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Greg Kasavin

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Original author: 
Alexa Ray Corriea

In a presentation during E3 at Sony's PlayStation booth, Supergiant Games' showed off their upcoming game Transistor running on PlayStation 4, with developers Greg Kasavin and Amir Rao providing commentary over a gameplay trailer released earlier this year.

Kasavin says Red's weapon, the Transistor, has been infused with the consciousness of a man who has passed away. Part of the game's story will be unravelling the nature of the relationship between Red and the man who has become the Transistor, Kasavin said.

Players will be able to set up attack sequences, scheduling out a series of moves that will best combat the enemies Red has to face. Players will be able to "set up a strategy on their own terms," Kasavin said. The Transistor...

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Back in the early '90s, the definition of 'indie' music went under a transformation. What had started as a tag for any act that released music without the help of a major record label became a way of describing - and selling - a sound and a lifestyle. Once it was all about crudely recorded cassette tapes and direct, intimate fan interaction; today it's Coldplay, with all the corporate fixings.

And now a similar evolutionary shift seems to be taking place in the games industry. Whereas not much more than five years ago the indie game was solely the domain of hobbyists and modders, now, thanks to the speedy ascent of Steam, iOS, XBLA and PSN, indie is everywhere and, increasingly, it's big business.

But as it grows, it becomes harder and harder to pin down what an indie game actually is. There are some games and developers that everyone would agree are resolutely 'indie'. Minecraft and Mojang; Super Meat Boy and Team Meat; World of Goo and 2D Boy. But what about, say, Journey? It might carry all the stylistic trappings of an indie game, but developer thatgamecompany was funded by Sony. Or, to take it one step further, what of Epic? It's self-funded and answers to nobody, but few would label Bulletstorm or Infinity Blade 'indie'.

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DLC and in-game transactions can compromise a game's atmosphere and make it very difficult for players to get properly immersed in the experience, so says the creative director of acclaimed action RPG Bastion.

Speaking in a GDC panel today about why it's important to create atmosphere in games, Supergiant Games' Greg Kasavin mooted that breaking off the gameplay experience to ask players for real world money is rarely compatible with full player immersion.

"I think that's really tricky and a really tough problem," he said

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We've had our say. You've had your say. But what about the people who made the games? What were their favourites of the year just ended? Yes, it's that time of year again, when we pester our favourite creators for their reflections and then watch them show us up with their witty and insightful explanations.

Read on to find out what the likes of BioShock developer Ken Levine, Lionhead founder Peter Molyneux, spaceship-loving Richard Garriott and Twisted Metal creator David Jaffe have to say, among many others. Thank you very much to everyone who took the time to contribute.

Dylan Cuthbert is founder of PixelJunk developer Q-Games, and one of the creators of Star Fox 64 3D.

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Actor Logan Cunningham voices Rucks, the narrator of Supergiant Games' Bastion. Creating the character in collaboration with sound director Darren Korb and studio director Amir Rao added new dimensions to a long-standing friendship. The three first met on their neighborhood soccer field and in high school, growing up in San Jose.

The Supergiant sound team is in the running for three VGA awards, with votes currently being accepted on the Spike website. In this interview we hear about the creation of the voice of Rucks from the actor and sound director.

Logan Cunningham at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles

What was it that led you to pursue a career in acting?

Logan Cunningham: When I was in high school I had done some acting with Darren, but I didn't train as an actor while in college. I studied basically everything else. When it came time to graduate Fordham University at Lincoln Center as a journalism and communications student, also studying a lot of English, film and visual arts, I realized that everything I had been studying was leading me back to acting and the theater.

Acting was very difficult, and I liked that. In my life, acting and writing are the two things that I've done that have been the hardest and the most fun. I've been out of college for five years, and have spent a lot of time thinking about being an actor. While I don't go on a ton of auditions, I do whatever comes my way. That was, ironically, how Bastion happened.

Did you feel that your interdisciplinary background was something that helped inform this performance?

LC: Certainly. I think that if you are an actor you should study as many things as you can.

When you began creating the character of Rucks, you had not been thinking of yourself as a voice actor. What preparation was necessary to satisfy the requirements of supplying narration for the game?

