Supergiant's Greg Kasavin Discusses Language and Early Access
Supergiant Games' Creative Director Greg Kasavin talks to us about the studio's history, Pyre's unique language, and Hades' early access
Supergiant's Greg Kasavin Discusses Language and Early Access
Back in 2019, I had the pleasure of interviewing Supergiant Games’
Creative Director Greg Kasavin. We spoke about how the acclaimed studio got
started, how they developed a custom language for their game Pyre, and
how early access has shaped their most recent game, Hades.
How did Supergiant Games get started?
Supergiant started with my colleagues Amir Rao and Gavin Simon. The
three of us were working at Electronic Arts in Los Angeles and on the
Command & Conquer series, and we were making real time strategy games.
But in 2009, we were really inspired by the kind of burgeoning
independent game development scene. What was happening there with these
games like Braid and Castle Crashers and Plants vs. Zombies and
World of Goo… They were totally different games, each made by really
small teams and made with a great deal of heart and a great deal of
quality and felt very fresh. And we were playing these games while
working on a much bigger team going, “Wow, it’s amazing what can be done
by a small group of people.” And that’s when we started thinking about,
“Maybe we could give this a shot ourselves.”
Amir and Gavin left their jobs, dropped everything, and moved into
Amir’s dad’s house and started working on Bastion, our first game. And
then we formed our team of seven over the course of that game’s
development. And the seven of us have been there ever since for 10
years, through our subsequent games Transistor and Pyre, and now
We’ve grown a little bit; we grew to 12 people for Transistor and
stayed that size through Pyre, and now we’re up to 17 people, but
that’s still, I think, relatively small. And staying small is really
important to how we operate. But we’re so lucky to have some fresh blood
on the team to offset us grizzled, old-timers who’ve been at it for a
while. I think we just really value creative chemistry that we have on
We try to create an environment where we do the best work that we’re the
most excited about, and to jam our games full of that work, and see what
comes out the other side, and hope our players enjoy it, and thankfully
they have thus far and that’s why we’re still here.
We self-funded Bastion back in the day, and the success of each of our
games has paved the way for the next. We are at a size where we can only
kind of work on one major game project at a time, so it’s made the 10
years go by almost in a flash it seems, reflecting back on it now.
One thing we spoke about several years ago was the development of
language in your games, and, in particular, the language in your game
Pyre. I was surprised to learn that Pyre has its own functional
spoken language in the game. Could you discuss that?
For Pyre, we created an imagined language called Sahrian because the
characters from the game come from a country called the Commonwealth of
Sahr. And the origin of it is a couple of things. Pyre is a pretty
like narrative rich game, but we knew that there was no way we were
going to be able to fully voice all the story content in the game
because it has all of this procedurally generated story content, where
the characters in events, like aspects of them such as their race or
their backstory, all of that is pulled together in the way that the
narrative is presented. We did the math and there are 200 million
different permutations of the epilogue of the game alone. So, we were
not about to voice record all of that, as you can imagine.
So with voice recording everything off the table, it was still really
important that we give this cast of characters in Pyre a voice and a
personality because we were trying to make this big character driven
game where you get to know these characters and get to grow attached to
them, and having a voice there is so important. We developed this
language so that you can have these little snippets of stuff that sounds
like words to give them that sense, to make them come alive in that way,
especially since the game has different characters of all shapes and
sizes and some fantastical races and stuff like that. Just hearing
really different types of voices could enhance these different
So that was one reason we wanted to do it. The other reason is that we
actually did a little bit of it on our first game, Bastion. Late in
that game you encounter a faction of characters called the Ura. We start
you off fighting these things that you don’t really care anything about,
arguably semi-mindless seeming kind of basic monsters or something, but
by the end of the game, you’re fighting people, and they had to seem
like they were people who have that sense of agency and so on.
