Indie Games Showcase: Supergiant Games
Few indie developers can hold a candle to Supergiant Games’ ability to make a first impression. When it released as a premiere title on Xbox Live Arcade back in 2011, Bastion stole the hearts and minds of the industry with its fantasy aesthetic and astute production values, riding the high tide of critically-acclaimed downloadable games at the time.
Established by a group of former EA employees, Supergiant quickly grew into a creative team synonymous with style, and it wasn’t long before the group was engineering its next project. Granted, Transistor may have followed in the footsteps of greatness, but Supergiant’s sophomore title irrefutably proved that the San Jose-based studio wasn’t just a one trick pony. A cyberpunk cocktail of rich, intoxicating visuals and intriguing gameplay, the sci-fi title drew praise from across the PlayStation nation and fast became one of 2014’s sleeper hits.
But every success story has a beginning, and the company’s Greg Kasavin recounts how the studio got off the ground in September of 2009 and quickly turned Supergiant into a super presence in the indie scene.
Supergiant Games was co-founded by Amir Rao and Gavin Simon in the living room of Amir’s dad’s house in San Jose, CA. They and I previously worked together at Electronic Arts in Los Angeles, on the Command & Conquer franchise including Command & Conquer 3 and Red Alert 3. While there, we were inspired by smaller games such as Braid, Plants vs. Zombies, and Castle Crashers, which felt both personal and fully realized. We wondered what it would be like if we could make games in our own way.
Amir and Gavin essentially dropped everything, moved into a house together, and started making Bastion. They had a playable prototype within a month, though there came a point where they knew they needed help to realize the idea’s potential, so they grew the team to seven people during production.
Bastion launched on Xbox LIVE Arcade in July of 2011, then on Steam the following month. It turned out to be a much bigger success than we could have anticipated, which really validated our approach to making games and put us in a position to keep doing what we wanted to do — make games with the same small team.
What’s in a Name?
Over the course of its short yet impressive history, Supergiant has garnered a reputation for weaving engaging narratives through the use of sombre voiceovers and wonderful, poignant soundtracks, but what’s the story behind the company’s evocative moniker?
Supergiant Games was the name that survived the equivalent of a brutal steel-cage deathmatch between many, many studio name ideas. There’s something awkward about naming your studio before you have anything to show for yourself, and indeed, the studio was around for a number of months without a real name.
But when the time came to reveal Bastion, we couldn’t wait on it any longer! We liked the ambitious connotations of Supergiant, the whimsy and imagination there. The name is meant to reflect the spirit of the ideas of our games, while playing off of the small size of our team, as we have no ambitions of having a supergiant number of employees. The small-team dynamic is important to what we do and who we are.
Meet the Team
- Amir Rao – Design, Studio Operations
- Gavin Simon – Engineering, Design
- Darren Korb – Audio & Music
- Jen Zee – Art, Art Direction
- Greg Kasavin – Writing, Design
- Andrew Wang – Systems Engineering
- Logan Cunningham – Voiceover
- Michael Ailshie – Studio Operations
- Camilo Vanegas – 3D Art & Animation
- Morgan Wren – Quality Assurance
- Josh Barnett – UI & Visual FX
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Fun Facts About Supergiant Games
“They say never to start a company with your friends, but every member of the original team that made Bastion was somehow connected to Amir.”
“As mentioned, Amir, Gavin, and I were all colleagues and friends from our days at EA.”
“Andrew Wang our other engineer and chief technology officer also goes back a way with Amir, as they interned together at their first game job in Florida. Andrew was also Amir’s and my roommate in Los Angeles, where he worked at Infinity Ward on Modern Warfare and its sequel.”
“Darren our audio director and Logan our voice actor have known Amir since playing soccer in middle school. Amir and Darren have been playing Dungeons & Dragons together for ages.”
“Jen joined Supergiant through a mutual friend, Alex Ahad, the creative director at Lab Zero Games, which made the rad fighting game Skullgirls.”
“Other than that, we no longer work in the living room of a house, but moved to a small studio space in San Francisco once it became clear that Bastion had done well enough that we’d be able to make another game. We recently moved again to another spot in the city.”
A huge thanks to Greg Kasavin of Supergiant Games for providing us with the information found in this feature. To keep up with all the studio’s developments both old and new, you can follow them on Twitter @SupergiantGames.