LC: Voice-over in general is a technical challenge. It's easier than live action acting, in that you don't have wardrobe or makeup and you can get away with more. Obviously, I would never be cast as Rucks in "Bastion: The Movie." But I can produce his voice.

There are things like diction and speaking clearly that are much more important in voice acting. I wasn't as used to that. The majority of the very early work with Darren was in finding that voice. What made it harder than live acting was never having a whole, completed script to read. I've since learned that this is pretty much the plight of all voice actors in videogames, who generally don't get whole scripts for security reasons.

Lyrics by Greg Kasavin, vocals by Logan Cunningham

Were suggestions you were receiving from writer Greg Kasavin helpful in building the character?

LC: A big influence on the sound of the voice is Ian McShane from Deadwood. Greg would send links to YouTube clips, which was great timing because I had just started getting into the show. In the credits of Bastion, I thank my friend Marcus for lending me his DVDs of the series the summer before, where I developed a huge actor crush on McShane and his voice.

Before Bastion, I had not been comfortable dropping my voice that low. When I was in school I was the kid that the teachers always asked to read out loud, which I hated doing. I was really self-conscious about the deepness of my voice and would pitch it higher in my everyday speech. This was a new thing for me, feeling comfortable in that lower register. And I have Deadwood to thank for that.

What kinds of exercises were you doing in order to capture the right sound for the character?

LC: Before we would start each session I warmed up with a blurb from cereal boxes, film synopses from Netflix envelopes, whatever was around. I did that four times in total: as Daniel Day-Lewis's character Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, as Sam Elliot, Al Swearengen from Deadwood, then finally as Rucks, after all that. Doing those three passes, somehow Rucks would come out.

Apart from the mechanics of finding the voice, were there insights into the personality of the character that came from Greg's writing or your own choices as an actor?

LC: The script we used came to us as a Google document, split into six columns. The column next to the lines themselves were pointers from Greg, giving some context. He had written an extensive backstory to Bastion that I was not privy to until the game had been unveiled publicly. I didn't even meet Greg until seven or eight months into it.

From the lines and my own imagination, I sensed that archetype of an aging gunslinger. I got the loneliness and the regret. It was clear to me that he had spent most of his life alone, but also that there was a lot going on with the character. I was eager to read that backstory that Greg had written once I learned of its existence, and once I did I realized that I had been on the right track.

You had in fact grown up with Amir Rao and Darren Korb. How did that relationship form prior to development on this game?

LC: Amir and Darren went to elementary school together and have been friends since they were seven. Amir I met in eighth grade. Almost every season I would play recreational soccer on their school's team, the Cougars. I stopped playing in high school and became a theater kid, but in high school it turned out that Amir and I had a lot of mutual friends in common. The three of us all went to New York for college, and they were the familiar faces that I had in the city. The three of us have stayed friends since.

Sound director Darren Korb in Santa Monica, California

You've described the genre of Bastion's score as "acoustic-frontier." How did you find a sound for the music score that was unique and fit with the environment that Supergiant was looking to create?

Darren Korb: Early in the process we tried to pin down a tone for the game. I was lucky enough to be involved from the beginning, and stumbled upon "acoustic frontier trip-hop." That was something that everyone seemed happy with, so I was looking for everything to fit that genre as a kind of thematic glue for the game.

Trip-hop uses sampled beats. The juxtaposition of the trippy hip-hop and the frontier acoustic guitar made for a fun mix. World One now has a Byzantine kind of sound, with Middle Eastern and Asian influences here and there. For World Two, I've gone more in the direction of Bayou and Western frontier. Each world has its own musical tone.

The soundtrack's concept of the frontier complements the visual quality of the Bastion sprouting up around the protagonist as you explore. Was the personal context of exploring new territory as independent developers at all informing the decision?

DK: Yeah, part of the idea behind the frontier vibe was to give you the feeling that the world around you wasn't settled. Being an unsettled independent game company, we delved into this project not knowing what was ahead of us.

Are there scores for past games that stood out in your memory at the time of working on the soundtrack for Bastion?