It was a well-regarded aspect of Bastion. So with Pyre we decided to
go all in on it, and that meant coming up with internally consistent
rules around pronunciation and starting to like come up with specific
terms that could be used throughout the game, as little touchstones to
make you feel like it was a real language instead of just straight up
gibberish. There are games that use gibberish really well, The Sims is
the classic example, but it’s not meant to sound like real words in that
game. Whereas with Pyre, we wanted it to sound like actual words that
people were saying.
I have a broad fascination with languages. My first language is Russian,
though English is the language I know by far the best. I think growing
up I was exposed to different languages, so I just kind of love the
sound of them. I was pulling together different ingredients from
different languages. And the main one on Sahrian, the language of
Pyre, was Latin because we wanted this kind of ancient feeling world.
And I think so much of it is kind of encoded in our minds, but when you
hear Latin, it just feels old. Just automatically, it just seems ancient
and medieval or whatever. So if it sounds kind of like Latin, it’ll just
make you feel like you’re in an ancient world just automatically. That
was kind of the starting point for the vibe of it.
To add more dimension to it, we have different characters from different
parts of this country. Essentially, we had to come up with sub-dialects
of this language, for the equivalent of a Boston accent or an Alabama
accent or a California accent or whatever.
With this character, who is much more educated, and this other
character, who’s much more lowbrow, how do they sound different? And
some of that is in the performance, but some of it is also in the
writing. We have these subtle little differences in some of the words.
Could you give us an example of that?
Oh man, off the top of my head? Your character in the world of Pyre is
called The Reader. Reading in the world of Pyre is forbidden it’s a
world of characters who are largely illiterate, but your character has
this forbidden knowledge of how to read, and it’s an ability that holds
great power. So, we establish this term in Sahrian, the term for reader
is “Ligaratus.” So, many characters just call your character
“ligaratus,” and you hear the term ligaratus used by those characters,
you’re like, “Oh, hey, that must mean reader,” as you hear it a few
But then you meet a character called Pamitha who is this harpy-type of
character. She’s part of a wicked race called the Harps, and she has a
more informal way of talking to you. In the writing she refers to you as
the “Reader Darling.” She almost has kind of a femme fatale quality. So
she’ll say, “Reader Darling, how you doing?” And you hear her say
Ligaramis instead of Ligaratus. And it’s just a small twist on it. You
hear it. It’s mostly similar. You see “Reader Darling” written, you hear
Ligaramis said, and it’s like, we absolutely don’t expect players to
notice that, but we hope that they feel it.
This wasn’t an aspect of the game that we expected to stand out
necessarily. It’s just there to add to the flavor of it and make it feel
more lifelike, but it was really cool to see some players pay attention
and notice, and feel that we did put some, I guess, some effort into it
as it were. Because we had to write, even though it’s technically, to
even if you could call it gibberish, there’s always a subtext.
I had to write it in English and then translate it into Sahrian and make both
versions available to the actor, because the actor reading each of these lines,
they need the subtext of the line. Because while they don’t know these words,
they need to know that this line means “I’ll get you back you SOB” and read it
that way. So I would write it in English that way and say, “Here’s the
translation, and here it is phonetically, here’s the rules of pronunciation. So
now do this.” We would record hundreds of these lines for each actor and then
they would fumble the pronunciations, so we had to discard quite a bit and only
use the ones that sounded good to us to fit the specific moment in the story. It
ends up feeling, hopefully, cohesive in the context of the game, even though we
left so much on the cutting room floor.
How does having the different language reduce the number of combinations
you needed to record? You have your original English text, and the
translated Sahrian, but you still have all the procedurally generated
combinations. How does that help?
That’s a good question. Even though I wrote all these lines with
specific subtext, in many cases, I did not care about what the intent of
the line was when hooking them up in the game. I would just listen for
the one that felt right for what was written, because we wrote and
recorded the Sahrian, in many cases, months before the actual game
writing was complete. It was never meant to be one-to-one because again,
it would be hundreds of millions of lines. If it was one-to-one with
everything, we weren’t going to do that. It had to be a little bit more
reusable than that. And then even with many lines, we’d say like, “Give
us a … " If a line has the subtext of like, “what the hell?”, give me
a, (questioning) “what the hell?” as well as an (angry, frustrated)
“what the hell?” And then I can maybe use both of those inflections in
I had a library of tonal material for each speaking character in the
game, and I would go through all their story content scene by scene, and
hook up an appropriate line. There are many scenes in the game. For
example, so there are many scenes in the game where nine different
characters can be in the scene depending on the circumstances of the
game. And in those scenes, I had to do this work times nine essentially
for all the different playable characters.
