Apr 292011
 

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Greg Kasavin, the Creative Director of SuperGiant games.  If you haven’t heard of Bastion, then be sure to watch the video (at the bottom of the interview) and prepare yourself.  Our most recent poll indicated that Bastion was one of the most anticipated releases for 2011, which is already an amazing year for major releases.  The game was also a a finalist in the Independent Games Festival 2011 for excellence in Audio and Visual Art.  You can imagine our excitement when we were afforded the opportunity to ask questions.  Without further ado, here we go!


Bastion seems to be something very unique. Were there any specific inspirations that shaped it into what it has become?

There were no one or two inspirations that informed what we wanted to do with Bastion. I think everyone on team brought a lot of their own personalities and influences to bear as we worked to turn it into something that felt cohesive. From a gameplay standpoint, the germ of the idea we started with was around the pleasures of returning to town in action role-playing games, that sense of safety and security you feel in between going out there and fighting for your life. We wanted to expand on that. We also knew we wanted to make a 2D game, to capture that crisp responsive feel of classic games that we think is missing from a lot of today’s games. Lastly, we knew we wanted to make a game that was emotionally resonant, that created feelings beyond just fun. The rest grew out naturally during months of prototyping.

I’m already a huge fan of the narrative voice chosen for the game. How was it that his voice was chosen? Were there many other styles considered?

Our narrator’s voice was chosen very easily, in that our voice actor, Logan Cunningham, is an old friend of our studio director Amir and our audio director Darren. If we didn’t know Logan we probably never would have pursued our narrative technique to begin with.

Logan’s natural speaking voice is quite different from the way our narrator sounds. As we were exploring the game’s tone, we searched to find something that felt right to us. Part of the inspiration there was from the American author Cormac McCarthy, who creates these beautiful and desolate scenes of the American southwest. We thought about riffing on that kind of tone in the context of a fantasy action RPG, and our story and setting evolved from there.

Logan’s first set of voiceover narration for the game was already good but sounded closer to the traditional fantasy narrator you might expect. But from there we quickly found the voice that we stuck with. We took a little from Deadwood and a little from Gangs of New York and some other places, and it all merged nicely with the story tone we were thinking about. As soon as we heard Logan’s take on the character, we loved it and pushed forward with it. We rapidly evolved the narrator into a deep character, as we knew we needed to make sure he was more than just a cool voice.

From what I can tell, the narrative varies given the choices of the player. How many different lines of dialogue were recorded for the same given scenario?

We recorded somewhere around 3,000 lines of dialogue for Bastion, and players will never hear all of it the first time through and probably not the second or third time either. None of the content repeats unless you replay part of the content, and even then, there can be a good amount of variance. We have conditional stuff that’s unique to each of the different areas of the game. For example in one of the early battles the narrator might say three completely different things depending on the way in which you defeat this one enemy that you’re fighting. We wanted to pepper the game with lots of unique little moments that respond back to the player’s choices, deepening those interactions. There was no set quota, we just did as much as we could as long as it felt right. Hopefully the effect it will have is that people will keep finding cool little moments all through the game and on successive play-throughs as well.

Was SuperGiant Games aware of how popular the game would become?

I appreciate the thought but I think it’s too early to say how popular the game has become since it’s not for sale yet. The real test will be when the game ships, seeing what the consensus is about how well we executed on the concept, and seeing if people are willing to spend their time and money on it. Xbox LIVE Arcade is a scary place right now, as a lot of perfectly good games fail from lack of exposure. That said, we are doing everything in our power to make sure Bastion avoids that fate, not the least of which is that we’ve poured every ounce of our strength into the game itself.

We’re very, very happy with the positive response we’ve received thus far. It’s every bit as good as we could have imagined, and more. We couldn’t have expected such a great response to the game, though of course we hoped we’d get a great response. We were careful to not reveal the game before we felt the time was right. Still, if the day ever comes when I feel like I can take people’s enthusiasm for something I’ve worked on for granted, then I hope I fail hard and re-learn an important lesson in humility.

