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EyeGuyTex's Q&A with the crew behind Bastion and the upcoming Transistor
Not to take away from Call of Duty and ilk, but we are a small, but growing, community of gamers that appreciates something a little different. One of our main goals is being able to open up a dialog with those that we feel are helping push the boundaries of gaming, so your studio is definitely one of the ones we are most excited about.
Thank you in turn! It wasn't long ago that we were a completely unheard-of little studio. It's still weird to see us talked about this way as things here haven't changed much since the Bastion days.
Can you give us a little information about your studio and your dev team?
We're a 10-person studio based in San Francisco, originally founded in the living room of a house in San Jose. Several of us used to work at much larger studios but we quit in order to try and make something more personal, and the result was Bastion, our first game. Thankfully it did well enough that we've been able to stick together as a team, and we're now in the thick of trying to make something new.
Bastion was by far one of my favorite games to come out on Xbox Live Arcade. The colors, music, and environment were absolutely gorgeous, causing me to sometimes play just to enjoy the world. How did you take what you learned from Bastion and use it to craft your new world in Transistor? Also, is Darren Korb coming back to do the music?
Every member of our team who worked on Bastion is working together again on Transistor, including Darren. With Bastion we tried to come up with our own take on a fantasy world, which was a really fun and rewarding process, especially since the game ended up being well received. So, with Transistor, we wanted to see if we could build another world from scratch, this time with more of a science fiction theme. I'd love to be able to say everything we learned from making Bastion made the going a lot easier this time around but the truth is it's been every bit as challenging if not more so, trying lots of different ideas and gradually finding the ones that stick. On the other hand, I feel like this type of process needs to be creatively exhausting in some ways in order to produce good results, or at least that's how it felt on Bastion!
How did the idea to do a technoworld in Transistor evolve?
The idea of making a science-fiction-themed game came up pretty early on as a potentially interesting point of contrast to Bastion's fantasy theme. Having built this weird fantasy-frontier world for Bastion, we wanted to see what we could do in this other direction, especially since we were already thinking about going in a more strategic direction with the gameplay. We drew on lots of different references across all sorts of media and eventually came up with this particular take on a futuristic city that you see in our game. The process of getting to that point is not clean or straightforward, and requires a lot of trying stuff, intuition, arguing, testing, and so on. Hopefully the best ideas are the ones that end up sticking!
How do you feel about the success of Bastion and the expectations for future? Did you foresee Bastion being as popular as it became?
Bastion's success exceeded all our expectations, especially since it was sort of a slow burn. The game wasn't some explosive overnight success, but rather, over time it just kind of kept going and didn't fall off the radar as quickly as most games do. We've now sold more than two million copies, which is a number from our wildest fantasies. Our expectations for the future mostly center around the launch of Transistor, and our intent to do everything we can to make sure our second game lives up to our first. Our long-term goals are pretty modest in that we just want to stick together as a team and keep making interesting games that can leave a lasting positive impression. I hope we'll be able to do that for a long time.
Can you shed some light on why you switched to highlighting the PSN/PS4 after initially launching on XBLA?
We had a great experience releasing Bastion on Xbox LIVE Arcade, especially since we were in the Summer of Arcade, which in previous years held many of the games that inspired us to make Bastion in the first place (like Braid and Castle Crashers). In turn, the PlayStation 4 made the most sense for us this time around with Transistor, as the guys at Sony were very excited for the game and have been tremendously supportive by featuring us at E3, providing immediate access to development kits and hardware, and so on. We'll also be able to self-publish a game for the first time, simultaneously on console and PC, which is something we're interested in trying. I love how serious Sony is about making the PS4 a great platform for smaller developers, as I feel like more and more of the best games each year are coming from smaller teams.
Is there anything specific about the next gen that you guys are excited about being able to take advantage of?
Even though we're making a purely 2D game, having all that extra memory means we can have much higher fidelity animation this time around. We think our new animator/3D modeler Camilo is super talented so we can't for people to see the types of stuff he can do. We're also excited to explore what we can do with the PlayStation 4's controller. We've already got the light bar on it synched to the in-game voiceover, mirroring the effect you see in-game where the Transistor weapon flashes whenever you hear the voice coming from it. Which sounds goofy when I put it that way.... We're not going to force anything though it's always fun to try new types of interfaces, and the PS4 controller seems like a really good refinement of a tried-and-true format. (The Xbox One controller felt great to me too, for that matter.) Other than that, I also think having content sharing built right into the PS4 is very promising, not specifically for our game but just in general.
Any time line on publishing and when we can hope to jump in to the game?
We're looking to release Transistor for the PlayStation 4 and PC sometime early next year! We'll pin down a more specific date closer to that time.
What is your workspace like? Straightforward business style? Show up in shorts and flip flops?
We're pretty informal but keep rather quiet. We started in the living room of a house but now we have a little studio space in San Francisco that's nicer on the inside than on the outside, fortunately for us. It's a small team and most days it's everyone plugging away on his or her own stuff. We're very tactical so we don't have a bunch of recurring meetings or milestones or whatever and instead tend to work on more bite-sized tasks. We check in as often as the need arises and keep playing the game, tinkering away, improving things and polishing as we go. Nothing fancy or particularly unusual I think, but it's what works for us and what we're comfortable with.
How do you unwind? Specific games you like to play together?
Amir our studio director and I played lots and lots of Dota 2 pretty much all through last year. I hadn't been hooked on a multiplayer game like that since Street Fighter IV. I play a lot of games in my spare time, as much as I can really. I've got two kids so squeezing in game time is an interesting metagame unto itself. Other than that, I don't read as much as I should or watch as many movies as I'd like, but hey! Not a bad problem to have.
I know this is random, but this is kind of a Pointsmatter tradition... who can grow the most kickass facial hair in the office? Bonus points for snagging a picture for us.
Darren Korb, no contest. Google him, you'll see. We used to identify him to people as "the guy with the chops" though these days his reputation tends to precede him when we're at events like PAX and so on.
Finally, is there any unique tidbit of information that isn't out there yet that we can weasel out of you?
Ah! I don't know. I can't think of anything. We try to be as open as possible without spoiling our whole game before people can play it. It's a tricky balance I guess. Since we make games with a heavy narrative component we end up keeping a lot of it under wraps. For example during Bastion's development there was some temptation to show the Prosper Bluff level during development, which was the level where you first hear a song rather than narration. It was an unusual level but I felt strongly that we shouldn't show it out of context, and I think we were definitely better off for holding back on that one, since I think it created an unexpected moment for a lot of players. With Transistor I already feel like we've shown too much in certain ways, even though it's only like 20 minutes of gameplay! But we have a lot more in store of course.