaced each Rite and nonetheless having it make sense for the general story. Kasavin knew this was a giant process, however felt it match with the sport’s themes of accepting failure and shifting on.
Pyre was additionally the primary time Kasavin wrote dialogue for characters in a sport, which was refreshing and would later present a useful studying expertise that might turn out to be useful for Supergiant’s subsequent title. “Pyre was the first time where two, sometimes three, and sometimes even four characters may be talking to each other and have a scene like that,” Kasavin says. “That was a fun experience for me. A lot of that, certainly on the narrative side, Hades picked up right where Pyre left off.”
On Pyre, everybody was consistently studying new issues because of the ambition of what the crew wished to perform. Composer and audio director Darren Korb discovered the sound for the sport early with what he calls “its acoustic ‘70s fantasy rock,” which is extra in his wheelhouse. “My goal for [Pyre’s music] was to extrapolate a genre of music from the intro to [Led Zeppelin’s] “Stairway to Heaven,” simply the flute and the guitar factor. So, that is what I attempted to do and it was a helpful artistic information.”
However, creating the sound didn’t come with out some challenges, particularly when having or not it’s extra reactive to what the participant is doing. “There is a very complicated dynamic music system in [Pyre],” Korb says. “The whole piece could dynamically switch based on what was happening in the game. It was really valuable from a learning perspective for us. One of the things we learned was after a certain amount of interactivity, there’s diminishing returns if it’s too subtle, if it’s not noticeable. After all, the point of the interactivity is to notice it.”
The Biggest Challenge With Pyre…
Development director Gavin Simon sums up Pyre in a manner that captures its magnificence and likewise its downside: “With Pyre, we made a game that there probably is no counterpart for in the game industry,” he says.
If something price Pyre a few of its enchantment, it was the issue individuals had understanding precisely what the sport was. “I think it was alienating for some of our other fans and very hard to pitch and describe to people,” Zee says.
Kasavin agrees: “If we have trouble clearly articulating what we’re working on, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Do we want that?’ I love Pyre. I think some of the best work I’ve ever done is in that game, but the part where it was hard to describe to people? I don’t love that part.”.
Pyre launched and acquired stellar reviews, but it surely didn’t match the gross sales or standing of Bastion and Transistor. However, Pyre did what it wanted to. “What we look for in our games is, ‘Did it do well enough for us to be able to keep going? And is it a capable game? Do some of our players love it the most out of all our games?’ [Pyre] absolutely hit those checkmarks for us,” Kasavin says.
Even if Pyre didn’t shine as brightly because the studio’s earlier titles, it was a stepping stone for what would in the end be Supergiant’s largest hit. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I can’t imagine that Hades would even exist if not for Pyre,” Kasavin says. “I didn’t ever get it out of my system – the idea of escaping from purgatory.”