Supergiant Games is a very small company with a big name – one that it greatly deserves to have. Everybody has that one game that convinced them that the indie scene is worth watching, and Supergiant’s Bastion was mine. Bastion is gorgeous, thought-provoking, tries something innovative with its reactive narrator – and is fun as hell to play. Then the company released Transistor , which took its style and gameplay experiments in a different direction. Now Supergiant has announced its third game, Pyre , which will bring the company’s talents to bear on the party-based RPG genre. Although all three of these games are set in different places and feature different kinds of gameplay, they all have certain things in common – things that I wish AAA developers and publishers would learn from.
The first thing I admire about Supergiant is that each of its games has a unique, vibrant art style. Bastion has an Asian-inspired watercolor look, Transistor brings an Art Deco sensibility to a high-tech society, and Pyre looks like Navajo sand painting met Picasso during his oddest periods. We know that sporting a unique look can do great things for a game – just look at the smash hit Borderlands , the stark world of Mirror’s Edge , or Blizzard’s trademark exaggerated style. Still, it seems like too many games don’t have a particularly unique visual identity, and I’d love to see more big publishers put the kind of thought into their style that Supergiant does.
Music is another thing that Supergiant excels at. Many current games seem content with an “atmospheric” sound environment, and while that can be nice, I feel like nothing quite beats a game with a memorable, hummable soundtrack. Supergiant not only strives to place music front and center in its games, it includes songs with vocals. Being a vocalist myself, I feel like singing is criminally underrepresented in original game soundtracks. Sure, it can go horribly wrong, but used sparingly and effectively, vocal pieces create unforgettable gaming moments. Bastion proved this, as did the vocal pieces (both the shanties and the haunting song that closed the game) in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag . Take more cues from Supergiant and hire some singers, game creators!
One of the most unusual things that Supergiant has done so far is to make every one of its titles a one-shot. In an industry filled to the brim with sequels and franchises, where “new IP” (I swear we used to just call them “games”) is seen as risky, Supergiant has merrily created three games that are not connected to each other in any way. Supergiant fans would happily play another Bastion or Transistor , but instead the company likes to maximize its creativity with each title. Big publishers should really look at funding more small, unusual, innovative titles in order to keep the creative juices flowing amongst their top developers. Ubisoft and Square-Enix have actually been dabbling with this idea, and I’d love to see Activision and EA take a look at it, too.
Whether big publishers decide to follow Supergiant’s example or not, I’m very excited to see what kind of game Pyre turns out to be. We can already tell from the trailer below that it will feature Supergiant’s calling cards: gorgeous, unique art and a haunting soundtrack. I’m also sure that it will contain interesting twists on party-based RPG mechanics, because this indie company never neglects great gameplay in the name of art. If you haven’t heard of Supergiant, I urge you to take a look at Bastion and Transistor , which can be found on a plethora of gaming devices. Then you might see how this tiny development team creates games so creative and fun that I wish big publishers would learn a thing or two from them.