Supergiant Games made a name for itself four years ago with the release of Bastion. They brought in record-breaking sales for their first game as an independent game developer and essentially made a cult classic for my generation of gamers.
Supergiant is currently headquartered in San Francisco and was founded in 2009 by Amir Rao and Gavin Simon, both previous employees of EA Los Angeles, where they worked on the Command & Conquer series. They left their company claiming that they wanted “to make games that spark your imagination like the games you played as a kid.”
This goal was made possible by growing their team to the current 11 people:
- Amir Rao – Design, studio operations, co-founder
- Gavin Simon – Engineering, design, co-founder
- Darren Korb – Audio & Music
- Jen Zee – Art
- Greg Kasavin – Writing, design
- Andrew Wang – Systems engineering
- Logan Cunningham – Voiceover
- Michael Ailshie – Studio operations
- Camilo Vanegas – 3D Art & Animation
- Morgan Wren – Quality assurance
- Josh Barnett – UI & Visual FX
A couple of the big reasons why Bastion was so successful, and why their second game called Transistor, was so hyped was due to special attention to detail in both style and story. Gamers often speak about the art style, gameplay mechanics, and plot as very cohesive and entertaining. I would say these were advantages in having such a small, yet focused team with the right amount of experience.
Art & Style
Jen Zee hand-paints all the artwork, sprites, and layouts for both games. She helped create the overall style of the company itself. Logan Cunningham adds to the story as the only voice, used as an artistic choice. Darren Korb creates unique music on both games' amazing soundtracks and effects catered to the games’ aesthetics.
They develop their games in isometric, rotated view. Both are action RPGs with similar gameplay but have different tactical elements. Bastion is more of a hack and slash with traditional leveling up elements, while Transistor offers similar mechanics, but has a tactical alternative to gameplay.
Both have original storylines, which is hard to come by these days. Both take place after horrible incidents caused by the civilizations that the main characters lived in, but one is a whimsical fantasy and the other a cyberpunk Sci-Fi. Greg Kasavin is the main writer and taps into themes he grew up with in other games.
Bastion was introduced at Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) East in 2010 and was officially released on Xbox 360 on July 20, 2011. It was published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, which was an important relationship in getting this small-name company onto big-name consoles. According to Greg Kasavin in an interview with VG247, Supergiant later decided to toss away publishers that wanted to work with them on Transistor because “self-publishing felt like a logical next step.” This might have been a pitfall for the company in hindsight.
In an attempt to reach out to Supergiant Games, Kasavin declined to comment, but replied via email stating “Unfortunately it's not a great time for us to take on new interview opportunities, as we're a small team here looking to stay focused on figuring out what's next.”
By 2014, Bastion had sold 2.3 million copies of the game on all platforms it released on. That’s almost 800 thousand copies per year. Transistor, by the end of 2014, only sold 600 thousand copies. Though optimistic, it seems that self-publishing Transistor may have hindered the number of sales, as well as not releasing it on Xbox.
Where the games were released and when:
Xbox 360 - July 20, 2011
PC - August 16, 2011
iPad - August 30, 2012
PlayStation 4 - April 7, 2015
PlayStation Vita - TBA 2015
PlayStation 4 - May 20, 2014
PC - May 20, 2014
iPhone - June 11, 2015
Developers that go through a tough second try after an extremely successful opening product are stuck in a “sophomore slump.” It’s still pretty early, though, and Transistor may pull through with better sales in the next couple of years. Bastion’s early success shouldn’t be the best indicator of Transistor, and subsequent games’ success, because they are all different.
Despite the mild dip in sales, the company is more than happy to please the fans that they do have with content they enjoy creating.
I’ve been a big fan of both games and have great respect for the work Supergiant Games does. Though still a young company, a lot of indie developers could learn so much from them based on their work ethic, content creation and gaining support from gamers and creators alike.