Arguably one of the bigger indie titles to arrive on the PlayStation 4 first, Transistor is Supergiant Games’ second outing since Bastion. There’s been a lot of talk about Sony’s indie gaming stance, especially considering Shuhei Yoshida’s statements that indie titles could help fill the gaps between big releases. However, for Supergiant Games, Transistor is the product of disjointed ideas forming a cohesive whole with plenty of surprises yet to be revealed to gamers.
We spoke to creative director Greg Kasavin about the game including the move to a more a turn-based strategy format, the studio’s relationship with Sony and how PC compares to the PlayStation 4.
"Every member of the team who worked on Bastion is back together on Transistor, including Logan Cunningham who was the voice of Bastion's narrator."
GamingBolt: Transistor is Supergiant Games’ first title since Bastion released in 2011. How did you decide upon the concept and why did it take so long to bring a new game out?
Greg Kasavin: Bastion originally came out for Xbox LIVE Arcade and PC shortly after in the summer of 2011, and thankfully it got a really good reception. As a result it kept us pretty busy for over a year after its first release, as we continued supporting it and bringing it to new platforms from Linux to iOS. At the same time we were starting preproduction on Transistor, first just by getting a lot of seemingly disconnected ideas from everyone on team onto a page then seeing what common ground there was.
After creating this weird fantasy world for Bastion we were interested to see what we could do in a science fiction setting this time around, and we also had a lot of ideas about trying to synthesize the feel of turn-based and tactical games in an action RPG context. It of course took a while for these ideas to take shape, and we also didn’t want to reveal the game before we felt it was in a solid playable state for the public.
GamingBolt: The game will be a turn-based strategy title but with free movement in real time, in which the player will plan out actions and then dodge enemies to refill the action meter. Given that Bastion was real-time with its combat, what was the reason for switching over to something more methodical?
Greg Kasavin: We consider Transistor an action RPG, with a deeply integrated strategic planning mode that’s core to the moment-to-moment play. We were interested in developing a deep and open-ended combat system for this game that created a lot of opportunities for expressive play and for dramatic tension. So, by giving players the ability to stop the world around them at almost any time and plan their next set of moves, we found that players became more invested in the outcomes of their tactical decisions, and enjoyed some of the surprises there as well.
"We're only working with Sony at this point so you know our thoughts on their stance toward smaller developers. I'm happy to see Microsoft also making a push to make it easier for independent developers to self-publish on their next platform."
GamingBolt: Will the Transistor – the talking sword – be similar to the narrator from Bastion? Will Logan Cunningham be returning in some form or capacity in Transistor? Also will players be able to customize the Transistor?
Greg Kasavin: Every member of the team who worked on Bastion is back together on Transistor, including Logan Cunningham who was the voice of Bastion’s narrator. This time around he plays what we think is a very different character and the game’s narrative mode is different as well — you hear this voice coming from the Transistor, this strange weapon you’re carrying around, and the speaker is experiencing the events of the story as they occur. He’s the protagonist’s partner and companion, not like an omniscient-sounding storyteller as in Bastion. Much of this game revolves around unraveling the secrets of the Transistor, and as part of that you’ll discover different ways of customizing and rearranging its powers.
GamingBolt: Transistor was one of the first indie titles to be revealed as an exclusive (or timed exclusive at least) for PlayStation 4. What is Supergiant Games relationship with Sony and how did it come about?
Greg Kasavin: Transistor is making its console debut on the PlayStation 4 and will be available on the PC on the same day, so the game is not exclusive to any platform. Part of our decision to work with Sony and come to the PS4 first comes from how open and understanding Sony has been around our needs as a small team. They played the game at PAX East where we showed it for the first time, and really liked what they saw of it so we started talking after the show. They put a lot of faith in smaller teams like ours, as evidenced by the prominent placement we got as part of their E3 lineup. We’re self-funding and self-publishing Transistor, so our relationship to Sony is similar to, say, our relationship to Valve with Steam — we are working on a game coming to their platform.
"It's too early to say what will be the differences between the PS4 and PC versions of the game."
