Hades was one of 2020’s most acclaimed games and now it is finally making its way onto PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. It’s been a long road since this game’s Early Access launch in 2018. To mark the special occasion of it coming to more platforms, ComingSoon Senior Gaming Editor Michael Leri spoke with Supergiant Games’ Creative Director Greg Kasavin about the game, touching on topics like the team’s knack for showing players the development process, approach (or lack thereof) to DLC, the pros and cons of a small team, his love for Housemarque’s roguelite shooter, Returnal, and more.

Michael Leri: There was a Giant Bomb documentary on Bastion, three separate full Noclip docs on Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre, and then a six-part doc on just Hades, not to mention profiles on other sites and the few short making-of clips on the Supergiant YouTube account. Why is Supergiant so open and why is that important to you?

Greg Kasavin: Thank you for asking. I don’t think anyone has asked me that before in that way. I am someone who wanted to make games since I was a little kid but only got my start in my late twenties. It still actually feels like sorcery to me. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that after around 13 years so far. It’s just people doing their best, plugging away, and trying to collaborate. Some are generalists, some are the best in the world at some hyper-specific thing.

We just wanted to show that process. I have a background in writing about games myself. Personally, it comes from that desire to know how it’s done. When I was working at GameSpot for 10 years as my first real job, it was hard to get developers to open up about how they made their games. You’d get developer diaries close to a launch of a game. Those just often paint a rosy picture on how development is going and it’s understandable. But then you’d hear these other stories saying it wasn’t as easy as it sounded and it wasn’t perfect.

So it’s like, “What happened?” I just desperate to know. As a smaller independent studio, we just wanted to show it. We know how much it means to people starting out. When you only see finished games, that’s when it truly feels like sorcery. When I see The Last of Us Part II, I have no idea how they do that. It’s incredibly intimidating. You can’t imagine how a group of people got together and did that with any period of time, with any number of people.

But when you see a terrible prototype, you’re like, “Wait a minute. I could do that. Someone hasn’t created the Mona Lisa there. It’s just some janky thing running around.”

One of the other things we did way back when was we took an early Bastion prototype to PAX and we showed it right beside the finished game like, “Here, play this garbage.” We did that, granted, after the game had come out, after we knew people liked it. This was how it looked. It’s not pretty. Many aspects of it come together at the end. It’s still so hard for people to get their start in game development that maybe it could give people some encouragement.

The other part of it is just showing more of the humans that go into it. Games, big and small, are ultimately just made by people. I think it’s easier for small studios to talk about their work in a direct way. It’s not going to be on a shareholder earnings call. It’s just an avenue that smaller developers have to express themselves and what they are trying to do.

Bastion was the only game Supergiant has put out so far with DLC and that DLC was free on PC, included on PlayStation, and only a dollar on Xbox because of an old Microsoft policy. They are still complete and content-rich, but the following three games have not had much in the way of big substantial post-launch support. Can you speak to why the team doesn’t pursue DLC? Then, secondly, what about Hades specifically since it seems built to support additional content like more Boons and weapons?

It’s not one of those things that’s written in stone like, “We will never make DLC!” It’s just not yet made sense for us to do since the Bastion one-off, which was something we experimented with at the time. Today, that would have been a patch.

I think a big part of it is that we’re so committed to the endings of our games and to paying off the player’s time if they get all the way to the end. We’ve put in all of our best ideas in the thing we’ve shipped and we’ve set out with a goal of making a complete experience. So to make DLC on something that, by our own definition, is complete, something about that has felt off. It’s like you’re contriving stuff. If it was so important, why wasn’t it there in the 1.0 version? That’s a very broad statement about it.

In the particular case of Hades, it’s also a game with a lot of intricately connected parts in a story and everything. It may sound straightforward to dump in new Boons, gods, or weapons, but it would have a massive impact across all aspects of the game.

Due to the nature of the Early Access development, from our perspective, we did a whole bunch of updates. It’s just only Early Access players who experience a game that way. We even had unique content in Early Access that we never intended to ship in the 1.0 version that was self-aware about the nature of Early Access.