So, even with the procedural generated story, you still had to assign
this positive-sounding intonation with this positive line, all by hand?
This process was fully manual. You chose this path, so this character
is with you in game; that’s the procedural part, how it chooses the
character. But then, for each permutation I had to manually construct
the mapping, since I have to manually write their dialogue anyway, how
does this character react in this situation and so on? That sort of
I think I said it on a panel earlier today - someone asked how do we
feel about Pyre in hindsight? For me, I think Pyre contains a lot of
the best work I personally I’ve ever done. It felt like this was my
Each of the games I’ve worked on here has been my shot at one thing or
another, but Pyre was my first opportunity to create a game with a big
cast of characters with intricate relationships, where I was really
concerned with making sure each of these characters had a really
distinct personalities, distinct motivations. As part of that, they had
to have a distinct voice. That’s why this Sahrian thing it both
benefited the specific characters and then it benefited the world
building to make the world feel like it was real.
I should mention we use English extensively in the game as well.
Whenever you get into one of these rites, these ancient rituals where
your freedom is at stake, there’s this announcer voice presiding over
the rite who speaks in English to you, in an almost snotty, often
humorous kind of insulting way.
We wanted to play with the role of language in the game. You, as the
reader, can read English. It’s nothing to you, but playing as your
character, reading this stuff is second nature to you, but something
that you uniquely can do. So, while you can understand this
English-speaking character in the same way, Sahrian, the foreign
language to the player, that’s the normal language to everybody. That’s
the language everybody understands. English is the language that you
uniquely understand. English represents a forbidden language that’s like
Latin to us.
And the game has since been translated into other languages. I refer to
English because we’re speaking in English. It’s also in German and
French and stuff like that.
Did localization have any kind of impact on how you handle language?
Localization was extraordinarily challenging on Pyre because of the
procedural generated nature of the story. The construction of sentences
is based on assumptions of English grammar and sentence structure.
Can you give an example of that?
One of the first characters you meet is named Hedwyn. Let’s say the
game has a sentence, “Hedwyn says he wants to go West,” but Hedwyn may
not be in your party. Maybe Hedwyn has already ascended and returned to
the Commonwealth. So, in this situation, the game will choose Jodariel,
who’s a demon. And it will be, “Jodariel says she wants to go West.”
Male, female pronouns, the subject-verb structure of English is unique
to English. Different languages have different rules around pronouns,
different rules around sentence structure. And German does not work the
way English works, and French does not work the way English works and so
on, so we have to fundamentally reconstruct the dialogue. The languages
don’t all follow the same rules so we have to rewrite the rules of the
sentence construction for each language, and that made it really
Did you localize Pyre yourselves or did you outsource the work to
We worked with an outside team to localize the content, but we had to
work with them to do the part where it becomes coherent. Like. the game
does not have just a script, it just has these sentences that are filled
with bits of data that are almost like a Mad Libs. If you think of a Mad
Libs, it’s just like a bunch of blanks, so they have to translate these
things that only end up making sense once you put them through the game
and the blanks are filled in, so that made it very challenging.
As a writer, how did that compare to something like Bastion or
Transistor which was a much more linear, straightforward narrative?
Greg Kasavin Bastion and Transistor definitely had branching as well. In
Bastion, the narrator will say in the very first level, as you’re
running away from something collapsing, the narrator says, “Kid just
keeps running.” But if you’re tumbling around, he’ll say, “Somersaulting
like crazy.” And he only says, “Somersaulting like crazy,” if you’re
actually somersaulting. In Pyre, it was just like exponentially more
material. It made things exponentially more complicated, but it was an
You’ve discussed how you’ve worked to develop these complex,
procedurally-generated branching stories within your game Pyre. What
did your team decide to do for Hades?
