Zagreus in Hades

While some studios have used Early Access to test the waters and get their feet beneath them, Supergiant Games has taken on a very different approach throughout the development of Hades.

In a recent interview with OnlySP, Greg Kasavin, who handled writing and design on Hades, shared his thoughts on the impact of Early Access, developing a story based around adapted characters, Supergiant’s vision for Major Updates, and much more.

OnlySP: All three games that Supergiant has had a hand in prior to Hades have been subject to critical acclaim. Has the success of Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre added any stress or pressure to the development of Hades? If so, what is the hardest standard set by Supergiant to continuously deliver on?

Kasavin: We’re very grateful for the critical and commercial success of our previous games. Not only has it let us stick together as a team and keep making games, it reassures us that the values and decision-making that led to our past games are core to who we are, even as we evolve with the times. Further, the kind words of support we get from players really means a lot. While I was working on Pyre, for instance, it was the love I saw for our past games that helped me push myself to do my best.

Each of our games has taken us out of our comfort zone—we have to keep it that way. I think whatever pressure we feel is less due to living up to our past work than it is to try and make something inherently worthwhile that can be relevant in the current market. That’s a feeling that’s always been present with each game we’ve worked on. Our past successes, I think, gives us a bit of a leg up in this regard—it’s easier to get your game noticed if you have a built-in audience of players who care about your work—but we don’t take anything for granted, and each game has been tough both to make and to market. I think if you were to analyze it across all studios you would find that having made good, well-regarded games in the past does not correlate that strongly with future success.

OnlySP: Hades is the first game created by Supergiant that has released as an exclusive to the Epic Games Store. Now that it has been a few months, what has this decision meant for Supergiant?

Kasavin: Hades has been a big new experiment for us, as we designed it from the ground up to be an Early Access game that we could work on almost indefinitely and in partnership with our community. Our previous games have had very specific beginnings, middles, and ends, so I think their structures were antithetical to an Early Access development process. With Hades, we wanted to combine the best qualities of our past games with this more fluid development structure, where we could get something out there pretty quickly then evolve it based on what we know is working well and what isn’t.

“However, since our games are known for their sense completeness, we weren’t sure how Early Access was going to go over with our players. Launching Hades on the Epic Games store turned out to be the perfect fit since we knew many of our most dedicated players would come join us there, and for everyone else, they would one day get a big, high-quality, complete game.”

The nature of Early Access also means that being able to quickly update and iterate is key. We knew it wouldn’t have been practical to try and run Early Access on a bunch of platforms simultaneously. Epic Games has been very supportive of our studio and Hades specifically all throughout our Early Access and before. We’re grateful that they saw such promise and potential in Hades and our team.

OnlySP: Since its release in Early Access seven months ago, there have been five major content updates patched to Hades. How long does Supergiant expect to be able to keep up with an update schedule like this? Does Supergiant approach each Major Update with a specific goal in mind?

Kasavin: We just launched our sixth Major Update earlier this month! We’ve said we plan to be in Early Access until sometime next year. We’re happy with the current cadence of Major Updates, dropping approximately every two months. We were going once a month earlier on, but the bigger changes in the newer updates—adding entire biomes and sometimes multiple new characters—benefit from more time.

We plan several Major Updates in advance, but their specifics come together as we get closer to each one. For example, soon after we launched the Big Bad Update this month, we hunkered down to figure out the specifics of our next one coming in October. We’ve been operating like this for months and refined the process to where it’s been going smoothly despite the fast pace.

We expect to support Hades for some time even after the 1.0 launch next year, so there’s a good chance we keep working like this for a while.

OnlySP:The Beefy Update‘ brought changes to Hades‘ UI and redesigned the Dash ability. Aside from changes that revolve around balancing abilities and fixing bugs, are there any immediate plans to revise or improve existing parts of the game, or should players mostly be expecting new content in these major patches?

Kasavin: Having recently introduced the game’s fourth major biome, the Temple of Styx, as well as the game’s final battle, we’re now in a really good position to look at the game more holistically and continue making big improvements across the board. For example, in the next update, we will start to make sweeping changes to the game’s endgame and resource system, which was originally designed for a smaller game that we didn’t necessarily anticipate players would want to play for hundreds of hours. Now that we know how big the game is, and how players like to play it, we can revisit our resource system to make sure resources such as Darkness and Ambrosia remain relevant long into the endgame.

We’ve always iterated on everything at Supergiant, so having a full game structure now with many months of development still to come puts us in a really good spot to make Hades even better.

OnlySP: Hades is the first game from Supergiant to include characters that are not original studio creations. What was it like going from characters like The Kid and Jodariel to Chthonic and Olympian gods? Was it challenging as far as creative freedom goes?

Kasavin: It’s been a really exciting and fulfilling challenge to interpret characters from Greek myth in the world of our game, as well as introduce some original characters in that environment. Part of the appeal of creating a game based on an adaptation of an existing mythos is that it’s a refreshingly different process from what we’ve done in the past. We know what it’s like to create worlds from scratch! We’ve never adapted one, though.