On the topic of the studio itself, what is the origin story? How did everything come together?

Supergiant Games was founded in September 2009 by Amir Rao and Gavin Simon, who I worked with at Electronic Arts in Los Angeles. We’d worked together on a number of Command & Conquer titles and all left in close succession in the summer of that year. The premise of the studio was to make high-quality digitally distributed games, which spark your imagination like the games you played as a kid. We also wanted to make games in a particular way, “without a parent in the room” as Amir would say. We’re very tactical, and only take on work that we know we can achieve with the resources that we have. We avoid overscheduling or designing on paper but we’re serious about deadlines too. It’s a very refreshing work environment for these reasons.

We were inspired by games like Braid and Castle Crashers, not directly but spiritually in terms of their craftsmanship and how great those games turned out in spite of how small the teams were who worked on them. So anyway, Amir and Gavin dropped everything, moved into a house in San Jose, and got to work. The team grew slowly until it reached its full strength of seven, including Logan.

When we spoke before, you mentioned PAX east. What was it like to show your game off there?

PAX East was amazing for us, and the only reason it wasn’t the most amazing such experience I’ve ever had is because of PAX Prime a few months prior, when we first showed the game and got a huge response. At PAX East it felt like we were a legitimate contender for the first time, since we had a dedicated booth and five stations for people to play at, and even some cool swag to give out in the form of custom-printed bandanas. Our strong presence at the show was made possible by the partnership we’d just formed with Warner Bros., who took interest in the game after PAX Prime and proved to us that they just wanted us to make the game we were making – they weren’t going to disrupt our process or hold us to their own schedules, as they saw the potential in what we were doing and wanted to be a part of it.

So yeah, having a presence at the show, with the backing of a respected publisher, and hearing positive remarks from hundreds of people who’d played the game was definitely a good feeling. We were pushing very hard before the show since the show itself took time out of our schedules, but the great response we got made it that much easier to get back and immediately get back to development.

How does it feel to be part of something so unique in a time when originality has nearly become extinct?

I don’t entirely agree that originality has nearly become extinct… it’s just, uh, hibernating! You have to know where to look for it, and the place to look these days evidently is among independent games. Technology and digital distribution have made it possible, for the first time in decades, for small groups of people (or even one very talented person in some cases) to make high-quality games and get them in front of a lot of people willing to pay them money so they can keep doing it. I do agree, though, that it feels like a lot of game players are starving for original content… how many iterations of the same franchise can they take before they want to try something different? But to answer your question directly, it feels absolutely great to be making something we came up with on our own, getting people excited.

For me personally it’s dream-come-true territory, since I’ve wanted to make games and stories for games since I was a little kid, and this story in particular is one I’ve put a lot into.

Everything I’ve seen by searching for a release date has only been speculation. Are we any closer to zeroing in on a date?

We’re definitely closer to zeroing in on a release date but we don’t have one yet. All we can say for now is that the game is on track to debut this summer on Xbox LIVE Arcade, and will be headed to PC later this year. The reason we can’t nail down the release date exactly is because it’s not up to us. Microsoft needs to figure out where we fit into their slate of releases during that season. We definitely know what we want when it comes to release dates, and we’ve made sure the game is ready and in good shape for that time, but the rest is up to them. To the extent that people are excited and talking about the game, it’s hopefully going to help us make sure we get a good release window on XBLA.

Replayability adds a ton of value to a game purchase. Is the random nature of Bastion designed to make the game completely unique each time?

Bastion has this rather distinct world design where you see the terrain forming up around you as you move, but it isn’t random. The content is all hand-crafted, sometimes rather pain-stakingly so. The combat tends to be highly dynamic and there are lot of ways to play through the encounters differently, but the environments are not randomized as is the case in action RPGs like Diablo and Torchlight. That said, we’re confident that we’re delivering an outstanding value, since the core game is quite big – longer than the average AAA first-person shooter, that’s for sure – and there are compelling reasons to come back to it after the first time through, both from a gameplay and a narrative standpoint.