DK: My favorite music score for a game is Marble Madness. I love it so much. Another of my favorites is Dungeon Keeper for the PC, Windows 95. Back in the day I would put the actual Dungeon Keeper game disc in my car and would listen to the music tracks on it. As far as music in games goes, I grew up playing games and they are a big part of my influences, along with bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Weezer and They Might Be Giants. But before I liked rock music, I liked game music.

Have you found that joining the development team has allowed you to be directly involved in your role as musician?

DK: I love being a part of Supergiant Games. Not only do I get to do something that's incredibly fun, I get to work with friends of mine, who I really get along with. Because it's such a small team, I feel that everything I do has a large effect on the overall project. The soundscape of the game is directly affected by the things that I do. It's nice to feel like I have a stake in the project.

What kind of tone did you feel was right for the character of Rucks, and what do you feel the game gains by having the narration serve as an enduring element of the gameplay?

DK: We did some experimentation, looking at other memorable narrators that we really enjoyed, like Alec Baldwin in the Royal Tennenbaums, or Sam Elliot in the Big Lebowski. We looked at how narration like that fit with the quality of Logan's voice, and started to build the character a bit from the outside in. It started off with the aesthetics of his voice and then became more about who he was and what he was all about.

The narration in this game tells the story in an unobtrusive way that happens while you're playing and it gives context to your actions. During development, I would play levels that didn't have narration on them yet and I kind of had no idea what was happening. When the narration is added, you always know what's going on. You know your objective, and everything has a context.


What kind of attitude did you want the narrator to have toward the playable character of the Kid?

LC: I knew there was an affection there. Rucks really has no other choice but to like the Kid, because there's no one else around. I think he likes the Kid and sees a lot of himself in him. Fans of the game have theorized that Rucks may in fact be the Kid in a Star Trek-esque causality loop. I never saw it that way myself, but I can see how other people would.

Who was supplying the vocal effects found in the game? It seems like that may have fueled speculation about whether those characters were actually related somehow.

LC: The Kid's exertion sounds are Darren. There are two male Ura at the end of the game, and Darren and I both did the sounds for those.

Additionally, you are singing on the soundtrack. When you were listing the subjects you studied in college, I noticed that vocal performance did not come up. How much background did you have as a singer prior to this game?

LC: Not much. I had been in musicals, though it's the one kind of acting that I'm not particularly fond of doing. When I see it done well, I love it. Darren wrote a musical with his older brother and it was chosen for the New York Theater Festival. There were two performances about a month ago. I was actually their assistant director, stage manager and on-stage briefly in a panda suit.

Singing is something I do reluctantly. I knew going in that they wanted me involved on the soundtrack in some capacity, but I had no idea what it was going to be. The soundtrack came out on a Friday, while I got the song from Darren only the Monday before, and we recorded it on Wednesday. Darren wrote a Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash kind of song, that required a looser, more relaxed kind of singing style forgiving to someone like me, without technical vocal training. We did it in maybe two takes. He had to rewrite the guitar track I was singing over, because it turned out I could sing much lower than he thought I could. We're really happy with how it turned out.

Lyrics by Darren Korb, vocals by Logan Cunningham

The soundtrack has been very well received. It has millions of plays online. That must be gratifying.

LC: Yeah, the number of plays is some insane number. Out of everything about the game, the reception to the sound has surprised us the most. We all knew that Darren writes good music, but witnessing the crazy response to that has been a really nice surprise.

Could you tell us a little about your thoughts on Jen Zee's art style, seen in the game? When you saw Rucks for the first time, was that image something that meshed with your vision of the character?

LC: That was pretty much what I thought he would look like. What I really like about Jen's portrayal of Rucks is that he's a little threatening looking. He's not totally a kindly elder. Like everything she did in Bastion, there's a lot of layers to the look of the character.

There's an edge to it.

LC: Yeah.

What was your experience, having been on the development end for so long, finally playing through the finished product?

LC: I was floored by just how good it was. People sometimes question our "indie-ness" when they see the WB logo, but the truth is that it turned out the way it did because every single one of the seven people who worked on this were amazing at what they did. For those without a background in development, there's a lot of mystery to how a game is made. But, in fact, you can do it, just with labor and a small amount of hardware.