I also take personal inspiration from Studio Ghibli on this—if there’s any inkling that adapting a work is somehow a step down from creating your own original setting, Ghibli films such as Howl’s Moving Castle and The Secret World of Arrietty remind me that that’s nonsense. Adapted works have no less inherent merit than original works.

I’ve always had a fascination with Greek myth since I was a kid, and would often feel frustrated at how modern renditions of those characters would wipe away the complexities, and frankly disturbing qualities, that make them so compelling in the original canon. We started from the observation that the Olympians are a big, dysfunctional family, and everything flowed from there. I think we’re being true to the source material, as well as true to life.

Many of the characters are essentially original, anyway, in that the canon mythology provides very little to go on, other than a very compelling idea. Our protagonist character, Zagreus, best represents this. We know almost nothing about him from the source mythology, other than maybe he’s a son of Hades, or maybe he’s even an early version of Dionysus. The idea that Hades, god of the death, might have secretly had a son was so compelling, we decided to make it the premise of the whole game.

“Further, we found a tone for the game that I think lines up well with the somewhat slapstick experience of playing roguelikes—one moment you feel like you’re unstoppable, and the next, you’re a total idiot, having made a bone-headed mistake that ended your whole run. Our game laughs with you rather than at you in those moments, as we really wanted to soften the blow that comes with failure, and ensure players felt compelled to keep going.”

Hades is our first fully voiced game and has a big cast of characters similar to Pyre. I think it’s pushing forward what we’ve been able to do in terms of narrative and world-building, and has been very fulfilling to work on thus far in this respect. Being able to add to the story with each Major Update I think also makes our approach to Early Access feel unique, and it’s been rewarding to see positive feedback each time we introduce a new character or expand the narrative in some way.

OnlySP: Hades is also the first Supergiant game to feature an Early Access stage of release. How has Early Access affected its development, and do you think previous Supergiant games would have launched as better overall titles if they went through this?

Kasavin: I think the reason Early Access is working for Hades is because we designed the whole game around the idea, that it could be modular—starting small, and getting bigger over time. It would be fundamentally designed around replayability, whereas replayability was not at the forefront of the design of our previous games.

I don’t think Early Access would have worked at all for our previous games. Take Transistor, for example. It’s a game most players finish in less than eight hours. It took us three years, getting the design and narrative and look to be just right. The game was not worth playing before it was done. If everyone basically knew what happened in the story all throughout development, and had experienced low-quality versions of key story moments dozens of times, its launch would have fallen completely flat. So I think Early Access only works for certain kinds of games. Our experiment with Hades was both to see if we could run a game in Early Access at all, and also to see if we could successfully fuse the kind of narrative experience we’re known for into a game like that.

OnlySP: Hades remains in Early Access, and a full release will likely introduce plenty of new players to the game. What would you say is something about the current state of Hades that should encourage people to purchase it now rather than later?

Kasavin: Since we’re weaving narrative through the entire experience, we’re treating Early Access almost like a serial TV series. You can wait until it’s complete, see what critics and everyone are saying, and then binge on the whole thing if you hear good things. But there’s a real pleasure in experiencing it as it unfolds. Especially since we’ve been adding lots of content that only makes sense as part of the Early Access process—narrative justifications for the game’s current lack of completeness, and so on. We also think we’re maintaining the game at a high quality level despite it not being finished. We’ve heard from many players that Hades is the most polished Early Access game they’ve ever played, which surprises us sometimes, knowing what we know about how much we have left to do, but we take it as a good sign.

OnlySP: Lastly, Hades’ Epic Games Store FAQ page states that Early Access is expected to last “more than a year from our initial launch.” Now that time has passed, is there any narrower window being targeted? What does Supergiant hope to improve on or add to Hades before its full release?

Kasavin: We don’t have a more specific date for the full 1.0 launch of Hades other than some time next year. While the game is big and feels far along in many ways, we have some big tasks ahead of us still, including stuff that’s not necessarily super exciting to players but is super important for the game. Stuff like making sure Hades runs well on other platforms, and that we have a plan to localize all the content so that players in other parts of the world can enjoy it, too. Of course, we have lots of exciting additions still coming to the game, and in 1.0 we’ll have the full ending, and more. So we’re not even close to done on the content side. For all those reasons, to me, it feels we’re very much in the thick of the Early Access process. We have lots more to come.

You can purchase Hades, including its latest ‘Big Bad Update’, on PC via the Epic Games Store for USD$24.99.

For more on Hades and Supergiant Games, be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

Craig Snyder
Craig fell in love with video games after being spoiled with all of the NES games he could ever want as a kid, and his passion for gaming continues decades later. After discovering a knack for writing in grade school, the two have come together nicely for him. River City Ransom and Final Fantasy VII are his jams.

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