What kinds of games do you typically play? What are you playing right now?

I play just about everything besides sports simulations, and that’s only because I’ve never really followed real-world sports that closely. Now that we’re finished with production, I’m finally getting to catch up on a bunch of games I’ve been meaning to play. I just finished Portal 2′s campaign, which was fantastic. Valve’s games are a big inspiration to me in terms of the quality of their writing and craft. I’m currently playing the new Mortal Kombat, which I’m really enjoying since fighting games are one of my favorite genres, and I’m also playing Swords & Sworcery EP on my annoying little iPod Touch. Plus I’ve been playing Tactics Ogre for my PSP just about every single night since it came out, and I’m playing a lot of The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile too. I think the one thing I want out of my games these days is some narrative depth. Doesn’t matter what kind of game it is as long as there’s some meaning to what’s going on in it, and all these games I’ve been playing lately have that going for them, even Mortal Kombat. Which reminds me, I need to go back and finish Deadly Premonition.

After Bastion is released, what are your next plans? Are there other projects in the works?

After Bastion is released on XBLA we’ll be in the middle of working on the PC version of the game. We’re likely going to be focused on Bastion for the rest of this year, provided it does well enough to let us stay in business. Beyond that, we have a lot of ideas for what we want to do and where we want to go next.

What I can tell you is this: If we get a chance to make another game after Bastion, no matter what that game is, we would do our best to make sure it created in players a sense of wonder like how they felt when they first saw Bastion. We want to make the kinds of games that create a very strong and specific first impression, and then fully deliver on the ideas expressed in those exciting first moments.

Are there any thanks, special mentions, shout-outs or websites you would like to bring attention to?

I’d like to thank the Giant Bomb community for rallying behind us and taking an early interest in the story of our studio. The Giant Bomb guys took a chance on an unheard-of studio and an unheard-of game and started doing these shows with us where we get to show off what the development of Bastion is like. It’s been a lot of fun! The gaming press has been very kind to us all around, so I want to say thank-you to everyone who’s taken the time to write or talk about the game in a public forum to this point. Independent games live or die not just by how good they are but also by how much exposure they get, and the gaming press is always inundated with mainstream releases they’re obligated to cover, so we appreciate that people have seen enough value in what we’re doing to take the time out to tell people.

I also want to thank Amir, Gavin, Darren, Jen, Andrew, and Logan for being such an incredible, inspiring, hard-working team. I get to hog these cool interviews myself but I can’t stress enough that Bastion was in every respect a concerted effort that each of us poured a lot of ourselves into.


We want to thank Greg for taking the time to answer some questions about this amazing title and SuperGiant Games as a whole.  Please take the time to visit SuperGiant Games’ website and take a look around.  As Greg deftly stated, “Independent games live or die not just by how good they are but also by how much exposure they get.”  Be sure to share with your friends!

Apr 062011
 

The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile shipped out today on XBLA, and it already has an optional DLC pack listed as a Premium Theme.

The official website can be found here.

According to Ska Studios:

 ”After a month long ambush of The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile picture packs releasing to the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, today we offer one final gem of Vampire Smile DLC: the “Perfect Nightmare” premium theme.  The theme will set you back 240 Microsoft points and you can preview its artistic awesomeness in the gallery after the break. Oh, and don’t forget that there’s a certain game available as well”

Follow the link, check out the gallery, and support this amazing indie title!  If you’ve yet to see anything about it, check out the review here and the interview with Ska Studios here.

Apr 042011
 

Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile

Xbox 360

Contains: Blood and Gore, Violence

Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.


In 2009 SKA Studios made The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, a great title. On April 6th 2011, the much awaited sequel to the game is coming out, this what you can expect.

