Looking to avoid a sophomore slump, the guys over at Supergiant Games, creators of the smash hit Bastion, have a cyperpunk dream come true ready to deliver early in 2014 on PS4 (and potentially other systems). We had a chance to catch up with the studio’s creative director, Greg Kasavin, for a few minutes to get a more in-depth look at what makes Transistor tick.
EGM: What was some of the inspirations for Transistor’s cyberpunk theme?
Greg Kasavin: It’s always tough pinning down our inspirations, as we take sort of a melting-pot approach on our team, drawing from many different sources and media across all different aspects of the game. Where it started was, we really enjoyed creating the fantasy-themed world for our first game Bastion, and wanted to see what we could come up with in the science fiction genre this time around. While we were initially drawn to the cyberpunk aesthetic, we systematically rejected just about all the conventions, from the flowing trench coats to the pouring rain to the fat magnum pistols and so on. It’s not that we dislike these things — rather, we think they’ve been done really well elsewhere already, and it’s very important to us to find our own identity with our games. So we ended up with this romanticized, anachronistic-feeling city with some vintage qualities and some futuristic qualities as well. Jen Zee our art director took influence from the Art Nouveau movement of the early 20th century for aspects of the visual style, and we also looked to aspects of the late ’60s and ’70s when thinking about the game’s world. But that’s just one example. It takes us a while to distill all our ideas into something concrete, and the result contains influences from many different games and all sorts of different media from different eras.
EGM: I know there is a huge focus on Red’s voice being missing. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
GK: We were interested in the idea of a silent protagonist who was silent for reasons tied to the story, and having her paired up with another character with the opposite problem — his body is gone and all that’s left of him is his voice. We thought it would be interesting to explore this type of relationship through a game and let players get close to that relationship through their actions. I don’t want to say too much more about it since the story is very much about these characters and how they got into this situation, and what they’re going to do about it now. In Red’s case, we reveal early on that she was an up-and-coming star in this world, so the loss of her voice might be even worse for her than it would be for most people.
EGM: Tell us more about the unique combo system. Not only does Red have special attacks assigned to the face buttons, but she can stop time. Can you explain to us how it all works together?
GK: Red is having a very bad evening at the start of the game though the one consolation is that she discovers this extraordinary weapon called the Transistor. It turns out to have a variety of powerful functions, and one of them essentially lets her stop the entire world around her, plan her next set of actions, then execute them in a supercharged fashion. This is a core aspect of play, as we wanted to create a strategic and thoughtful feel to the action despite the simple-to-use controls. So, at almost any time you can use this ability to turn the tables, get out of a tight spot, overwhelm a particular opponent, and so on. We liked how open-ended it felt and wanted to create a deep-feeling system that provided a lot of natural drama. The exciting thing about planning is that plans sometimes don’t go over exactly as expected, and then you need to quickly re-evaluate the situation and make the best of it.
EGM: How hard is it to balance the combat between real-time and preventing players from just spamming the time stop ability?
GK: We were really interested in capturing the sensation of strategic and tactical games in the context of an action RPG, so finding the right balance between the real-time action and the ability to stop and plan was one of the central design challenges while we were prototyping. The strategic planning mode is very powerful though you quickly find it’s not to be used recklessly, since it leaves you vulnerable for several seconds after you use it. In this way there’s a natural incentive to use it wisely, to make sure you’re out of harm’s way at the end point of your plan. Likewise, some abilities or encounters may be easier or quicker if you duke it out in real time. We don’t want to force the planning mode onto players, we want them to discover it for themselves and decide when and how best to use it. On Bastion we were tweaking and tuning that game down to the very end of development, and I expect we’ll do the same with Transistor, though we’re happy with where that balance stands at the moment!
If you want more information about Transistor from Greg and the gang at Supergiant Games, be sure to pick up issue #260 of EGM available on newsstands now!