Playing Bastion from start to finish for the first time, I was so proud of it. More than anything else, I was happy for Amir for having pulled it off. When I had heard that he had started his own company with Gavin, it was surprising to me. For most of my life I had known Amir to be a huge gamer, an English major and intellectual. It was therefore a little shocking to discover that he was now an entrepreneur. But he's done it, terrifically.

Your character has popped up in a number of unexpected places outside of Bastion. There was a segment on the Dorkly website, showing Rucks narrating Mario games.

LC: I've seen that video everywhere and I like it. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, or whatever. There seemed to be a lot of people, to my eyes, that thought that was me speaking, which was a little disturbing, but that's fine.

There was also the wedding you narrated.

LC: Yeah, the guy emailed Greg. We were going to be recording anyway, so we thought, "Why not?" Our recording session was actually interrupted by that earthquake that hit New York back in August. We did it, sent it out and then we didn't hear anything. There wasn't even confirmation that the lines had been received, so we left it at that. Then this past Friday, I guess he emailed Ars Technica about it. That was how we found out that he had gone through with it and used the recording for his ceremony.

Do you have thoughts on the potential for working with Supergiant in the future, expanding upon the collaboration so far?

LC: There's enough in the lore to support another Bastion game. I, for one, would love to see a prequel happen. Rucks as a young man, in his hayday, would be an interesting place to go. All I know is that if what Supergiant does next requires a voice that I would be appropriate for, I'll be there.

[Images courtesy of Supergiant Games. For more information on Bastion, see the Supergiant website and soundtrack album. See also our GDC 2011 group chat with Darren Korb and other composers of indie games. Photos by Jeriaska.]

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Today's collection of independent game links includes more indie game previews, a couple of development updates, and the usual round-up of interviews with developers from around the 'net. (image source).

Rock, Paper, Shotgun: A Bastion Interview
"We decided to have a chat with Greg Kasavin, creative director and writer on Bastion, to find out a bit more about how Bastion came to be and what the future holds for Supergiant Games."

Ludum Dare: Announcing October Challenge 2011
"The October Challenge is a special Ludum Dare event we started last year. More and more people are making games today thanks to Game Jams and events like Ludum Dare. It's time to stop talking and start doing."

DIYgamer: Minecraft is No Longer Just a Game, It's a Genre
"Like Metroid, Castlevania and Rogue before it Minecraft has done something that few games have ever done before, it has single handedly superceded itself to become the basis by which others games mirror it. That is not only incredible, it's downright phenomenal."

Game Tunnel: September 2011 Independent Game round-up
"Seven of the ten games received an award this month, and some of the top games scores were very close. Needless to say, there are always great independent games out there to find. We hope you enjoy reading reviews from each of the panelists on all 10 games in the September Independent Game round-up."

TruePCGaming: Fillogic Developer Interview
"TPG was delighted to interview Nathan Home, founder of Pingbit Games, and developer of the fascinating nonogram puzzle game, Fillogic. You will read on his thoughts about the PC gaming industry, development of Fillogic and much more."

Pocket Gamer: Alistair Aitcheson Interview
"We sat down with Greedy Bankers's developer Alistair Aitcheson to find out about this puzzle game's inception, what it offers App Store customers, and the possibilities of it popping up on Android."

Ludum Dare: October 2011 Opportunities
"I've been getting a number of messages about opportunities people can utilize to reach the goal, so I've decided to collect them in one place. If you'd like to share one, post a comment here or send a tweet to @mikekasprzak."

DIYgamer: Nicolò Tedeschi Interview
"Included in the Indie Game Arcade at Eurogamer Expo 2011 was the one button, first person platformer, Fotonica. We caught up with Nicolò Tedeschi from Santa Ragione, to find out the inside scoop on Fotonica."

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Never knowingly unpretty.
Artful dungeon-crawler Bastion charmed us with its strange world, solid combat mechanics, and elegant narration. John loved it. It even inspired Alec to a big old cleverthink. I decided to have a chat with Greg Kasavin, creative director and writer on the project, to find out a bit more about how Bastion came to be, and what the future holds.

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Today's collection of independent game links includes more indie game previews, a couple of development updates, and the usual round-up of interviews with developers from around the 'net. (image source).