We did that for three years. And we gave it everything we had and thankfully it got this amazing response. We weren’t eager to then go and start messing with it. It doesn’t rule anything out by any means. We really appreciate that there’s interest and that players want more. But also that there is so much understanding in our community as well. Folks point out that it isn’t our style and they’ll give us a break.

PC aside, Supergiant games have always sort of favored one console at first. Bastion was Xbox. Transistor and Pyre were PlayStation. Hades was Switch. Is this a result of what console maker is recruiting indies the best at that time? And secondly, why did it take longer to come to Xbox and PlayStation this time?

It’s a good question. Basically, as a small independent studio, we have to choose the correct opportunities at certain times or else we may not get to stick around and keep making games together, which is what we want. As an independent studio, we’re not knights sworn in servitude to Xbox or PlayStation. We can choose to bring our games to whichever platforms that make sense. It’s nice to have that freedom.

But one of the consequences of being a small independent team is that we can’t just bring our games to every platform under the sun, at least not without making really, really big tradeoffs, which would probably come at the direct cost of the quality of the game and that’s not a tradeoff we are willing to make. We’d rather launch a better game on fewer platforms than a less good game on more platforms, especially since we may later have a chance to bring the game to additional platforms when we could focus on one version after another. That worked out really well for us on Bastion and it’s just been our way ever since due to the constraints of our team size.

AAA studios with large engineering and publishing departments have the capacity to simultaneously ship their games on five different platforms. That’s just never been feasible for us. We thought about it and what it would take. It would take a much bigger team than what we have and a bigger team than we’re willing to have. Being small is very important to us in the way that we operate. It keeps our communication brisk and our collaboration direct.

So then why now for PlayStation and Xbox? The short answer is that it’s as soon as we could get it all at the quality level that we are happy with. So it’s four new versions of the game, technically. Honestly, there are even more. All of those have to be tested. And one of the really exciting things this time is that we have this physical edition so I jokingly say that it’s finally a real game now that it’s in a box and you can go to a GameStop store and see it there. It’s a surreal experience.

And that physical edition is a whole involved process as well. We’re designing the packaging and the inserts. We took a bit of a break after the 1.0 launch but we’ve been busy with these Xbox and PlayStation versions ever since.

Pyre is the only Supergiant game that is still only on two platforms, PC and PS4, and the only title that doesn’t have a physical release. You also said in a Reddit AMA that there were no plans to bring it to the Switch, despite the two prior games making their way there. Why it is the only Supergiant game that didn’t spread to multiple platforms or get a physical version? It seems like an anomaly in the Supergiant gameography.

I don’t personally consider it an anomaly. If you did a comparison chart, all of our games are on a different set of platforms. Bastion is on the most as it has been ported to simpler, and now-obsolete platforms in some cases.

Are you talking crap about the Vita?

[laughs] No. My Vita is just right over there. I’m talking about things like the browser-based version of Bastion. We get requests for Pyre on the Switch and, man, I wish bringing our games to new platforms was as easy as everyone hoped. For Pyre, there’s a really big technical challenge. It’s all related to the engine and memory usage. There’s no way we could bring Pyre to the Switch without a huge overhaul to that game. And as a small team, it’s like, “Do we work on a new game? Or do we go back and work on Pyre for the Switch?” It’s just hard for us to justify all of those things.

There are a ton of decisions like that down the line. We had a lot of requests for a lot of our games on a lot of different platforms that we were not able to fulfill. It’s not because of a lack of desire on our part. We’re a small team. One of the most vital things is just us staying focused on a small number of things. If we say yes to everything, we’re dead. We can’t do it.

And we’re ok with that. It makes us reevaluate our decision to stay small and the tradeoffs involved with staying small and be confident that this is the right path for us even if that means that our games aren’t on every platform. But at the same time, we haven’t ruled anything out. Like Bastion came to PlayStation in 2014 and I never would have imagined that. I don’t think we’ve ruled out a Switch version of Pyre. It’s just we have no current plans for it and if it were reasonably feasible for us, we would have loved to have already done it.