Vampire Smile has 2 different story modes, one telling of Yuki’s mission to get revenge on those who wrongly imprisoned her, while trying to piece together why she is alive after her death by hands of her stepbrother, the titular Dishwasher. The other follows the Dishwasher himself while he tries to purge the corruption of the cyborgs from the Moon. Both stories feel like you are playing through a graphic novel, smooth transitions between comic style cut scenes and gameplay allow you gather what is exactly going on at all times. As a little bonus, there is also a multiplayer storyline as well, it is more of a modified Yuki story but still, the fact that thought went into it is awesome!

VS immediately shows an amazing visual improvement over Dead Samurai. Graphics are much more polished, boasting a new game engine. For a 2D action title, effects are beautiful. Blood splatters onto the screen and into the background as well, also coating your character with the sanguine juices as you rend enemies apart. Other effects, such as smoke, fire and water look great as well, blending into the canvas of destruction you are painting. The audio works well within gameplay as well, sound effects are crisp and sharp as well as ambient music oftentimes accompanies you during moments of peace and when battle begins, the soundtrack blends in well with the sounds of blades flourished and limbs strewn about.

The gameplay itself is smooth, combos brutally flow together flawlessly . Combat changes with the weapons you decide to use, which you will collect on your way to seeking your revenge, and 2 separate load-outs allow you to switch between up to 4 weapons on the fly.  Finishers end violently in some sort of dismemberment or trauma, fitting in well with the rage driving both characters. To supplement the story mode, there is also a plethora of additional game types, most of which are also linked to the online leaderboards. Arcade mode’s goal is to have you eliminate enemies in different arenas, usually with some sort of augmentation to traditional gameplay. Dish Challenge is a survival mode, pitting you against wave upon wave of enemies and bosses. After beating the game, there are also time attack modes that unlock as well. All of this comes down to one thing, replayability. Vampire Smile has a ton of it.  At the same time, co-op is very enjoyable, both in arcade and story modes. Allowing a friend to get into the carnage as well, if you can keep track of each other.

See how it can be hard keeping track of your character?

At the end of it all, Vampire Smile is a nearly flawless game. The one flaw that can be found is unfortunately encountered quite often. Although there is a small colored marker above your character, you will often lose them among the rest of the monochrome enemies you are facing. This isn’t a game breaker by all means, but it does get in the way of building hit combos and will sometimes get you killed on higher difficulties.

G.I. gives The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile a 9.5 out of 10.

This is the most satisfying XBLA title we have played this year.


XBox 360

Graphics

80
 

Audio

95
 

Gameplay

90

Creativity

90
 

Execution

95
 

Offset

95
    

9.1

  

How do these ratings work? Click here for descriptions!

Pros:

  • Extremely smooth combat
  • Great soundtrack
  • Well scripted story
  • Only 800 MSP

Cons:

  • Characters are hard to track during combat
  • Yeah, that really is about it.

 

Like the review? Check out our interview with James Silva from Ska Studios!

 

A copy of this game was provided for review purposes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 012011
 

On April 6th, 2011, the world will be a better place (and a much, much bloodier place).  Why, you ask?  A new game will debut in the Xbox Live Arcade – The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile.  Today I will post the interview results with the charismatic James Silva, which covers the new game as well as some basic background information.  Readers here can expect our initial impressions of the game roundabout April 4th, as we were allowed a sneak peek into the new project.  Without further ado, here we go:


How did you get your start in video game programming, and what was your very first project?
Making games has been the only thing I’ve wanted to do in life, and I attribute it to two things.  When I was 11 or 12, I, like lots of people that age, was so crazy about Nintendo games that I’d design characters and worlds on paper for games that I somehow imagined pitching to game companies.  When my semistrict parents got weary of my Nintendo obsession, they instituted a no-videogames-on-weekdays policy.   Making games didn’t count, so I started learning how to make text adventures in Basic just so I could play something.  This eventually developed into a big part of my life, with me making Zombie Smashers X in 2000 and The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai in 2009, the first game I made that was super successful.