Handheld Heroes: Dave Gilbert Interview
"With the release of Blackwell Deception, we look to the head of Wadjet Eye Games, Dave Gilbert, for some insight about the future of the studio and the Blackwell series of adventure games."

Core Elements: Andy Schatz Interview (audio)
"Andy Schatz of Pocketwatch Games joins us for our longest show to date. In this episode we discuss the potential for a console RTS, the social contribution of game reselling, and the target market for casual sim games. We also dig into Andy about his upcoming game, Monaco, and get stonewalled for a release date."

Grey Area Podcast: Greg Kasavin's Interview (audio)
"I speak with Supergiant's creative director Greg Kasavin about his game Bastion, the theme, his inspirations and the importance or lack thereof of story."

Rumble Pack Special: Vblank Entertainment Interview (audio)
"We talk to Retro City Rampage developer Brian Provinciano about the challenges of flying solo, RCR's humble homebrew origins, the game's burgeoning fanbase, parodying old game properties, lessons for other indies and so much more."

madenskm's posterous: interview with game designer Krystian Majewski
"As the lead developer and designer, what inspired Krystian Majewski to create Trauma? And how does the final product compare to what he had envisioned at first?"

Rock, Paper, Shotgun: Pineapple Smash Crew Interview
"Pineapple Smash Crew is a heap of good things on top of a stack of more good things. As well as covering the game, we chatted about its designer Rich Edwards about the indie scene, funding and what comes next."

TruePCGaming: Hamilton's Great Adventure Interview
"TPG caught up with Mårten Stormdal from Fatshark to talk about his new title, Hamilton's Great Adventure. You will get his opinion on the topics surrounding the PC gaming industry, life as an independent PC developer, and how Hamilton's Great Adventure came to be."

Ctrl-2-Crouch: Avadon, The Black Fortress Interview
"This week I managed to catch up with Jeff Vogel, the creator of games like Geneforge and Avernum, the independent game developer from Spiderweb Software took some time out for an interview with us on their new top-down RPG Avadon: The Black Fortress."

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Today's collection of independent game links includes more indie game previews, a couple of development updates, and the usual round-up of interviews with developers from around the 'net. (image source).

Ctrl-2-Crouch: Solar 2 Interview
"This week I managed to catch up with Jay Watts, indie game developer of Murudai, for an interview on their awesomely passive space sandbox Solar 2."

Gamers With Jobs: Greg Kasavin Talks Bastion (audio)
"This week Greg Kasavin from Supergiant Games joins Shawn, Julian and Lara to talk about developing Bastion and a whole lot more. There's even a Bastion spoiler section right after the credits."

DIYgamer: Sense of Wonder Night 2011 in Video Part 1
"Tokyo Game Show hosted the fourth annual Sense of Wonder Night last week, allowing experimental games to have their spotlight. Ten titles were given ten minutes each to present what essentially makes them wonderful."

Photon Storm: Building a retro platform game in Flixel, Part 1
"With a strong community and plug-ins available Flixel is the perfect choice to create games with. In this two part series we'll explore how Flixel works and build a retro-styled platform game in the process."

Indie Games Channel: Exalt Studios' William Sworin on Silas
"Silas is a hybrid game built with the A8 Engine, combining the best elements of first-person shooters and kart racers to create a whole new experience. To learn more about Exalt Studios, its long journey, and its plans for the future, I took the time to talk to its founder, William Sworin."

RPGWatch: Jay 'Rampant Coyote' Barnson Interview
"As work on the soon to be released indie RPG Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon nears completion, its developer Jay Barnson from Rampant Games was gracious enough to answer a few questions about both himself and the game."

TruePCGaming: Hidden Path Entertainment Interview
"Released three years ago, Defense Grid: The Awakening is still one of the best tower defense games ever to grace a PC. TPG had the honor of interviewing Jeff Pobst, CEO of Hidden Path Entertainment, and developer of Defense Grid. Jeff speaks on various issues in the PC gaming industry along with what it took to develop Defense Grid."

Against All Expectations: Ruari O'Sullivan Interview (audio)
"In this episode I interview Ruari O'Sullivan (developer of Beacon and Fear is Vigilance), talk about topics such as Beautiful Escape, Ludum Dare, and how he once came to Finland and stuff."

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