One of the things we enjoyed working on as part of Pyre was writing
a story with a big cast of characters with intricate relationships and
so on. With Hades, we have another great big cast of characters.
To back up briefly, the thing about Bastion and Transistor, although
they have a strong story to them, they have very small casts of
characters. They can feel very lonely by design.
Although there’s like warmth there, and you feel this great bond with
the characters who do exist, they’re these like sprawling worlds with
very few inhabitants. With Pyre we wanted to make an inhabited world
where you could make friends and go on this big road trip with them.
With Hades, we were like, “we love the great big cast of colorful
characters thing, let’s do that again, but this time they’ll be fully
I think, as much as I loved working on Sahrian, if there is something
more direct, it makes the character feel even more real if you just hear
them talk in the language you do understand. And it’s more important to
the specific flavor of Hades, and the directness of Hades to have
them do that.
There’s still a ton of variability in Hades, but it’s around the game
state. It’s that we have all these characters talk to you about all
sorts of really specific different things, depending on the exact moment
that you’re in.
In Hades, you’re the prince of the underworld of Greek myth, who’s
trying to escape. Your father, the lord of the dead says, “You ain’t
never getting out of here you ignoble brat. How dare you try to defy me?
Be my guest if you think you could get out of here, go get out.” You’re
like, “Oh yeah, I’ll show you.” So you’re trying to get out. Along the
way, you have the help of the Olympians who appear—“Oh, we have this
long-lost nephew. Come join us, we’ll help you get out of this bad
family situation that you’re in.”
These different Olympians will say, if you’re low on health, “Oh my God,
you’re in … What’s wrong man? What’s gotten into you?” Or if you’re in
a particular area, they’ll say, “Oh man, you’ve made it all the way to
the Asphodel Meadows, that’s great. You’re making good progress.” They
respond very specifically to the game context. It’s procedural and [the
lines] can mean different things, but it is the opposite of scripted. I
come up with as many different possible contexts in which a character
can talk to you and then we load them all up into the game and have the
game hold the right one for the right situation.
It’s designed fundamentally to be deeply nonlinear and replayable, so
that this content can happen in any order. And the great thing about it
is that, even as the person writing it, I should have zero surprise
around it. Right? I know exactly what all of it is. Yet, it surprises,
just like Pyre did, it surprises me all the time because of the
specific ways it can sequence together. There’s Aphrodite walking over
there. Things like, you meet Aphrodite after you’ve met Athena in a run,
because even that part is randomized, and Aphrodite would be like, “Oh,
Athena has already gotten to you?”
The gods will respond to other gods who you’ve encountered, and that
comes from the randomness of the game structure itself, and then the
narrative falls into place to make it seem grounded in the world. While
we’re making a rougelike hack and slash game, a style of game that many
other developers have pursued, in the same way we felt like we could
make something unique in the action RPG space with Bastion back in the
day, we felt like we could add a distinctive narrative component and a
sense of cohesion to this type of a genre.
How does having early access affect the narrative development? Because
you now have live feedback coming in?
At the same time, how does early access affect the players? Do players
play the game once in early access, and then put the game down because
they believe they’ve completed it, even though it’s still in progress?
At the inception of the project, it was a really fun thought exercise.
I think if you’re a fan of Supergiant games, the idea of us making an
early access rougelike sounds almost antithetical to everything we’ve
ever done because we’re known for these games with a traditional
beginning, middle and end. We’ve prided ourselves on our games having
like a sense of completeness to them. So, an early access game, what’s
going on there? But we were like, “How do we do this?” We’re excited to
try it, but we wanted it to have all the stuff that we like putting into
our games. When it comes to the narrative, our approach is essentially
to think of it almost like this initial early access launch would be
like a pilot episode.