GamingBolt: What are your thoughts on Sony’s PlayStation 4 indie policy in comparison to the Microsoft’s current ID@Xbox for Xbox One? Considering that other platforms are in the running for future releases, will we be seeing Transistor on Xbox One at any point?
Greg Kasavin: We’re only working with Sony at this point so you know our thoughts on their stance toward smaller developers. I’m happy to see Microsoft also making a push to make it easier for independent developers to self-publish on their next platform. As a game player I’m looking forward to both systems. With Transistor, all our focus is on our PS4 and PC launch, and making the best game possible. Beyond that we have no plans and will have to see how things pan out.
GamingBolt: How will the PC version of Transistor compare to the PlayStation 4? Was it difficult to port the game to PS4, or was development for both the PC and PS4 concurrent? Also, are you guys planning to take advantage of Cloud computing [Gaikai launches in 2014] or any other features on the PlayStation 4 such as the DualShock 4’s touch-screen?
Greg Kasavin: It’s too early to say what will be the differences between the PS4 and PC versions of the game, though we are working to ensure the game feels home-grown on both platforms, as that’s been our stance toward multiplatform development all along.
We want each version of our games to feel like it’s the best version. On PS4 we’re still exploring what we can do with the system’s proprietary features to see what makes sense there. We’ve done at least one thing with the PS4 controller that we’re excited about though we’re not going to shoehorn functionality onto it that doesn’t need to be there. We’ve been thinking about controls from day one on this project, and spent a bunch of time while prototyping on both gamepad-centric and PC-centric inputs, as we want to make sure the game feels great on both platforms.
"While memory constraints can lead to some creative solutions, we're nonetheless very excited to have more breathing room on the memory front now."
GamingBolt: Furthermore, unlike the PC, every PS4 comes packed in 8GB of GDDR5 RAM which is beyond the normal PC standard. How are you guys using this extra memory in the PS4 version?
Greg Kasavin: Transistor has a lot more animation and visual effects than our first game so it’s somewhat more memory intensive. We barely got Bastion running smoothly on the Xbox 360 at 720p so having a much bigger memory budget this time around means our artists don’t need to take as many shortcuts creating the characters and creatures for this game. While memory constraints can lead to some creative solutions, we’re nonetheless very excited to have more breathing room on the memory front now.
GamingBolt: Some people believe that the PS4 when compared to a high end PC will become obsolete in the next few years. From a developer perspective, what is your take on the same?
Greg Kasavin: I’m a long-time game player who’s always enjoyed both console and PC games so I put no stock whatsoever in PC vs. console debates because I know from experience that both have their advantages. There are still some fantastic games hitting the current generation of consoles, stuff like The Last of Us, so I don’t think the rapid obsolescence of consoles vs. PC has ever been a significant issue in the past. From a developer perspective our stance is very simple: We want there to be a bunch of vibrant, successful gaming platforms. The competition between platforms results in better games and better value for game players.
GamingBolt: What can you tell us about the bosses/enemies in the game. What kind of challenges will they pose to the player? Can you also please tell us about the different abilities in the game?
"We're still early in PS4 development though getting the game running at 1080p at a consistently smooth 60 frames per second is our target."
Since we start you off with this very powerful ability to stop everything dead in its tracks and plan your next set of moves, in turn this means that we get to design some very powerful and tricky opponents. The opponents you’re facing are single-mindedly trying to recover the Transistor for reasons you’ll discover in the story. They will evolve over the course of the game to shore up some of their weaknesses as you thwart their efforts, and they have a bunch of different tricks.
It’s been fun designing this unified faction for the game, thinking about what they really want and how they fit together, and leaving little clues about that for players to find. Your abilities in turn will range significantly and cater to many different playstyles if we’re successful. We want there to be a lot of richness in reconfiguring the Transistor in different ways, finding and learning different combinations of abilities.
GamingBolt: Last question. I think a decent gaming PC should be able to max out the game and run it at 1080P/60FPS [which seems to be the most wanted feature these days]. Can PS4 owners expect Transistor to run at 1080p/60fps?
Greg Kasavin: We’re still early in PS4 development though getting the game running at 1080p at a consistently smooth 60 frames per second is our target.