The other thing is that we got busy with Hades immediately after Pyre. It’s actually a very important factor. Maybe we would have done more with Pyre in a different universe where Hades wasn’t an Early Access game but we decided our next game after Pyre would be an Early Access game and we would launch it quite soon.

Normally, our games take like three years to launch. Pyre came out in late July in 2017 and then Hades was out in Early Access in December of the following year. Once Early Access started, we were super focused on Hades from there.

Sony Buys Returnal Developer Housemarque, Possibly Bluepoint

Returnal was also a well-reviewed roguelite. What are your thoughts on it and its different take on the genre?

Returnal is one of my favorite games this year so far. I have not cleared a run, dammit, but I’ve played like several dozen hours of that game. I’m pretty deep into that game. Housemarque is a super cool developer. I’ve been following their games for years.

It just goes to show how much breadth there is in this genre. Apart from the roguelike structure and some of the narrative ambitions, Returnal and Hades are so different, especially with the whole point of view of the action. I loved how Housemarque took their own point of view on the arcade style bullet hell combat that’s been in their previous games and presented it in the roguelike structure. It parallels us as we deliberately brought back some of the hack-and-slash Bastion gameplay that we worked on way back when and put it in a roguelike structure.

It’s not quite like an RPG where you can add RPG elements to almost any other game, but the roguelike structure is deeply fascinating and there have been all of these different games. You have stuff like Dead Cells and Slay the Spire that have the genre branching off into really different directions. All we wanted with Hades was to make something that had any chance of distinguishing itself in a crowded genre.

There are many excellent games like this. When you make a game, you try to be the best of what it is or be unique in some way. We felt like there was plenty of room, despite the many roguelike games, to still explore it further. And in our case, we wanted to use the structure as a premise to tell a story and think about a scenario where someone would die and come back over and over. And Returnal explores that question as well.

You said in the Noclip documentary after the game’s launch that you were still processing all of the accolades. Now a few months on from that, how has that processing journey gone?

I think it’s still in progress. It’s very humbling. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s amazing. It’s weird to answer because when we say we didn’t expect it, and I can sincerely say it, we didn’t expect it. People will be like, “Come on! Your game is amazing!” And I say thanks, but it’s uncommon when a smaller independent studio can hang with the big guys in that way.

I thought back to Journey, which was the first game from a smaller studio in relatively recent history that I can recall that just swept a lot of the awards that year. Journey got delayed. It was supposed to come out in 2011 and then came out in 2012 and swept all the awards.

Bastion was well-regarded in 2011. We wouldn’t have won a damn thing if Journey came out in 2011. I think about that a lot. The awards and recognition are really meaningful and mean a lot, but they also are a reflection of our great, great fortune as a development team. And by that, I mean luck. We can control the quality of our work. We can’t control what happens in the rest of the world. We have no influence over the work that all other developers are doing.

And awards are competitions. The year Breath of the Wild comes out, I’m sorry, every other game. You’re just not going to win awards. All it would have taken was a game like that to come out and things would have been really different. We’re incredibly grateful that it was in the conversation at all, much less pulling some of these wins. It’s incredibly encouraging.

We can’t just recreate these circumstances. There’s no assumption that our next thing will be as well regarded. How can we expect that? But we’ve been comfortable with that thought process since the start because we felt this way with Bastion. Our goal is for each game we make is to make it so it is the favorite game of some of our players who play more than one of our games. It just has to be good enough and idiosyncratic enough so that it hits someone at the right place at the right time like Hades was able to for a lot of people.

And that’s good enough for us. We would never promise anyone and say that our next game will be bigger and better. When games can hit people in that way where they create this profound connection with them, who are we to say that something else will make them feel more intensely?

We try to make games that are interesting to us with the hope that it translates to whoever plays it. It’s never been easy and I don’t expect it will be easy. And similar to roguelikes, that challenge is part of what makes it compelling for us.