We introduce the story, we introduce the cast of characters, and then
with each major update that we roll out every month or two, we add to
the story, we introduce characters, we introduce new situations, we
build on existing characters and so on. The players experiencing the
game in early access get to see the story unfold. And we’ve said that we
intend to reserve the final narrative outcome for when early access is
complete. Right now, the game does have an ending of sorts. It has a
huge variety of different endings, given the replayable structure, but
it’s not the complete narrative.
Even though that the game is early access, we have inworld explanations
for the lack of completeness of certain aspects of the game. It’s always
fun to think about how to justify aspects of the design in the context
of our worlds, and I think we do it in a playful way that’s consistent
with the tone of the game.
The feedback we’ve been getting has been really encouraging. To answer
the other part of your question, I’ll answer it by way of comparison,
and we can come back to Pyre. With Pyre, from a writing standpoint,
I worked on that game for three years. And you play test it along the
way, even with say dozens of people or hundreds of people, but even
still, you don’t really know what you have until you put it out there.
You work on it for three years, you put it out there, it’s this big
cathartic moment as a developer, “What does everyone think?” People then
burn through the game.
Pyre is a much longer game than Transistor, but even still, people
burn through it in 48 hours or whatever, and then that’s it. All through
development, you’re asking yourselves as a development team, “Oh, does
this character work for people? Is this part okay? Should we be doing
more here, more there?” With early access, with Hades, we introduce a
new character, we find out right away if people like this character or
what people like about this character, and that part has been really
great from a writing standpoint actually because it lets me sharpen my
own instincts around what aspects of the story are working really
effectively, what are the characters who are really resonating with
We wouldn’t put in a character if we didn’t want them to resonate on
some level, but of course some characters are by design meant to be more
central than others. Are the central characters hitting the right notes
for people? It’s helpful being able to move forward with the confidence
of having had that feedback from a lot of players along the way.
To get a little bit more specific with Hades, the game has a sense of
humor to it despite the kind of dark veneer, the underworld setting.
It’s a game called Hades, you don’t assume a game like that would be
funny necessarily. We try to play into those expectations and subvert
them in a way by having some humor to it. But humor in games is tough.
Not everyone has the same sense of humor.
With our early access launch, we have some humor in there, but it’s
like, “Man, what are people going to think of this?” And it turned out
the feedback we were getting around the humor was really positive.
People liked the humorous aspects of the game, so it made us be able to
move forward kind of with more confidence that this is something, this
really is the tone of the game.
With that feedback, I think we have a really firm grasp of the tone and
where the game should be silly and where it should be serious. We want a
tone that is aligned with the play experience itself, and I think
roguelikes, if you’ve played roguelikes, they have a very slapstick
quality where one moment you’re on top of the world, you feel like
you’re totally unstoppable. You’ve got the perfect build, you’re
destroying everything in your path, but then one boneheaded mistake and
you … It’s like stepping on a rake and having it smack you in the
forehead. You feel like such a bozo you made a stupid mistake, and you
could either be really mad at yourself, or you could kind of laugh at
yourself, be like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe it.”
And we want the game’s tone to have that kind of quality of laughing
with you, not at you. A character who’s self-effacing in the face of
failure, but is very determined. So, when he fails, he’s like, “Oh my
God. I can’t believe I did that,” but he’s going to go and try again,
he’s not going to get super pissed off at himself. And hopefully, that
aligns with the player’s own experience, helps players push through
their inevitable setbacks and be willing to try again as part of the
core experience of the game.
Roguelikes can be notorious for their difficulty. Is Hades leaning
into that? Is it very difficult to complete the game?
It’s a really good question. We set out to make Hades … We say
that it’s a game where you don’t have to be a god to experience what is
exciting and enjoyable, although if you happen to be a God, it’s got you
covered. It can have a very significant and tightly crafted challenge to
it. But, while we love the experience of rougelike games, but for sure
they sometimes … Like, what’s so exciting and thrilling about them can
sometimes be like hidden behind a really steep difficulty curve. You
have to climb this mountain to be able to have this experience.