Did you eventually decide to get yourself any kind of formal education regarding game design?
I’ve got a Masters in Computer Science, but most if not all of the technique I use in game development is self-taught.  In fact, I used game development to help me with school way more than the other way around by submitting games or game-like projects (like an animated CPU scheduler) as final projects for a bunch of classes.

From an Indie standpoint, how much extra work does it take to get everything accomplished?
I haven’t actually ever held a “real job” in the industry, so I can’t make an honest comparison.  However, I can echo the common sentiment that wearing several hats has its ups and downs.  It’s nice to have a large variety of tasks; switching from one to another keeps things from sinking into any sort of tedium.  The downside is that your brain sort of experiences something akin to the computational expense of a context switch—it takes some time and effort to fully switch gears from something like engine coding to art, so when I’ve got to hop around to a bunch of different areas of a project rapidly I end up feeling a bit burnt.

We all know you’ve had award winning work done – do you already have the chance of losing the “Indie” and become something more “mainstream”?
Whatever the label, I just want to keep making games.  I don’t really have any epic plans for growing the company.

On the topic of Vampire Smile, what major changes have you made from Dead Samurai, and what motivated those changes?
The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile is built on a completely new engine, with all new art, effects, and overall feel.  When I made The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, I had very little experience in XNA (it was my second attempt at anything.  Essentially the game was built as a contest entry.  For Vampire Smile, I wanted to build into the engine flexibility that would have otherwise had to be totally jury rigged in the Dead Samurai engine.
The end result is richer art, more expressive animation, smoother gameplay, and more general awesomeness.  If you try the two games side by side, it’s pretty apparent that there have been some major changes.

Any plans of an arcade release for something in the ZP2K series, or something Z0MB1ES-related?
We have a sneaky Z0MB1ES-related plan in the works!

What core factor really makes a game popular?
I think it’s a combination of good gameplay and character.  A game won’t get very far without engaging gameplay, but it’s the character of game—the art style, theme, and attitude—is what really sets awesome games apart from fun games.  Silent Hill games are the perfect example of this: the games’ hallmarks are clunky combat and use-a-key-to-find-a-key puzzles, but I can’t help but love the crap out of every single one of them (pre-Homecoming), thanks to the awesome character of the games.

What games are you currently playing?
I just cracked open Dragon Age: Origins again, so don’t expect anything productive out of me for a while!  Also, my girlfriend and I have been tackling coop Xbox360 games, Borderlands being the most recent.

2011 looks like an amazing year for gaming releases.  What game are you most excited about?
Batman: Arkham City, Portal 2!  Also, we just got a 3DS and I can’t wait for Ocarina 3D.

For those of us who haven’t played anything from Ska Studios, how would you describe your newest game (The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile – April 6th, 2011)?
It’s a disturbing, art-driven, over the top stylistic action platformer.  The story picks up two years after the events of the first game, with falsely imprisoned, mentally spiraling Yuki vowing revenge on the three corrupted leaders of society.  The game plays a bit like a graphic novel that explodes in blood when you press buttons: the combos are insane, the weapon loadouts are grisly, and the world is epic.

After this release, do you already know what the next project will be?
Our next XBLA project is called Charlie Murder; we’re hoping to have it out in 2012.  Hopefully gamers in the future have similar tastes to those of gamers of today.

What other shout-outs or special mentions would you like to bring attention to?
Big thanks to Dishwasher fans!  Your epic support lets me do what I love every day.


Thanks James!  Below,we’ve embedded a youtube video that will allow you to see into the very heart of Ska Studios, and also take a look at a few clips of the gameplay and development tools.  Be sure to show the video some comment love, and also visit http://www.vampiresmile.com.