We do want the barrier to entry on this game to be lower. We have a
narrative to it. There are other reasons to enjoy Hades besides just
the thrill of barely scraping by. That thrill is there too. And, being a
game where you play as an immortal character, when you suffer these
setbacks and get sent all the way back to the house of Hades (the
starting point), you have the ability to get stronger in a permanent
way. So not only are you as a player picking up, both as a player and as
a character, that you’re picking up knowledge of what’s ahead.
Because for example, while there are random aspects, it’s the same
guardian boss initially that’s going to be facing you at the end of
Tartarus. You come back to her and you know who she’s going to be, and
they have a conversation about it. It’s a rematch now, and you’ve
learned a little bit more and you’re maybe a little bit stronger now
So we want for players both through their experience and through these
other systems in the game to be able to overcome some of the earlier
setbacks that they may have run into, and for it to ultimately be a game
where, if you’re reasonably invested in this game, you care about it,
and you want to get to the end, you’ll be able to reach a satisfying
sense of narrative closure like you have been able to in our past games.
However, it’s a game designed around replayability and it will keep
going. There will be more story, there’ll be more to discover from there
that, if you get better and better at the game, if you’re super skilled
and stuff like that, there’s going to be plenty more stuff that you
You mention more there’s stuff to see. If we come back to early
access, is there content, like endings, that won’t be revealed until the
game is out of early access?
There will be new stuff. Like I said, the ending of the game and other
aspects of the narrative we deliberately are going to hold back. It’s
not like we’re sitting on it and we haven’t put it in. We’re just going
to make the endings after everything else, knowing what we want to do
with it. But that will be in our version 1.0 — the last big update for
our full launch. For right now there’s a mix, tons of unique one-off
content, these bigger story moments that never repeat, and a lot of
content that is designed to be repeatable. But before any of it repeats,
you would have to have looped through the game like 20 or 30 times, so
hours and hours of play before a small line will repeat, for example.
So, by the time the line repeats you probably won’t remember it anyway,
because it’s not a line that should feel kind of repetitive if you were
to hear it again. That’s how we designed the narrative of the game. It
should feel like a unique forward-moving story no matter how many times
you played the game over and over, because you’re an immortal god with
no sense of the passage of time. You could just infinitely play the game
as a denizen of the underworld and just keep having these unique
experiences as you run into these different kinds of characters, stuff
As the game develops, how far away do you think you are from 1.0
We expect to exit early access sometime in the second half of this year. Even
though we have most of the full game structure right now, we still have quite a
ways to go because we want to give ourselves lots and lots of time to iterate on
it and improve every aspect of the game, and just to, hopefully, fulfill all the
potential that early adopters have already said they see in it. We love working
on this game and with each of our games, we want them to live up to our past
work if nothing else and have the potential to be the favorite game that we’ve
ever made for our fans out there. That takes us a certain amount of time and we
just want to take all the time that this game needs to make sure we’ve done
everything that we really want to do with it.
And then from that point forward, that version 1.0 launch is not
necessarily the end, it’s kind of like at that point we’ll see how it
goes, we’ll see what everybody says when we design the world of Hades.
We designed it for early access from the ground up, and unlike games
like Transistor that may have no obvious room for a continuation once
it gets to the end, a game like Hades can be more of a world where
there are many stories that we could tell here.
And that was by design? It was meant to be sequel-able?
Not even sequel-able, more like a living game where we can continue to
add content. We don’t intend to have all 12 of the Olympians in the
game. Canonically there’s like the 12 Olympians. A certain number of
them will be there as part of the story, but that’s not to say the other
ones couldn’t join the fray later.
That’s not meant to be a commitment of any sort, it’s just the sort of
thing we care about. There’s so many gods, monsters and heroes of Greek
myth that we could imagine in this universe. If you think about Greek
heroes, they all die, so they all wind up here [in the underworld]
too. We have these characters like Achilles and Theseus that are in the
story already, but there are many more that we could imagine being there
The story won’t feel incomplete without them, but the point is that we
could have more stories. That’s the potential that we see in the game in
the long term. But, that’s getting a bit ahead of myself—we have to see
what the response to the game is at launch. So far it’s been great
getting positive feedback and everything, but we have plenty more to do.
Our full focus is nailing each of our major updates in the process of
getting to that version 1.0, and then from there, it’s a game that
hopefully we can justify continuing to work on.
As we come up on time, just to close us out, you’ve now written all
these various games. You’ve created lots of characters. Were there are
any characters that were your favorite to write?
It’s always fun to ask this question.
No, it is. I love the question, but as a father of two children, you
are straight up asking me to choose a favorite. It sounds disingenuous
or something, but these characters are, they’re my baby. I love our
characters very deeply. I remember all of them vividly from Bastion to
Transistor to Pyre, now to Hades. We had to nurture them into
existence. And then once the games launch, they’re kind of like, now
that they’re their own thing, whether people like them or don’t like
them, they’re kind of like, I no longer control them, they’re out in the
wild now. But I love them dearly. But oh man.
Having said that, there’s some characters in Pyre that were very near
and dear to my heart. There’s the character Sandra who’s the only
optional character in Pyre. She’s the character in the Beyonder
Crystal who you can really get to know over the course of the game. But,
while your relationship with her can go very deep, it’s purely optional.
It was fun to think about a character who had been trapped in a crystal
ball for 837 years and what that would do to a person. I was really glad
to see Sandra stand out to many Pyre players. She was a character,
that during the course of development, there were times when we didn’t
know if Sandra was going to make it because she was often looked at as,
“Well, we need the necessary characters. Do we really need this Sandra
character?” I’m like, “We need the Sandra character, please let me try
it.” I love her a lot.
There’s a character called Volfred Sandlewood in Pyre also who is
central to the story. I love trying to write complex characters, and to
me he’s a complicated guy. You start off feeling one way about him and I
think end up feeling a different way about him, and I really enjoyed
trying to thread the needle on that. He had to come off as very
persuasive because he’s a leader. But he’s a leader who, when you first
meet him, you’re not sure if maybe he’s up to something. You’re
suspicious of him and you don’t get off on the right foot, but you come
around hopefully to respecting him and understanding that he wasn’t
trying to pull one over on you, he was sincere.
It was trying to make a character who you, as a player, could be
genuinely persuaded, and it was a really interesting writing challenge.
But man, I could go down the list.
I love our antagonist characters. Especially our antagonist characters;
Zulf in Bastion, Royce Bracket in Transistor, Oralech in Pyre,
Lord Hades himself in Hades. I say antagonist, because to me it’s more
interesting than a villain. It’s a distinction. An antagonist is someone
who opposes you, not necessarily someone who is just trying to create
evil. They’re just someone who wants something that is opposite from
what you want. Are they a terrible person? Maybe, but not necessarily.
Our lives are filled with antagonistic forces and people who don’t want
what we want, but they’re not necessarily bad people. Sometimes it’s
just the circumstances that put us at odds. And our games deep down,
despite they’re wildly different settings and themes, they’re about
character’s trying to understand each other in the world around them.
And I think our stories always have empathy at the heart of them,
understanding one another, even when someone may have done something
really terrible, at least understanding what led them to do that.
So I enjoy writing antagonists and going through the thought process of
where did this person go wrong? Where did this go astray? What caused
this person to hate someone or something like that? What led to that to
really get in their heads that way? It’s really fun and invigorating
from a writing standpoint to try to understand the character that way,
and I think my love for them comes from that.
I feel like I honestly know the characters in my stories just better
than I know most people. In spite of all my blabber-mouthing to you
right now, I am a very … I live almost like a hermetic lifestyle. I
don’t have much of a social life. I am very introverted in social
situations, so I know these characters better than I know most humans.
And I connect with the world through writing, and then I connect with
other people through their own response to our games. That part is very
gratifying, when people enjoy our worlds and characters and stories, I
feel like I connect with them that way more than is often possible just
having a normal conversation with them.
That’s part of what I love about the process and the result.
Note: This interview was originally published as two separate articles on
GeekDad back in 2019. They’ve been merged and lightly edited here.